I’ve mentioned this before in my WHEEL OF TIME reviews, but I started reading this series more than 15 years ago. I read the first nine books in the series, saw the plot meander more than I would have liked and struggled to remember all the plot and character details from one publication date to the next. I decided I’d wait until the series was complete, then go back and read from beginning to end. With A MEMORY OF LIGHT set to publish in November, I started my re-read in July. More than nine months later, I’m finally finished — and I’m glad I went back to the series to see how it all ended.
There’s a reason people just don’t write stories with this many cultures, this many characters and this many plotlines. It’s tremendously challenging to write a story this epic. Characters have to be short-shrifted, some plotlines don’t get resolved and questions don’t get answered. In the middle books of the series, we saw Robert Jordan struggle with the numerous plot lines, and they resulted in some pretty dull books.
But in A MEMORY OF LIGHT, we saw most of the plot lines come to satisfying conclusions. Some were heart-breaking, others inspirational. The pace was good, and the Last Battle was exciting and terrifying and chaotic. I think I enjoyed A MEMORY OF LIGHT more than any other book in the series, even more than the early books that got me hooked on the series in the first place.
When we entered this world in EYE OF THE WORLD, we weren’t terribly invested in these characters, but by the time we’ve gotten to the end, they seem very real. We’ve seen them all at their best and their worst. There have been books in which I’ve enjoyed a character and their arc, and other books in which I’ve actively disliked the same character — much like real life. Spend enough time around someone, and you’ll both love and hate them at times. I feel much the same way about many of the main characters in WHEEL OF TIME, and somehow that makes them feel even more real to me. I like Perrin, but I hated when he moped. I like Mat, but he was obnoxious when the dagger tainted him in the early books. Egwene was tough as nails in her return to Tar Valon, but also seemed quick to shove aside her loyalties to old friends in her dedication to the White Tower.
All the major characters had strengths and flaws.
I noted early in reading the books that Jordan did a good job of establishing interesting secondary characters, and I think that paid off more than ever before in A MEMORY OF LIGHT. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of deaths in the Last Battle, and Jordan’s ability to create interesting secondary characters means we can share the losses the characters feel without totally wiping out the primary cast. We have this huge battle taking place on multiple fronts, and rather than seeing it through the eyes of just four or five, we get a sense of how large and chaotic it is because Sanderson can leap around from 20 points of view, and even better, those points of view come from characters we’re already invested in.
Now that I’ve read all the way to the end — almost four million words — I’m glad to say it was worth the journey. The middle books are slow, but I think it may be easier for other readers to get through them knowing that the final four or five books of the series pick up and lead to a terrific conclusion. As I read through the middle third, I was wondering if the series would ever get back on track. I’m glad to have seen that it did and that THE WHEEL OF TIME has earned its place in the fantasy pantheon.
I can’t think of any series that compare — it’s a far longer story than LORD OF THE RINGS, and includes far more complicated plot threads; SWORD OF TRUTH is only slightly shorter, but doesn’t have the same epic feel because it focuses on only a handful of characters (plus Terry Goodkind seems like kind of an asshole); probably the only real comparison in terms of size and scope is the MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN series by Steven Erikson. Both are complex storytelling, but Jordan’s story seems far easier to enter and understand — I’ve read most of the Malazan books and still can’t really tell you what the hell it’s about.
At the end of the day, THE WHEEL OF TIME belongs on its own shelf on the fantasy pantheon — both literally and figuratively.