Warrior of the Altaii

I've always been curious about Robert Jordan's Warrior of the Altaii, yet I could never bring myself to fork out my hard-earned money for a never published novel and what I knew could only be a much inferior work from the author. Then I saw it in a clearance sale and with my plum points it only cost me 3$ for the hardcover edition. Which, if I'm totally honest, is about what this book is worth.

In the foreword, Jordan's wife claims that Warrior of the Altaii is like a fine wine that has reached perfect maturity. Well, I beg to differ. I'm not sure how much Harriet knows about wine, but this book is simple generic 80s fantasy fare. It's no wonder it never got published, even if it came close twice. True, you can see a lot of foreshadowing regarding themes and events from The Wheel of Time. But in the end, this novel has more to do with Jordan's Conan titles than his signature series. Given that this is an unedited draft, you should definitely lower your expectations if you're interested in giving this one a shot.

Here's the blurb:

Epic fantasy legend, and author of #1 New York Times bestselling series The Wheel of Time®, Robert Jordan's never-before published novel, Warrior of the Altaii:

Draw near and listen, or else time is at an end.

The watering holes of the Plain are drying up, the fearsome fanghorn grow more numerous, and bad omens abound. Wulfgar, a leader of the Altaii people, must contend with twin queens, warlords, prophets and magic in hopes of protecting his people and securing their future. Elspeth, a visitor from another world, holds the answers, but first Wulfgar must learn to ask the right questions.

But what if the knowledge that saves the Altaii will also destroy them?

Worldbuilding is one of the aspects that Robert Jordan truly excels at. The universe of The Wheel of Time echoes with depth, and the scope and vision of the author's magnum opus had never been seen before when The Eye of the World originally came out. Truth be told, I only wanted to read Warrior of the Altaii to witness the genesis of those aforementioned WoT themes. And yes, there are plenty of them and they're impossible to miss if you're a fan of the series. Problem is, with this being an unedited draft, Jordan seldom elaborates on any of the concepts and ideas he introduces as the tale is told. The Most High and the Travelers who can move between worlds are probably the biggest missed opportunities, in my humble opinion. Hence, lots of things make little sense throughout the book. The execution is lacking in various portions of the plot, but again this is due to the fact that it's just a draft and not a thoroughly edited work.

As far as WoT themes and elements go, as I said they're all fairly obvious for discerning readers. The Plain is a slightly less deadly Aiel Waste, though the Altaii are not that similar to the Aiel. The forbidding mountain range the Backbone of the World is the Spine of the World. Lanta, the city that has never fallen, is akin to the Stone of Tear. Only women can use magic and the Sisters of Wisdom are a blend of Aes Sedai and Wise Ones. As punishment for something done in the past, men can no longer travel between worlds. Visions of the future show that Wulfgar is the only one who can somehow safeguard his people, but he could also be the doom of the Altaii. Discovering the first iteration of such WoT plot points sure is interesting, yet it cannot turn what is essentially a somewhat lackluster tale into a pageturner.

Wulfgar has more in common with Conan the Barbarian than any WoT protagonists. Like the Cimmerian Robert Jordan would write about prior to working on his bestselling series, there is more to Wulfgar than meets the eye. And yet, Wulfgar's perspective can't really carry the story on its own. Additional POVs would have provided more layers to what is often a straightforward plot. True, even this early in his career, the author has a few surprises up his sleeve. But it's not enough. The supporting cast is made up of a few characters that stand out, chief among them Mayra, the Sister of Wisdom, and Elspeth, the Traveler. Had the novel been published, I'm persuaded that the characterization would have been improved. Alas, with this draft it leaves a lot to be desired.

You wouldn't expect a 352-page work to suffer from any pacing issues, yet Warrior of the Altaii does get sluggish around the middle when Wulfar is captured in Lanta. Other than that, Robert Jordan keeps the story moving at a good clip. And though this book is a far cry from The Wheel of Time, thankfully it's not just a hack-and-slash fantasy adventure tale. The author did add some layers with the inclusion of lots of seemingly interesting concepts, but we'll never know just how good it could have been because they are almost never elaborated on.

When all is said and done, Warrior of the Altaii can be an intriguing read for big WoT fans. But for casual SFF readers? Not a chance. As mentioned, for anyone not familiar with The Wheel of Time, this will read like subpar generic 80s fantasy fare. There are so many quality reads out there, so there's no reason to read an unpublished novel that should likely have remained unreleased.

The final verdict: 5.5/10

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