These are interesting, and in many ways perilous, times for the fantasy genre. The last decade or so has seen the passing of many of the biggest names in fantasy fiction: David Gemmell, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Holdstock, Robert Jordan and Poul Anderson. At the same time, many of the most popular fantasy series have either ended or are approaching their conclusions: The Deverry Sequence, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire and even Harry Potter. It is strange to note that, at a time when it is seemingly harder than ever before for new fantasy authors to get published, there actually seem to be fewer bestselling sagas out there for an increasingly bereft audience of readers to follow. Now more than ever beleaguered fantasy fans are crying out for a new name in the field, an inheritor of the likes of Robert Jordan and George R R Martin. In any discussion on this subject, there is one name that keeps on coming up again and again: Brandon Sanderson. In many ways Sanderson is more than just the ‘next big thing’, because he has already achieved a level of success and popularity (not always the same thing) which other authors can only dream of. His debut Mistborn novels have been critically lauded, his work in completing The Wheel of Time saga after Jordan’s death has been universally praised and his latest series, The Stormlight Archive, already looks to be the defining fantasy sequence of this decade. The question that has to be asked is whether Sanderson really is as good as his publishers and fans would have the rest of us believe.
James Oliver Rigney Junior, a man better known to readers everywhere as Robert Jordan, wrote what is today arguably the most successful, best known and widely read of all modern fantasy series in the form of The Wheel of Time. Sadly, Jordan (I’m going to use his better known pen-name from now on) died in 2007, before he managed to complete his epic, and it was left to his friend and fellow fantasy author Brandon Sanderson to finish his work from the extensive notes that he left behind. Jordan’s fans are sometimes, rather unfairly, referred to as the Trekkies of the fantasy genre and his critics (many of whom, oddly enough, are former fans) are well known for being rather… erm, vitriolic in their opinions. When you add the fact that we are talking about an author who tragically passed away before he had the opportunity to complete his life’s work, any criticism or evaluation of The Wheel of Time is fraught with difficulty at the outset. It is therefore with some trepidation that I approach the question (which I nonetheless think is an important one to answer): is The Wheel of Time actually any good?