Highlights from ‘A Memory of Light’

The dog didn’t eat my homework, but the browser and/or WordPress sure chewed and swallowed my post 😦 Thankfully I wasn’t finished but it still set me back a long way.

Earlier this year I began to re-read the Wheel of Time tomes. I’d never read the whole series, so I thought it was time. After reading 14 books and a staggering 4.4 million words the journey has ended. This is my final post where I discuss the last book – and share my favourite highlights from A Memory of Light. You can see all of my other reviews here:

This is spoiler-filled.

Writing the final book in this long series was always going to be a hard task. The reading audience is heavily invested and they expect to be rewarded for lasting through the previous 13 books. All the promises have been made and now all that remains is to fit all of the puzzle pieces together. Oh, and in case that isn’t hard enough the majority of the book is a battle. The Last Battle (i.e. it better be epic) where the forces of Light and Darkness clash for the final time. And the change in author (due to Jordan’s death) was always going to increase scrutiny. Certainly it was never going to be easy to write. Additionally the battle had to be stretched out to the length expected of a Wheel of Time book. No pressure, none at all… Brandon Sanderson deserves credit for taking on such a difficult task and doing it so well.

Making the Pieces Fit. I hadn’t considered it before read it, but it made sense that the Last Battle would have to involve time distortion. Even a fictional battle between the ultimate forces of Good and Evil can’t extend for 350k words; fights are intense and tiring; rarely prolonged. Time dilation allows time to crawl infinitely slowly near where Rand fights the Dark One (and his mini-boss) and it moves in days (or weeks) the further away. This allows the cast of lesser-heroes and villains to get in on the action. It means the battle can be more nuanced that a choreographed fight scene.

Keeping the tension up in such a book would be challenging. Jordan has set the context of the novels and it’s a different tone to George RR Martin. Readers going in can be confident that Rand will win the Last Battle. And further, they can be confident that the cost of that victory isn’t going to be too high. The victory would come (potentially) with some losses but not the obliteration that would be almost expected had Martin written the series.

Plot Twists are a very Delicate Balance. A very delicate balance. A successful plot twist is surprising yet inevitable. The reader has to be surprised by a plot twist, but then with the benefit of hindsight see that there have been hints along the way and this is the logical outcome.

One of these which worked excellently for me, was the genius of Matt and the Horn of Valere. Early on in the series Matt blows the Horn and summons up the ghostly apparitions of heroes to push back the Seanchan army. Everyone knows that in doing so he is linked to the Horn until death. The heroes will only come at his horn blow. He’s also recounted many times that he died or near-died (I think both are used) when he was hung from the tree and saved by Rand. And though he tells us he’s died because he’s alive and well I hadn’t connected the two. And so as the Last Battle rages and the forces of Evil are winning with the Horn on the wrong side of the battlefield I had no idea how Matt was going to get to it. It turns out, he didn’t need to. Genius.

I didn’t see the connection between the events. Undoubtedly others did. To say it another way, the plot twist worked for me. One that didn’t work for me (at all) were the Sharans.

As the Last Battle is progressing the Sharan army appear through a Gateway from a distant land and surprise the forces of Light by joining the Dark side. A vast army with a lot of male and female wielders of the One Power, they are a counter-balance against the White Tower and Seanchan channelers. (The Black Tower is split down the middle).

The Sharans have scattered mentions throughout the books, often by alternate names. And the Forsaken, Demandred, was mentioned to have been notably absent a lot, as in “what’s he doing?”. They were referenced so infrequently that I had assumed they were referenced to expand the world. I thought it was Jordan pointing at shadows to assure the reader the world was deeper and broader than that which the reader had seen. I didn’t think they were important, and honestly, had largely forgotten about them.

In the later book they were given a greater prominence but coming so late in the series the sections felt clunky. I assumed that Jordan was pulling a ‘Tom Bombadil‘: letting his imaginative expression override his this-fits internal editor. I actually found the sections annoying because they were taking me out of the story.

So when the Sharan appear in the Last Battle, it didn’t click for me. I didn’t think it a brilliant plot twist; more of a deus ex machina to help balance the Dark side of the forces. That might be harsh but the plot twist didn’t work for me.

Speaking of deus ex machina: the new form of Travelling using the True Power. I suspect it was added so that the enemy could zip in-and-away constantly.

I did like the fact that the Great Captain’s were all corrupted (or at least taken off the playing field). Though it doesn’t rise to the level of a plot twist, it was a clever plot turn. Here is this resource that we expect the side of the Light to have, and yet in one foul swoop it is taken away.

The ending… it didn’t really leave me feeling satisfied. I think I would have preferred if Rand had died in a final heroic act.

Onto my highlights:

  • The approaching refugees would soon discover that they’d been marching toward danger. It was not surprising. Danger was in all directions. The only way to avoid walking toward it would be to stand still. (Page 70)
  • The bored soldier there had a face like an old shovel—it was half-covered in dirt and would be better off locked in a shed somewhere. (Page 261)
  •  He did not go into the Rahad. The place looked different, now. There were soldiers camped outside it. Generations of successive rulers in Ebou Dar had allowed the Rahad to fester unchecked, but the Seanchan were not so inclined. Mat wished them luck. The Rahad had fought off every invasion so far. Light. Rand should have just hidden there, instead of going up to fight the Last Battle. The Trollocs and Darkfriends would have come for him, and the Rahad would have left them all unconscious in an alley, their pockets turned inside out and their shoes sold for soup money. (Page 262)
  •  “Being in charge isn’t always about telling people what to do. Sometimes, it’s about knowing when to step out of the way of people who know what they’re doing.” (Page 295)
  •  The entire land wilted faster than a boy at Bel Tine with no dancing partners. (Page 336)

 And some more funny one-upmanship between Rand and Matt.

Rand: “What did you do to your eye?”
Matt: “A little accident with a corkscrew and thirteen angry innkeepers. The hand?”
“Lost it capturing one of the Forsaken.”
“Capturing?” Mat said. “You’re growing soft.”
Rand snorted. “Tell me you’ve done better.”
“I killed a gholam,” Mat said.
“I freed Illian from Sammael.”
“I married the Empress of the Seanchan.”
“Mat,” Rand said, “are you really trying to get into a bragging contest with the Dragon Reborn?” He paused for a moment. “Besides, I cleansed saidin. I win.”
“Ah, that’s not really worth much,” Mat said.
“Not worth much? It’s the single most important event to happen since the Breaking.”
“Bah. You and your Asha’man are already crazy,” Mat said, “so what does it matter?” He glanced to the side. “You look nice, by the way. You’ve been taking better care of yourself lately.”

“Sure,” Mat said. “By the way, I saved Moiraine. Chew on that as you try to decide which of the two of us is winning.” Mat followed Tuon, and behind him rose the laughter of the Dragon Reborn. (Page 368)

It seems late to make the decision, but I think I like Matt’s point-of-views best. He has more of a cheeky disposition which is fun to read:

  • Her new clothing looked very nice on her … Min’s was a dark green shiny silk with black embroidery and wide, open sleeves that were at least long enough to stick your head into. They had done up her hair, too, sticking bits of metal into it, silver with inset firedrops. There were hundreds of them. If this whole Doomseer title did not work out for her, perhaps she could find work as a chandelier. (Page 544) 
  • “Please, if I might make a humble suggestion, Highness? You are unprotected; let me at least give you some proper armor.” Mat thought for a moment, then agreed that her suggestion was a prudent one. A person could get hurt out there, what with arrows flying and blades swinging. Tylee called over one of her senior officers who seemed to be about the same size as Mat. She had the man remove his armor, which was extremely colorful, overlapping plates lacquered green, gold and red, outlined with silver. The officer looked bemused when Mat handed him his coat in trade, saying that he expected it to be returned at the end of the day in the same condition. (Page 558)
  • If you do not learn from your losses, you will be ruled by them. (Page 425) 

This below quote is worth a mention. A murderer standing over you is scary. One who is thoughtfully considering an everyday thing about you takes it further.

  • Still, bedding down here was like trying to sleep while a murderer stood beside your bed, holding a knife and contemplating the color of your hair. (Page 629)
  •  “Thank you.” She glanced at the sword.
  • “I’m a Warder now.” He shrugged. “Might as well look like one, eh?” He could cut a Trolloc in half with a gateway at three hundred paces, and summon fire from inside Dragonmount itself, and he still wanted to carry a sword. It was, she decided, a male thing. (Page 697)
  •  Some men would call it brash, foolhardy, suicidal. The world was rarely changed by men who were unwilling to try being at least one of the three. (Page 885)  
  • Below, the battle churned like a meat grinder, ripping men and Trollocs into chunks of dead flesh. (Page 950)

 And just a couple of interesting words:

  • starveling (Page 70)
  • occluded (Page 477)

Thus ended the Wheel of Time. If you’ve read it, I’d be curious to hear how you felt about the ending?

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