Monday, December 7, 2015

A Memory of Light Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time Book Fourteen
Pages: 1,168

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(Spoilers for the previous thirteen Wheel of Time books are below).

It all comes down to this.  A Memory of Light. The final installment to a fantasy series where the word epic is a description that just doesn’t do it justice.

To answer some quick questions…. Is the final battle worth the build up of the previous thirteen books? Yes.  Do all of the plot threads reach satisfying conclusions? Mostly.  Does A Memory of Light provide many moments of catharsis that would be expected of a final installment to a series? Certainly.

Brandon Sanderson delivers his best installment of the series in the Wheel of Time finale.  A Memory of Light is very good, but it is still a flawed work.  Despite the flaws it is easily one of the five best books in this series.  Sanderson’s final turn of the wheel is one that will leave a powerful impact on readers, while providing a satisfying conclusion to a series that helped transform the fantasy genre.

Book after book the plot lines have spread out since The Shadow Rising, and now they finally converge.  Rand al’Thor unites the people of the world together to prepare and fight the Last Battle, and to discuss breaking the seals that are holding the Dark One’s prison.  Egwene al’Vere opposes Rand’s plans for breaking the seal and hopes to convince him and the others not to do this.

Mat Cauthon heads to Ebou Dar to meet his wife Tuon to try and convince the Seanchan to join the Last Battle.  Perrin Ayabara prepares to defeat Slayer in Tel’aran’rhiod.  The recently resurrected Moiraine prepares to rejoin the side of Light and help guide them one last time.

There is a lot happening in A Memory of Light, despite the converging nature of the book, so there will be a number of things that are missed in this review.  The most significant plot point that is addressed in this book is the Last Battle.  The Last Battle is preceded by a number of other large battles, and oftentimes a lot of this book feels like one giant battle.  At times this can become cumbersome, but for the most part it is really satisfying.  After thirteen books of build up to this battle who wouldn’t expect it to be huge?

To emphasize the size of this war and particularly the size of the Last Battle, the chapter called The Last Battle is 190 pages long… and you better believe that the battle still continues after that chapter is finished.  Although Rand is an important major character in this book, his Battle with the Dark One gets enough attention, but the book is largely stolen by the performances of Egwene and Mat.

If there was one thing I could say it appeared Sanderson had struggled with during his Wheel of Time writing tenure, it would have to be with writing for the character of Mat Cauthon.  This changes in A Memory of Light. Sanderson writes Mat to near perfection, catchy all of his endearing quirks and his ridiculous sense of humor.  Mats letters/messages throughout the book are a nice touch on the character, and his one upping discussion with Rand in the early goings of the book is hilarious.

Relative newcomers Androl and Pevara also standout. The romantic implications of their relationship grow, while they simultaneously try to survive the Last Battle.  Their story arc in this book provides a nice juxtaposition between humor, love, violence, and chaos.  Demandred, who has been lurking in the shadows in previous books, finally makes his first extended appearance.  After a lot of build up, Demandred shows why he is one of the most formidable Forsaken.

One of the things that worried me about this series is that Jordan/Sanderson would not want to have his characters pay the butchers bill (as Gawyn Trakand would put it).  When the side that wins doesn’t pay the butchers bill so to speak, it undermines the greatness of the people fighting for that side.  I always like to use the Harry Potter series as the example for not paying the butchers bill, because the finale of that book features a lot of deaths of C and B grade characters. Losing only mostly characters that aren’t too significant is damaging to the losing sides credibility, and it’s missed opportunity in providing some very powerful and emotional moments.

Now on the other end of the spectrum Jordan/Sanderson are by no means a George R.R. Martin, who viciously slaughters all of his major characters. By Jordan/Sanderson’s standards, the decision of who survives in A Memory of Light was handled as well as I could have realistically hoped.

Most of the myriad plot threads are wrapped up very nicely in A Memory of Light, at least from a general and philosophical perspective. Most of the characters get endings that work, but there were a few notable characters that didn’t, and I’m avoiding spoilers by not mentioning their names here.

If you dig deeper though, I expected more specifics in resolving the lives of so many of these characters.  After 12,000 pages I was expecting more than a 16 page epilogue to try and wrap it all up.  The epilogue, written by Jordan, could have really benefited from being expanded…. (this is the only time you will read me writing about how this series should be longer in any way).  Sanderson and Jordan’s widow though refrained from making to many changes to the epilogue, and maybe that was for the best.

Despite some flaws, A Memory of Light is great, plain and simple.  The Wheel of Time ends, and largely speaking, fans of this series should be more than satisfied.

Score: 9.3

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