A Memory of Light
No fan of Jordan's work will want to miss this sprawling series-ender. But it is not a book to read out of context.
The threads of fate finally weave together in A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. This is the 14th and final book in Robert Jordan’s epic “Wheel of Time” series, begun in 1990. (The final three books of the series were finished by Sanderson – using Jordan's notes – after Jordan's 2007 death.) "A Memory of Light," set in a world based on the 16th century and heavily influenced by medieval Japanese culture, is what you might call “classic fantasy” – literature heavily influenced by Tolkien, eastern religious principles, and military history.
For readers who have been with "Wheel of Time" from the start, "A Memory of Light" delivers on its purpose: an ending to the epic. But for those who haven't, here's a piece of advice: Go back and start from the beginning.
"A Memory of Light" depicts a world on the precipice of the Last Battle. Nations squabble and fight under the shadow of a much larger danger. Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, is the world’s only hope. Duty and destiny, prophecy and politics, magic and hope all weigh heavy on his shoulders as he strives to save not only the world, but existence itself. The nations of men and the armies of the Dark One collide with the fate of the universe hanging over them. Rand, Mat, Perrin, Elayne, Egwene and the rest of the cast Jordan's readers have come to love over the course of 13 books will face their final crisis. Prepare for the Last Battle!
…but not before about 30 other, smaller battles. The 909 pages of this book definitely start to feel padded with large- and small-scale action scenes after page 500. Sanderson does a good job of keeping the action clean, but still, it gets repetitive.
That being said, it’s not just one big slaughterfest (think less festival, more thrash metal concert). Heartfelt scenes help keep the reader emotionally invested in the battles. Rand’s relationship with his father and the drama between childhood friends are great examples.
Sanderson definitely inherited some big problems from Jordan. The sub-plots and loose ends that the series often gets criticized for are only symptoms of the larger problem: Robert Jordan was too proud of his creation. He wanted the reader to see all of it.
Jordan was a writer with an eye for specificity and a master world-builder. Every nation in his book has different military tactics, fashion, governmental structure, and idioms. He was ambitious in his scope and sometimes superfluous in detail. Reading his work is often less about the destination and more about the journey. The long, long journey. (I would put more 'o's in the word long to make it longer, but I wouldn't want to seem unprofessional.)
Jordan crafted every aspect of this world with love and precision. A lot of his ideas and characters are novel and magnetic. But it is this attachment to his own ideas that has forced fans of the stories to read through seemingly endless descriptions of cultures and minor disputes that don’t have much to do with the super-objective of the series. As the major characters spread out across the lands in earlier novels, sub-plots and loose ends appear everywhere, never to disappear. Jordan rarely could bring himself to move his creations back to the “minor characters” shelf (or kill them off). This is where Sanderson stepped in, taking on the gargantuan task of pulling together every loose thread left by Jordan after his passing.
He has definitely given the last three books a sense of direction, but Sanderson may have imbibed a bit too much of the spirit of Jordan. An example sans spoilers from “Memory of Light”: four similar plot twists that must each be described in great detail, even though the reader knows what’s going to happen the next three times. There were a few scenes I felt could have been summarized. The climactic action of the novel pulls so many threads together that sometimes I’d completely forgotten about minor characters, or I would lose track of who was who.
For all of its weaknesses “A Memory of Light” does not disappoint. I won’t give anything away, but I will say that the ending made me smile – although I can already predict that some mega-fans that will be upset about the series’ conclusion.
For those who haven’t read any of Jordan’s books, I encourage you to pick up the series opener, “The Eye of the World,” and give it a try. You will be starting a very long but worthwhile journey.
Ben Frederick is a Monitor contributor.