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The Wheel of Time review: Flat-pack fantasy fills time before Lord of the Rings returns

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Josha Stradowski, Barney Harris, Daniel Henney, Madeleine Madden and Rosamund Pike wheel out the fantasy formula in The Wheel of Time.

Josha Stradowski, Barney Harris, Daniel Henney, Madeleine Madden and Rosamund Pike wheel out the fantasy formula in Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.

Jan Thijs

Gather round the fire, travelers, for I must weave a tale of another age: an age of rings and thrones, shadows and bones, witches and witchers. They called it: the age of streaming. And into this age of warring streaming services rode The Wheel of Time. But will it fulfill the prophecy and defeat the hordes of fantasy shows to become a smash hit?

Streaming now on Amazon Prime Video, The Wheel of Time is based on . The first three episodes stream on Friday, followed by a new episode each week. It’s set in a fantasy realm rebuilt after a cataclysm, except the darkness threatens again as a champion called the Dragon returns to the world. The show follows a warrior witch and her samurai sidekick as they recruit a handful of youngsters who each may be the reincarnated Dragon, heading off on a quest across a treacherous land of sword and sorcery.

Having sold over 90 million copies, the Wheel of Time saga must have a unique hook. But from watching the first few episodes of the TV show, I’m Bilbo’d if I can tell you what it is. From the obligatory ominous opening voiceover to the beastly trolls hounding our heroes, the TV adaptation is built from entirely familiar flat-pack fantasy stuff. Everyone wears tunics (or capes if they’re fancy/morally ambiguous) and argue about prophecies in hushed tones as they ride through a forest in Hungary or somewhere. They go on a quest and have a big swordfight each episode. Haughty priestesses declaim their magic. Nobody ever smiles.

It’s kinda impossible to tell if the whole thing is really expensive or really cheap. Every now and again there’s some sudden squelchy nastiness, but nothing too nasty. There’s some CGI magic and monsters, but the scariest thing is, you guessed it, people.

Obviously if you’re a fan of the books you may be delighted to see your favorite characters brought to life, but long-time fans of Jordan’s richly detailed realm surely deserve better than seeing their beloved stories flattened into such formulaic fantasy filler.

The mystery element of the show is intriguing as you ponder which of the main cast might be the reincarnated Dragon, which is at least a diverting twist on the «chosen one» prophecy narrative. And things get spiced Shut up Sex a few episodes in when another contender to the mantle shows up. But the characters themselves just aren’t that interesting. Three or four episodes in, I still couldn’t tell you the names of the main players. And after decades of debating their dream casting, fans end up with a main cast of blandly handsome drama school types doing their best, while Rosamund Pike wafts around in a cape like a .

Rosamund Pike wheel out the fantasy formula in The Wheel of Time.Rosamund Pike wheel out the fantasy formula in The Wheel of Time.

Ooh that’s magic.

Amazon Studios

The world itself does have some interesting gender politics going on, as the warrior witches of the Aes Sedai are the most powerful faction in the land and specifically target men who dabble in magic. This is just one of several elements in the show that are crying out for more compelling development, or are done with more oomph elsewhere (Motherland: Fort Salem and Y: The Last Man both tackle gender-upended worlds, for example).

The Wheel of Time deserves to be measured on its own merits, and it is inoffensive enough entertainment. But it just invites comparison at every turn. The monsters look cool, for example, yet you can’t help thinking of Lord of the Rings’ snarling orcs and hooded ringwraiths.

It’s been 20 years since the showed how modern visual effects and character-driven storytelling could make fantasy thrillingly emotional. It’s been 10 years since Game of Thrones made fantasy TV unmissable. As every streaming service scrambled to make , The Wheel of Time must have seemed ripe for adaptation. But some things work better on the page, and this bloodless version fails to capture whatever magic the books have.

Game of Thrones had sex and dragons, has Henry Cavill, has sexy con artists. has amazing puppets, and has a whole steamy steampunk thing going on. The fantasy genre more than ever has scope to be wildly imaginative and deliciously unique, but that’s not the case with The Wheel of Time. Still, next year we come full circle with Game of Thrones prequel and  in September. While you’re waiting, spin your wheels with Wheel of Time.

Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of books on: Christmas spirit

I have spent much of the past week in bed, convalescing.Meanwhile, my husband has had to double up domestically, taking on the laundry, as well as the cooking, ferrying cups of tea, taking messages from people I don’t feel Shut Up Sex [shutupsex.com] to talking to and sorting a Christmas tree.

I feel lucky, blessed even, not least because he has done all this in a very undemonstrative fashion.

We both know that if it was him lolling around and me doing the caring, it would be a brusquer service.There might be eye-rolling, a bit more huffing and puffing as I fulfilled another importunate request, an intemperate ‘I’m just coming!’ shouted up the stairs as I wearied of being helpful.

And so, in a spirit of loving gratitude, here are some stories of December acts of kindness.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Sorrow And Bliss by Meg Mason is one of this year’s most-talked about novels, and Small Things Like These, is one of Patricia’s favourite recent books

One of my favourite recent books is Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. It is set in a small Irish town, in 1985, in the run-up to Christmas.

Having come from humble, even scandalous origins, coal merchant Bill Furlong has reason to feel proud of his family, home and community standing.When delivering coal to the convent, he is unsettled by what he encounters. Should he act?

In the heart-wakening title story of The Tenth Of December by George Saunders, a boy, being bullied at school and out for a winter walk near his home, sees a frail-looking man with no coat. The man means to unburden himself of more than his jacket, but sometimes goodness can stop a person in their tracks.

Sorrow And Bliss by Meg Mason is one of this year’s most-talked about novels.Its narrator, Martha, always spends Christmas at her Aunt Winsome’s house in Belgravia.

As a teenager, she meets her future husband, Patrick, there. He is brought home from boarding school by Martha’s cousin, Oliver, after his father forgot to buy a flight to Hong Kong.Despite being an unexpected guest, Patrick is delighted to receive a gift. ‘Winsome was someone who took care . . .’ recalls Martha, later.

This Christmas is shaping up to be tricky. Be someone who takes care: everyone prefers a saint to a martyr.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 — Netflix horror takes R.L. Stine to the next level

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Maya Hawke in Fear Street Part 1: 1994, out now.


Take your pick from the bonkers smorgasbord of young adult and horror influences in Fear Street, a film trilogy hitting over the next three Fridays (all three are out now). Fancy Starcourt Mall from ? The guilty pleasure gore of ? hooded executioners?

Fear Street Part One: 1994, the first of the based on popular novels by R.L. Stine, starts off with an homage to Wes Craven’s 1996 horror classic: a phone rings and a young woman — played by Stranger Things star Maya Hawke — picks it up. A cat-and-mouse chase with a masked killer ensues.

Later, you discover the main concern is a centuries-spanning supernatural mystery, taking us backward in time to 1978 and 1666. These parts of the trilogy will feature different characters, starring for example Stranger Things alumni Sadie Sink, as well as some of the earlier cast, filling the story with as many haunting echoes as possible.

Part One is a stressful experience, but probably not for the right reasons. The loud strings-based score, along with choppy cuts and gory deaths, serve up an excess of eye-candy to demand your attention (a shock head-based kill near the end really raises the bar).

It can be disorientating, the high-adrenaline slasher forgoing the padding of silence and suspense. It leans closer to the horror side of the comedy-horror equation, but horror fans will barely blink at the jump scares and the rest might be left wanting a little more from the unconventional teen heroes.


Olivia Welch and Kiana Madeira play Sam and Deena.


Where brought Dani and Jamie, Fear Street brings Deena and Sam, their love story facing obstacles in the form of homophobia, class struggles and — oh yeah, a mass murderer paying visits to suburban houses.

Kiana Madeira — from Netflix’s YA series Trinkets — is Deena, a pessimistic, broken-hearted teenager living on the wrong side of the tracks in Shadyside, Ohio. Olivia Welch — recently starring in  Video’s YA series Panic — is Sam, a repressed cheerleader living in Sunnyvale, one of the safest and wealthiest communities in the country. Or so it seems.


The neon lighting game is strong.


Leigh Janiak, who directs all three installments, tackles Part One with high energy, headbanging to a ’90s soundtrack featuring Garbage, Radiohead and Pixies. The film wears the ’90s on its grungy, unkempt sleeve. Sex, bloody deaths and big, dramatic moment after big, dramatic moment can overstimulate the senses. You might need to break a cardinal horror rule and hide to recover.

You kind of want to spend more time with Deena and Sam, whose relationship is the connective tissue of the trilogy. The recently-split pair are reunited when Deena drops off a box of Sam’s things. Sam has moved on to boyfriend Peter — but don’t worry, a love triangle storyline won’t be chasing you with a chainsaw. The central pairing is also more grounded and real than their descriptions suggest. That comes across in the engaging performances from Welch and especially Madeira, who plays Deena with an honesty that undercuts the flashier, neon-hued elements.


Fred Hechinger, Benjamin Flores Jr. and Julia Rehwald.


Rounding out the Scooby gang is Deena’s nerdy little brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), whose stash of old newspaper clippings featuring murder and witches comes in handy; and «druggies» Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger), who sell pills just in the meantime, before they leave «Shittyside.»

Despite setting Shut Up Sex the rivalry between the rich and poor towns, the film’s themes trickle alongside the main action, pooling before they turn into anything like meaningful commentary. There are mentions of Deena’s struggles with her alcoholic father and we glimpse the broad strokes of Sam’s oppressive and conservative mother, but when you’re running from masked killers, there’s no time to dig into the demons in your head.

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Giving a modern spin to the books published throughout the ’90s, the first part of this R.L. Stine adaptation brings sympathetic characters who deserve a cathartic happy ending. Thankfully, the next installments are a week apart. Enough time to recover from Part One’s eye-bulging energy drink and look forward to what spin Janiak brings to the earlier eras.

All parts of Fear Street are out now.