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“A Memory of Light” by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

a memory of light

There’s a passage in A Memory Of Light where a character thinks that ‘I can’t die yet, I’ve still got a book to write’. I’m not sure whether that line was one of those written by Robert Jordan, but he probably felt something similar and sadly we’ll never know how close the concluding volume in his Wheel of Time series is to what Jordan would have written if he’d lived to see the series to completion. Brandon Sanderson’s work on the last three books in the series had already delivered one of the best books in the series in “The Gathering Storm” and the somewhat uneven “Towers of Midnight”, but after fourteen books and thousands of pages it was always going to be the final volume that was the most important. The book does have some significant flaws but it does succeed in its most important goal of providing a satisfying ending to the series.

One of the flaws is that the book gets off to a relatively slow start, although there are some good bits in the first half of the book there are also a lot of repetitive battle scenes as war breaks out on multiple fronts. Since it always seem inevitable that a bigger, more significant, battle lies ahead it’s hard to care about most of these early battles and despite the large numbers involved they do almost feel more like skirmishes. In some cases the tactics described are a bit baffling and some parts of the warring forces seem puzzlingly underpowered compared to how they were described earlier in the series, in particular the Aiel (who should be a much bigger force than any of their allies) and the Aes Sedai (whose effectiveness in battle seems to have decreased significantly). One area in which this book is a bit lacking compared to the rest of the series is that there’s relatively little time spent on characterisation and most of the characters don’t really develop much over the course of the book, some fairly significant characters also get ignored for large portions of the story. While the backdrop of an apocalyptic war does mean that it’s inevitable there isn’t as much time spent on character development as in previous books (which spent an often excessive amount of time on sometimes repetitive characterisation), it does feel like there was some scope for more characterisation, particularly in the first half of the book. One particular frustration is that after characters have been separated by the plot for most of the series they often don’t get to interact in this book despite being reunited, the lack of scenes for the recently-returned Moiraine is one of the most annoying examples.

Fortunately, the book does start to improve in the second half. The early skirmishes being forgettable was worrying but the climactic Last Battle itself is much more effective, despite still having some flaws. After having been a mysterious figure in the background for most of the series Demandred finally gets to take centre stage leading his forces in the Last Battle and overall he manages to be a more credible threat than his fellow Forsaken have often managed to be in previous books. The final battle does benefit from there being an enemy that isn’t just a faceless mass of Trollocs and Myrdraal. If the early battles lack a sense of any real peril, the final battle does a better job of conveying the risks and the cost of the battle and the deaths of a number of major and minor characters does raise the stakes, often the series has been a bit predictable but some of the deaths here do manage to be surprising, particularly one of the series’ most important characters. Most of the battle is told in a single 200-page chapter and while I don’t think battles scenes are necessarily Sanderson’s strong point and the battle tactics are still a bit opaque I think it does make a fitting climax to some of the series’ main plots.

Simultaneously with the Last Battle there’s also a more metaphysical conflict going on as Rand finally confronts the Dark One. This isn’t a conflict of armies but more of a conflict of ideas as the Dark One confronts Rand with visions of possible futures, and then exposes the holes in Rand’s own ideas of how things should turn out. I think this is one area where the character development does work well as Rand reacts to the different possible futures and also has to adapt his thinking to move away from some of the ideas he had at the start of the book which are exposed as being flawed. The Last Battle might get a bigger page count but this is the real conclusion to the series and I think thematically it’s the strongest part of the book, and builds well upon Rand’s story arc in “The Gathering Storm” which I think is one of the best bits of the series.

The books ends fairly shortly after the climax of the two storylines with an epilogue that is adequate but slightly underwhelming, in some ways it might have been nice to see a bit more of the aftermath but at the same time I think it can’t be unwise for books to linger on for too long after they have concluded the main plot.

I didn’t find the contrast between Jordan and Sanderson’s styles to be too jarring and a lot of time it is difficult to say for sure whether a passage was one of those completed by Jordan before his death. Sanderson does write some occasionally clunky phrases (one particular metaphor comparing Elayne’s army to yeast was memorably bad) and sometimes his choice of words feels a little bit anachronistic for the setting but overall he does a good job even if Jordan at his best was a better writer.

Compared to earlier books in the series I think this has too many flaws to be counted as one of the best, but it does enough right in supplying a satisfying conclusion for the main plot. A disappointing conclusion to the series could have dragged down the whole series but I think this is a fitting ending to a series which is undeniably an impressive achievement despite fluctuations in quality and being several books longer than it should have been.

Rating : 8 / 10