The Eye Of The World, the first book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel Of Time series, was published in January 1990. Over two decades, 13 volumes, and a seeming infinity of subplots, the series finally finds its conclusion with A Memory Of Light, the 14th and final book. Sadly, Jordan isn’t around to see it. He died in 2007, leaving the final Wheel Of Time trilogy to be completed in a posthumous collaboration with his chosen successor, fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson. All of this should be old news to WOT readers, but it’s worth repeating, if only to re-emphasize how impressive A Memory Of Light is just for its existence. In spite of the barriers of time, a boggy narrative, and literal authorial death, the Wheel kept turning, and the Last Battle has finally arrived. The book’s quality aside, it’s worthwhile for the way it puts a period at the end of an extremely long sentence, ensuring the series’ legacy as a completed work.
There’s a reason for damning A Memory Of Light with what may sound like faint praise. It’s an impossible book. It’s an attempt to bring to a climax thousands of pages of build-up involving hundreds of characters, to somehow satisfy 20-plus years of anticipation over an event that has been promised from the start: Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, confronting the Dark One, fulfilling any number of prophecies, and if all goes well, saving the world. Unless Jordan had some kind of major ace up his sleeve from day one, the odds were that the further away the ending got, the more anticlimactic it would feel when it finally arrived.
And that was back when it seemed like Jordan would be around for the long haul. Sanderson worked off Jordan’s remaining notes to complete the story, turning the final planned book into three volumes, and there’s no serious question of his commitment to following Jordan’s vision. But he’s still following, which means a certain disconnect runs almost subliminally through the text. Heroes whose behavior has been locked into place for dozens of chapters behave like they always do—right up until they don’t. These off moments (usually relegated to unexpectedly modern turns of phrase or weirdly abrupt decisions) are never more than a momentary distraction, but they serve as an ever-present reminder that this frequently thrilling compromise is still unquestionably a compromise.
But there are thrills in A Memory Of Light, along with heartbreak and despair. At just over 900 pages, it’s one of the longest books in the series, but it’s also one of the fastest reads; shave off a couple of conferences and a marriage or two, and the whole thing is basically just one immense battle scene. As Sanderson showed in his previous two WOT books, he’s adept at brisk, well-paced action, and he gets ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills as he charts an epic confrontation between the forces of good and evil, full of magic-users and monsters, kings and queens. Scenes are kept comparatively short, and while some plotlines aren’t as strong as others, they change so quickly, the story never truly drags.
There are drawbacks to this approach. For all his strengths, this isn’t Sanderson’s world, and it shows; by sacrificing much of Jordan’s descriptive flair, he keeps up the speed, but loses a good part of the texture. The story is never confusing, and the various betrayals and reveals have sufficient impact, but there’s a perfunctory nature to certain sequences, which a stronger sense of personality could have alleviated. The result is a saga that rushes onward, but never truly accelerates, going through its motions with enthusiasm and commitment, but lacking the obsessive passion that drives truly great fiction. This shows most frustratingly in the resolution of what should have been the novel—nay, the series’—shining jewel: that fight between the Dragon and the Dark One. Delving too deeply here would mean spoiling something fans have every right to discover on their own; suffice to say, the confrontation is perfectly acceptable, but nothing more. (See Spoiler Space below.) The book’s ending gets the job done, but 14 novels is a long time to wait just for a job to get done.
Still, one of Memory Of Light’s main themes is that this isn’t the story of just one man’s fight against chaos. It takes a village to defeat a titanic symbol of all-encompassing evil. Some individual threads do stand out as especially strong; in particular, Mat Cauthon, a reluctant hero whose luck keeps putting him in the center of battle, no matter how much he might claim to wish otherwise, remains one of the series’ strongest leads, a familiar but effective flare of humor and fun amid a sea of grimly determined heroism. As always, Jordan’s commitment to letting men and women share equally in the violence is gratifying, and the repetitive gender battles that dragged down much of the series’ midsection have been reduced to affectionate eye-rolling and only the occasional sniff. All this, plus a cast list large enough to fill a citywide Sadie Hawkins dance, leads to a finale that hits all the necessary checkpoints, while taking few risks, if any. Perhaps that’s the best tribute Sanderson could’ve composed: an ending that satisfies without ever letting readers forget what was lost.
For thoughts on, and a place to discuss, plot details not talked about in this review, visit A Memory Of Light’s Spoiler Space.