A Memory of Light review

Friday, April 26, 2013

The final volume of the Wheel of Time.  I doubted that I would ever read this book.  Series of this magnitude are scarce and with the death of Robert Jordan, I felt that the series would be slowly forgotten by the new crowd of readers or scorned since some of the last volumes by Jordan were weaker and the storylines were seemingly growing out of control. Hopefully, Brandon Sanderson was chosen and stepped up to the plate to give us what many WoT readers wanted, closure. In the end, it's still Jordan's story and at the very least, what we wished for, the depiction of Tarmon Gai'don was finally upon us in all its glory and weaknesses.
And it came to pass in those days, as it had come before and would come again, that the Dark lay heavy on the land and weighed down the hearts of men, and the green things failed, and hope died.' - Charal Drianaan te Calamon, The Cycle of the Dragon. In the Field of Merrilor the rulers of the nations gather to join behind Rand al'Thor, or to stop him from his plan to break the seals on the Dark One's prison - which may be a sign of his madness, or the last hope of humankind. Egwene, the Amyrlin Seat, leans toward the former. In Andor, the Trollocs seize Caemlyn. In the wolf dream, Perrin Aybara battles Slayer. Approaching Ebou Dar, Mat Cauthon plans to visit his wife Tuon, now Fortuona, Empress of the Seanchan. All humanity is in peril - and the outcome will be decided in Shayol Ghul itself. The Wheel is turning, and the Age is coming to its end. The Last Battle will determine the fate of the world...
Tarmon Gai'don... that should have been the title of the book. The mighty last battle starring the forces of the Light led by Rand with all his likely and unlikely allies against the Dark One, his Forsaken and their hordes of Trollocs is what this book is all about. Sure, there's still some threads that needed to be closed or discarded but, apart for Rand himself (I'll get to him later), that battle was quite something to behold. A mix of great emotional moments linked to the bond I felt with the characters I've read so much about, lived with for two decades, and some facepalms of deception.

At the beginning of the novel, the forces of the Light are still not cohesive.  Every important figure or leader who understood that the end of the Third Age - as it's called by some :) - has come are assembled.  At that precise moment, when Rand came in with a political treaty including all the present countries, my faith in Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan's story wavered.  I mean, that thing felt completely stupid and the worst of it is that they actually agreed to it for weak and pitiful reasons, Aiel police time!  Anyway, when it was done, the four great generals were named, under the care of Elayne... and the glorious chessboard could finally get the pieces moving.

From there, aside from some detours like the resolution at the Black Tower (involving the new star of the WoT ending and probably one of the characters we will remember fondly the most, Androl the Asha'man) or Perrin's hunt in Tel'aran'rhiod, it's battle scenes after battles scenes, skirmishes, massive unleashing of Saidin, Saidar and the True Power, an untold number of deaths, creative killing and spying, canons firing, a mighty battle of wills and the resolution of the conflict that started when a young sheepherder was found by a dedicated Aes Sedai. That's Tarmon Gai'don for you.

The Wheel of Time has spanned so many characters, PoV or not.  To give them all a role in a struggle like this is actually a feat, and it's a well-executed one.  I thought that more casualties would have been present but don't worry, it's not a Disney movie, victory has its cost.  Hum... you might think that I'm spoiling something here, but I don't think that anyone believed that the kind of Epic Fantasy that the Wheel of Time incarnated, if not developed (mostly judging but all its copycats) would end up in a mind shattering surprise.  However, the way the battle unfolds is unexpected enough to keep it entertaining to the end. It's not simply about the need to know how it ends, you do not read a book or series solely for its ending even if it's an important part of the lasting feeling a novel will leave.

Among the most compelling, and probably beloved cast, is the trio from Emon's Field, the Ta'veren. While Tarmon Gai'don should have been Rand's moment to shine, show us his prowess, his new-found confidence or simply his skills, it's his resolve making the battle.  I won't go into the details of his involvement, but as was the case with several WoT books, he's not the star of the show, at least not in term of spotlight time. However, don't forget that in Jordan's world, prophecy has an important role to play and it keeps doing it to the end. I cared about him to the end and I'll always remember Rand Al'thor, a protagonist on the scale of few we have witnessed over the years.

Linked between the forces behind Rand and the Seanchan stands Mat.  When Brandon first wrote the charming scoundrel, we all missed Jordan's touch.  But with Towers of Midnight, Sanderson redeemed himself.  Finally, in A Memory of Light, he became what he's been groomed for in the past thirteen books, a military leader like no other.  But Mattrim Cauthon will always be Mat the lucky gambler and complaining humor relief and in this last opus it shows more than ever.

Perrin has always been the stern reliable friend you want to have at your side.  Here again, he remains true.  His part in A Memory of Light is far away from the arduous storyline of chasing Faile or the Whitecloaks and the more interesting aspects of his personae and abilities come to the fore.

Some of the villains are also on the good side of things. Graendal's manipulations were one of the most  intriguing elements of the tale and for the better part of the book, the other Forsaken still alive present a decent challenge.  On the other hand, Demandred came up of nowhere with the Sharans, the people from beyond the Aiel Waste. There are simply a mean to an end since a fight involving only hordes and hordes of Trollocs would probably have been boring.  However, I think that my face must have frozen with a "WTF?" expression when they appeared.  And speaking of the devil, I think that it's almost impossible that Demandred could have been the stupid villain who likes to spar with his sword instead of simply destroying everyone or everything in his path...

Even with a book of that size, I still wished for more.  Not more of the battle but a lengthier epilogue.  I think that after fourteen books, the protagonists deserved better. On the other hand, it had to end, and it did with plenty of style.

Underneath this great battle, I tried to think about what the Wheel of Time was about. Women with deadly stares?  The prophecy of three backwater youngsters ascending to greatness? The perennial fight between blindingly white goodness and 'darkishly' black evil?  I could go on and on but the answer I found makes me happy with the way the book ended.  Wheel of Time is about heroism, sacrifice, truthfulness, friendship, love, doing the right things and right to the end, it remained true to this, with a nice touch of naivety and innocence. I don't think we will see many series like that in the future.  The Wheel coming to a stop is the sign of a new age in Fantasy.

There you have it.  Is A Memory of Light a great book?  Not great on its own but still good.  Is it worth it for the readers of the series?  Absolutely.  It is achieving its goal?  Completely (or almost).  But then, should a non-initiated start the series judging by the ending?  I'm not sure, but I would say that I still feel that the Wheel of Time is a worthy read, a lengthy one, but a work that should remain a classic, not a unavoidable must-read but a series to consider seriously. Its passing will mark Fantasy forever.

Technically, I love the cover of the book. Not because of the artistic quality of it but because it's a tribute to Darrell K. Sweet's work with the previous books (and yes, it's by the talented Michael Whelan).  The map of Jordan's imaginary world is still present and the hardcover edition of the book stands at 909 pages.

Thank you Brandon Sanderson and cheers Robert Jordan!

A Memory of Light
 review rating :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


Brandon Sanderson WoT page
The Gathering Storm review
Towers of Midnight review


Bob/Sally said...

A fair review of a difficult book to summarize easily. It really did feel like a lot of talking and waiting, interspersed with the killing of Trollocs, but there were some shining moments.

Mat and Perrin definitely had their moments, almost overshadowing Rand's contribution, and Elayne and Egwene really stepped it up.

I think Sanderson would have been better off condensing his final trilogy into 2 volumes, but I'm just grateful he gave us an ending.

Kevin S. said...

I agree that this book didn't really take off until after the meeting at Merrilor (except for the action-filled prologue). The biggest weakness to me was the fact that the ending was so poorly explained. We have no idea how the big surprise at the end was pulled off. Overall, my impression was similar to yours: a satisfying but not spectacular conclusion.

Major Asselin said...

I feel that if I read this book, the series will be over. Reading your review gives me hope that its not that bad after all. Good review, I'm sure ill want more epilogue as well.

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nfl jerseys cheap said...

I feel that if I read this book, the series will be over. Reading your review gives me hope that its not that bad after all. Good review, I'm sure ill want more epilogue as well.

Anonymous said...

It is a very good book in the WoT series but.. the Mat C from Knife of dreams did die with Jordan. The last battle was forced to alot of action and allmost no Epilouge...and Epilouge is the thing i did love about the WoW series.

The last chapter was the best chapter. It did have alot of real Jordan feel over it.

One thing i did get realy anoyed about was WHY didnt anybody reflect over Egwens desteny?? a hand in a crystal pillar and they just leave it there? Strange.

Ghost said...

I, like almost everyone here, once wondered if I'll ever read the end of the series. I'm just glad it's done and the fine finish is just the icing on the cake.

Anonymous said...

When I began the storyline, it was one of the first so sprawling and immense. Perhaps what packed the most punch in Mr. Jordan's storytelling was his vivid characterization and highly personal portrayals of the many characters present. Throughout his writing, it was apparent that many hidden themes existed, including a subtle commentary on nuclear warfare and the environment. When Brandon took the helm, I began to worry that he'd not do the series justice with his naive and fragmented writing.

By the final book, it almost seemed like Brandon ended each paragraph with a poke, asking 'are you still reading?'. With a story so vast, it got old very fast. literally every paragraph ended with a twist or statement of some sort where Mr. Jordan would have ended them with a question or powerful idea to consider. Near the end, Mr. Sanderson began to kill characters with his simple, short lines. 'then he died', and continued to revive other characters who seemed nearly dead. Nonetheless, despite his naivety in inspiring emotional responses, he manages to pull the series together in a way I had almost given up on. He gave a satisfying ending that didn't end the story and left us with a sense of possibility.

Brandon did a wonderful job despite his very 'fantastical' writing style. That fragments each sentence. For greater effect. Even when he didn't need to. Despite being disappointed by his simple sentences which barely made emotional farewells, he finished the story well and left me wanting no more. Thankfully, his portrayals of Robert Jordan's characters left many beautiful scenes of banter and clever sentences. Overall, Brandon Sanderson proved to me that despite his naive and simple writing, that he knows very well how to tell a good story.

As for the actual plot, characters and outcome, this book certainly does them justice, though I regret how superficial a glimpse into their thoughts Mr. Sanderson gave me. A great book to finish a series of amazing proportions.

Mirza Ghalib said...

A long-awaited finale to Jordan's Wheel of Time series; taut, racy, well characterized. Unputdownable, but yes the book is bit hefty, to put it mildly. Rand, Elayne, Egwene, Matt, Perrin, the Aes Sedai, Saidin and Saidar interwoven into a fine tapestry come together for a truly spectacular close. If you read the 13th book quite some time ago, you might need to revisit it to get a better grasp/grip on this one. I would say, that the initial Jordan books (up to, say, Book No 6) were pretty gripping, after that the series kind of lagged, one that you read, not because you were too keen, but because you hated to leave a series mid-way. Crossroads of Twilight upped the ante again and the last three by Brandon Sanderson were truly worth it.

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