Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book review: "A Memory of Light" by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Well, we have come to this. This book signifies end of several periods: four months of my reread, nine years of my personal acquaintance to "The Wheel of Time" series, and twenty three years since publishing of first book, "The Eye of The World". I first one to say, that even though I am sad for the end, this last book, "A Memory of Light", give a wonderful closing to the whole series.

I have a special connection to this series: it was my first series after I have started buying books. Before that I've read some fantasy (there was very restricted selection at my local library, but I have read it and reread it more than few times), including "The Lord of the Rings" and first few books of "A Song of Ice and Fire", but this was a first big ("Knife of Dreams" was the first book I had to wait for to come out) epic series. Since that time I've read it a lot (ASoIaF, "Malazan Book of the Fallen", "Midkemia" sagas, "The Belgariad" and "The Malloreon", R. Scott Bakker, etc.), but WoT has stayed my favorite series. Not best; I think that ASoIaF and MBotF (even more so) are better series. But WoT is my favorite, period.

I haven't read a book in such short time for a while now. I started reading "A Memory of Light" at Saturday afternoon (without reading at evening), read whole Sunday (except for two or three hours) till midnight, continued at Monday late afternoon after work, and finished at after midnight of the same day. I planned to write this review yesterday, but I was too exhausted yesterday and had to recover some of my energy.

"A Memory of Light" is a final book of fourteen book longer series, so things are pretty much all set for the final clash between Light and Shadow. Rand, who started as young shepherd, has become almost King of the world. His announcement that he will break the Seals that keep the Dark One imprisoned has successfully gathered almost all armies of humanity at one place. Mat has done great things in the past, but he now has one more thing to accomplish - to persuade Fortuona, Empress of Seanchan to join Rand's battle. Perrin has also become a leader of men. Even though his part is not so visible, he is one of three ta'veren that have to support Rand. Egwene, now a  secure Amyrlin Seat, and as such viewed as one of most superior authorities, doesn't agree with Rand's decisions - but is Amyrling Seat's authority above that of the Dragon? Elayne is one of the strongest Aes Sedai, now ruler of both Andor and Cairhien, and also lover of the Dragon Reborn - she will have to balance a lot of roles in this book.

This covers five main characters of WoT (I used to include Nyneve, but she was a bit neglected in last books), but even though they got most coverage, they represent only a fraction of POVs from this book. I think that most of the characters from previous books got at least a short POV part. The book has 900 pages, so it is not the longest book in series, but it feels quite long nevertheless.

So you can expect this to be a very complex book. I think I will have to do a reread eventually to grasp it all (as I have to with MBotF), but not this year I think. I don't even have to mention multiple changes of POVs in chapters - diagram showing characters vs. chapters structure will definitely be even more complex that the one in "The Gathering Storm" (link). Maybe it would have been better if last two books were split in three. This would gave them more clarity, but than they would lose much of their intensity, especially this one. And "A Memory of Light" is intense!

I first had an awkward feel, but I was able to recognize it. It is strange to have so many POV characters at the same place without knowing the thoughts of every one of them. Lot of characters get ignored for a long times (e.g. Taim, rulers), but there is simply no help to that. Also, even though all plotlines in this book happen in same time-frame, Sanderson used a trick that time doesn't flow at the same speed for everyone. He justified it quite soundly in book, and reaped much of benefits from it, but you will have to decide for yourself whether you are OK with it (as I am) or you think it as cheap trick.

When I started with this book, I also started with keeping notes of my impressions (I started doing this during this reread, to help me organize my thoughts), like
  • Wow! It is rare to see the inner workings of Shadow like with the Town, and
  • Plotline in the Black Tower is simply great! Especially the dual bond.
But soon I had to abandon it because really too much happens in here. Also, I want to avoid spoilers in this review. Nevertheless, here are some of my biggest impressions:
  • I kept trying to guess who Demandred is hiding as. This particular point was stressed during series, and even at the beginning of this book, so it was only normal to wonder. The answer is here, don't worry. On the other hand, maybe you should worry, because he proves himself as one of most capable and deadly of Shadow's proponents.
  • I was very surprised when Rand entered the Pit of Doom before the end of book. Even though this sounds as expected course of events, Jordan (I don't think that this was Sanderson's call, but maybe I am wrong) take an unconventional turn.
  • This book is one big battle! Well, six battles actually, but most of this book is made of battle and fighting scenes. Also, it has the longest chapter in WoT history: 189 pages.
  • There is some great humor in this book, but one line was really LOL moment: Androl's and Pevara's "You look good in black". Also, even though Mat is a touch too expressive (outspoken), he has a bunch of funny scenes. I especially like his bragging fight with Rand! And also, Knotai!!!
  • Well, I can't believe I missed the thing with the Horn of Valere!!!
One more thing I want to mention is Padan Fain's disappointment. His part was very promising, in this book and in series also. He had a potential to become the unknown element, Joker, hidden ace... But then he was cut short. There are some good lines here, but it is only a part of what it should have been.

I saw some comments describing this book as emotionally draining - it is! I spent last couple of hours with tears in my eyes - whether from sadness, happiness, laughter or anger. It really provides a full scale of emotions. There are some really unexpected things here, even deaths of characters you would never expect to be gone.

A good new element this book introduces is inserting the gray morale with the Seanchan. Is rooting for Tuon a good thing or not? I wonder was this Jordan's or Sanderson's decision.

You are probably wondering about the ending. Don't worry: it is a wonderful ending, one of best ever. It doesn't provide too many answers. I think this is better than it would be explaining and elaborating everything (like, these two lived there for years, got two child...). Also, it feels more natural, without any forced celebrations or gathering of main characters. You are really left wondering about many things, but not frustrated for it. I wonder was the ending written by Jordan? I think it is - I don't belittle Sanderson, but Jordan was the master of "The Wheel of Time".

So, with bitter-sweet feelings, I can say that "A Memory of Light" provided a wonderful ending for "The Wheel of Time". Not perfect, but even better for that!

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