The Final Wheel of Time Novel #14
Hardcover, 912 Pages
Review copy courtesy of the publisher Tor
Here we are at the end of all things, at least in the Westlands, or as it has come to be known in fan speak, Randland. Thirteen books and a prequel have all lead to this point, the final confrontation between Rand al’Thor – the Dragon Reborn and avatar of good – and Shai’tan, the Dark One and source of evil in the world. For this final novel, A Memory of Light, to live up to the preamble and expectations is perhaps unfair and impossible. Though a flawed novel undoubtedly, I found a majority of the novel, moving, exciting and handled very well up to and including the conclusion. So the following will also be partially a personal note on the series as well as the concluding volume. Some spoilers will creep into this reaction/review, though I’ll try limit that as much as possible.
I’ve been reading this series for the better part of a decade and a half. The only other series that has been with me as an ongoing series as long is Stephen King’s Dark Tower. Like many people who have been reading the series for the same approximate timeframe, my interest, passion, and enjoyment for the series waned from about Winter’s Heart to Knife of Dreams. Though this may seem blasphemous, Brandon Sanderson taking over the series re-awakened my enjoyment of the series. Rather, my will to read the series both because I’ve enjoyed all the novels I’ve read by Brandon and that an end was actually in sigh. I’d read much of his work prior reading his co-authored volumes of The Wheel of Time so I felt that the saga of Rand al’Thor and his friends from the Two Rivers was in capable hands and that yes, the series would see completion. As preparation for the final three volumes, I embarked on a re-read of the series beginning with a third reading of The Eye of the World just about three years ago. I was happy to rediscover how much I enjoyed this series and, beginning with The Gathering Storm, felt that Brandon did as good a job as could be expected with the series.
A Memory of Light is one of the larger novels in the series, clocking in at just over 900 pages in hardcover and at times, unfortunately, the story feels every bit of those 900 pages. Like all prior Wheel of Time installments, this one begins with a prologue, in this case detailing the fall of Caemlyn, highlighting the heroics of Talmanes, the man who was given command of Mat’s Band of the Red Hand. The early portion of the novel is setting the table for Tarmon Gai’don as it is depicted in the chapter entitled “The Last Battle.” Where the novel succeeds the most, for me, is in the character beats for a many of the primary characters. Rand came across as believable, Egwene’s heroics were possibly the highlight of the novel for me, Perrin’s storyline was a bit drawn, Mat’s leadership abilities in battle were on full display and Lan’s scenes, especially his Crowning Moment of Awesome was just that, awesome.
One of the Forsaken to have very little appearance throughout the series comes fully onto the scene in this novel. This point has been fairly contentious in the discussion regarding the novel I’ve seen, but for me, Demandred appearing through a gateway leading the people of Shara worked. Throughout the series, Shara was a land often shrouded in mystery that made the rough and abusive Seanchan philosophy towards channelers seem gentile. The crazed man known to the Sharans as Bao the Wyld was a powerful force and worked for me as a metaphor of unplanned events that can happen in any battle or war. Sanderson and Team Jordan could have taken the culmination of confrontation between the Forces of Light with Demandred in one direction, but ultimately, the eventual resolution worked extremely well for me.
Other elements, didn’t work so well, unfortunately. For all the build-up and tension surrounding the return of Moiraine in Towers of Midnight her presence in the final volume was minimal. The Last Battle chapter was vaunted prior to release for containing so many words (it is indeed large enough to be a novel unto itself) and so many view points, but ultimately I found it to be tedious. The battlefield movements and elements in this chapter paralleled, to a degree, Rand al’Thor’s more symbolic and metaphorical confrontation with the Dark One in Shayol Ghul. These more philosophical scenes, I found, worked better as a culmination of –some– of the themes of the series.
The ending of the book and the series is half rewarding and half frustrating. While going into this novel expecting EVERYTHING to resolve perfectly would be a mistake, Rand al’Thor’s role as savior worked well up to a point. The ‘last scene that Jordan wrote’ I felt was fitting, even if some of the logistics of it were more frustrating in the specifics.
The US cover of the novel by Michael Whelan is a great piece of art, depicting Rand’s entrance to Shayol Ghul with Moiraine and Nynaeve as his ‘back ups’ for enacting a key stroke in his battle against Moridin, the reincarnated Ishamael. It would have been nice for long-time (and often derided) series artist Darrell K. Sweet’s art to adorn the final cover, but sadly he passed away in December 2011, before the book was complete. In the end, the large image of Rand al’Thor will become one of Whelan’s most iconic images, especially considering his image of Rand is one that Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan’s widow, has waited “20 years to see.”
As a fan of the series, the good elements of the novel were very good. The character beats and some of the “what will happen” questions being answered were powerful, moving and satisfying. From a more critical perspective, the novel was much like the series itself, overlong at times and a frustrating disconnect between imagination/ideas and execution. On the whole, the novel was satisfying, despite some of the flaws that prevented me from enjoying the novel more fully. A bittersweet novel in many ways, for both the generalness of what it is and the specifics; it is the final novel in the series that Jordan was unable to see published, and a novel that could in practically no way live up to every expectation laid upon it. Despite this, The Wheel of Time is a series that will always hold a special place on my bookshelves and one I will likely revisit in the future.
© Rob H. Bedford 2013