Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book 6: A Memory of Light

The Wheel of Time series is now complete after 14 novels, somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 pages, one prequel, and countless characters.  I think even the most hardcore fans of the series can agree that it was time.  Obviously, after a thirteen novel commitment, anyone that's gotten that far is going to finish regardless of what anyone else might say.  I'm sure I could tell you it was all just a dream, and you'd be pissed, but you'd still read it just to really justify that anger.  Fortunately, that's not how it ends.  (If you have never read the series, and are debating whether you should or not, the review contains spoilers for the rest of the series; however, I wrap up in the last two paragraphs with a discussion of whether or not you should consider starting the series.)
Now, I won't say that this novel is perfect - this novel is supposed to be about the Final Battle between Rand al'Thor and the Dark One, the thing this whole series has been building up to for over 20 years (though surprisingly only two have passed in the series), and it still takes almost half the novel to get all the pieces into position.  Not that I necessarily wanted to read just about the battle, but it's amazing how many things still had to be moved and decided this late in the game.  For example, the novel has to wrap up events going on at the Black Tower, and I'm not sure if I'd just forgotten this, but the descriptions of saidin and saidar are rather rapey, aren't they?  Well, at least the ones concerning the male version of the Source, saidin, are since it's something that has to be seized.  In fact, I'm sure extensive papers could be written on the idea of consent and The Wheel of Time, with saidin/saidar and bonds and circles as metaphors for sex.  Anyway, the novel begins with a war council, which concludes with Egwene agreeing to break the seals at the right time, Rand preparing to go fight the Dark One, and Elayne being placed in charge of all the nations' armies.  The four remaining great battle captains are each placed in charge of one of four fronts, and off they go.  Rand heads to Shayol Gul accompanied by Nynaeve, Moiraine and Aviendha as well as an army to hold off anyone that may try to interfere with his final stand.  The Aes Sedai led by Egwene take on the forces at Kandor, while Elayne focuses her energies at Andor as she oversees the entire war, and Lan is up fighting in the Blight with a large force.  Mat and Perrin each have their own battles and tests to do to support Rand, Mat with the Seanchan and his new wife's people, while Perrin is tying up loose ends with Slayer.  To be honest, I kind of feel bad for Perrin because at some point, he went from having a rather strong story line (he saved his people at the Two Rivers, he can talk to wolves) to having the most boring story of the three or six.  I mean Rand isn't that exciting because he fits within the prototype of the hero, but Perrin spends a majority of the novel trying to track one guy down.  Of course, Nynaeve's story has practically been wrapped up since her wedding, and though she is one of the most powerful Aes Sedai in memory, she is basically in sidekick mode.  At some point in the series, Egwene and Mat transitioned into my favorite characters, at least of the main six (or eight if we include all of Rand's love interests) - all the characters display growth, so it's not necessarily that they show the most but they certainly make the most of their transformations, Egwene being the youngest Amyrlin in history and Mat being the great gambler war leader.  Now if only Egwene's love interest could be as interesting as Mat's wife Tuon instead of the whiny Gawyn who has an inferiority complex.  I basically want to strangle him myself every time he shows up on the scene, and he was the one character whose death I was actively hoping for and waiting on.
Sanderson manages to send a nod to most of the better characters from the series. but the battle pieces are so extensive that there isn't too much time devoted to many of them.  Still, it's better to at least see some characters from the series make a quick appearance, such as Elyas, another man with Perrin's wolf connection, than not have them appear at all.  Now one of the things I have been saying about the series for a while is that it's hard to care too much about what happens to the main characters because they all have to survive for the final battle.  Bad things may happen to them, but the reader knows they will make it to the end.  That doesn't mean the series isn't littered with dead minor characters, but there is none of the shock that comes from reading A Song of Ice and Fire.  Does that mean that Jordan/Sanderson makes up for this in the final battle?  Yes and no.  The troops are overwhelmed, the death tolls are massive, some of my favorite characters that aren't part of the main six die, and not all of them survive, but it certainly doesn't reach Martin levels.  Additionally, after 14 novels and way too many tangents even some of the deaths that I feel should have been more effective didn't really leave me that concerned or sad.  However, there is one death in particular that packs a good punch (although the death that was most powerful to me in the series as a whole was Hopper's).  I also liked some of the twists that occurred concerning the battles, and how Sanderson/Jordan dealt with having epic battles of differing lengths occurring simultaneously.  Due to time being out of whack and slipping, the further from Shayol Gul one is, the more time passes.  As a result, Rand is in battle for minutes/hours, while the Aiel guarding Shayol Gul are engaged in a battle lasting a few days, and then further away in the kingdom, it is taking days and possibly weeks (my concept of time is exactly that great to begin with).
Still, I think this is overall a fitting end for the series.  Some things are left open, but most major plot points are tied off (though in my opinion some of those should have been tied of ages ago, and really didn't need to still be an issue, ie Padan Fain).  One thing that Sanderson was very good at doing is that he mostly didn't have things appear out of the blue at the end.  Even if some characters didn't appear until very late, at least someone had referenced them at some point previously so I already had been reminded of their existence rather than having to refer to the Encyclopedia.  This may not be a surprise considering that Sanderson is involved in writing both, but there is a line or two at the end that strongly reminded me of the end of the Mistborn trilogy.  I wonder if this was part of Harriet's decision to have Sanderson finish the series.   And this may sound horrible, but I'm rather glad that Sanderson took over the series, because I can't imagine how Jordan would have wrapped this all up given his last few novels.  Basically, if you have made it through this far, you will be mostly satisfied with how it ends though it isn't perfect, but the series stopped living up to its potential a long time ago.  While this novel isn't a "great novel," it works as well as it can given the issues that started appearing in the middle of the series to come to a good conclusion and makes the series feel complete.
Now a quick discussion on The Wheel of Time series.  Obviously I can't simply recommend this novel so the question is whether I would recommend the series.  I definitely wouldn't recommend this to just anyone - my dad has read the Codex Alera twice, he has read the Mistborn trilogy, and the first two novels of the Kingkiller Chronicles.  There is no way I would recommend this series to him - in fact, I would discourage him from reading it.  He would get bored with the middle part and stop.  No matter which way you look at it, the middle part of this series drags on and could have been condensed.  This is not just a matter of people not being patient and not appreciating world building as so many defenders argue - Jordan literally describes every single dress his characters wear or even think of wearing, one of the novels includes a scene where Elayne draws a bubble bath and it literally takes up four pages.  Fortunately, that's where scanning comes in.  I actually did enjoy some of the detail and extra intrigue when applied to things like societies and their cultural systems instead of clothes.  I think the problem becomes especially pronounced when you wait for two years for a novel only to discover that it is mostly devoted to setting up for later.  Since I came to the series late, I felt like some of the middle books dragged on occasion but I didn't have to wait two years to not get any answers, I could simply read the next novel.  So I think the middle drag is definitely still an issue but the fact that the series is now available as a whole should at least help with it.  Jordan is great at world building, adding lots of detail, and I liked that the characters had to deal with conflicts from different sources rather than simply the Dark One, and had to deal with day to day issues and politics.  However, at some points it went further than it needed to, and some of the secondary big bads were distracting rather than intimidating or interesting, especially past a certain point in the series. 
I want to say that this series is important because of its place in fantasy.  Certainly, many authors seem to credit Jordan as an inspiration, but unfortunately most of the fantasy I've read was written after Jordan so I can't really say if he was part of a trend or started it.  At this point, I expect fantasy to involve varied worlds and political plots.  Additionally while I could easily say "this reminds me of the Forsaken" when reading a more current novel, I could also say "the Forsaken are like ringwraiths with actual personalities."  And then of course there is what I would consider Jordan's major flaw (Sanderson tried to fix this, or at least, downplay it some, but it was still present in the last three novels of the series because you can't simply completely change everyone's personalities) - Jordan appears to be a huge believer in the battle of the sexes and a gender essentialist.  He has lots of women in positions of power and with power in his series, but they aren't necessarily very well written, and are at times interchangeable with all their annoyance and braid pulling.  Instead of actually communicating and explaining themselves logically, as soon as the women get around a man they become bossy nags (who secretly all just want/need a man).  They aren't much nicer to each other, depending on the novel and the situation.  And there are way too many comments about spanking.  Not to mention the fact that Rand gets three love interests (who agree to share him) - did I miss something, was this series written by a Mormon stay at home dad (sorry, bad Twilight joke)?  In fact, I'm under the impression that all three of the main women in the series were virgins, while most of the guys get to play the field a bit.  Jordan isn't necessarily repressed about sex, some of his powerful women rulers have lovers, but the three main ones?  As far as I know, they are virgins until they marry/find their true love etc and with the exception of Perrin, none of the guys do the same.  Basically, I don't know if I'd recommend the series.  I'm glad I read them, there were definitely some very good things and stories in the beginning and the end, but I don't think this is a series I'll ever reread.  I'm not sure if the good outweighs the bad, because some of the main characters were very boring and honestly, not really that likeable, and there were some very frustrating parts in the novels.  Still, I am glad I can say I read this if only because it means I can have an opinion on this series that has been a part of the fantasy world for over 20 years.


Malin said...

The speed at which you read and blog your books frightens me. You read books the thickness of phone books and blog them so eloquently and fast. I suspect I'll come second again in CBR5 - with the speed your completing these, I'm not sure I can compete.

Jen K said...

Thanks! I think it's just the initial motivation combined with reacting to how far I let myself get behind last year. I'm sure I'll start slacking off soon! Especially once all my shows are done with winter break.