Book review: The Wheel of Time #14: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Orbit, 2013)
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 . . .
This book is epic on so many levels. It’s the final book, book 14 (!) of the massive Wheel of Time series, begun 20 years ago this year – which is why they put the release in January instead of in time for the Christmas rush. It’s also epic in the sense that it’s about the Last Battle. It’s a big battle.
I know many haven’t yet read this mighty tome – some because they simply can’t bear to witness the end, and some because they’ve decided to re-read the entire series before they begin – so I’m not going into any juicy details here. I won’t tell you who lives, who dies or anything like that. As spoiler free as I possibly can, by the Light and my hope of rebirth.
Let’s face it, the text above sums it up nicely. Trollocs come pouring through Caemlyn, where (luckily) Aludra’s cannons dragons have been made. Elyene is still pregnant. Perrin experiments with Tel’aran’rhiod trying to find and kill Slayer. The Empress Fortuona – may-she-die-horribly-in-a-pit-of-fire – is being her snooty Seanchan self, and her hubby Mat comes a-calling showing he’s really not that bad despite not being a Seanchan. Galad is perfectly reasonable for once (!), Lan leads the troups Oop North, Aviendha is worried after her Rhuidean vision in the previous book, Egwene is being an Aes Sedai and Rand makes things grow around him.
And then war breaks out, and war is pretty much the entire novel. There are battle scenes after battle scenes. Chapter 37, “The Last Battle” is 200 pages long. People you might care about will die, and whose demise brings you the most tears will probably be interesting for you to note. It took me by surprise.
As did something else, which I totally can’t comment on as I said I’d try to keep this spoiler free as much as possible. Let’s leave it as “Blood and bloody ashes, Demandred is insane!” When the man finally puts in an appearance, it’s a little bit disappointing that he’s completely bananas, but anyway.
There’s so much happening, but Mat gets to put his combat tactics skillz to good use. Loads of trollocs die, as do a load of other types of Shadowspawn. Unfortunately, the extras on the side of the Light aren’t exactly unscathed either.
Meanwhile at the Black Tower, we follow a Red Aes Sedai and a man with a Talent for gateway-making, except the Black Tower has been shielded from gateway-making. I enjoyed these bits, even if it’s bloody late in the day to introduce newbies.
Speaking of oldies, though, it’s a great curtain call. Even Uno puts in a show! The one we probably see the least of is Morgase, who is mentioned in passing in a short sentence. (Mr T said there was no mention of her at all, but I found that very small one.)
As Mr T read the book in just a few short days, and I took longer, he found it very frustrating not to be able to talk about it for fear of spoiling things. I just couldn’t be quick reading this book. This is the only time I will be able to read this book without knowing how the Last Battle is going to play out. I need time to digest. I would occasionally ask him a question, and he’d say “do you really want to know?” to which I said “you don’t need to go into details, a yes or no will do”. Such as “are there Ogier in the book?” Yes, there are (hooray!). You don’t want to mess with those guys, seriously. There are some Tinkers too. And Tam, it turns out, really is handy with a sword.
The important question is “so, is it any good?” and “is it a fitting ending?” and the answer to both of those questions is a big “YES”. It might not play out the way you would have wanted it to, and maybe the “wrong” people died, but what a rollercoaster ride it is to get to the final page. There is laughter, crying, dread and despair, times that will make you punch the air and scream “HAH!!” and other times where you feel you need some kind of anti-anxiety drug just to calm down.
After he’d finished the book, Mr T asked me how I wanted it to end. “Plot-wise,” I said, “the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, but in general terms, it ought to end with ‘The wind was not an ending. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time, but it was an ending’, because that would be the most fitting.” Whether or not it does, in the words of the dearly departed Robert Jordan, Read And Find Out. In any case, my eyes well up just thinking about it.
This saga has been with me since around 1997, when I was in my teens and a couple of classmates said it was a good series. I’m forever grateful to them. Since I started reading this series, my life has changed so much. I ended up joining an online Wheel of Time roleplaying game, and if I hadn’t done that, I would never have gone on to create an online Harry Potter roleplaying game, and if that hadn’t happened, I would probably never have met the people who are some of my closest friends today.
I love the world Robert Jordan created, and I’m so happy Brandon Sanderson got to finish the series for us. He has done a great job giving us closure, and I’m forever grateful to both them, and of course also to Harriet McDougal. Even if I can’t say that the Wheel of Time inspired me to be working hard to become a fantasy author,, I can safely say that it has inspired me in so many other ways I didn’t even think was possible. Thank you for (respectively) writing, finishing writing and editing this series.
As for the end, it’s very close to perfection. Some bits are a bit rushed, but most isn’t, and while I don’t think there are any plans to write a sequel or anything like that (I keep seeing an encyclopaedia being mentioned, though – GIMMEEEEEEEE), the ending certainly leaves room for speculation.
5 out of 5 battlefields, because even the rushed scenes can be forgiven in the epicness of other scenes, A certain pillar of light being one of those … aww shucks, now I’m crying again!