While I have been aware of the Wheel of Time series since the 90s, I avoided reading it as I had my fill of Tolkein wannabe stories growing up and had been generally avoiding them since then. With the series premiering on Amazon Prime, my teenager had started reading them and had been pressing me to read them but I resisted. After watching the first season, which I enjoyed greatly, I decided to give the books a shot and I am glad I did.
Reading a book after seeing a film/tv adaptation is always difficult for me, as I have trouble picturing the characters as anyone other than the actors who played them on the screen and, well, sometimes they don’t always align with the printed description. Plus, let’s be honest, there only a handful of cases where the screen version is better than the printed. This was a rather unique experience for me because while the book and the screen versions are really different to the point where the stories in each can be enjoyed separate from each other.
One of the main differences was in the ages of the main group of characters. In the book, they are much younger than on the screen. That works in both settings but can allow different aspects of the story to be explored. Another involves a group of religious zealots called the Children of the Light. In the books, they are a pretty minor annoyance but on the screen they are terrifying and represent not only zealotry but misogyny as well.
That is something else that struck me about the book was how feminism and female empowerment was explored. The Aes Sedai are one of the main power brokers in this world and act as a combination of Bene Gesserit from Dune and the wandering wizards from Tolkein. But there is always a subtext that there is resentment that these women hold such a position of authority in so many kingdoms. It is a theme I very much hope they continue to explore.
Speaking of influences, it is pretty easy to trace some of the key ones Jordan used: Dune, Lord of the Rings and the Arthurian legends. However, his work does not feel derivative, even if some of the names of people and places do. Every kingdom has its own customs and features that help to make it distinctive. The world feels lived in and realistic, for all of the magic that is employed. And, much like Martin in Game of Thrones, magic is not overused to become a crutch and, when it is used, there is usually a price that much be paid.
If you have seen the show but have not read the books I would encourage you to do so, it is a fun and interesting story and one that is fairly separate from the TV series.