Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: A Memory of Light [2012]

There were times, particularly in the late 90s and early 2000s, when I despaired of this moment ever coming to pass. But the publication of A Memory of Light, the fourteenth and final book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, is finally a reality. This is due in large part to Brandon Sanderson, the author who stepped in to finish where Jordan left off at his death in 2007, as well as the detailed notes left by the man himself. Sanderson recently revealed that the entire epilogue of the book (a little more than twenty pages) consists of Jordan's words, with only cosmetic tweaks from him. There is something very sad about reading the last words of the last book and knowing they were written by a man who has been dead more than five years and will never write again, but it's also cheering to see his legacy completed.

I have not only touched this once-mythical volume, I have consumed all 909 pages. It is difficult for me to separate my emotional reaction (largely relief at the conclusion of this twenty-year reading saga, but some sadness about letting go of favorite characters) and view the book with a critical eye. If possible, I would make this post a review of the series as a whole, but my memory of most of the middle eight or ten books is fuzzy at best. And believe me, I have too much on my plate to re-read those thousands of pages.

A Memory of Light picks up on the precipice of the Last Battle, in which Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, will confront the Dark One for humanity's last chance etc. etc. As pointed out by Marie Brennan (who has done entertaining and informative recaps of each book in the series from the perspective of a critic and author), the chapter entitled "The Last Battle" doesn't happen until page 617. Before that point, there's a lot of distributing characters here and there (thank goodness they figured out how to travel from place to place immediately with the One Power) as the forces of Light try to fend off the Shadow in a variety of locations. If you haven't read any of the books, let me sum up: good vs. evil; lots of characters; magic is called "the One Power" and works differently for men and women; Trollocs are this world's orcs; and there are a lot of nations and rulers and political shenanigans to go with the whole "nothing will grow, the weather is wacky, I'm pretty sure the world is ending" vibe.

The book does become bogged down in the tactical detail of warfare at times, to the point where my eyes glazed over and I was tempted to skip ahead. However, there's also a lot of worthwhile character interaction as people say goodbye and prepare for their likely deaths. There are even some moments of humor among the seemingly endless tide of Trollocs. The story, as usual, is told from numerous points of view, with cameos or mentions given to a vast swath of characters from earlier volumes. As far as I could tell, every "I wonder what happened to that character?" question was addressed in some way or another, which was a nice reward for those of us who have persevered. Overall, I think it was worth the wait.

I enjoyed A Memory of Light, but not as much as I could have. Here's part of the problem: the book has been so long in coming that it wrapped up plot points I couldn't even remember were dangling. Maybe this is a function of the series being so long and filled with characters, but there were cameos for people I simply didn't recognize. I have a variety of issues with the way that Jordan represents male/female interactions, but I will say this for the series: there are a lot of awesome female characters, and we get to spend time from their perspective. This book even went so far as to overtly mention the existence of homosexual males, which is a more than a lot of epic fantasy ever does. For all its flaws, I couldn't put it down. I will purchase it to complete my collection, but I probably won't ever read it all the way through again.

Grade: B

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