Another book review – I feel this one’s a little light on the details, but I want to make sure I steer clear of spoilers as much as I can.
A Memory of Light, Wheel of Time book 14, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Overall, I really enjoyed AMOL, and this enjoyment was probably increased by my surprise at the feeling itself. I first picked the housebrick of a book up almost in two minds whether to read it or just let it wait. I just wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it and was approaching it a bit like a chore that I didn’t really want to do, but knew needed doing. It didn’t take too long before I was rewarded however, as I was sucked in not just by the desire to see this through, after some 11,000 pages of reading in the series, but also by the gripping writing style employed by Sanderson.
The scale of the book is immense, and as number 14 in the series, it has to be in order to bring everything together to a fitting close. I feel that there are just too many characters to keep a good track of, but for a series covering 14 novels, that’s always going to be difficult – I think it’s a case of introducing new characters as necessary but having so few as a percentage killed off. In a fantasy of this scope, I’d normally expect to see a fair number of these characters bite the dust before we get to book 14 – heck, if GRR Martin was writing it, we’d probably be left with just half a dozen named characters left and the last battle fought by heroic unknowns.
Speaking of which, I joked to a friend that I’d just started the last battle and I was only halfway through the book, so either it’s a really long battle, or we have an ending like the cinematic version of the Return of the King – where we get half out of our seats to go home and then realise it’s coming back to the screen with another 10 minutes of footage. And then another 10 minutes. As it happens, it was a really long battle. The actual battle itself is almost entirely encompassed in one single chapter, but that chapter is 190 pages long. It’s a beast. To satisfy my curiosity, I just counted and between us, my wife and I have about half a dozen books that are barely longer than this one chapter in terms of number of pages. Counting up an average looking page within the chapter and extrapolating a figure from there gives a rough estimate of somewhere in the region of 70,000 words. For a single chapter.
Anyway, putting aside my amazement at the size of the chapter, I can see why it was done, and this bit for me is one of the best things about AMOL as a climax to the whole Wheel of Time series. There are 13 books leading up to this one, there’s a cast of around a hundred named characters who are going to be involved in the last battle (I just pulled that number out of the air, but I really don’t think I’m exaggerating much, if at all). To do it any justice, the last battle really has to be epic, and my word it delivers.
Sometimes, thinking back on it, it almost seems like the entire book is dedicated to the last battle and nothing much else happens. There’s plenty I can remember happening before we get to the battle itself, but somehow those bits all seem to be just prologues to Tarmon Gai’don anyway, and in a sense that’s exactly what they are. Over the last couple of books it’s been gradually happening, and leading up to the last battle in AMOL we see the final threads all being caught and pulled together.
In the battle itself, as well as seeing a sequence of events befitting the build up we’ve been given, there’s also some neat little extras. I think my favourite of these is probably the use of newly learnt magics, and mostly in the way gateways are used as more than just Travelling aids. I think this brings a big touch of realism to the battle, as you have commanders seeking every advantage they can get and people trying out new things, letting their imaginations loose with the powers they have at their disposal.
It takes something special to keep a battle going for 190 pages, even one fought over several fronts before they all pull together, but I think I’ve read enough of his work to realise that Sanderson is indeed something special. The last battle is a real life or death fight, one last roll of the dice for both sides, with everything thrown at it – the name kind of gives it away really. To have the last battle over in a few smaller chapters just wouldn’t have worked. It really needed to be on a scale rarely, if ever, imagined in fantasy writing. Now, obviously I’ve not read every novel, or every series out there, but for me at least, this was epic writing on a scale never seen before.
I think if anything, the one part that I least liked about AMOL is the epilogue. I’d read that this was written by Jordan and added to the end of the book exactly as he’d intended it, and I like how everyone in the process stayed true to that as, after all, it’s his story. For me, there was a noticeable change in the writing style when I turned that last page on Sanderson’s writing and moved on to Jordan’s. I also feel that the epilogue needed to be a bit longer, maybe a bit more fleshed out. To me, it almost seemed like it barely touched on a couple of major characters, and it’s not until I went back to check that I realised there’s actually a couple of pages split over two or three sections, but these characters still don’t get the sort of send off I’d have thought they’d earned.
Overall: A fitting end to the series, excellently written and thoroughly engaging.
Dominish rating: 83%