Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Memory of Light Review

As a kid I was a huge Tolkien fan. My mom read me Lord of the Rings when I was about 7 and I fell obsessively in love with fantasy. After that I tried to find other series that I loved as much, but I was pretty picky. I didn't like any fantasy books that started off with the protagonist in our world (although I've gotten over that by now). I did discover David Eddings' Belgariad series when I was 14 or 15 and read all of those, including the prequels and sequels and finally his other series the Eleniun and its sequel. Eventually though I realized that Eddings just kept reusing the same archetypes and so I stopped reading his books. I also read Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, which I subsequently read several times. However, I didn't immerse myself in anything as seriously as I did when I discovered Robert Jordan's Eye of the World, the first of the Wheel of Time series.

The main premise of the series is that thousands of years before the present time, the world was basically a utopia. Brilliant men and women who were able to use a source of power performed miraculous deeds. However, one woman was greedy and sensed another, stronger power out of reach of the world. So she somehow drilled a hole in the fabric of the universe (don't ask) and tapped into the True Source, which apparently came from the Dark One and released all this evil into the world. One of the heroes of the time, Lews Therin Telamon, led a group of men to the bore to seal it up. The women refused to accompany them. The men succeeded in sealing the bore, but the Dark One released a counter stroke and tainted saidin, the male half of the power, so all the men went insane.

Fast forward many thousands of years. Women who channel saidar, the female half of the One Power, are called Aes Sedai and are some of the most powerful people in the world. Prophecy says that the Dragon, Lews Theron Telamon, will be reborn and save the world. Moiraine, an Aes Sedai, and her Warder, Lan go to an isolated farm country in the mountains called the Two Rivers, where they find three young men: Rand, Mat and Perrin. All three seem to be ta'veren, people around whom the wheel of time structures the pattern of life. Moiraine leads all three boys out of the Two Rivers into a world of adventures, also bringing along Egwene al'Vere, a young woman who seems to have the ability to channel as well as Nynaeve al'Meara, the local healer who also has talents. Of course Rand turns out to be the Dragon Reborn but the whole crew from the Two Rivers get swept into tons of dangerous and exciting adventures, even though some of them (like Mat and often Rand) try to avoid their fate. Rand is infuriating most of the time but I really liked the other characters (many of whom get introduced outside of the Two Rivers). Anyway, the main plot is for Rand to survive until the Last Battle where he will fight the Dark One.

I was completely obsessed with these books for a few years. The first seven were out in paperback when I first started reading them so I ate them up. I loved the female characters (although I've since realized that they are a bit ridiculous - the general line is that women are constantly annoyed at men for something and men are completely befuddled by women), the love stories and the plot in general. I spent ages trying to predict how the series would end. I was sort of in love with Mat. There were moments in the series that moved me to tears (the Battle of Emond's Field still gets me). However, once book eight was published, I noticed that the series was seriously slowing down. Book eight from what I remember was really focused on war, which bored me. The following books just seemed really stretched out. More and more characters and plot lines were added. Some main characters were left out. It was hard to keep track of everyone, especially since I now had to wait for the hardcovers to come out every couple years. I still read each book but it wasn't as pressing or as thrilling as it used to be.

And then Robert Jordan died. Seriously. The man had a rare form of cancer and died, not long after publishing book 11. He was sick for a while though, and had copious notes and outlines prepared for the 12th book, which he always insisted would be the last. I believe he tape recorded the ending (or maybe even wrote it), telling only his wife, Harriet, and an editor what the end would be. And then he died. Harriet handpicked Brandon Sanderson, another fantasy author, to use Jordan's finished scenes, notes and outlines to finish the book. They decided to publish it in three separate volumes for a total of 14 books.

And weirdly enough, the series got better. Gone was the plodding story lines. Finally things started happening. Characters moved forward, plots were resolved; the action moved towards a definite conclusion. A lot of people complained that Sanderson didn't quite get some voices right. Other people applauded his swifter stories. Personally, I thought he did a great job, but at this point, I hadn't been reading the books over ten years so I wasn't really doing a side by side comparison. However, Sanderson had a lot of respect for the story and I went with it and enjoyed his writing.

So finally, in January, book 14 was released. However, Harriet, Jordan's widow, is old fashioned and in an effort to preserve her husband's legacy, she decided to wait until April to release the digital version of the novel. This is because she wanted the book to be on the NY Times best sellers list and for those numbers to be based on hard back sales, not e-books. Sanderson didn't agree but it wasn't his decision. Again, a lot of people were mad. I had every intention of waiting until April because I really wasn't in a rush. However, my eighth grade advisee, who loves the books, wanted me to read it immediately so we could discuss it. I finally agreed to borrow it when his family was done reading, happy that I wouldn't have to buy a hard cover. And then I fell in the street, on a rainy night while carrying it, and several pages got wet and muddy. Clearly I could not return this book to them so I had to buy a new one. Lame! I'm not planning to buy the e-book now though. Maybe someday I will reread the entire series but every time I say that, the thought exhausts me and I don't end up doing it.

Ok so after that very long intro, here are my thoughts on the final book. SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

A Memory of Light is essentially one very long battle. It picks up where the last book left off, with most of the armies and rulers of the world at the Field of Merrilor to the north. Rand has gathered everyone there to explain that he wants to break the seals of the bore, which have imprisoned the Dark One for thousands of years. Egwene, the Amyrlin Seat, keeper of the seals, wishes to stop him. Essentially they come to an agreement known as the Dragon's Peace. In exchange for Rand giving up his life to fight the Dark One, he demands that all nations of the world, including the Seanchan (who are not at the field) sign a peace treaty that must be held for at least a century. It forces all kingdoms' borders to remain where they are at the current time and includes other rules that leaders balk at initially. Aviendha steps up to demand a role for the Aiel, who were left off. They end up being named a neutral peace keeping force, which will hopefully prevent the destruction of the Aiel that Aviendha saw happening in the future in a vision at Rhuidean. In a nice touch, the Ogier show up, ready to fight, with Loial. And Elayne is named the ultimate general of the battles to come. Caemlyn, her capital, is already overrun by trollocs, so Andor will be on of the fronts of the war. First though, Rand sends an army to Tarwin's Gap to help relieve Lan, who has been fighting a massive horde of trollocs and losing most of his men. Tarwin's Gap will end up being the second front. A third will be between the Aes Sedai and another group of trollocs who try to push south. The fourth front is in the Blasted Lands in front of Shayol Ghul, the mountain where the Dark One is imprisoned. Obviously, Rand will be there with an army made up mostly of Aiel. Mat is not at this meeting. He is off with his Seanchan wife, although later Rand shows up and gets Tuon to agree to fight. They end up teaming up with the Aes Sedai, after swearing not to take any good Aes Sedai captive (as they do).

The whole book is the Last Battle, which the series has been building up to from day one. Elayne and Perrin (along with Tam al'Thor and a bunch of Two Rivers archers and Loial with the Ogiers) use a massive cavalry charge to lure the trollocs in Caemlyn out into the woods to start picking them off. This goes well at first but slowly they have to retreat, especially when they find out that a second force of trollocs is heading their way. Eventually they end up at Cairhain where they finally (but barely) win, but only with the last minute assistance from the Asha'man who finally escaped the Black Tower, and the Aes Sedai who were with them. Lan also constantly has to retreat, destroying much of Shienar as he is forced south. The Aes Sedai, under Egwene's leadership, do fairly well at first, until Demandred, one of the thirteen forsaken, shows up on the scene. Out of all the "Chosen" (former Aes Sedai who work for the Dark One), he has been seen the least and therefore plays a huge role in this book. He shows up with a huge army of Sharan channelers (both male and female), a mysterious people from the far east, across the Aiel Waste. Essentially he just wants Rand dead. But Rand is off fighting in Shayol Ghul so Demandred just spends a lot of time shouting for Rand to come get him. Eventually, each army realizes that the four great generals who have been leading each front have been compromised. Using the world of dreams, one of the Forsaken, Graendal, has been essentially controlling the four generals, so they start making massive mistakes. And here's where Mat comes back into the picture. He basically gets control over the entire army and decides to make a last stand with everyone left back at the Field of Merrilor. Way back at the beginning, Mat lost a lot of his memory (long story) and had the holes filled in around book 4 by memories of soldiers, generals and battles (convenient, right?). And he has this fox head medallion that prevents channelers from manipulating him with the source so he is immune to any Forsaken manipulations. So three of the four armies meet back again (the fourth stays at Shayol Ghul), essentially trusting everything to Mat.

Like I said, this whole book is essentially one long battle. A lot of it is exciting, some of it is a bit boring. If warfare isn't your thing, this is a hard book to get through, especially because a lot of the characters are skimmed over. I got the sense that Sanderson was trying to fit in as many people as humanely possible and some people simply got shafted. I was annoyed that Mat spent all this time (and lost an eye) trying to get Moiraine back from the Tower of Ghenjei in the last book only to have her make the briefest of appearances in this book. Same with Nynaeve, who was always one of my favorites. Poor Min barely appears in the story until several hundred pages in (the book is about 900 pages all together), but when she does, she gets conscripted into serving as Tuon's Doomseer (since she can see omens over people). That was pretty funny. Faile, Perrin's wife, is in charge of getting the Horn of Valere to Mat but a bubble of evil sends her, Olver and some of their crew to the Blight where they have to figure out how to get to the battle in time for Mat (or someone else) to blow the horn and summon the ancient heroes to fight with them. The fear is that is the horn falls into the hands of the Shadow, the heroes would fight against Rand's army. Essentially, everyone has a role to play in the Last Battle - some have major importance and some minor. The murderous townsfolk from Hinderstap even make an appearance in a crucial scene.

Rand makes it to Shayol Ghul and steps into the mountain with Nynaeve and Moiraine (who then spend their appearances essentially frozen, although Nynaeve plays a slightly important part) and confronts Moridin, before getting sucked into an existential confrontation with the Dark One. Rand wants to kill the Dark One entirely so the two of them keep showing each other different scenarios, during which Rand realizes that evil cannot be killed entirely because that would prevent people from choosing one side over another. Meanwhile Perrin and Gaul spend most of their time in the Wolf Dream, dealing with Lanfear, trying to kill Slayer. However, Perrin ends up missing the battle entirely until the very end when he has to go to Shayol Ghul. Mat, after the harrowing victory at the Field of Merrilor, also ends up at Shayol Ghul. Both men perform an important, although relatively anti-climatic act to save the day at the end. The women all perform important tasks as well (except Nynaeve... sort of). Aviendha fights Graendal, one of the final Forsaken, at Shayol Ghul. Elayne helps to lead her army, along with Birgitte. Egwene fights viciously with the Aes Sedai.

And people die. One of the biggest criticisms of the series is that characters never did. The big death in book five, Moiraine, turned out to not be true in the end. But here (again, SPOILERS AHEAD!) Gawyn dies, followed by Egwene who goes out with a bang, while Siuan Sanche and Gareth Bryne die during one of the battles. Obviously I was thrilled that Mat and Lan lived. Lots of other people died, but no one that major with the exceptions I said before. At the end all remaining Forsaken are dead or got what was coming to them in a fitting way.

There also wasn't much development beyond the battlefield. Earlier in the story, Rand got to spend some one on one time with Aviendha and Elayne (not at the same time). He didn't really get to hang out with Min, although they've been together during basically every book. I was expecting Aviendha to learn she was pregnant or have Elayne deliver her twins, but nothing happened there. Also early on, Egwene and Gawyn got married. This was such a footnote to the whole story. And then it was like they were barely married. I was a bit disappointed in their storyline. It's fine if they died, but there was barely any romance between them. Yeah, I know there was a war going on, but still. Oh and Faile's parents died. I liked her dad a lot so that was a little sad (and technically, it means she is queen of Saldaea!)

Here's what I did love: Tam al'Thor leading an army and using the famous Two River bows. Lan kicking serious ass when he fought Demandred. Mat being Mat. The Hinderstap people showing up. Morgase helping wounded people after the battle, just when I was wondering what happened to her. Androl the Asha-man and Pevara, the Red Aes Sedai who bonded each other, fought together and started developing a little romance. Thom guarding the entrance to Shayol Ghul but really watching the battle below to write an epic ballad. The lovely moment when the Dark One seemed to have won but Rand showed him that there was always hope - as they watched the Merrilor battle and saw Lan stir despite thinking he was dead from fighting Demandred and little Olver blow the Horn of Valere despite being attacked by trollocs.

So there was some really good stuff here and really, it was a fitting last book for the series. Well done if you made it to the final volume (and to the end of this insanely long review... this is why it took so long for me to write this. I knew it would take ages!).

Now about that ending... there was always a bit of a Harry Potterish "both can't live" idea hanging around here. I always theorized that Lews Therin Telamon, whose mad spirit lingered in Rand's mind, would die but Rand himself would live, maybe without the ability to channel any more and he could go back to the Two Rivers and live a normal life with Min. However, then he and Lews pretty much blended together so that wouldn't work. However, at the end, Rand charged out of Shayol Ghul after completely sealing away the Dark One, with Moridin's body. I'm not entirely sure what happened here but Rand's spirit somehow transferred into Moridin's body. So to the world it looked like Rand died, but no one except Min, Elayne and Aviendha knew that for sure. They used Alivia to "help him die", meaning to leave "Moridin" clothes and money so he could leave.

There's an epic party at the end near Shayol Ghul, which is already becoming alive again. All the heroes gather in one place (with a couple exceptions like Perrin going off to find Faile and Mat going to Tuon - if I'm remembering that correctly). Poor Tam al'Thor has to watch his son's body burn and no one tells him. Everyone is surprised that Rand's three women do not seem phased by his supposed death. Nynaeve is devastated... although she gets to reunite with Lan and be queen of Malkier so she'll be fine. At the end, Rand examines his new body and thinks of all the things he can do in the world now that he has no responsibilities. He learns that he can no longer channel, but call "will" things into existence. He lights a pipe just by willing it to do so (sort of like the Belgariad's "will and the word"). The three women watch him leave and then that's it, he's gone.

I felt like this was a bit of a cop out. I wanted a real epilogue. This ending did not show how the three women dealt with sharing Rand. I seriously thought that the Tinkers' "Song" would be found and used to make the world grow correctly again, getting rid of the Blight and the desserts (although that happened anyway due to Rand). Elayne did not have her kids and Aviendha did not get pregnant. Is Min still tied to the Seanchan? What the hell happens next?! Did Androl and Pevara help facilitate a rejoining of the male and female powers? What was Cadsuane like as the Amyrlin?  I think having a short chapter at the very end that takes place a couple years after might have been nice. Supposedly a massive encyclopedia is going to be published at some point so maybe that will have some hints in it.

If you've made it this far, well done and I'm assuming you're a WOT fan. As I said earlier, someday I might reread the entire series to really judge every book together and follow the story really well but at this point, that just exhausts me. Maybe in another 10 years!

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1 comment:

  1. I was hoping the battle would wrap-up three quarter of the way through the book because I knew it would require a quarter of the book to really make things feel compleat. I kept thinking of the end of the Lord of the rings & how they finely got back to Hobbiton. I thought most of the battle was self indulgent and I feel cheated that I will never know what happened to anyone. Also thought the last line was trite.