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GUEST REVIEW | A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Two diplomas, three jobs, one marriage, one kid, three dogs, twenty years. Those are a few of the things that have happened to me since I read Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World for the first time. I've since read it a dozen times. I love it almost as much today as I did then. Rand's long walk from his home to Emond's Field, his father laid out on the horse cart clinging to life, still instills the same sense of dread and determination it always has.
I'll be the first to admit that as the Wheel of Time spun out new books over the years they got worse, and worse, and worse, until a time came that I hardly anticipated their release.  I challenge anyone to casually mention 'the Bowl of Winds' to any Wheel of Time fan. The reactions are almost assured to involve crude language. That isn't to say they were bad books, on par with Piers Anthony or Terry Goodkind, but they weren't the same kind of magic captured in first four, and to a lesser degree the first seven.
Much of that changed when Jordan passed and Brandon Sanderson took over the franchise. I write that not to condemn Jordan's writing, but to highlight that he had perhaps reached a point in the series where a new set of eyes was needed to finish it. First with Towers of Midnight, then with The Gathering Storm, Sanderson was able to put aside some of Jordan's pet projects and, for the first times in years, progress the story to the places it needed to go to complete the series. At the time, it was an incredible thing to witness; the seeds of Jordan's labors were finally bearing fruit.
While that continues in A Memory of Light, the final Wheel of Time novel, some warts are also exposed as Sanderson is forced to cut the cord on extraneous story lines in order to accomplish the necessary greater good of completing Jordan's opus. The result is a novel that finishes the mission, so to speak, but leaves me wondering about Jordan's actual vision.
Before I go any further let me assure everyone that A Memory of Light wraps up the stories of Rand, Mat, and Perrin entirely. It leaves nothing unresolved, or dangling. In almost every way, this fourteenth volume is the novel Wheel of Time fans have waited the better part of twenty years to read. The Last Battle comes. Rand confronts the Dark One. Taim is revealed. Loial turns into Chewbacca. And the great swordsman question is put to rest. I admit to a certain amount of sheer joy at watching these things unfold. I also admit to a certain disappointment that they all unfold in such expected ways, with only a few minor twists.
The largest among those twists, related to an often unseen but prominent villain, fails because it just wasn't properly foreshadowed and/or developed with a point of view character. I feel confident that had Jordan lived to finish his series, there would have been one. I say that on faith, but faith is an important part of a series of this length. I had faith that Moraine's eight book absence amid endless speculation would pay off in the end, and that Cadsuane for all the posturing would serve some significance. That same faith had me believing that the transposition of Padan Fain and Slayer/Luc within the narrative would tie together. Perhaps that faith was misplaced. While there is resolution to all those arcs, they are inadequate given the amount of time devoted to them.
I don't want to be misunderstood. There's almost nothing Sanderson could have done to fix these problems short of writing two more books, or rewriting the ones that came before his involvement. The record was too long and the future not tolerant enough for more exposition. Many of my frustrations are merely the cause and effect of a series that spans fourteen books, two authors, and twenty three years. I strongly believe that Brandon Sanderson wrote the best books that anyone could have written who wasn't Robert Jordan himself. He treated the material respectfully and brought the series to a satisfying conclusion. In so doing, he gave much needed closure to a rabid fan base that grew up with Rand, Perrin, and Mat. I'm one of them.
Because of that, what follows here was difficult to write, but I also cannot in good conscience not write it.
I'm often asked, "Is the Wheel of Time worth it?" In other words, should I invest the better part of a year's reading in the series? My answer for the last decade has been, "I don't know, I'll let you know when the series is finished." With the final novel now in my rear view mirror, I feel capable of answering it.
The answer has to be no. But, like so many things it isn't that simple. To anyone who's read deep into the series, and put it aside until it was finished, please make good on that promise. Sanderson's first two books in the series are iconic, full of huge moments and promised pay-offs. The third lacks those eye brow raising theatrics, but it provides the closure the Wheel's fans needed. But, for the reader just beginning, I believe there are better places to look. The miasma of the eighth through eleventh books is a slog I cannot wish on anyone, full of bloat and wasted words. The payoff, however good, can never overcome the frank and utter disregard for editorial oversight that those novels exemplified.
And still. . .
My inner fan says thank you Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. My memories of the Wheel of Time will be with me always. The series wasn't the beginning of my reading life, but it was a beginning. For whatever that's worth.
------
About Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of the genre blog Staffer's Book Review (and occasional musings). When he's not writing things of dubious value to the world, he's at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.

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7 comments:

RobB said...

Not reading the full review yet since I just started the book, but dear Creator do I completely concur with this:

Much of that changed when Jordan passed and Brandon Sanderson took over the franchise. I write that not to condemn Jordan's writing, but to highlight that he had perhaps reached a point in the series where a new set of eyes was needed to finish it. irst with Towers of Midnight, then with The Gathering Storm, Sanderson was able to put aside some of Jordan's pet projects and, for the first times in years, progress the story to the places it needed to go to complete the series.

While RJ created the whole thing, those new pair of eyes were vital to reinvigorating the series (both from a quality standpoint and I'd argue from a fan interest point. At least from my perspective).

Scott said...

That is about my summation of the final book as well Justin. Well put, and I agree.

I'll be writing my review soon, it will be more fleshed out there, but yeah I'm the same.

Joel said...

I read The Eye of the World for the first time last year and I didn't even really like it that much, so I think I will stop now. If it was a shorter series I would probably read the second one, but knowing it is downhill from here doesn't fill me with resolve to plow through 4 MILLION more words.

Chris T. Poo said...

A lot of what you wrote was spot on for me as well, but I do disagree with a couple points. It could be the age at which we read certain books (I've no idea how old you are or when you started.), or just different reader personalities. I'm not sure. Definitely at certain points, and certain books, the story slowed and became a bit of a slog, but I always enjoyed reading the series anyway. I never felt that any of it wasn't worth my time.

With that in mind my biggest disagreement would be in whether or not I would recommend the series to new readers. My first response is to say, "Yes! Absolutely yes!" but you raise good points about why you would say no. I have to admit for myself that a big part of my love for the series was growing up with it. Reading the Wheel of Time wasn't just a yearlong endeavor, it was a lifelong endeavor. That certainly skews my views on it, and I wonder if someone who came to the completed series could feel as strongly positive about it as I do.

All in all, I appreciate your response. It's not my own, but that's why it's good, and I feel like it's a review the series deserves. Thanks.

Tom Lloyd said...

yup, good review. As someone who gave up after book 7 or 8, I forget which, I assumed there'd be too much to slog through to make it worthwhile, given I can't keep up with all the new books I should be reading. Think you've confirmed my feelings on the subject.

sidthecoolkid said...

thank you!

i always wanted to read these books when i had time to spare. now a days, it is is like "if i had time to spare"...

i have had the same problem with the Malazan book of the fallen, and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn(though i did finish shadowmarch series back to back).

i have always thought whether it was worth investing time into these books, and after much deliberation, i think the answer is no.
i seriously think there aren't going to be many who are going to invest that much time into a series which sags so much in the middle.

Abraham, Butcher, Rothfuss, Sanderson, Lynch, Mievelle, Gaiman, Scalzi and many others are doing absolutely fantastic work.

they are more emotionally satisfying, for me at least.

thanks again for sharing your view.

Mirza Ghalib said...

A fitting end to the Wheel of Time. The characters shine throughout the series, most ends tied with the future left to the reader's imagination. There are parts to make you cry and parts to make you laugh. The Last Battle is upon us and the Dragon reborn goes to Shayol Ghul to battle the Dark One. There was many battle scenes and they show Jordan's military genius with beautifully written. The epilogue except for some parts has been wholly written by RJ before his death.

I started reading in the evening and did not stop till next morning