In the final entry of this blog on Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, I offer parting thoughts on the final book, and the series as a whole.
So I’ll just cut to the chase: what did I think of A Memory of Light? This was a momentous book, anticipated eagerly for years, and a tremendous conclusion to one of the longest, most popular series in modern fantasy. And it could’ve gone horribly wrong. It might never have been written. There certainly were doubts when Robert Jordan tragically died just as he was completing his masterpiece. Brandon Sanderson had a lofty task before him, and dividing the final book made sense, although having read the three entries, I think he could’ve done it in two (and, if I recall correctly, he intended to until requested to go for three). Did Sanderson do a good job? Well, I enjoyed his first two contributions to The Wheel of Time (TGS especially) while also pointing out his shortcomings. I think A Memory of Light was ultimately consistent with his prior two works. It had its ups and downs. But did I enjoy this final book? Yes. Yes I did.
I wasn’t exactly certain when first reading the book. The first half shared a lot of ToM’s problems. The pacing was a little slow, Sanderson’s writing contained his customary idiosyncrasies, and too much detail was provided to rather mundane battles when subplots and character arcs could’ve been concluded in greater detail. I did enjoy the exciting prologue, and the plot twist with the captains was excellent, although it out-stayed its welcome. Yet the battles melded together after some 500 pages, and while there were interesting developments (like with the Asha’man, Androl’s character winning me over after my hesitance in ToM), things were a little slow. The conclusion to the long-standing Seanchan subplot frustrated me. While it would’ve been very difficult to write a satisfactory, believable solution, Sanderson could’ve at least offered it more development than one hasty conversation, especially marred with poor writing regarding Mat and Rand’s final reunion.
Speaking of reunions, there were many character interactions that could’ve been fleshed out. I acknowledge Sanderson didn’t have much time or space, but the way characters reacted to major deaths or how they interacted in eagerly-anticipated reunions still would’ve benefited from more detail. I also would’ve loved to have seen the three male protagonists together at last, as they’ve been separated since TSR, really.
I’ll credit Sanderson for wrapping up many subplots and mysteries, and giving many characters an opportunity to stand out, but it wasn’t perfect. Moiraine and Nynaeve particularly were too under-used. Moiraine’s return in ToM was made rather superfluous given she did very little in Tarmon Gai’don, and Nynaeve only marginally more. Sanderson could’ve easily removed one of the more irrelevant Lan battle scenes, for example, to give Moiraine some more spotlight. In addition to the resolution of the Seanchan subplot, characters like Alviarin and Padan Fain sorely needed better conclusions, and some characters didn’t appear period, like my favorite Fade, Shaidar Haran. I wouldn’t have minded some closure on other long-standing mysteries too, although I suspect Jordan would’ve left many loose ends hanging to allow for more speculation.
But despite these problems, the novel turned around by the Last Battle. Despite being incredibly busy in real life and a little too distracted to invest myself in this book, the prospect of reading the Last Battle, once and for all, greatly increased my enthusiasm, and I credit Sanderson immensely for still maintaining the spirit of the series. While I, of course, would’ve much preferred to have read Jordan’s own words in concluding the series, it still felt like the legitimate conclusion to The Wheel of Time. I’ve only read this series for 3 years. Some fans have waited since the very first book an astonishing 24 years ago to read Tarmon Gai’don. It was an incredible experience to see everything come to a conclusion, and in such an intense way. The Last Battle (the chapter and the event) wasn’t perfect, and again, I would’ve preferred Jordan. But it’s really what I imagined, what I hoped for from Sanderson. Fans have had many legitimate grievances with Sanderson’s handling of the series, and I’ll admit, ToM and the first half of this book definitely could’ve used more development and organization.
Yet, while I imagine my exhilaration from finishing the series once and for all will subside and I’ll look back on those final chapters with a bit more objectivity, I couldn’t put this book down once the Last Battle intensified. Sanderson’s penchant for the surreal, his strong (if not Jordan level) skill in writing pitched combat, allowed for a cinematic, thrilling, and plot twist laden finale. When it seemed like characters were dropping dead left and right, I realized how unprepared I was, which is a good feeling to have when reading a grand finale like this. Few series closers have excited me like this (I’ll always have fond memories of reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time, no matter what anyone says) and Sanderson was gutsy with those deaths. But it wasn’t executed perfectly. Siuan was killed too off-handedly, and many of the ‘deaths’ lost their punch when they turned out not to be deaths after all (Lan, for example). But Egwene’s death was not something I seriously anticipated when reading this. Jordan always played it safe with his characters’ survival, and while I hoped for real casualties in The Last Battle, Egwene really caught me by surprise, and while it could’ve been written better, perhaps, Sanderson did a damn good job.
The final moments of the book were a tad rushed. It seemed as if Sanderson wanted to get it all over with in the final chapters, although he still maintained the intensity and exhilaration. As I mentioned earlier, Mat’s final confrontation with Fain definitely needed work, while Perrin’s clash with Slayer was conversely quite good. And how about the big battle? Rand v. the Dark One? Honestly, I would’ve preferred more Rand in this book, especially after his relative absence in ToM, and his battle with the Dark One was a little too philosophical for my taste, I don’t really know how else I would have written it. Sanderson’s so good with the surreal and the magical, I expected a little more in terms of actual fighting, but the visions were well-written, and the final moment when Rand defeated Moridin and the Dark One simultaneously was excellent. And the plot twist at the end, Rand’s final fate…it impressed me. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first, but after reading the epilogue and thinking about it, I think it was an excellent, and rather unpredictable, decision. As I mentioned earlier, it was bittersweet, and WoT should have ended neither tragically nor too happily.
So in the end, I credit Sanderson for a good job on this book, and all his other contributions. Perhaps he could’ve have taken his time more, and improved some of the issues prevalent in his writing. Mat still never improved to a satisfactory level, there was still idiosyncrasies in his writing, a lack of organization, and I’m sure that when I get around to a reread, I’ll notice plot flaws. But given the insurmountable task he was confronted with, I think he did a serviceable job, and I certainly don’t think the series should’ve been abandoned when Jordan died. I don’t think at all that the last three books were bad enough to necessitate eliminating them from the canon or something. I don’t regret Sanderson’s contributions. This incredible series needed an ending, and I think it received a good one, although that’s, of course, subject to debate.
And having reviewed A Memory of Light, perhaps a few words on the series on the whole. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve read The Wheel of Time for only three years (and for one those years, I was hardly reading it, distracted by George R.R. Martin’s brilliant A Song of Ice and Fire), but it’s had a major impact on how I perceive and enjoy fantasy. To be honest, I was rather young and inexperienced with professional, serious fantasy when I first stumbled upon the series in a Denver bookstore. Prior to WoT, I’d only really read YA fantasy, Harry Potter defining my childhood. But reading The Wheel of Time was a step up, and I realized it the moment I read the prologue and was intrigued by the complexity, the sophistication of Jordan’s writing style and his immersive world. In many ways, I wasn’t completely prepared for the scope of this series. When I reached the overwhelming TSR, I couldn’t really appreciate the complexity of this series. And Jordan could be a daunting author even at his best, with convoluted writing and a myriad of subplots. But when I returned to the series after a hiatus, having made another major step into epic fantasy with A Song of Ice and Fire, I was enticed like never before. The fascination with Jordan’s world and his rich plotline allowed me to endure the slower entries and even enjoy them (except CoT, there wasn’t much enjoyable about that one). WoT has consumed my fantasy reading to an extent I haven’t explored too far beyond it into the world of epic fantasy, but as it served as my official introduction to how fascinating and complex the genre can be, I’m more excited than ever to make further discoveries.
The Wheel of Time isn’t a perfect series. I see debate abound whenever it’s brought up on Internet forms and book review sites everywhere. Some defend it obsessively, others condemn it furiously. Robert Jordan had his flaws as a writer, although I think his prose was definitely superior to Sanderson’s, and even his pacing, at least earlier in the series. His gender politics, so to speak, were impressive in some regards, but he often blundered (for example, the unfortunate implications of the whole Mat-Tylin fiasco). His pacing, of course, is a contentious issue, and while I think it was nowhere nearly as bad as some claim, it did slow in the later entries, unforgivably so in CoT. And I had the ability to read the books consecutively, while many disgruntled fans had to wait years only to see little story development. Jordan’s incredible universe was a little derivative, at least in EotW (although that was partially intentional). But for these flaws, and perhaps more I didn’t get around to, Robert Jordan wrote one of the most acclaimed, intriguing, exciting, and best realized fantasy series in recent years. And I think Brandon Sanderson did a commendable job in bringing it to a conclusion.
And so these are my parting words. How about New Spring, one may ask? Well, I haven’t read the prequel, but since I’m very much fascinated with Randland, I intend to read as much on it as I can, and will definitely jump into New Spring when I have the opportunity (although there’re plenty of other novels I’ve intended to read that were pushed aside because I wanted to finish WoT), although I don’t think I’ll have any blog entries on it. Yes, this is, until further notice, my finale entry on this blog. After finishing the exhilarating TFoH (still possibly my favorite book in the series), I was so intent on reading through this series, I decided to provide my own commentary on this blog, and even when my enthusiasm in WoT waned a little, I was dedicated to continuing it. I know the entries were a little slower coming in recent months, for which I apologize. This blog wasn’t wildly successful or anything, but I know a few of you out there have followed it, perhaps from the beginning, and I applaud you for enduring my often-incoherent rambling. I know I never offered any really profound commentary on this series; this was just a way to express my immediate reactions as I delved through this incredible series for the first time.
And with that, I bid this blog, and this series, farewell. It’s been quite an experience.