The final book of The Wheel of Time. Can’t believe I made it. Epic in so many ways, not least, the four million odd words it includes.
A Memory of Light is the final book in the epic 14 book Wheel of Time series. A combination of work from Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, it’s the fourth longest of the books, and the longest of the three that Sanderson wrote.
The plot is pretty straight forward, with the early part of the book dedicated to the final steps in preparing for the Final Battle, and then pretty much two-thirds of the book dedicated to that battle. There are some early twists and surprises, and some prophecy-filling moments, and then it’s an epic, in all sense of the word, battle for survival.
Everyone gets a mention, old names, new names, bad folk, good folk, armies you’ve barely heard of, people you met 10 books ago, it’s all here. It’s not going to be easy to review without giving a lot away, but I’ll try.
The prologue and the first part of the book cover the preparation, where Rand reveals his plans to various factions, both for the war and for what is to come after. He and a number of people have very strong words about those plans, and ultimately someone has to smooth things over. I felt this section of the story was handled really well, and although I didn’t ‘like’ the positions taken by some people, they made sense within the context of the world, and it’s testament to Jordan’s groundwork again, that it all made sense.
Jordan, and Sanderson, have spent thirteen books putting together massive armies. Mat’s Band, Perrin’s army, the Aiel, the Borderlanders, the Seanchan, and all the rest. It was obvious there was going to be some kind of epic engagement, and A Memory of Light doesn’t let us down in that regard. Without giving too much of the structure away, the are smaller battles which build towards a massive, complex last stand of the armies of light. The army engagements are complex, moving, and riveting. They cover most of the last half of the book, and they make good use of the space they occupy. If I have one complaint, it’s that the Aiel are under described. They’re used, but Sanderson doesn’t seem to get under their skin as well as Jordan did, and the battle felt like it was lacking their energy at times.
In contrast to the massive staged battles, there are a number of very personal fights going on. Perrin fights with Slayer, and Rand battles the Dark One. In order to prevent Rand’s fight being over in a few pages, Sanderson spreads it throughout the staged battles, which take place over many weeks. This is achieved by explaining that time around the bore is warped, and so while Rand’s battle takes place in many minutes, the other armies observe many weeks passing. This works quite well, allowing two very differently paced battles to run alongside each other.
The pacing for me worked very well, and I never felt as though things weren’t progressing. I did feel the book reached a natural crescendo before the end of the final battles however, and that perhaps some of that timing could he been changed a little. It’s hard to say more without spoilers.
Overall, Brandon worked well with the characters he had. His interpretations of Mat, Perrin and Rand were excellent, and I think he’s smoothed over some of the most frustrating elements of Elayne and Egwene. Sadly, I felt Nynaeve and Min were totally underused in the book, and while Moiraine played a part, again, I would have loved to have seen more of her. In some ways, parts of the story was rushed, despite the insane length and the promise from Jordan to put all of the last three books worth of material into one volume. Sanderson has admitted there were some parts he wanted to expand upon, but just didn’t have room.
For me, that’s the biggest disappointment with the book, there are some threads which don’t really get a resolution and some which just get shut down because they needed shutting down. Overall, many of the closures and endings are well done, and gratifying, but some just felt like it could have done with another volume.
Of course, the reality there is that there were so many threads, Sanderson could probably have written another 5 books, but at some stage, it would have just needed Rand to sit around for months while everyone else had a conclusion to their story.
All that said, there were some exceptionally emotional sections in A Memory of Light, some terrible, some joyous and some very funny. Mat’s story in particular was utterly engaging, and Egwene was brilliant. Annoying, Aes Sedai-like, infuriating, spoilt brat central, but brilliant none-the-less.
Ultimately, epic fantasy has a great flaw. When good fights evil, we all know good is going to prevail. There aren’t many books where the bad guys win. Especially when we know in The Wheel of Time the cost of losing is the utter end of everything. The skill of authors like Jordan and Sanderson is to ensure that, while we know the good guys will win, we’re never sure of the price.
They have to make us love the characters so much, that we come to dread the cost of victory. With this series, there are so many characters, that it isn’t easy to make us love them all. So many of them are irritating and infuriating that loving them is even harder. I think, however, that Sanderson’s injection of pace and trimming of the fat means that by the time the army of the light starts paying the butcher’s bill, every death strikes hard.
At some stage, I realised that every time a chapter or paragraph started with a character name I started fearing their death, or worse. Jordan and Sanderson make sure the price of victory is no less than the price of failure deserves.
Sadly, the final battle between The Dragon and the Dark One is anti-climactic, despite being clever. It’s unavoidable though, given the nature of the world and the nature of epic fantasy. I was expecting it in many ways. To balance it, Brandon pulls out all the stops with the armies and their battle, and it works I’m pleased to say.
As I said, with epic fantasy it’s rarely a question of whether they’ll win, and much more often a question of that the cost will be. A Memory of Light is a fitting, but not perfect, end to The Wheel of Time. It delivers plenty of emotional and compelling scenes, weaved throughout a complex and thrilling battle. It closes the story with most threads brought to an end, but leaves enough questions and openings for people to keep the world alive in their own heads.
Farewell, Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Aviendha, it’s been, well, it’s been a blast.
The No Longer A Retrospective
No spoilers that I’m aware of for this book, but spoilers for the previous ones for definite.
Brandon Sanderson had an unenviable job. Jordan apparently wrote the final scene of the book, and left plenty of notes, but Brandon had to move the story all the way to that final scene without being able to change it, while still making sense.
I’m not sure I liked the final scene overall (more in the next section), but given he had no choice, Sanderson did a good job. Was the book what I was expecting? Yes and no. There were some exceptionally emotional parts for me (anything with Lan, Tam or Moiraine), some surprises, some shock deaths, and some parts where I felt it was rushed.
But overall, I think it’s a fitting conclusion to the series, and I’m not sure he could have done much better without being able to change the end or write another book. I’m sad there aren’t going to be any more Sanderson-paced Wheel of Time books, because frankly, his pacing and Jordan’s world were an exceptional combination.
The Angry Spoilers
Major spoilers here. Be warned. I’m absolutely serious. This section will ruin the book and the series for you if you keep reading.
No where near enough Min in this book, although the parts with her in were superb. I wanted to see much more of her supporting Rand. No where near enough action for Nynaeve or Moiraine. Totally wasted and under-used. That alone makes me super sad because Nynaeve had so much potential. Yes, she helped cleanse saidin and she can cure the madness for the remaining male channellers, but still, Sanderson could have written them into Rand’s struggle with the Dark One, surely?
I felt Egwene’s death was justified and timely. Who better to destroy the head of the Black Tower than the head of the White Tower? I think one of the reasons why it felt a little out of place is that Sanderson didn’t make Taim feel dangerous enough. Perhaps if Taim had done more of the fighting rather than Demandred, it would have been more obvious what the only solution was. Still, I felt it was fitting.
The whole Lanfear thing annoyed me – where did that compulsion come from and her story ending so suddenly smacks of just not having enough space. Rushed and fumbled.
The final scenes are pretty annoying. I don’t mind Rand surviving, although I wouldn’t have been unhappy if he’d died, but the method of it makes no sense. Pure Jordan – I’m the author and I can do what I want and you can just pretend there’s a reason for it. No hint at how some of the elements are achieved, and no hint of remorse for the dead in Rand. I get that he had to ‘let go’ to win the final battle, but it’s not in his nature to be jolly and happy when people have given their lives. He should have been relieved, optimistic, but at some level solemn.
Also, I don’t buy that he didn’t let Moiraine and Nynaeve know. They among anyone should know the truth, since he trusted them with the world at the end.
Despite all that it’s a good book, a good story, and a fitting enough end given the restrictions.