Okay, so this was a very difficult review to write. . . I took my time before writing it, not wanting the extreme disappointment I felt when I reached the last page of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's A Memory of Light to have too much of a negative influence on this review. But even after waiting for the dust to settle, looking back I can't quite come up with anything positive to say about the final installment of The Wheel of Time. Other than it's finally over, that is. Sadly, and this was my biggest fear as I was reading along, the book is all filler and no killer. In my opinion, A Memory of Light is by far the weakest WoT volume of the entire series, weaker even than Crossroads of Twilight. At least CoT had some good stuff at the end. . .
I began reading The Wheel of Time in 1991, right after The Dragon Reborn was released in hardcover. I've been a big fan ever since. And regardless of its shortcomings, I've always maintained that Jordan's magnum opus remained one of the very best fantasy series out there. The first six volumes raised the bar to such a high level that Jordan's subsequent efforts could never match, true. Still, overall, a new WoT installment was always a literary highlight of any given year for me, as we were always one step closer to reaching the Last Battle. Having finished A Memory of Light and seeing how poorly it was all brought to a close, I'm not sure where I'd rank The Wheel of Time among other popular SFF series that left their mark on the genre anymore. Nowhere near the top, that's for sure. . .
Given how Jordan vehemently defended the fact that A Memory of Light would be written as a single book even if it had to be 2000 pages long and then later, after Tom Doherty discussed the last WoT volume, admitted that it might have to be split into two installments but no more, from the start I suspected that Team Jordan's decision to split it into three volumes was just all the parties involved selling out and trying to cash in on the ending of this beloved series as much as humanly possible. I've been quite vocal about this since it was first announced, and Sanderson himself got in touch with me, telling me to be patient, to read and find out that three volumes were indeed required to bring the series to a close the way Robert Jordan had always envisioned it. As expected, it turns out it was bullshit. . .
There are so many problems with A Memory of Light that I don't even know where to start. But in a way, I'm glad it's over. No, most long-time fans didn't get the ending they were hoping for now that Jordan has passed away. But it is an ending. I for one hope that the outrigger series will never see the light. After 14 volumes, I think it's time to lay this series to rest. . .
Here's the blurb:
‘And it came to pass in those days, as it had come before and would come again, that the Dark lay heavy on the land and weighed down the hearts of men, and the green things failed, and hope died.’ From Charal Drianaan te Calamon, The Cycle of the Dragon. In the Field of Merrilor the rulers of the nations gather to join behind Rand al’Thor, or to stop him from his plan to break the seals on the Dark One’s prison – which may be a sign of his madness, or the last hope of humankind. Egwene, the Amyrlin Seat, leans toward the former. In Andor, the Trollocs seize Caemlyn. In the wolf dream, Perrin Aybara battles Slayer. Approaching Ebou Dar, Mat Cauthon plans to visit his wife Tuon, now Fortuona, Empress of the Seanchan. All humanity is in peril – and the outcome will be decided in Shayol Ghul itself. The Wheel is turning, and the Age is coming to its end. The Last Battle will determine the fate of the world. For twenty years The Wheel of Time has enthralled more than forty million readers in over thirty-two languages. A MEMORY OF LIGHT brings this majestic fantasy creation to its richly satisfying conclusion. Working from notes and partials left by Robert Jordan when he died in 2007, and consulting with Jordan’s widow, who edited all of Jordan’s books, established fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson has recreated the vision Jordan left behind.
In both The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, the problem was that in order to get to the good stuff, one was required to sift through a lot of extraneous plotlines or scenes that didn't always have that much of an impact or influence on the principal story arcs of the series. We now know that all three books were filled with padding material and that splitting A Memory of Light into two halves would have been possible and would have made for a much better reading experience. As it is, all three installments were plagued by a sluggish pace for sizable chunks of the narrative, during which the plot was going nowhere.
The better part of A Memory of Light is essentially an unending panoply of battle scenes that do nothing to move the various storylines forward. I doubt that Robert Jordan meant for the grand finale of The Wheel of Time to be an interminable ensemble of boring battles seen through the eyes of basically every single character that has ever appeared in the series. I mean, did we truly need POVs from secondary protagonists such as Uno, Tam al'Thor, Juilin Sandar, Leane, etc. For Christ's sake, I expected Bela to have her own POV!
The main problem with A Memory of Light is that after such a long build-up, the most important key scenes left to wrap up the series are either rushed in such a way as to rob them of the impact they so rightfully deserve, or they are done so clumsily that it kills any emotional impact that should have been associated with them. For example, Sanderson felt the need to show readers virtually every single skirmish taking place in Andor and the Borderlands, filling up hundreds of pages with fights against Trollocs and other agents of the Shadow. And yet, the culmination of the prophecy "He will bind the nine moons to serve him," which is crucial if the forces of Light are to have a chance to win the Last Battle, was so damn lame that it's almost a joke.
There are plenty of long-awaited scenes that were dealt with very poorly. The worst has to be the resolution of the Padan Fain storyline. I've always believed that Jordan meant for Fain to be some sort of Gollum character and that he would play a key role at the end. Well, after writing hundreds of pages of meaningless and interchangeable battles, Sanderson deals with that plotline almost as an afterthought. Other aspects such as Logain's prophesied glory are also dealt with in a similar fashion.
The same can be said of the body count and its impact on the reader. A number of characters do bite the dust, which was surprising. But it's Jordan, so a number of them at first thought to be dead do survive in the end. Fans have grown attached emotionally to several WoT protagonists over the years. Everyone knows that. I know that and you know that. Team Jordan supposedly knew that, and so did Sanderson. Oddly enough, though page after page are "wasted" chronicling the deaths of nameless soldiers falling to the Trollocs and the Fades, the death of main characters are rushed through so fast it robs them of any emotional impact whatsoever.
The characterization is the weakest facet of this novel. There is no point discussing Mat ad nauseam. Brandon Sanderson pretty much killed him in TGS. I've always claimed that the author can't quite manage shades of grey, that most of his characters are always black or white. That's pretty much been the case since he started working on the WoT, which means that he's more comfortable with certain characters and could never really do anything with others. That is probably why he focused on Androl and Pevara to bring the Black Tower storyline to its culmination. His depiction of villains such as Mazrim Taim and Demandred was so bad it made me long for well-drawn protagonists such as Jar-Jar Binks. Awful. . . Just awful. . .
Speaking of the infamous Forsaken, his coming out of left field with a powerful army could have been foreshadowed much better than this. Jordan provided a few hints in the past, but almost nothing from TGS and ToM could prepare us for what came out of that gateway. Again, that was poor execution regarding an important plot point. I was forced to peruse my copy of The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time to find out more about his army and their channelers. I mean, we were forced to sift through interminable sequences featuring Lan and other fighters battling the forces of the Shadow, yet Sanderson didn't see fit to give us a few paragraphs elaborating on the newcomers to refresh our memories. In addition, Demandred enters the Last Battle bearing one of the only two sa'angreal more powerful than Callandor that a male channeler can use. For some unfathomable reason, Sanderson and Team Jordan felt that some background information on the Sakarnen, what it does and where it was found, was unnecessary.
A Memory of Light is written in Brandon Sanderson's own narrative voice. In TGS, Sanderson explained that he tried to adapt his own writing style to The Wheel of Time. But in this last volume, it's Sanderson through and through. Which doesn't really work all that well, to tell the truth. A Memory of Light reads more like The Way of Kings than any other WoT installment.
For years we've known that Robert Jordan wrote the final scene when he started working on The Eye of the World. I've read the last few chapters a number of times and I still can't put my finger on which one, scene or full chapter, could have been written by Jordan. He often mentioned that there was a "hook" in that final scene, but for the life of me I can't really see what it was. Once more, the endgame was rushed rather thoroughly. After nearly 900 pages of sluggishness, all of a sudden everything goes downhill and it all ends in a matter of about 20 pages or so. The epilogue does little to tie up a few loose ends, bringing the series to a decidedly lackluster ending.
I've been a WoT fan for more than two decades. I so wanted to love this book. You have no idea how much. But the structure of the novel, what with about 750 pages worth of bloody battle after bloody battle, precluded any kind of depth and failed to cap off The Wheel of Time with an exclamation point. As I mentioned before, it was all filler and no killer.
Bloated and uninspired, A Memory of Light is the biggest literary disappointment of my life. I would have preferred Jordan's notes and the outline to what we ended up getting. . .