As one of the most influential high fantasy stories of all time — essentially bridging the gap between classical Tolkien narrative and modernist George R.R. Martin characterization — The Wheel of Time retains a very special place among book lovers, particularly those who like to take their literature with a bit of sword and sorcery sprinkled in for good measure.
While there’s no going around the fact that Robert Jordan revolutionized the speculative fiction landscape in the early ‘90s with the release of The Eye of the World, it would be many years until fans got to sit through the tale’s end in 2013’s A Memory of Light.
Why should you read The Wheel of Time?
The Wheel of Time is a behemoth of literature, spanning a whopping 15 books and more than 4 million words. Reading this ambitious story is a commitment, one that many might simply forego due to its sheer length. But since we’ve already explained why you should do it anyway — especially now that the television adaptation is here — this will be our attempt to rank the books instead, in order of worst to best.
This ranking is not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it is a beginning.
15. Crossroads of Twilight (book 10)
Putting Crossroads of Twilight at the top of this list (or the very bottom, depending on your perspective) should surprise no one. The 10th book in the Wheel of Time saga is universally recognized as Robert Jordan’s worst book in the series, and not without reason.
Crossroads is essentially a recap of everything that happened in the previous book except from the viewpoint of characters who weren’t there for the climax of Winter’s Heart. Half of the book is essentially people reacting to that “beacon of light” to the west, while the other half is made up of character moments and not necessarily scenes that contribute anything to the plot.
Still, even Crossroads of Twilight has its moments, especially when it comes to certain burly blacksmiths and the lengths they’d go to save their wife.
14. A Crown of Swords (book 7)
Most readers pinpoint A Crown of Swords as the book that officially hauled us into the so-called “slog.” The pacing is incredibly slow, the events all too predictable, and even the final confrontation isn’t as fulfilling as you’d expect it to be. The Ebou Dar section of the book — involving the characters of Nynaeve, Elayne, and Mat Cauthon — is particularly dull in terms of action, but if you enjoy great character work, you’re going to breeze through A Crown of Swords without even noticing it.
A lot of the folks who criticize books 7-10 were original readers who had to wait years between each entry. For those who can speed their way through the series, however, the “slog” is nothing more than Robert Jordan taking a breather and letting his worldbuilding simmer a bit longer on the coals of his creative genius.
13. New Spring (prequel book)
This is the shortest book in The Wheel of Time series, and no wonder, since it only serves as a prequel. You get to sit through Moiraine Damodred and Lan Mandragoran’s journey and coming together before the events of the first book, and why the Last Malkieri king decided to dedicate his life to Moiraine’s mission.
New Spring definitely has a lot of awesome character moments, but reading it isn’t a must for those who wish to delve into the series. In fact, a lot of fans dismiss it altogether and come back after they’ve finished the final book, and only for those extra character moments in the world they’ve grown to love so much.
12. The Dragon Reborn (book 3)
This is where it starts to get really tricky. When I read The Wheel of Time for the first time, The Dragon Reborn was one of my favorite books. When I read it a second time, I appreciated all the subtle plot developments even more, but the sheer brilliance of other works in the series compelled me to push it down further in my mental (and admittedly incredibly geeky) ranking.
Truth be told, The Dragon Reborn is still brilliant, and what Robert Jordan attempts to do with his protagonist Rand al’Thor is something I haven’t seen in any other book since. And don’t even get me started on sections like Egwene’s testing or Mat Cauthon’s scene-stealing one-liners. But when all is said and done, in the grand scheme of the story — the Pattern of the Age, if you will — this is an installment that’s not nearly as important as all the rest.
11. The Fires of Heaven (book 5)
The Aiel are finally coming out of the Three-Fold Land, the Forsaken are engulfing the world in chaos, and Rand al’Thor is fighting against a ticking clock to save Cairhien, and possibly the rest of the world, from the Shaido’s onslaught.
Fires of Heaven is a great Wheel of Time book and does a wonderful job of pushing certain protagonists like Rand and Mat even further into their character arcs. That’s not to mention the book’s climactic end, where you’ll be practically at the edge of your seat for the last 100 pages.
10. Path of Daggers (book 8)
Path of Daggers is technically in the “slog,” and sure, the pacing is once again slow, but the journey is well worth it if only because of the section involving Rand’s campaign against the Seanchan in Altara.
The Dragon Reborn brings his might to bear on the foreign invaders but learns in the process that he, above all else, can’t really get ahead of himself because the price of his failure would be too high. After all, you know the saying as well as I do: “On the heights, all paths are paved with daggers.”
9. Winter’s Heart (book 9)
Quite incidentally, the ninth book in our list is the ninth book in the series. Winter’s Heart has a lot of amazing moments, and its climax features the single most cataclysmic event to happen to the world since its breaking 3000 years before.
The parts where Rand is reunited with some of the other main characters, and then proceeds to take a small party of his trusted friends and companions to go on a low-profile, solo adventure is also among the highlights of the series.
8. The Great Hunt (book 2)
The second book in The Wheel of Time is where Robert Jordan began laying the groundwork for what would become the most ambitious worldbuilding since Tolkien’s Middle-earth. While the first book was just an homage to traditional storytelling, the second book takes on unique plot threads and masterfully weaves them together by creating a bridge between traditional and modern high fantasy literature.
And of course, there are so many memorable moments. From the hunt for the horn of Valere across the ruins of an ancient kingdom to the final confrontation at Falme, The Great Hunt is the sum of everything that allowed The Wheel of Time to stand the test of time.
7. The Eye of the World (book 1)
As mentioned above, the first book largely paid homage to The Fellowship of the Ring and carefully laid out breadcrumbs for Jordan’s fictional world. Nevertheless, and despite this cautious approach, the first book in The Wheel of Time has turned into a timeless fantasy classic.
The Eye of the World sets a perfect pace and introduces readers to the core Wheel of Time ensemble, who are all burgeoning heroes in their own right. We have a mysterious sorceress, a king without a kingdom, an unwitting farm boy, a burly blacksmith, a wiry troublemaker, an ambitious young girl, and a caretaker who is wise beyond her years. I mean, what chance would the forces of evil stand?
6. Knife of Dreams (book 11)
After the blunder of the tenth book, Robert Jordan mustered all of his storytelling and characterization chops for one last epic outing, and the result of that endeavor was Knife of Dreams, which is regarded by many fans as one of the best books in the saga.
We will never know how those last three books would have turned out had Jordan himself been around to write them, but we’ll forever cherish the fact that he went out on a high note.
5. Lord of Chaos (book 6)
Lord of Chaos is a very important book in fantasy literature, not only for being packed to the brim with significant events, but for containing what is arguably one of the best fantasy battles in the history of this genre, and across any medium that hosts speculative fiction.
You know how people are always going on and on about the Battle of Helm’s Deep in Peter Jackson’s Two Towers having the best set piece and buildup? Well, let’s just say the battle at the end of the sixth Wheel of Time can give Hornburg a run for its money.
4. Towers of Midnight (book 13)
Towers of Midnight might be one of the longest books in the series, but you won’t even feel its length when you sit down to read it. Taking place in the middle of Tarmon Gai’don (the end times event also known as the Last Battle), this is a story that gives you a bit of everything you love about The Wheel of Time, and more importantly, unravels a plot twist that had been 10 books in the making.
3. A Memory of Light (book 14)
The last book in The Wheel of Time is almost a thousand pages long, and filled with action from start to finish. Do you think the Battle of Pelennor Fields was epic in scale? Well, wait until you see the scale of the conflict in A Memory of Light.
What makes this finale stand out is how Brandon Sanderson brings every plot thread to an utterly satisfying conclusion, with an ending that’s as well-thought-out as it is cathartic. Few ambitious stories manage to stick the landing at the end, but The Wheel of Time is definitely one such story thanks to A Memory of Light.
2. The Shadow Rising (book 4)
Many fans consider The Shadow Rising to be the best book in the series, and we can certainly see why. The narrative is unrelenting in its surprising developments, and there’s a ton of action to go around between all the main Ta’veren characters.
The Shadow Rising not only sets up numerous twists for future books, but also gives every protagonist a tangible character arc, whether it be the Battle of the Two Rivers or Rand’s exploits in the Three-Fold Land and the revelations that sit at the heart of the Aiel culture. If the charms of the first three books didn’t work on you, The Shadow Rising is more than enough to finally make you fall in love with this fictional world.
1. The Gathering Storm (book 12)
I’m constantly surprised by how much I love The Gathering Storm given the fact that it was Brandon Sanderson’s first book after taking over from Robert Jordan due to the author’s tragic passing in 2007. But there it is. If The Wheel of Time mostly centers around Rand al’Thor — the destined savior and destroyer of the world — then The Gathering Storm is where his character reaches a genre-defining crescendo.
Besides, The Gathering Storm finally marks the start of Tarmon Gai’don, which the series had been building up to from those first pages in The Eye of the World.
Ultimately, every fan will have their favorites in The Wheel of Time and its massive universe, but if there’s one thing we can say for certain, it’s that the ranking doesn’t really matter. This is a book series that takes you on a journey of a lifetime, and at the end of the day, that’s all we geeks ever wish for in a story.