Review: A Memory of Light
This is easily the most difficult review I have had the opportunity write. I start it off much the same I way wrote the review for the previous WoT book. It’s difficult to write a review solely on A MEMORY OF LIGHT, without considering all that has come before. Opening the cover of this book, and reading those first words, all the way to finishing the last words and closing the book, has been been an inevitability hurtling (sometimes crawling) at me for 17 years or so.
Drafting reviews for this book has been a frustrating experience. \ It would wobble back and forth between reviewing the series, and reviewing the characters. Neither of those things are up for criticism anymore which, in my opinion, is the largest failing of our review of TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT. I can’t review the characters. They have nearly as much of a history of existence as I do. I can’t review the series. Those books have already been reviewed and the plot analyzed that some could get degrees on the subject. Plus, and let’s be honest, at this point in the series you’ll read the book (or not) regardless of what we say. I can’t review Brandon’s writing. Number one, it isn’t all his writing. Number two, his writing stands on its own now. Brandon can take a weekend, vomit some words into a manuscript, send it to Tor, have it be published, and it will still be awe-inspiringly professional. This is Jordan’s finale, not some weekend project. Brandon took his care with this. It isn’t just professional, it’s carefully crafted.
So, in my mind, there is only one thing left to review. Only one topic left to discuss. Its role as a finale to the biggest fantasy series of our time. This is not going to be an impartial review based on story-structure, pacing, characters, plot, and content. The book itself is going to be polarizing, and that’s simply unavoidable. With it being the end, there will be emotions running high, and many will love it. Many will hate it. And the reasons for both will be myriad, some more concrete than others. In fact, calling this a review may be a tad misleading. There’s too much baggage (good and bad) to review it the way I would another book. So instead I’ll do what I think all reviewers should do with the book. Talk about how it felt. How I experienced the end of the series. If you’ve been paying attention, you can see I’ve already been doing that. This, here, is just pointing it out for those of you who are slow to catch on.
Reading this book carried a weight with it. Even the most mundane moments in the book were a fairly emotional experience. And then there were the moments that hit me right in the feels. Of those, there were more than just a few. As a reader of the series I felt the end of an era rushing towards me, just as the characters felt the end of an Age roaring at them. The writing here is good, but the emotional “meta” carries it into something more. The characters don’t think they will ever see each other again, same as we know we will never see them again.
It’s actually funny. Steve and I would lambaste this series for hours together, through post after post on forums, or even in our reviews here. Over 20 years the series has been going, sometimes with huge gaps between books, with us wanting the next book, and the conclusion sooner. We just wanted it to end so we could call it a day (twenty+ years) and move on. We wanted the series to be finished, and that had become priority number one. Now that it’s over, and hopefully avoiding too much melodrama, I wish I had enjoyed the moment a bit more. The Wheel of Time series is over, and these characters, for better or worse, that have been such a part of my, our, literary life are done. Frustrations aside, the series shaped much of fantasy writing today, and instilled a love for the epic fantasy genre in me, and to countless readers around the world. To have that story finally come to an end is bittersweet.
Now obviously no one comes to EBR to read a review that’s written like this, all about feels and such. So in the interest of giving people what they want, as well as actively trying to avoid the length of the last two WOT reviews we did, here are a few of the more critical thoughts I had on the book.
Finishing up TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT, I realized it was a checklist book. Business. Getting things done to set this book up properly. Still, as I mentioned way back then, the checklist eventually seemed small when all was said and done. This book, though a finale, has a similar checklist feel to it. There are so many plots and threads to a story of this magnitude that needed an end, and a lot of that didn’t get resolved until the end. Some of the resolutions being superb, and others…just okay. When I say “okay” don’t think I mean disappointing, just that some were better (or much better) than others. Yes, it might have something of a checklist feel to it, but it’s a checklist I gladly put marks to. These are all of the things we have been waiting for literally years to see resolved. And frankly, it was a lot of fun to start a segment of reading and realize, “Yes! Here it comes!”
When I first started reading the series I always thought the last book would be called Tarmon Gai’don, and it very well could have been. This entry weighs in at 909 pages, and the last 500+ of those pages are the war, with multiple battle scenes being depicted even before that. It would be very easy to get tired of the constant battles, but it doesn’t happen. Brandon transitions quickly enough, and injects enough character and heart into the war events to make it a personal affair. Sometimes it borders on the wordy side, but we knew that was to be expected, and one scene never overstays its welcome. There are also moments where the “Pattern” just makes everything super convenient–but again, we all knew that was to be expected. Killing Trollocs does become a little old though. It just seems like we are past the point of that being interesting. Especially when multiple characters make short work of multiple Fades. The book does bounce around a lot during all of this, and it does get difficult to remember exactly which army is doing what (there are 4 battles going on simultaneously across the continent, and multiple armies in each). If you’ve read R. Scott Bakker’s THE THOUSANDFOLD THOUGHT, it has that same way of jumping around, just with more detail and longer scenes. The action sweeps forward and carries the reader with it, so we don’t get caught slogging through nit-picky descriptions of army maneuvers to keep the clarity. That would have been a boring book. Still I can see this as something that will detract from the experience for some readers. Especially those who read slower, knowing that you still have hundreds of pages of similar action going on.
Similar in structure to the above, are the series’ trademark feuds. It is the exact same experience as the actual battles, but on a smaller scale. There are a number of feuds. They are interspersed throughout the book, and make up a large portion of the content. Some will like this, some won’t.
Speaking of trademarks. The Wheel of Time is renowned, loved, and hated, for character immortality. It’s not likely someone will die, and if they do, well barring balefire, they come back. Constantly. This changes a bit with the last book. You know if someone dies, as far as we care and can be concerned they are dead. So deaths had a lot more oomph to them, and there are obviously a lot more deaths here than in previous books. A ton more. Some will be surprises. Some are actually main characters. But, I personally, still don’t feel there was enough. I don’t necessarily want to see the world burn, but for all the descriptions about how horrible and trying and difficult of an experience it is for the characters, I wanted to see more characters fail/fall, so the successes meant more. It’s a similar complaint I have about the The Lord of the Rings.
The Lord of the Rings. In THE EYE OF THE WORLD, it is very obvious that Jordan wasn’t just inspired by it, but he modeled some of his story after it. That emulation dissipated as the series went on, but if TEOTW is Jordan’s THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, AMOL is his THE RETURN OF THE KING. So much so in places that I actually stopped reading and sat thinking about the similarities. In fact, this has to be my largest complaint of the book itself. In writing this, I originally pointed out the similarities–there was over a dozen of them that were incredibly strong, with many more that are more subtle–but in the interest of potential spoiler prevention I edited them out. Let’s just say it was way more than I liked.
Now, as to how it felt as a conclusion. I’m completely satisfied. The ending didn’t drag on forever. Actually, it almost had an abrupt feel. I expected a lot, A LOT, of falling action in WoT form. But the ending snuck up and the book was closed before I knew it. There are still questions hanging after the end, but the story, the plots we have been chasing, and the conflict we have observed, were completed. No one I know thought it could be done. It was too big. Too much needed to happen for one book. But somehow Brandon did it, and he did a fantastic job of it. When I finished the book, I even sent Brandon a text, essentially letting him know I had joined the masses of Brandon worshippers for a minute (just one, though).
Because I think it is fun, I put some in the last WoT review, and because it’s from these moments that the origins of this website were stirred, I want to include a little bit of Steve and I texting about the book as we read through it.
S: So far it’s not too bad. Kinda explainy, but that’s WoT for you. I like the “holy crap, the end is here” feel so far. You get far yet? I assume so, you read faster than I do.
N: Yeah. Finished it today…
S: What did you think? No Spoilers!
N: I actually quite liked it. I liked the resolution. I didn’t expect that.
S: Huh… That’s not the reaction I expected from you.
N: Writing the review right now.
S: Right on. Thanks. I’m halfway through. Surprisingly entertaining.
There is no reason to include the content rating. Swearing is done in WoT-verse language, and with (sometimes) hilarious effect in Elayne’s case. Sex is non existent in detail, and only referenced in passing. There is a ton of violence. An entire book of warfare worth of violence to be exact. But it isn’t graphic. Hmm. I guess I just included the content rating. I guess a little bit of Jordan rubbed off on me, here at the end, and I just kept writing.
Thank you Robert Jordan for beginning something that created so many wonderful beginnings. I may have moved on from adoration since I started your books, but now you hold my respect. Tai Shar Malkier.
Thank you Brandon Sanderson for closing the Third Age and bringing the Dragon’s Peace to fruition.