Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

This is it. The 14th and final book of the Wheel of Time. I purchased this book a few days after it had been released while visiting the US. It's one of the two books I got in my visit (the other is Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay). We have all been waiting for the concluding volume of this epic series. This is Tarmon Gaidon, the Final Battle.

I try to avoid direct spoilers, but it's nearly impossible in the final book of a series like this.
The full review is below the jump.

Overall Impression
I have to admit I was very happy with the conclusion of this series. I'll admit it isn't the strongest book in the series and could have been a little shorter, particularly in the battle scenes, but overall it was a fitting conclusion to the series. I know some people have complained about the book and about Sanderson in general. In the end, it's all a matter of opinion and if you've read this far, you owe it to yourself to finish the series. I personally like Sanderson's style and felt this book was the ending the series needed.

Battles, battles, and more battles. That's what the book is almost entirely all about. This is, after all, the Last Battle and it shows. In fact, the chapter "The Last Battle" is over 200 pages long and has viewpoints for almost every character in the series. It was intense. I feel this could have been a bit shorter or handled somewhat differently. Steven Erikson's Malazan series, for example, is very good at describing large battles and I wonder how he would have treated the Last Battle. Regardless, I think Sanderson did a fair job and I'd be curious to know if anyone has created a figure or animation that tracks the battle's flow at the Fields of Merrilor.

There was a lot to cover in the book, yet I am glad to say that all the major plot lines are tied up. A few things remain here and there, but that's true for any book. The ones I cared about most, the major events, these were all addressed and ended in a satisfying (if not always happy) manner. There was a lot of death, but also hope and life.

Nearly all of the characters from The Wheel of Time are here, making their last stand against the Shadow. Of course, we see Rand embracing his destiny and worrying about his heritage. We also see a lot of Perrin. Sanderson had noted in interviews that Perrin's story was way behind the others. The last few books has seen him developing a lot and, in this book, he leaps ahead with his actions in Tel'aran'rhiod.

A lot of people hold Mat as their favorite character and this book will not disappointment. The Prince of the Ravens embraces his talents and, after about 1/3 or 1/2 of the book, leads the armies of Light. He is a brilliant strategist and we can't help but cheer him on after seeing him grown and change these past 14 novels.

I know some people complain about the characterization in Sanderson's novels. They complain that Mat isn't the way he should be, but I personally can't see much of a difference between old-Mat and new-Mat. Furthermore, Jordan and Sanderson are different authors and one expects some changes to happen. A lot of secondary (and not so secondary) characters do get viewpoints in this book, and a few of those do fall flat. I didn't hear Siuan, Uno, and a few others the way I always do and a few felt right, but a bit forced. Regardless, I have no problem with this. This is the Last Battle, we already know all the characters and only need mild touches to remind us who is who.

I noticed several times a few names thrown out amidst the story. For example, a Warder's name or that of a cook or a dead guard. That could be just to keep us in the world, to make us feel that even the minor characters have their stories. However, I know that Sanderson sometimes put real people's names into his stories, particularly if they win a contest. I can't help but wonder if some of these throw-away names come from there. I feel that in a few cases the names didn't sound appropriate for the world.

Setting / World Building
This is the same world as the rest of the Wheel of Time novels and so little needs to be said here. One of the new things we learn, however, is that time flows differently the closer you are to the Bore. That is, to Shayol Ghul, where the Dark One's touch is closest to the world. Hours spent near it can mean days well outside. It's a cool and curious effect.

We see Power wrought on some of the grandest scales and in some of the most clever ways. A lot of power is wielded by the Dragon Reborn at Shayol Ghul, but also by Egwene and Demandred. The world itself cracks at the continuous use of balefire. Gateways are used very creatively, not just to transport troops and supplies, which is obvious, but also as reconnaissance, communication, and long-distance fighting. Sanderson shows off his skills in creative ways to use magic.

Near the end, we see again an old "friend": Mashadar of Shadar Logoth. I had almost forgotten about it and was glad to see it was addressed before the series ended. Machin Shin, the Black Wind of the Ways, however, was never mentioned. It's a minor thing and one can imagine it disappearing in time.

Final Thoughts
This is the end. Or as the book says: an end, as there are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. Filled with intense and very long battles, this book wraps up Tarmon Gai'don, the Last Battle. We already know the setting and the characters and, being part of a series, we've already seen plenty of foreshadowing and prophecies about the end. I'm happy to say I felt satisfied at the end. After 14 books, the ending felt right. Was it perfect? Probably not, but I personally enjoyed it.

If you're the sort of person that doesn't like to start series until they've ended, then now you have no excuse. The Wheel of Time is one of the greatest epic fantasies of our time. It may be long, and the middle books do drag a bit, but it is worth it if you can spare the time, money, and energy for such an epic series.

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