Postmortem: A Memory of Light (Spoilers!)

Callandor, bi0tch.

Yesterday, I waxed eloquent verbose on the Wheel of Time series as a whole. Today, I’ll dive into the final book in detail.

The short answer? It’s pretty damn good. Robert Jordan’s a genius, and Brandon Sanderson did a fine job building on his legacy. A Memory of Light was epic, unpredictable, and satisfying, and that’s exactly what it needed to be. Overall, no big complaints, job very well done.

Having said that, the book has some problems. That’s inevitable: expectations for the Last Battle were impossibly high after over a dozen volumes and twenty years of waiting. And of course, Sanderson was grappling with a monumental task under intense time pressure. The problems are understandable, and they’re not showstoppers. But they’re there.

I’ll get my biggest gripe out of the way first: Sanderson’s writing style. He’s good at plot, characters, and story arc, certainly much better than I am. But his sentence construction is awful. It grates on me so much that I stopped reading his Mistborn series after the first book, mainly because of that. Partly this bothers me because, as Ben points out, I am OCD about writing. But partly it’s just awkward style.

Here’s a sample:

Gaul felt a pressure from his friend. Like the pressure of the sun at noon after four days without having any water to drink.

This is a great image, but Sanderson buries it in an avalanche of extra words. Compare with: “Like the pressure of the noon sun after four days without water.” From seventeen words to twelve, and that’s just by applying some quick fixes, without trying to alter the meaning at all. Most writers (myself included) trip over these kinds of mistakes occasionally, but Sanderson does it practically on every page.

But enough about my OCD internal editor. What about the story? I’ll take it character by character, since Wheel of Time always been about the characters.

Lan – Amazing. Not that we’ve ever had a book where he wasn’t amazing, but here, in his battle with Demandred, he finally gets the moment of glory he’s long deserved. When he remained standing after taking a sword to the gut, I initially assumed it was because he’d become a Hero of the Horn.

Nynaeve – I hated Nynaeve in the first book (and the second, and third, and…) but she grew on me toward the end of the series. Her own moment of glory came nearer the start of AMoL, when Talmanes reaches the Amyrlin’s camp, near-dead from a Myrdraal wound. By this time, Talmanes has been passed from one healer to another, and nobody can help him, he’s so colossally messed up. And then he gets within thirty feet of Nynaeve and she’s like FOOM.

One of my favorite things about WoT in general is how characters can grow to seem almost ordinary in their everyday lives, and then suddenly they’re in their element again, and you remember just how effing incredible they actually are. Perfect example for Nynaeve. Her contribution in Shayol Ghul seemed almost like a letdown by comparison.

Mat – Amazing. Perhaps the best-written character in the book. The moment where I realized he was going to be supreme commander of the Last Battle…epic. His dynamic with Fortuona was great too. My only real complaint, which others have mentioned too, is that his final showdown with Mashadar seemed kind of desultory after how well-orchestrated the rest of the battle was. But at least they wrapped it up, and anything getting wrapped up – ever – is pure joy for a longtime WoT fan.

Perrin – Eh. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great character, but his arc in this book seemed a little boring. Mostly because I’ve just never cared about Slayer, or the World of Dreams in general, so I spent most of that battle waiting for it to be over. I did like his interaction with Lanfear, though.

Min – A kickass character who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, Min actually had – in my opinion – the best Moment of Awesome in the entire book. It came when Fortuona, Empress of the Seanchan, threatened to torture her if she wouldn’t reveal her visions. Min, looking her dead in the eye: “Try it.” Boom. Subtle, but boom. Grab a napkin, Empress, cuz you just got served.

Egwene – So a main character actually dies. I wondered if it would ever happen. I was never especially attached to Egwene, but the reverse balefire thing was sweet.

Moridin – Probably the most disappointing character of the whole book. He had such a deadly mystique throughout the series, but when it came down to brass tacks in Shayol Ghul, he just did a little swordfighting and got strung up like a puppet.

Rand – Ah yes, Rand. I loved Rand in this book. Admittedly, the long-awaited confrontation with the Dark One seemed a little weak to me – partly because it was too abstract, I think. It seemed like Shaidar Haran would have been a better form for the Dark One than the giant black blob, at least initially. Reading over and over about how the Dark One “attacked” Rand, without any concrete idea of what the attack looked or felt like, got a little old. I realize it’s supposed to be abstract, but nothing spices up metaphysics like a metaphor, and we could’ve used more of that here.

But none of that is Rand’s fault. He came, he saw, he kicked ass in style, which is all we ever really wanted from him. And the very last scene of the book, where he finally, finally gets relief from his burden and his pain, is beautiful. I even liked the pipe-lighting moment, inscrutable as it was. It felt right.

There’s so much more to say (Olver and the Horn! Compulsion on the Great Captains! etc.) but I’m already running late. I’ll wrap it up here.

If you’ve read the first thirteen books, you’re going to read this one too. And it will make you happy.

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