I'm currently in the middle of reading A Memory Of Light, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. In case you're not a reader of fantasy-fiction, this is the 14th and final installment in the epic fantasy series A Wheel of Time. It's a pretty comon set-up: meet Rand Al'Thor and his friends -- Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nyneave. They all live in a small village in the Two Rivers, figuring they'll live their lives out like others in their village. Enter an attach by monsters, a mysterious woman and her guard, and an ancient prophecy. One person destined to fight The Dark One in The Last Battle and save the world, and the others destined to play a pretty big role in this journey as well. There's intrigue and politics and war and evil and good. Along with these teenages who've never left Emond's Field, we get to discover a huge, amazing world with unique and varied cultures and an intricate history. The story explodes (as you might expect giving that there are 14 volumes clocking at at around 900 or more pages each), and man is it a fun journey.
Like I said, I'm still working my way through this last volume -- torn between devouring it and savoring it, like the last piece of Nicole's chocolate-caramel pie. Jordan published The Eye of the World in 1990. Before publishing the 12th book, Jordan passed away after suffering from a rare disease. But he left behind notes and outlines and the final chapter of the final book, along with instructions for his wife and editor to pick someone to finish the series. Enter accomplished-in-his-own-right fantasy author Brandon Sanderson.
My husband began reading these books in junior high (early 90s), so by the time we'd met he had a pretty established relationship with the series. Although I've been an avid reader since grade school, I'd never really read fantasy. Over one summer when I was between cities and jobs and had a lot of time on my hands, my husband talked me into trying out The Eye of the World, and I was hooked. The series has its flaws: the dynamic between men and women is pretty stereotypical, and after a while the descriptions and turns of phrase get repetative (how many times can Nyneave tug at her braid, am I right?). There's one story line that starts about book 11 that really could have been slashed by at least half, and at one point I thought -- you're introducing a whole new character and story NOW? (it seems to me at one point that Jordan was writing like he could have just happily spent forever exploring the world he'd created).
But the thing is...these books sucked me it. I believe in this world -- from the tough-as-nails Shienaren to the island dwelling Sea Folk and everyoen in between. It's practically tangible. And I believe in the characters. Sometimes I get so. frustrated. But would I get that frustrated if I weren't completely invested in them? For every storyline or point or character trait that's eye-rollingly stereotypical or as blunt as Perrin's blacksmith's hammer, there's a plot twist or characterisation that's nuanced and just. so. perfect.
The Wheel of Time series reminds me that the best books aren't necessarily the most perfect books, but the ones you can develop a relationship with. That's why your best books aren't necessarily my best books, and vice versa. But for me, when it comes to epic fantasy, The Wheel of Time is one of my first loves.