Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson – A Memory of Light
Length: 908 pages
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Started: 15 June 2013
Finished: 10 July 2013
Where did it come from? Bought from Amazon.
Why do I have it? I have been waiting to read the end of the series since I first started them in 2004. Not as long as people who have been reading since they were first published, but still.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 15 January 2013.
What’s this book about?
Nothing much, just the final
fight against Evil.
Summary: Rand al’Thor has to fight The Dark One, and this time it’s personal. Everyone dies.
[I may have used that exact same summary for my review of another long-anticipated final book in another much-beloved fantasy series. It's still applicable.]
Okay, sorry, I’ll do a real summary: The Dragon Reborn has long been prophecied to break the world as he saves the world, and now that the eve of the Last Battle looms, that prophecy is seeming more real than ever. The armies of men gather on the Fields of Merrilor, even as a neverending storm rages above them, and the very Pattern of the world seems to be unravelling around them. An uneasy peace exists between nations, as all men and women are called to fight for the Dragon, Rand al’Thor. The fight for the future of the world will take place at Shayol Ghul, at the place where the Dark One touches the world most strongly, but the Shadow’s resources are seemingly endless, and all of Rand’s friends and allies will have their hands full trying to contain the Shadowspawn that threaten to overrun the lands of men, not to mention the darkfriend channellers and the Forsaken. They must hold long enough to give Rand time, even if they don’t necessarily agree with his plans, but time itself is another thing that is unravelling as the Dark One comes ever closer to being free from his prison.
Review: Before I review A Memory of Light, I want to take a minute to discuss the series as a whole. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to talk about how I feel about this book in particular without talking about how I feel about the series as a whole, because this book isn’t really a book unto itself, but rather the culmination of everything that has come before. (And that “everything” includes a lot; over 12,000 pages of story in my editions, not to mention illustrated guide, the graphic novel adaptations, etc.) So, like most fans (and I think anyone who has made it through those 12,000 pages counts as a fan), there are feelings about the series that are almost impossible to disentangle from my feelings about how that series wraps up in this book.
The Wheel of Time are the books that turned me into a fantasy fan. Sure, I was already a fantasy reader. I grew up on Narnia, and spent most of my teenage years with Anne Rice. I’d torn through all of the published Harry Potter books, I’d tackled Lord of the Rings, and I’d even read through David Eddings’s 10- (or 12-) book Belgariad/Mallorean series. So I wasn’t new to the genre. But if you ask me what books really made me a full-fledged, dyed-in-the-wool, eats-sleeps-breathes-swords-and-sorcery fantasy fan? I’d point to the Wheel of Time. I listened to them on audiobook my first time through, so for the better part of a year, if my earbuds were in, then Mr. Jordan’s world was in my head. I’d never been so completely immersed in a series before. I remember feeling not only like I knew the characters, but that even when I wasn’t reading, the story and the world was carrying on, somewhere just beyond my line of sight. I knew these books weren’t for everyone, but I felt bad for the people who didn’t know about this amazing other world that I could sink into at will. In short: I was hooked. All of this was happening in 2004/2005, so while I can’t claim the same decades-long connection to this series as people who began reading it with the publication of The Eye of the World in 1991, I still have been anticipating this last book for a long time.
So, yeah. Feelings. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I will do my best to try to talk about A Memory of Light more specifically. But I think the context is important, because my primary reaction to this book was: I was satisfied. And that sounds like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not; because this book is the culmination of all of this time and emotional energy, satisfying is exactly what you want it to be.
So. Is it my favorite book in the series? No. (That would be The Shadow Rising or The Fires of Heaven.) Is it even my favorite book of the three that Sanderson wrote, after Robert Jordan’s death? Also no. (That would be The Gathering Storm.) But in some respects, I think that’s inevitable with this book. The problem is that I don’t like reading about battles. Even with maps, I just cannot visualize troop movements or understand battle strategy, no matter how well it’s written. (This is also why I don’t play Risk.) And this book has a LOT of battles. It starts out with multiple battles on multiple fronts, and then moves into The Last Battle, which gets its own entire chapter. Its own entire 200-page-long chapter. There are a lot of battle scenes, is what I’m saying. And at times, some of the fighting starts to feel repetitive. The hordes of Trollocs and other Shadowspan just keep coming and coming and coming, and while that’s kind of the point from the characters’ point of view, it’s not the most enthralling thing for a reader. (This reader, at least.)
But. But! Even though this book is in some respects all about the fighting, what really made this book for me were the little bits between or during the fighting, bits of character between the troop movements. I’ve noted in the previous books that Sanderson has a knack for crafting these little shining nuggets of scenes that are different than you expected yet simultaneously perfect and entire unto themselves. That talent is on display here, for sure, and what makes these scenes so resonant is that they involve characters that I’ve known and loved for years, and just fitting them together just right. Rand and Perrin’s meeting at the beginning of the book. Rand’s long-awaited encounter with the Seanchan. Rand and Tam. Lan, being Lan. Loial, being Loial. Talmanes, being surprisingly awesome. Bela, still being around. Heroes emerging from unexpected places. Someone finally figuring out that they can use gateways to communicate with people in other places, after me yelling at the characters for entire books for not talking to each other despite the amazing magical powers at their disposal. Perrin and Mat, each saving the world just as much as Rand (I particularly loved Perrin’s last major scene. Oh, Perrin, I’m so glad you’re my favorite again after all that “Faile, Faile über alles” nonsense). Deaths, some expected and some not, that nevertheless just broke my heart. (For as much as I’m usually kidding when I say “EVERYBODY DIES” as a spoiler warning, there were times in this book when I thought I wasn’t far off.) Even characters that I had less time and energy invested in wound up having some of my favorite moments (Pevara and Androl, in particular.)
Talking about the characters brings up another thing that Sanderson does well, which is integrate all of the characters and all of the points of view, and all of the many, many, many story threads that have been established in the preceeding 13 books. Despite basically everyone in the world making an appearance, Sanderson keeps things moving with short snappy sections from various points of view, tying together all the threads and all the loose ends without it feeling like a “Who’s Who in the Last Battle.” There were characters who didn’t get as much action as I would have hoped – Moiraine, Nynaeve, and Aviendha, to start with, and Padan Fain’s reappearance felt a little like an afterthought – but for the most part, Sanderson did a great job balancing (juggling?) all of the competing storylines.
And as for the ending itself… again: satisfied. I thought the outcome of Rand’s battle with The Dark One was pretty predictable, but it is epic fantasy, and some of that just comes with the territory. The denouement/epilogue was somewhat shorter than I wanted (I really wished we could have seen Artur Hawkwing lay the smackdown on Tuon; she’s never been my favorite, but she was even more obnoxious than usual this time around), and I can see why people have called it rushed. But it was effectively done, and in keeping with the rest of the book, and I can absolutely see why Jordan chose to end the story where he did. And the very last paragraph that echoes the familiar first words of every book, I will admit to that paragraph bringing a tear to my eye. So overall, this book: not perfect, and not necessarily my favorite, but I also can’t imagine how it could have wrapped up such an enormous series any better. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I’m not even going to make a recommendation for this specific book, since it’s pointless for people who haven’t read the preceeding 13 books, and equally pointless for those who have. I will recommend the series as a whole, though. Objectively, it’s too long, there’s probably at least a book’s worth of material that could have been cut from the late-middle books, but subjectively: it’s wonderful, and immersive, and classic, and well worth reading if you like this sort of thing at all.
(Also, I have now used up all the parentheses in the English language. Sorry about that, everyone.)
First Line: Bayrd pressed the coin between his thumb and forefinger.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 449: “Some of the Trollocs shot arrows at the defenders above, but casualties mounted as the Shadowspawn at the front tried to hack their way through the abatis of thorns.” – A defensive obstacle made by laying felled trees on top of each other with branches, sometimes sharpened, facing the enemy.
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