I started A Memory of Light, the final installment in the Wheel of Time series at 7:30 PM Friday night. I finished 11:30 PM Sunday. My eyes ache. So here’s a review.
I’ve written no spoilers. This 14-book series is a goddamn marathon, and I’m not about to thieve rewards from the uninitiated. Once you finish the review, I’ll have hopefully convinced you to read all these books. Otherwise, I dunno, go get Cliff Notes or something.
It’s tough to find words here. In Friday’s post, I promised myself I’d do more impressionistic, less technical reviews, but while A Memory of Light inspired a metric ton of emotion and taught me as well, it’s hell to pen the more emotional thoughts. For now, I’ll anchor them with technical analysis.
Overall, this book’s extremely well-written. Brandon Sanderson proved twice before that he’s the perfect heir to Robert Jordan’s gargantuan fantasy odyssey (which was started in that bleak era known to some as “The 90s”.) Honestly, I felt Jordan was losing his touch in books 7-10, anyways, every time that he portrayed tension between two rivals by their horses nipping each other and then being “stayed with a steady hand.” Sanderson’s legitimacy as an heir was never in question to sane fans. Accordingly, nothing’s wrong on a sentences-and-paragraphs level. Frankly, the only major structural flaw in this entire 910-page book is a monstrous chapter entitled “The Last Battle” which alone outweighs the pagecount of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber.
That’s right. The behemoth extends from page 617 to 807 of the hardback version, interweaves 30 points of view, and leaves Greg with massive headache and eyeburn by the end. It is… ambitious. That it holds up at all is an amazing feat, like a gleeman juggling 30 balls. But while the gleeman’s skill is in no question, my ability to track all his movements to fully appreciate the performance most definitely is. It felt like a thematically unified Robot Chicken marathon, my head spinning with names and unable to firmly attach to any one character long enough to build up my empathy and slip into their mindset. Not even the traditional Jordan prologues are that long and action-packed. By the end of that one chapter, I felt overwhelmed, even though I took a break for a seven hour nap around page 710.
The book made me feel frustrated, in the way all great books make a reader frustrated. I want the good guys to win and the bad guys to lose, and the author won’t let the good guys catch a break. But my frustration runs deeper than that. I mentioned before that I prefer The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. I don’t think I fully explained why. I love adventure stories because they’re more personal, more wondrous, more full of possibility. Battlefield tales, by contrast, strike me as depersonalizing and dissociative — while I may care about an intrepid band of dwarves trying to take their home back from an evil dragon, I find it impossible to care about the macro-level dance of cavalry, infantry and archers. This is entirely me: it bores me. By necessity, this book’s heavy on tactics and warfare, low on adventure; I mean, it’s about the events leading to The Last Battle, Tarmon Gai’don. The authors aren’t to blame that I prefer Eye of the World to A Crown of Swords or Towers of Midnight to A Memory of Light. And Sanderson did mix bits of wonder in battlefield experimentation, new channeling weaves and new applications of old weaves. So I’ve no real good right to complain.
I felt happy too, and tense, and angry.
But more than anything else, I mourn.
This series saw me through my life’s hardest trials. Fighting my own angry outbursts in elementary school, I fled my village with Lan and Moiraine. We visited the Eye together.
In Middle School, I awoke to a painfully awkward adolescence, just as Rand awoke to the saidin and the darkness which tainted it.
In High School, I fed my emotions to the flame and the void to keep sane.
And so it went. For all I poke fun at this series, no other will touch my life so extensively, profoundly, or lengthily. As I close the last new Wheel of Time novel I’ll ever get, the kidney-punch hit me: I will never again share roads or camps with these characters. We will never see Shara or the Seanchan lands together. We’ll never glean more lore of the Age of Legends out of Rand’s recollections of Lews Therin’s life, or pry them from a ter’angreal. We’ll never flee from Halfmen, fearing for our lives. Ever again.
This series taught me why I write fantasy. A Memory of Light reminded me. Fantasy is a place, a world, where people go in order to dream, so that in waking they can be heroes too. Fantasy is a place where people who don’t fit in can have a place too. Fantasy is a world where wonder and magic still exist, just like they should in the real world. And Fantasy is a place where a boy who’s angry for no reason he understands can go and find friends to tag along with.
I realized that I’ll never see these friends again. I’ll reread the books, but… that’s recollection, not experience. In short, I won’t make new memories with these friends. Their lives will go on, in their distant world, and mine will too, in this one.
I closed the gateway between when Book 14’s back cover shut on my first reading of this book.
When that cover closed, I wept. I still do, in fits and starts as I write and edit this, unable to sleep as I grieve. I grieve for friends who I’ll never meet again, look back solemnly on the times we had, to experience those memories anew, shining through my grief.
Memories of light.
Thank you Robert Jordan for conceiving this series.
Thank you Brandon Sanderson for seeing it through until its end.
I hadn’t realized exactly what this series meant to me until now.
Get A Memory of Light here.