Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Memory of Light - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

At long last, the fourteenth and final instalment of The Wheel of Time series has arrived. I sympathize with people who had the bad luck to pick this series up in 1990, when it was thought to become a trilogy. Personally I didn't pick this series up until the summer of 1999, just before the mass market paperback release of The Path of Daggers, book eight in the series. That was less fourteen years ago so I really shouldn't complain. Especially considering all the fun I've had with this series in the mean time. That being said, it is past time the series was brought to a close so I started the concluding volume with a mixture of regret and relief. That feeling stayed with me after I finished it. Relief that the conclusion is here and regret that Jordan didn't finish it himself. As unfair as it is to Sanderson, who, as far as I can tell did his stinking best, it would have been different. If Jordan had managed to tone down this obsession with details a bit, it might even have been better. But that was not to be, the book is what it is and I think most readers who stuck with it this long, will like it just fine.

I'm not going to try to write a spoiler free review. This is a classic example of a fantasy epic. If you have read the previous thirteen books, the ending of this one should not be a surprise. Some of the details might.

A synopsis is as impossible as pointless at this point in the tale. Let's just say the last battle erupts and nobody escapes the onslaught. As the the various armies gather to do battle with the forces of the Dark One, Rand is still trying to unite the different factions and win the White Tower for his plan to break the seals that hold the Dark One imprisoned. Time is running out, soon he will have to depart for Shayol Ghul for his final showdown with the Dark One and leave the fight in the physical world to others. Despite the rapidly approaching Final Battle humanity is still divided. Will they be able to pull together in time to defeat the Dark One and allow humanity to enter the Fourth Age free of the shadow's taint?

Since Sanderson has taken the helm of the series there has been no shortage of battles and action scenes but this novel tops the previous two in that respect. It is essentially one huge military campaign. The chapter in which the decisive battle against the forces of the Dark One is fought takes up a staggering 190 pages and yet, it is far from the only clash we get to see in the book. I suspect that readers who are not into the Wheel of Time series for the battles will have serious trouble working their way through 900 pages of it. For my part I think Sanderson does battles well enough. It may be a bit drawn out but it certainly tops anything we've seen thus far and as such it's a fitting climax to the series.

In The Towers of Midnight Sanderson set up a conflict between Egwene and Rand over whether or not to break the seals of the Dark One's prison. Egwene, as Amyrlin watcher of the seals, being radically opposed to the idea, while Rand sees it as the only possibility to permanently solve to problem posed by an imperfect seal of the bore. It is one of the many ways in which the duality between Saidin and Saidar, or male and female, run through the series. The eternal struggle for balance between the two pops up in several places in the story. I was a bit afraid that Rand would be proven 'correct' in the story, essentially giving the 'male' side precedence over the 'female' half. In the end some sort of balance is achieved however. The relationship between men and women in these novel has more than once (accurately) been described as infantile. A thing I noticed over and over again is instances of men and women acquiring a grudging respect for each other. Better late than never.

As in the previous novels co-written by Sanderson, it focuses mostly on the main characters. Rand, Perrin, Egwene, Mat and Elayne taking up most of the screen time. Much has been made of Sanderson's treatment (or abuse depending of where you stand) of certain characters. His Mat especially had been under fire and I suspect his Moiraine will not be universally loved either. I must admit I think Mat lost something of his appeal after Sanderson took over. The real roguishness of this character appears to be lost and that is a shame. Mat rises up to the occasion though, having to use every scrap the memories he's been endowed with to keep the Dark One's forces from victory. Sanderson may not have captured Mat exactly but Perrin's story line is the one I had more issues with. He is not nearly as annoying as in the later book written by Jordan alone, but his chase in the World of Dreams of Slayer is repetitive. Given all the story lines Sanderson has had to tie up, he spends a lot of time with Perrin. Personally I think we could have done with a little less.

Where Perrin gets a bit too much attention in this novel some aspects of the relationship between Elayne and Egwene, or perhaps I should say the Queen of Andor and the White Tower, remain underexposed. A tension has been building between the two when Elayne starts taking decisions based on her responsibilities as Queen that do not necessarily coincide with the Tower's interests. It is one of the many political divisions that run through the series and personally I think it is one of the more interesting ones. It involves two characters who have been with us since The Eye of the World after all. There is so much undeveloped potential in this story line that it strikes me as a waste not to do anything with it.

Rand himself, the champion of humanity, is, after being very temperamental in most of the series, is as serene as Buddha for most of the story. He is convinced of what he needs to do and only has one goal left in his life, the strongest emotion you can ascribe to him is determination to see it though. It would have made him a boring character if it hadn't been obvious he is aiming for the impossible by claiming to be able to kill the Dark One. In a world made up of dualities, a destructive force is necessary to attain balance. For me it was not so much the question whether or not Rand would succeed, but how Sanderson would manage to solve this plot point without Rand catastrophically failing.

I could go of on a ramble about the myriad of plot lines that aren't resolved satisfactory at this point. Despite A Memory of Light being one of the longer Wheel of Time books, I think only The Shadow Rising and Lord of Chaos have a higher word count, there is a lot of stuff that is dealt with quickly and not as thoroughly as the Wheel of Time fanatic might like. One thing I personally thought wasn't handled too well was Aviendha's story line and her struggle to save a remnant of a remnant of the Aiel people but there is plenty more the reader might miss. There is Olver's story line, Brigit's dilemma, the various power struggles among the Forsaken, the upheaval in the Seanchan homeland, the various groups of female channellers and their relationship with the White Tower etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Each fan will find their own faults I suppose. My girlfriend for example, thinks Uno's swearing is much less eloquent than in previous volumes. Something I didn't notice until she pointed it out to me. In the end Sanderson tries to stay close to the core of the story, and given the fact he has needed nearly a million words over three books  just to do that, it seems like a wise choice.

A Memory of Light is not a brilliant book and probably not the book some Wheel of Time fans would have wanted to conclude the series either. It is highly readable though, and it does the very thing some readers have been waiting for over twenty years for: finish the series. Perhaps not the most ringing of endorsements but completing such a massive series is an achievement in itself and more than a lot of fans had hoped for after Jordan's too early departure in 2007. The Wheel of Time is a landmark in the fantasy genre but also a series that dragged itself a bit further than it should have in all honesty. The series may be a landmark, the genre has moved on to other things. A Memory of Light is a big release because it finishes the series but there will be more interesting books published this year. Now that this journey is over, I think I will read a few of those next.

Book Details
Title: A Memory of Light
Author: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 909
Year: 2013
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-84149-872-0
First published: 2013

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