Review: A Memory of Light
This is probably going to be the most pointless review ever. The fact is that no matter what I say or what any other reviewer says about this book, it’s not like that’s going to make one bit of difference to any of you readers. If you’ve invested this much time into the series, you are going to finish the series, regardless of what I say or how badly reviewed the book ends up. The Wheel of Time has become that old beater car that you’ve pumped so much cash into that you have to finish the repair job, even if the cost of the repairs are more than the worth of the car.
At the end of the day The Wheel of Time is finally finished, thanks to Brandon Sanderson. I give credit where credit is due: Sanderson has done a fairly good job of sorting out Jordan’s mess of a series. We have to remember THIS IS NOT SANDERSON’S series; he’s the repair guy called in to fix a problem. He didn’t design the original product. As we all know, Jordan completely lost control of his series and then managed to pass away (RIP). He did manage to leave a vast quantity of notes, and Sanderson came to the rescue and probably did what few authors could have done by actually finishing the story and making it cohesive.
So how does the last book stack up? In short, it does the job, but maybe not a great job. “It is an ending but not THE ending” every fan was looking for. Of Jordan’s three WOT books, the first showed the most promise (it was arguably the best Wheel of Time book in a decade), the second book was so so and the third and final book (A Memory of Light) was the weakest of the bunch.
What I Didn’t Like About Memory of Light
I’m going to nitpick a few things that I really didn’t like about this book. But first, don’t go expecting every plot thread started by Jordan to get resolved in this book. They don’t and there are a lot of loose ends that are never tied up. Sanderson does not resolve some of the plots, so you’re left hanging and the ones he does resolve often feel a bit forced; move the character into position for a cameo, let them take part in the battle, be it big or small, toss in a sappy page or two to conclude their participation, then move on to the next one. Now maybe this has the be the case because there were so many damn minor characters, but something about this strategy didn’t seem to mesh with the plot. I thought some of the characters should have been more important and…meaningful.
Sanderson dragged the whole story on too long. My feeling is that the “conclusion” should have been two books, not three. Memory of Light drags on and on; a good portion of it begins to feel like filler – Sanderson trying to meet some word-count imposed by the publisher. I suppose for fans of the series, every tiny bit of the story will be appreciated, even down to the comma’s, but for those who just want the god damn thing to end so they can move on, it’s a bit of a grind getting through parts of the book.
I found much of the book (gasp) boring. Yes, those words have been uttered here. Sacrilege. But there it is. I found myself getting quite bored while reading Memory of Light (while listening to the audiobook to be more precise). And here’s why: the whole book is basically one fantastically long battle with characters moving this way and that way, the battle going this way and that way. There was lots of this and that but at the end of the day, it wasn’t a very exciting battle. Oh stuff happened and the good guys fight an uphill battle against a superior foe, but I found myself (gasp) really not caring about the details. I just wanted the damn thing to be over.
There are many characters that made a brief cameo appearance just to “wrap up” that character, but it all felt very forced. I will point out that Sanderson was trying to tie things up so he had to do this, I suppose. A few of those character moments work while most of them are “eh”. My particular favorite was the Oliver which ends with quite a touching scene.
Mat Cauthon. This is probably the biggest complaint that other people will have with the series: Sanderson’s Mat isn’t quite the same as Jordan’s. For part of Memory of Light, Sanderson doesn’t get Mat right. Near the end he manages to do a passable job and get’s the original Mat pretty close to bang on, but I can see why many people online complain that Sanderson ruined Mat. I don’t think he ruined Mat, but it takes him almost two and a half books to find Mat’s real voice (or shall we say, mimic Jordan’s voice).
My final complaint is that Sanderson fails to give us the intense action scenes that he’s capable of (Read The Way of Kings or his Mistborn novels to see what I mean). The action scenes were…mediocre. Ok, there were a few decent ones between some of the main characters and a few intense moments where some badassery actually happens, but for the most part, no.
I’m going to give specifics on what I didn’t like. Beware, heavy plot spoilers.
We finally get to see Demandred. But instead of actually really doing too much, he just spends his time shouting from the top of a mountain for Rand to come challenge him. Disappointing – I felt Sanderson could have done much more with him.
And Rand. Sanderson should have made him a more active part of the battle. After dithering around for the early part of the novel (doing very little to actually help things), he ends up confronting the Shadow through a series of “what if” scenarios which basically just involve him exploring a different world where the Shadow wins and loses. It’s all very anticlimactic and hardly the great world-shaking battle built up over 13 books and 20 years. I’m not asking for mountains to shake and the islands to sink here, but give us some action here. Yes, I get what Sanderson was going for: the real battle waged with the dark one takes place inside of Rand. I just wish Sanderson did’t spend about three quarters of the novel with Rand having an inner discourse with the Shadow. Necessary? Maybe. Exciting? Hell no. It’s like building up a huge conflict between two forces only to have them sit down and have a coffee together chatting about their conflict.
What I Liked
Sanderson does an awesome job wrapping up Rand’s story and it comes to just about as perfect and fitting an end as could be. The final ending and resolution to Rand’s battle with the Dark One just about makes the book worth reading. So I was not disappointed with the actual ending; I was just disappointed in how Sanderson gets to that point, however. I could see in the future a follow up novel (cough money grab) detailing the adventures of some of the characters in the fourth age. It probably won’t happen but the book ends on that sort of note.
Sanderson tones down the annoying female character traits that Jordan so loved. No more braid pulling, way less females bitching about men (though there is still plenty). I still think Sanderson is ham-fisted when it comes to writing realistic female characters and crafting believable romance between characters (he has failed on these two fronts on every single one of his books), but he generally makes the female characters less annoying than Jordan’s.
There were several good scenes that finally came to a climax. The Black Tower resolution worked out well and some of the major characters go down in a blaze of glory (literally).
A BIG Kudos to Sanderson for actually killing off a couple of the main characters and a number of minor ones, with some of the (minor) characters dying out of the blue from something quite random. What’s interesting is that he kills off some major characters that I didn’t not think would die. It adds some sort of emotional “cost” to the story which was needed. It always annoyed me that the all the characters got off scott free at the end of the day in the previous WOT books. War has costs. War kills people. Not everyone walks away. Not everyone wins. That is the reality and it’s not realistic to have the heroes all win and walk away unharmed at the end of the day. Maybe this is Martin’s influence on me speaking here, but there it is. Frankly, I think Sanderson should have killed off a few more, but oh well.
Yes, I know I was quite harsh on the book here. It’s not a bad read, but it’s just not a very good read. But it’s a read that everyone is going to make regardless. Some people will like the book but I suspect most people will be faintly disappointed with the book. Respect fully given to Sanderson for finishing a work that was not his own. He had a tough job to do and he did it as well as he could. I don’t know if there was any author out there who would have been able to fix Jordan’s problems; Sanderson did, for the most part, and devoted years of his life to do it.
The Wheel of Time is done. I’m glad and I can say it was one hell of a ride. Now that the whole series is done, I’m a bit disappointed with the whole thing, feeling it didn’t live up to the initial promise. I’m not quite sure the series is gone the way of a classic that will be “re-read” by the same people in twenty or thirty years the way A Song of Ice and Fire (if it gets done) or Lord of the Rings might.
Regardless, The Wheel of Time has had huge influence on the entire genre and while it’s not perfect, it does still stand as one of the “great” works of the fantasy genre. Yes there are better-written, more intelligent, wittier, craftier fantasy books out there but The Wheel of Time stands as a great work of imagination. It doesn’t maintain the initial promise of the first three books, but it does entertain and has entertained millions and will entertain millions more. And isn’t that what matters?
Farewell Wheel of Time. You will be missed, sort of.