Saturday, January 19, 2013
Review of A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
I was going to write a long review of the final book of the Wheel of Time. But, really, I'm not sure that much more needs to be said. The Wheel of Time has been an important mainstay of epic fantasy for over 20 years. Begun by Robert Jordan with the publication of The Eye of the World, after his death it was completed by Brandon Sanderson with the last three novels: The Gathering Storm, The Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light. At least portions of the final novel were written by Robert Jordan before his death, though I won't hazard a guess as to which portions. The Wheel of Time has had ups and downs. I personally didn't get into it until the third book, The Dragon Reborn, and there were certainly books along the way that were significantly below par. Some of the novels around books seven to nine seemed to contain no significant plot developments, and the whole book seemed to be spent catching up with each character, reminding you of what they were up to, and then switching to the next. But then things began to pick up just before Robert Jordan died, and Brandon Sanderson was able to bring it to a conclusion.
The whole final book centers around Tarmon Gaidon, the Last Battle. It's actually about a series of battles, on numerous fronts. And if you find battle scenes boring, then you're going to have difficulty with this one. There's one 200 page chapter about a single battle. It is the main one, and deserves a lot of attention, but still, that's a long time to spend on a single battle. Rand al'Thor, the main character, has what is actually a pretty minimal part on this front. He's too focused on his own struggle with the Dark One, which is a lot more personal and focused--practically a duel, though one fought with ideas and the threads of reality, not swords or magic. But many of the major characters, and most of the minor ones, are involved in the battle, including Lan, Elayne, Egwene, Suiane, Gareth, Tuon, Gawyn, Galad, Faile, Olver, and especially Mat, in the role we always knew he would have. Now, I've said before that Brandon Sanderson doesn't really seem to get Mat, and that shows up in the early parts of the novel, but in the Last Battle he seems to be in fine form, showing the sort of mad brilliance we expect from him when it comes to war.
I won't say the battle dragged, because it kept me up all night trying to finish it, but there were moments where I wished Brandon would pick up the pace. On the bright side, everybody had a role and a chance to shine in this book. They needed to. On the other hand, not everyone's role was what I might have wished. Perrin managed to miss the big battle in the south, and only showed up for the showdown in the North, a smaller but equally important battle.
One of the requirements of the final book in a series is to fulfill all the promises given in the previous ones. As there were a lot of prophecies, that was a lot to fulfill, and not all of them were met in a very satisfying way. Suiane's and Gareth Bryne's, for example. Or Alivia's. In some places it felt like shortcuts were taken to get the prophecy resolved, but I suppose that was inevitable, given the scope of this vast series, and exactly how many promises there were to fulfill.
But ultimately, I was satisfied with the ending. Not everyone survived, and in some cases I was surprised by who did and who didn't, but that was satisfying in its own way. And the last chapter contained a couple of final surprises that I think were worth waiting for.