A Memory of Light

Suddenly, I’ve remembered what one of the best-ever things about blogs is. When you finish reading an installment in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, you can post all of your hyper-emotional thoughts about it in semi-privacy and still invite people who care about The Wheel of Time to discuss with you if they feel like it. Since this is the LAST installment EVER in The Wheel of Time, it could be said that the entire history of blogging has basically been leading up to this one moment. (Cough.)

Obviously, please don’t read this post if:
1) You haven’t read A Memory of Light, because it’s full of spoilers
2) You don’t know what The Wheel of Time is, because it will be really boring to you

Thanks in advance to everyone who does read, especially if you want to react to any/all points in the comments. I’m DYING to talk about this (of course).

Reactions to the Plot of A Memory of Light

I was prepared to be extremely disappointed by this book–both based on my feelings about The Gathering Storm and The Towers of Midnight, and just because it’s extremely disappointing to have something you have loved for twenty years come to a definitive end. Surprisingly I was not as disappointed as I had prepared myself to be. I still desperately wish Jordan could have been the one to finish the series, but I’ll get to that more below. Just reacting here to the plot points:

The multi-pronged Last Battle (the one fought by armies and channelers) that ran concurrent to the Dragon Reborn’s personal struggle with the Dark One was, I think, effective. I hadn’t been sure what to picture before–the Dark One, an anthropomorphic entity, clawing his way out of the mountain at Shayol Ghul and leading troops into battle? This was definitely a success of the plot, I think.

I was also impressed with Perrin’s role in this book. Perrin has, generally, in all books except The Shadow Rising, been a bit of a lump (in my humble opinion). I really wasn’t sure how being a wolfbrother was going to play out relevantly in the Last Battle in anything except the cheesiest of ways. However, his character paid off. I found his quest through the World of Dreams, the finding/replacing of the dreamspike, protecting Rand’s physical self, etc all genuinely heroic. He did, at the end, find his place. You go, Perrin. I honestly didn’t think you had it in ya, but you came through in the end.

[Side note: I think it's interesting how close Perrin's popping in and out of the real world and Tel'aran'rhiod seems to mimic the Forsakens' using the True Power to Travel. A connection to why going bodily into the World of Dreams is, as the Wise Ones say, evil? I guess we'll never know.]

I’m definitely a little irritated by which characters died–every secondary character, ever, but none of the primary characters except, of course, the woman who lost her man. (What was the point in Egwene’s living through the Last Battle when Gawyn was dead, anyway? Etc.) A gross fantasy trope, to kill people off in romantic pairs–and of course one reinforced by the plot (bonding! it’s not all good, apparently!). It’s classic Jordan not to kill off anyone “important,” of course, but it’s still a little annoying.

Also, Bela?! You killed off Bela?! Honestly. Cheap, cheap, cheap, no less cheap than when Rowling killed of Hedwig, although perhaps more poorly executed.

All that said, I’m glad Rand didn’t die. I even liked the closing sequence. I’m not sure I completely subscribed to Rand’s voice in it, which makes me think that despite everything Sanderson et al have said, Jordan did not, in fact, write the ending before he died. This Rand felt too blithe and cavalier, not at all like the extremely serious and tortured young man we’ve known all this time. That said, the last passage definitely made me cry a lot (and I was on a train, too. Very embarrassing).

Another mini hat-tip to Sanderson for his portrayal of the Forsaken in this particular book (mini because I still feel he raced through this, but what he did give us was useful). One of the things that has always troubled me about the premise of this series is the fact that the “bad guys” don’t have any motivations that I could see or understand. “Power” doesn’t seem to be enough of a motivation to want to live in the world of the Dark One’s touch, based on what we’ve seen of it (no food, everything stinking, innocent items becoming randomly dangerous, etc). I think Sanderson actually did a good job of fleshing out some of these motivations–Demandred’s conviction, for example, that if the Dark One wins and he is made king of humanity, he’ll be able to remake the world according to his own vision. Suddenly I understand how a demented ideologue might make that choice. (I won’t try to compare Demandred to Hitler here because it’s not worth wasting the words to develop the connection, but I will toss off this one lazy sentence.) Lanfear’s weird sociopathy from previous books (e.g. Fires of Heaven) was muted and her machinations felt real again. Moghedien’s simple desire to wait until everyone else was dead so she could step up was good, as was Moridin/Elan’s finally-revealed abject depression and misery. I also thought it was a satisfying choice that Moridin face off against Rand in the corporeal manifestation of the Last Battle–it worked on a couple levels, both in terms of Moridin’s character’s commitment to the “Great Lord” finally being borne out/rewarded, and in terms of what he represented as the real intentions of the forces of the Shadow (ultimately, the true devotees are deeply unhappy and alone; what else could possibly turn them away from the world of life?).

I was also pleased with the eventual manifestation of the Dark One himself (itself). I am glad that evil was named necessary and there wasn’t (as I feared there might be) some kind of hyper-Christian sacrifice to slay death and bring perfect beauty and goodness to the world. Phew.

Smaller plot notes: I’m glad Shara, which has long been dangled mysteriously at the outer edges of the plot, was at least brought in, even if Jordan’s plot didn’t give Sanderson the room to explain or develop them.

We still never found out who killed effin’ Asmodean. Just saying.

[Side note: am I misremembering, or were the words "Tarmon Gai'don" never used in this book? Weird, right?]

On the Execution of A Memory of Light

During the 190-page chapter entitled “The Last Battle,” the book finally started to come together for me and to be interesting to read, but up until that point I found it very difficult to get through. I am not a Sanderson fan, so this next portion is going to be a detailed critique of where he fell short for me. I’m not going to claim Jordan was a perfect writer, or that his books were perfect books; I also acknowledge that a number of readers prefer Sanderson’s style, and they are certainly entitled to their preference. I’m just going to try to frame my thoughts on why I am not in that camp, and why for me the three Sanderson installments don’t work. If there are Sanderson fans among readers of this post, I would love to hear your take on these points–if they affected your reading at all, or if they didn’t, and what I’m missing that you responded to positively. I know there are two discrete schools of thought on whether Sanderson was the correct choice to finish the series (or, maybe more accurately, whether he has done a good job).

Giving Sanderson credit for the positive things he brought to the table (namely, in my mind, pacing and forward movement), his work on these last three books has been unsuccessful for me.

Sanderson on his writing
In 2009, when The Gathering Storm came out, I saw Sanderson do an event with Harriet McDougal and Maria Livingston Simons at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. Sanderson told the crowd that he had made a decision to write the book his own way, in his own voice and with his own interpretation of characters, and not try to adjust his style to Jordan’s. Because, he explained, first of all he was his own writer with his own style, and second, because Jordan had done it so well that no one could hope to be him, so there was no point in trying and failing (paraphrase mine; it’s been 3.5 years so I may not be remembering exactly, although I was struck by what he said).

At the time, the protestations that no one else could do it as well as Jordan struck me as unnecessary false modesty and pandering to Jordan’s rabid fans (not least because Sanderson seems pretty pleased with his own established style). Now, in retrospect, I wonder if Sanderson was maybe being honest about simply not being able to do it. (I just don’t know many writers who go into a book with that kind of attitude–why would you agree to publish a book you didn’t think you could write well enough?) This statement, of course, came after Sanderson had been working on the book/series for a year and a half, and perhaps there had already been conversations with editors and/or friends about possible reactions of fans to the product he’d come up with. Who knows. But anyway, what he said was true–he was not able to recreate Jordan’s style, or (for me, at least) produce more than a thin sketch of Jordan’s realized world.

Can what Sanderson said be true? Would NO author have been able to make me happy? It’s possible, but with the volumes of fan fiction written in Wheel of Time-y voices, I just have a hard time believing it. In which case, was Sanderson really the right choice–was a writer who wasn’t even going to try a better choice than one who might have tried and failed?

The opportunity cost hurts–the fact that these books have now been written, and therefore can never be written again. Coming out of the series, am I happier having read the resolution as rendered by this sadly pale voice? Or would it have been better if I hadn’t read them, and just left my engagement with the series unfinished? It’s hard to say. I’m feeling emotional (um, as per usual) about this so it’s probably not a rational answer, but right now I’m 50/50.

 

 

Character voices
This bridges to my next topic, which is the fact that Sanderson’s character interpretations don’t match up to Jordan’s, thereby making for a bizarrely alienating reading experience. (For me.) This is the most jarring and disappointing piece of the puzzle for me–they are, to my reading, simply not the people I know so well from the first eleven books.

Sanderson’s greatest successes are when he narrates very thinly and the character merely engages in action–in those cases, I can flesh out details about them on my own, and create my own pictures and moods. Not ideal, but serviceable for moving action forward.

The worst thing he has done, though, is spend time detailing characters’ thought processes and conversations in ways that are *so wrong* (to me, at least) for the characters Jordan created. These faux pas drive the reader out of the narrative and to a place of incredulousness where the fantasy plot becomes ridiculous.

 

In A Memory of Light, Lan was especially far off from the Lan I’ve always known–I found myself trying to disengage when I read his sections and just look for plot points. Tough, since he was one of the series’ most interesting characters.

Mat–who Sanderson said at the reading I attended was his favorite character and the one he related to the most–wasn’t as far off as he had been in The Gathering Storm (in which I found Sanderson’s interpretation of his character tear-inducingly disappointing). But still, Sanderson’s Mat is a dewey-eyed, goofy innocent who favors the cheesiest notes of Jordan’s character (blech, like the joking about half-hearted womanizing, about Olver, about Rand and Perrin being heroes) and abandons the tougher, more admirable elements.

[Side note about cheesiness: a prevalent problem throughout. Jordan had annoying cheesy tics himself, but Sanderson can't seem to control himself. Does anyone else feel that way?]

Back to disappointing characters. Nynaeve and Moiraine–what were they even for? Their role in the Last Battle was completely undeveloped. Oh well. I think Sanderson–perhaps wisely–shied away from trying to depict many of the once-key female characters. As I said above, perhaps better than mis-depicting them.

And of course, there’s Jesus-Rand–Rand for whom apple blossoms bloom and trees shoot up from the ground. Was all that Jordan’s intention, do you guys think? And is it just me or did the leap to Christ-figure–benign, all-knowing, lovingly wise and at peace–happen without any structural support? Anyway. Again, not as bad in this book as in the previous two, perhaps because the action moved so quickly that Sanderson didn’t tarry too long in his version of the character’s head. But still. I loved Rand so much, even at his worst, because of his character–his character was absent here, replaced by a Jesus-actor.

 

Emotional writing
Besides the false notes in character development, there’s a thinness of narrative as Sanderson skates through/over plot sequences, mainly using dialogue and action to convey scenes and ideas. This can be construed as a success of pacing, but I personally loved Jordan’s close emotional depictions of his characters’ internal monologues and struggles. It’s what made the fantasy story seem relevant and relatable to my life. (You want a cheesy life example? This is so cheesy you’ll be embarrassed to even read it. In fact, maybe you should just skip ahead to the next paragraph. But in high school, when I was an intensely competitive student who honestly believed my fate in the world rested on my GPA, I would go back and re-read Nynaeve’s Accepted testing sequence and remind myself that any goal worthwhile requires intense struggle and power of will. I had the words “be steadfast” written at the top of my binder and every notebook I used, taped to the wall by my computer, over my bed. Yep.)

Anyway. Moving on to examples from A Memory of Light. Rand’s mental battle against the Dark One felt quite flat an uninvolved compared to analogous sequences by Jordan: say, Rand’s passage through the columns at Rhuidean, or the aforementioned Accepted testing.

Also, Egwene’s death–totally empty. One of the main characters of the entire series, and a damn cool one, sacrifices herself at the darkest point in the battle, and, whatever, I turned a page. The sequence, whether intentionally or not, was very similar to a sequence in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and so emotionally pale by comparison I actually thought maybe it was a trick that would be rectified by the text later (like Lan’s “death,” which, at least, I found more effective). It was only several pages later that I thought to myself, oh, guess Egwene is actually dead. Moving on.

So what? So Sanderson is not the most emotional of writers. What’s wrong with that? Lots of writers shun emotional detailing–in fact, Sanderson’s focus on dialogue and action adheres to a lot of conventional writing advice (plot-forward!). But… I still wish it had been Jordan writing the books, even though there probably would have been (conservatively) an extra 400,000 words to get through.

Again, I won’t claim Jordan was a perfect writer without annoying tics, but for me as a reader, at least, he was a perfect emotionalist. His deeply emotional treatment of each character’s perspective is the reason I was able to get so lost in Jordan’s books (despite their sometimes overwhelming flaws–why did I love Nynaeve so much even in, say, The Fires of Heaven, when she’s basically become a cardboard cutout spokesperson of sexism? Because I still believed in her, somehow–because that’s how thoroughly immersed in her narrative voice I was).

I know that not all readers want high levels of emotional interpretation in books they read; I’ve heard some people specifically say they prefer Sanderson to Jordan because his writing style doesn’t get bogged down in emotional interpretation. Those preferences are of course valid, but they aren’t mine.

I’ve had a lot of opportunity to think about emotional writing–as an editor, this is an issue in styles of reading and writing I get to confront on almost a book-by-book basis. But regardless of your personal preference, I do believe that Jordan’s emotional quality of writing is one of the key reasons his fantasy series became so popular. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that other enormous commercial successes have been written in comparable hyper-emotional styles–I offer up the intuitive example of Harry Potter and the perhaps less intuitive but still very applicable example of Twilight. And to a lesser but still relevant degree, The Game of Thrones. All fantasy series rich in emotional interpretation–you (like I do) may have varied opinions about the respective merit of each of those series, but here is at least one way thing they have in common, if that helps us understand their far-reaching success.

Balance among plot elements
My feeling as I read was that Sanderson struggled with priority hierarchy. Some examples:

In the opening chapters, the Last Battle is starting; why is everyone so worried that Elayne goes to bed early because she’s pregnant? It’s mentioned by at least three different characters (Birgitte, Gawyn, Rand) and is an irrelevant plot point. Why waste so many pages on it?

Another small example from right at the beginning: why almost kill off Talmanes so many times and them have him survive in the first chapter? Cheap and ineffective emotional manipulation, replete with moments like when it’s clear the Fade is only going to bother to nick him on the face instead of killing him outright, since he’s already dying anyway–CRINGEWORTHY false narrative notes.

Why do newish characters Pevara and Androl get so much page time in this book? I ended up liking them, but how curious that they got the high percentage of narrative that they did. Maybe this wasn’t a mistake–I can see it as a tool for tying up loose ends–but then other once-key characters were backseated.

A much larger example: the front end of the book is caught up in the drama over whether or not to break the seals–nearly bringing the White Tower to war with the Dragon Reborn–it all feels ridiculous, and then the breaking of the seals ends up being almost meaningless at the end of the plot. Oops?

It’s an example, maybe, of where Jordan could have created a convincing interpretation of a possibly-imbalanced Rand whose idea to break the seals (and companion idea to kill the Dark One) might actually have been the ravings of an alienated, confused, power- and stress-blinded young man in the need of guidance–could have been compelling. The world could have felt like it hung in the balance. But Sanderson’s Jesus-Rand couldn’t pull that off. I mean, Sanderson didn’t even try. I chose to read my interpretation of what Jordan maybe intended into that conflict–but still, so many pages expended on the fake drama of seal-breaking and conflict with the White Tower. A waste.

Another smaller example: why spend so much time explaining the blood rings and then not have their nature kick in when Gawyn is using them? A waste.

Another: Nynaeve and her herbs for Alanna at Shayol Ghul–what was the point of that drama, when Alanna could simply have severed the bond the whole time? What were Nynaeve and Moiraine even for in this battle? A waste of two of the series’ best characters.

A general note–I will sloppily not include concrete examples here, sorry–but why do Sanderson’s characters discuss so many things in long passages of dialogue? Often they are things the reader already knows–aspects of how the power works, or how a battle is going to run, or conjectures (often suspiciously arrived at) about other characters’ motivations. At first, I was thinking, why are his characters explaining this to each other? And then I started to think, it’s because Sanderson is explaining how this world works to himself.

In my humble opinion, this is evidence that Sanderson is not a high-order thinker, that he struggled through the complex plotting and story interweaving and even some of the basic story concepts that Jordan established and developed. I think the mass of the content–an unwieldy mass, admittedly–was too much for him to deal with. That is part of the reason everything had to be so simplified.

Jordan’s lived experience
A few days ago, I was watching Conan the Barbarian with my boyfriend, and we got to talking about the early years of Robert Jordan. I started Googling his life story and learned a lot about him I hadn’t known before. First, the two tours in Vietnam–and his subsequent training at the Citadel. Perhaps he excelled at writing battle sequences because he actually knew what he was talking about. He had studied physics and history

Sanderson, meanwhile, went to college and studied English and Creative Writing and then became a teacher of Creative Writing. He spent two years in Korea as an LDS missionary–I wonder how that compares to two tours in Vietnam? (I’m not saying this glibly. But.)

I know this sentiment will be unpopular with the crowd who believe that being a writer is about making a writer’s life, and hard work at making a writer’s life, and that’s the extent of it, but–I believe the following: writing is hard work; I won’t take that away from any writer. But having something to say comes from a very different place than the ability to say it well.

Could it be possible that Sanderson simply wasn’t qualified to take this project onboard, based on his life experience?

On Tor’s disappointments with the production/publication

A side note about how this book was rushed through editorial too quickly: there is really sad word repetition within paragraphs and sentences, and which make Sanderson’s writing seem weaker than it should. As an editor, I know how often this happens to authors–you get an accurate word in your head, use it, and then don’t realize as you’ve moved on that you’ve used it a second time in quick succession. A good editor is attuned to this and excises them or points them out for the author to change. A Memory of Light was jam-packed with these word repetitions.

Also, shame on Tor for not releasing an ebook. I wonder if they realize they have cost themselves probably upward of $2 million dollars? (Just a guess, but.) If they think they have prevented piracy, they are nincompoops (a friend downloaded a free ebook version of the book just to show me she could). All they’ve done is anger thousands of fans who would have been willing to pay whatever they wanted to charge (uh, probably up to $25) for a digital file that would have cost them nothing to produce.

OK. That’s all I have to say at present. 4,000 words is probably more than enough on the subject for now, though. Thanks for persevering.

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23 Responses to A Memory of Light

  1. pacatrue says:

    Well, I liked the book more before reading your post! :) But yay, I finally have a chance to talk to someone about the book.
    I’m just going to spit out random things:
    I 99.9% sure now that it’s been established in the text that Graendel killed Asmodean. It’s in a glossary and I believe the main text somewhere in maybe Gathering Storm? It’s no great reveal; just in passing.

    As you probably already know, I don’t have as high a regard for Jordan’s writing as yourself; however, there were false notes. One false note for me in the text and therefore in Sanderson’s writing was indeed the very, very end. The idea of Rand faking his death and wandering off under a disguise makes complete sense, but I didn’t believe the emotions much at all. Min, Avi and Elayne, I suppose, are lousy actors, but even Rand’s inner monologue was too glib. “Yay, it’s over! Let’s wander!” The guy’s just gone through enough PTSD-inducing experiences for several lifetimes. The idea was good, but the emotions were not. Is he really supposed to be in love with the three of them or not? If not, at least be sad you may never see them again in perhaps hundreds of years. Or will you? But I tie this back to Jordan in part as well in that Rand’s three loves were a plot mistake. I bought it as part of Aeil (sp?) culture, but not outside of it. I think there’s a reason we never saw how Min, Avi, and Elayne worked things out, because I’m not Jordan or Sanderson knew how they would. Maybe I’m just thinking of it wrong. And really no one west of the Spine is at all taken aback by it?

    I didn’t have a problem with Egwene dying just because SOME main character should die in the Last Battle, but yeah that she had to go after Gawyn is annoying. And to waste it on taking down Taim? Take down someone more interesting, at least. Demandred, Graendel. I suppose the idea was White Tower vs (evil) Black Tower, but we never hated Taim enough or he wasn’t important enough to sacrifice Egwene for. (BTW, it was only after this book that I finally connected the name Egwene to Guinnivere, with Galad… Ahem.I think it was because I’d been pronouncing her name as “Egweeeen” for 14 books.)

    There’s been a consistent problem with the power of the Forsaken. It re-occurs here in that Moridin really just didn’t do that much despite being the strongest of all Forsaken. Demandred was far more frightening. But Jordan had the problem too. I still recall the emotion of two Forsaken showing up in The Eye of The World and later in Winter’s Heart, the whole mass of them show up and are readily kept at bay by a few Aes Sedai.

    After all that, I actually liked the book. It would be great to know just how much Jordan left. I always read everything under the assumption that the main plot points were set by Jordan, but I really don’t know. The book was almost entirely a war book and I thought Sanderson pulled that all of very well.

    • I have never, ever, ever been able to stomach the “three loves” thing–it’s deeply alienating (I think?) for any female reader–the idea that you should be glad of your right to share a wonderful guy who can’t make a decision. (It also totally trivializes love for both sexes in the way any form of polygamy does and basically undermines a man’s personal agency and evolution by implying he’s too prone to the weaknesses of multiple females to make a meaningful single emotional connection–but that’s a different topic, so I’ll leave it here.) But you’re dead right–that was Jordan’s screw-up, and Sanderson did what he could to fix it, I think. Those romances were (for me at least) never supported in Jordan’s books, except maybe the “oh shit, I had sex with her, I have to marry her now” moment with Aviendah in Book 5. Otherwise the whole thing felt fake fake fake.

    • re: Forsaken: indeed! Jordan bit off more than he could chew. If there were really going to be 13 of them, they either had to be truly formidable but also killable, or there had to be something much more badass done to defeat them. I do think this was a point where Sanderson did what he could with a bad situation.

  2. pacatrue says:

    Oh, and Androl and Pevara = cutest couple of the series!

    • Yeah, I agree–a thoughtful, mature romance, two likable characters… I don’t regret the time spent on them even if it was at the expense of other mains!

      • anothergrames says:

        I felt like the Androl/Pevara screen time was to help convey the change in attitude we would see in the coming years from the Aes Sedai as they interacted with the Black Tower. You have a Red Sister who comes to understand that this man who can channel has found himself after all his world experience, even though he is not even strong in the power. She can see his heart and mind and understands that the Black Tower is home for this man who has found no home anywhere else in life, despite doing a many and great things.

        They are the building block, the bridge between those two worlds. Who else do we know? Grady? Logain? We don’t really know them any better than Androl. I also felt like Sanderson was giving screen time to the Black Tower because we never got it before, so we have to follow someone. The characters then continued to be useful for the rest of the book (if somewhat overused). It makes sense that someone like Androl pleads with Logain to save the children. Logain has somewhat of a debt to him for saving the Black Tower and we understand and accept Androl to be a kind person. No other Black Tower initiate could do that.

      • Hey hey, anothergrames!! Thanks for stopping by :)

        Interesting take on the Pevara/Androl thing–also reinforced by Logain’s scene at the very ending (where he is adored by the populace)–channeling, both male and female, will be a thing of good in the new Age (as it was in the Second Age before the Bore), leaving behind the suspicion of Aes Sedai and hatred of male channelers that characterized the Third Age. I like that.

  3. pacatrue says:

    One thing I really liked was the bit where they are arguing over the seals and Moirane comes in and spouting the prophecy at them and the little bits all make sense in a new context. I don’t know which author worked that out, but I was all “wow! that’s been set up forever and ever, that’s some good plot arranging!” Great way for Moirane to be herself in that that clarity is what she’s always brought (uniquely?) to the situation. Cadsuane could have done it, I suppose.

    I guess that Nynaeve and Moi. were there in the bore because they had to control Callandor. Rand trusts them and so they did that bit. It is annoying that they mostly just sat there until time to seal. Min apparently figured out how to save the world that way, which we knew she was going to do for book on book, so it would have been nice to see that final culmination of her character more than “Min thought of it,” but I’m guessing that was the author not wanting to reveal things to the reader. (Kind of like we saw all of Rand’s inner thoughts, EXCEPT for no mention of what he had planned to do after the last battle.)

  4. anothergrames says:

    I’m sad that you dislike Sanderson so much, although I do agree with a lot of the criticisms you have of his writing in this series. I’m curious if you have read any of his other works or if you are so put off by his work in WoT that you haven’t ventured into his work.

    I felt the lack of the emotional writing as you did, although maybe I don’t feel it as poignantly as you since I am not a writer/editor. I was disappointed by the overuse of dialogue to move the pacing because it is so far from RJ’s style. I would have happily paid for another book and waited for it too to get that extra 400k words to finish the series a little more properly.

    I think that Rand’s ending and his tone is critical. He is at peace. He has learned in the last 600 pages to let go from Tam and others; to let others choose to die for their purpose. To let others choose. Rand always forced others away, tried to choose for them if they could live or die for him. This goes hand in hand with the central point to the Last Battle that people need the ability to choose. The fact is that he has grown from the Jesus/Rand hybrid who to the very end would not accept the fact that he can’t save everyone. We don’t get a lot of chapters from Rand’s PoV in ToM and I think it is by design. We get the insight from Rand during this book that he is still somewhat conflicted in his decisions up until the end where he learns to let go. Much like Perrin learns to let go in his own way.

    In addition, RJ’s whole thought process on writing this story was to tell the story of someone who finds out they need to save the world, and that it would not be a glorious as everyone thinks. After all the pain and suffering he goes through, he saves the world and gets to live. He now gets to throw off that burden and live a life that is his own, not the world’s. I think the lighthearted nature of it fits.

    I will stop at this, but hope to keep discussing!

    • First off, never feel like you have to apologize or curtail yourself while discussing WoT with me. In my daily [IRL] life, no one humors me at all. So.

      Also, I’m going to break this reply up into mini-replies, so we can go topic by topic. Because I’m a nerd.

      Re: Sanderson: I haven’t tried any of his other stuff. To be honest, I do acknowledge that a lot of my not liking his writing has to do with his writing style–which a LOT of other people like a LOT. So I do know that it’s very subjective, and also perhaps a non-preference that would carry over to any other book he wrote. I like immersive, more emotional, writing. (A reason I also don’t really read, say, thrillers. They move too quickly and are two action-oriented for me.) That said, if you have a very strong recommendation of a specific title, please let me know! Also giving poor Sanderson the leeway that my negative opinion is at least partially due to the fact that I really, really wish I had gotten to read these particular books in Jordan’s voice. You know?

      (Since I work with authors, I have a lot of sympathy for them, and even though I was disappointed in these books, I also feel a lot of compassion for Sanderson and his position coming into it, which was difficult. And I hope when he is confronting negative fan opinions like mine, the bajillions of dollars he’s making off of it are a balm to his frazzled nerves ;)

      • anothergrames says:

        Warbreaker. Definitely a more introspective/emotional book. Although I feel like Sanderson is just less emotional in Jordan’s universe because it’s not his. Mistborn which is his introductory trilogy is pretty awesome and I feel like it has a lot of character development and emotional connection.

        Also your comment earlier about Sanderson not being able to handle the complexity is puzzling because he definitely has a complex universe of his own.

    • So re: ending: did you like it? In terms of the book as a whole, how many out of ten would you give it? (Oh, subjectivity…)

      Interesting re: RJ’s premise. That makes a lot of sense. I feel the original premise–man discovers he must save the world, but in order to do so must use a tool that will destroy him and cause him to hurt/kill his loved ones–is almost perfect. Ohhhh the natural tension and drama it creates! A lot of that is lost when the Source is cleansed, of course, but what you say about the burden/lack of glamor in being a hero is interesting. (Do you know if there’s an essay or something I could read about that? I haven’t encountered it before.)

      • anothergrames says:

        Now that it is not 2am and having read pretty much everything on the internet about the book, I will be honest that while I am fulfilled and content with the ending, I am underwhelmed on a few levels. You hit on most of them as have others, but to name a few:

        1) Mat being less involved in awesomeness at the end. Fain being sort of thrown in at the end and resolved so quickly.
        2) Moiraine and Nynaeve doing so little. (Although I will say I think that Nynaeve having to use her healing skills is a nice touch, and while you felt it was lessened by Alanna being able to release the the bond, Alanna was apparently far enough gone that without the herb to bring her to lucidity she wouldn’t have been able to release the bond.)
        3) I really wanted Rand to have to kill Lanfear or let Moiraine die for him in a more direct way.
        4) I wanted there to be some sort of a process to the discovery that Rand had switched bodies with Moridin. Everyone just knew at the end which was a little disappointing.I had also thought that with the Last Battle chapter ending 100 pages before the end of the book that we might get more post Rand dying.

        There were other things during the book that were weird or off. These were just a few.

        I am unabashedly an optimist and am very forgiving with books and movies when it comes to their flaws or shortcomings. So I obviously loved the resolution of the last battle (Rand’s fight with the DO, 10/10). The end of the book is more a 8-9/10.

        Also the drama surrounding the Seals…good point. I think it was a way to create tension for the Light side before the last battle, although I think worrying over the Seanchan could have been enough.

        So the whole thing regarding the e-book is all Harriet. She was worried that the e-book sales might prevent the book from hitting the best seller list.

  5. Took me a bit of time to get to this — sorry about that!

    So, I have to say that I never actually found Jordan’s writing very compelling on an emotional level. He just . . . never clicked for me, except in a few places where I was able to pour my own imagination into whatever vessel he’d created. So while Sanderson is generally a complete null for me on that front as well (I’ve bounced off every book of his I’ve tried to read), I don’t find him a disappointment in comparison to Jordan. And, in fact, there were a few points in these three books where Sanderson got me to a degree Jordan never did. It counterbalances the flat-out failures, e.g. Mat in TGS (and to a lesser extent later), Lan being petulant on his way to Tarwin’s Gap, etc.

    Sanderson not trying to imitate Jordan: I took that to be as much on a prose level as anything else, and frankly, Jordan’s prose was starting to drive me bugfuck crazy in the later books; it had become so flabby and inefficient. So I’m just as happy he didn’t slavishly imitate it. I don’t interpret his words to mean he was “not trying” in a broader sense — in fact, I think it was a way to manage expectations and cover for places where he was intending to change things (“I’m not going to follow Jordan’s terrible pattern of having one line of dialogue, two paragraphs of unnecessary reflection/exposition, another line of dialogue, two more filler paragraphs, etc”). I know he defended Crossroads of Twilight as better than he’d originally thought, and I can’t read that in any way other than pacifying the rabid fans, because for the love of god — that book is abysmal, and Sanderson has to know it. In which case, I have to assume some of his other statements are similarly politic.

    On a story level, I believe he honestly gave it his best effort . . . but ultimately, each reader approaches the story with their own filters, and putting the story in Sanderson’s hands meant finding out the ways in which his filters don’t match mine, or yours, or every other reader’s. He clearly found Mat’s womanizing funnier than I ever did. You clearly found TFoH-era Nynaeve still believable somehow, whereas I haaaaaaaaated her entire role in that book and though it was some of the worst characterization in the entire series. Conversely, it may well be the case that some of the things I liked here were just as good if not better than they would have been if Jordan had written them, because on those points Sanderson’s view of the story matched my own. (Pevara and Androl spring to mind.) That’s inevitable no matter who they chose to finish it. We’ll never know what it would have looked like had Jordan written it, or someone else. Parts might have been better. Parts might have been worse.

    As for plot issues, especially in this last book, I tend to assume those are from Jordan’s outline. Nynaeve and Moiraine, for example: we can debate whether Jordan would have presented their actions in a way that made their part seem cooler, but fundamentally, the idea itself was almost certainly his, and so I can’t blame Sanderson for that. I’m even willing to grant that the actual prose of the ending was Jordan’s as well; apparently the scene in ToM where Mat loses his eye was also Jordan’s own writing, and I found that even more disappointing than Rand’s final bit. Ditto Egwene dying to take out Taim, etc, etc. But on balance — for me, at least — more things managed to be satisfying than not.

    • Innnteresting, especially about not having connected with Jordan. Diversity of personal preference is an amazing thing. To make this about me (cough)…. It’s also tough as an editor to remember that your opinion on whether a book is worth publishing or not will never actually be correct or incorrect. Whether you’re any good at your job or not has a lot more to do with whether you get the book into the hands of people who will enjoy reading it.

  6. This post and the comments are fascinating to read even though I couldn’t get through the first book and thought The Wheel of Time was just soap opera fantasy (also I was bitter that it was the only series all my other friends read while I was reading other SFF on my own).

  7. Finished it two nights ago, so it’s a little more processed.

    I agree with a lot of what you say, and you pointed out several things that were irking me but I couldn’t completely articulate to myself. To keep it fairly brief, AMOL kept me reading intently, thanks to a plot that was just strong enough and only just true enough to Jordan’s story. Yes, the bare bones of the promise of Jordan’s tale carried it through, and I was mostly pleased with the ultimate fate of Rand and the resolution of the central conflict. Like you, I was just as pleased with what Sanderson DIDN’T do as with what he DID do (I was really fearful of the Jesus thing/paradise for all men kind of ending). At least Sanderson has enough intelligence to realize that evil needs to exist for the entire world Jordan created to remain alive.

    Interestingly, I’m totally with you on Perrin. I had always, through all of Jordan’s books, found him the least interesting of the main seven or eight characters. There were some whom I found more annoying (Nynaeve), but at least they had spirit. I always found Perrin rather dull. Sanderson’s lack of Jordan’s skill with characters’ internal workings actually helped someone like Perrin, who tends to be much more engaging through his actions rather than his simplistic motivations.

    Sanderson’s take on Mat was a borderline travesty. Right from the jump in The Gathering Storm, Mat’s voice was totally off. It was through Mat that Sanderson’s oddly modernistic/anachronistic word choices were most grossly obvious. When you have Mat using words like “psychopath” and basically just wisecracking and creep-staring women at every turn, it kills nearly all of his authentic charm. I’m glad that he got to play such a major role in the Last Battle, but I know that when I eventually go back and reread the entire series, I’ll probably just get frustrated all over again. That, and I’ll drink in and appreciate Jordan’s vision and narration of Mat back in the first 11 books.

    I hadn’t thought about it until I read your review, but there was a lot of copping out in this final book, something which, as you also mention, Jordan himself was no stranger to. I feel the series would have been better served had a few more of the main characters had to deal with the pain and suffering of losing one of those closest to them. This could have been either Lan or Nynaeve losing the other, one of Rand’s wives being killed (by the way, I agree that the whole polygamy thing was always a very strange place to go for Jordan), or any of the other “couples” having to cope in the same way. This is exactly the kind of thing that had led me to always think of this series as being “PG-rated.” Jordan never wanted the reader to be TOO upset by losses, or he didn’t want to inflict such pain on his characters. This may have something to do with the fact that I didn’t start reading this series until I was about 25 years old, but there was always that little bit of realistic pain that never made its way into the series. If I had started reading the series when I was a young teen, I probably wouldn’t have noticed until much later, but it has always kept me from fully embracing it on the highest level.

    All that being said, I still love this series. I’ve certainly got my problems with how Sanderson wrapped it all up, but at least we have a realistic idea of Robert Jordan’s complete vision for the plot and the resolution of the main conflict. I think I’m OK with that, rather than letting it dangle eternally.

  8. Melanie says:

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on A Memory of Light. It isn’t easy to find a balanced review of anything Jordan these days. The number of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads that use words like ‘perfect’ or expressions such as ‘couldn’t be better’ is staggering.

    The entire Wheel of Time series is not without its problems, but there are many things to like about it. I began reading it in 1990 when The Eye of the World was first published. Over the years I found the gender politics highly offensive (don’t get me started on the three loves thing or the nudity and spanking). I hated that Jordan ruined the character of Lan (I thought Lan was ruined long before Sanderson got hold of him), but I have always enjoyed a reluctant hero story and was anyone ever more reluctant than Rand, Mat and Perrin? However, I am very disappointed the Last Battle was largely people fighting Trollocs and Dreadlords. It was just another Trolloc Wars with a bit of simplistic philosophy tossed in.

    Throughout the series there were a number of (what I thought were) hints from Jordan that Tarmon Gai’don wasn’t going to be what everyone thought it was. Pedron Niall was certain it would be fighting Trollocs and Darkfriends and I was sure that was a big hint it wouldn’t be. Verin told Egwene the battle against the Shadow wasn’t being fought the way Rand thought it was.

    There was a lot of talk about ta’veren in the earlier books, which unfortunately got lost as the plot started to drift. When Rand had his epiphany on Dragonmount I hoped it would be the beginning of something creative. I thought ta’veren would finally come to play in a big, big way – as it did for Perrin in the Two Rivers. Lan and Loial both said that Artur Hawkwing had been able to influence people just by being in the same room and I expected this to play a part when Rand confronted the Dark One. But instead of ta’veren working its magic we were given Rand and Egwene arguing, followed by people fighting (or planning for fighting) Trollocs and Fades. Even Rand’s battle of emotions with the Dark One felt hollow and a bit cheesy. (I agree with you about the cheese.)

    It’s possible A Memory of Light didn’t sit right with me because I jumped from a reread of The Shadow Rising into the last book. It’s hard to reconcile the unique characters from the earlier story with the cardboard people at the end. I was particularly disappointed with Moiraine’s role, but then I have always thought the story would have been more powerful if she had died when fighting Lanfear.

    I can’t help but feel Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal missed out on a chance to end the series with something better – to take the series back to what made people like it in the first place. I understand the desire to put in whatever they had from Robert Jordan, but by doing so I think they actually weakened the ending, and therefore, weakened the legacy.

    The big moments in A Memory of Light just didn’t feel big – not like Dumai’s Wells or Rand going after Rahvin. Maybe it was Sanderson’s writing style that did it in (I think your comments on this are spot on) but I do wonder if perhaps Harriet didn’t ever see the grander possibilities in the Wheel of Time. (Most of the problems with the middle books I lay at the feet of the editor.)

    I know people seem to be happy that they at least have an ending, but I’m not sure I feel that way. :[

    As an aside, am I the only person who laughed when reading the final line that compared Rand to the wind? A fourteen book series that moved like a snail at times and you’re comparing him to wind? Oh, I know why the wind was used, but it was still funny.

  9. Likes a Good Read says:

    I had just recently finished reading A Memory of Light and while I was indeed thrilled that the series had finally come to an end I have to agree with you on many of the points you raised. On a whole the book was enjoyable yet at the same time disappointing.

    To add my two cents to the criticism, I would also point out the whole complete let down of the Padan Fain element to the story. Through all of the earlier books we find Fain developing into a creature that could kill a Fade without even trying. With him entering the area of Shayol Ghul I had a feeling of the way he could be used to stop the Dark One when I remember how Rand’s side was healed (he was wounded by both Padan Fain and Ba’alzamon in the same place and both wound’s would never heal, they were however contained by an Asha’man and then in the words of an Aes Sedai whose name I can’t remember, they would consume each other).

    In the end though, Padan was just stabbed by Mat with his own dagger and died. It honestly felt extremely, for lack of a better word, lame- and made the character Padan and his development completely useless to the plot. He could honestly have been killed off at a much earlier time if he was to die in such a simple manner. I honestly thought that Mat would have fought him all the way to the Bore and then tossed him into the Dark One’s prison where Mordeth and the Dark One would start consuming each other, just like the two evils in Rand’s wound. This would have provided a nice distraction allowing Rand to seal the Dark One away as the Dark One would be under attack from two fronts, even though it would be obvious that the Dark One would end up consuming Mordeth/Padan.

    Which brings me to another point. Even with Callandor being able to channel the True Source and apparently both Saidin and Saidar (through the circle with Nynaeve and Moiraine) without a buffer (allowing him to draw more power than is safer), Rand is still fighting an entity that can warp reality (bubbles of evil that have no conscious direction of the Dark One) and has the capacity to think like a God, (the Dark One has existed since the beginning and can view or control thousands upon thousands of Fades, Trollocs and Darkfriends while twisting things into Shadowspawn, guiding the Forsaken and influencing the Pattern – multi tasking beyond the ability of a normal human mind), It just seemed so riculously easy for Rand to simply over power the Dark One and mend rather than seal the Bore by using weaves of pure Saidin and Saidar coated with the True Source. The description used basically turned Rand into a God as well, for crying out loud he was able to call the Dark One a pitiful mite and was ready to squash him. Yet doesn’t the Dark One have the power to stop the Wheel of Time? This part really didn’t feel well thought out…

    Another plot element left hanging was the meeting between Tuon and Arthur Hawkwing as requested by Mat after the battle at Merilor. This was a plot twist that was never dealt with. What the heck happened there and how were the Seanchan changed by it? I would pay dearly to know Tuon’s reaction to meeting her ancestor. Would their meeting change the way the Seanchan viewed channelers? Would it change the way they viewed themselves and their society?

    Demandred’s defeat was also very badly thought out. After seeing Gawyn defeated and dying, Galad steps in and is in turn defeated, then Logain steps in with a test of the One Power and is also defeated, and then finally Lan comes in and sacrifices himself to deal the fatal strike. That sequence honestly left me with an image of a video game parlour and the Street Fighter game with the words “Here Comes a New Challenger” flashing on the screen… It was enjoyable but still a bit of a let down. It felt so… contrived.

    Like the above examples, there are many more elements to the plot and its execution that at first glance leave you with a feeling that, “okaaay… it kind of makes sense” but still with that feeling that there is something askew or missing with the development, especially when put in context of the previous books. I can only surmise that the majority of the notes left behind by Mr Jordan were half formed plot ideas, not yet fully fleshed out with the links between the major turning points in the plot missing and that Sanderson tried his best to put them together into a workable ending but was unable to fully visualize the scope of the end that Jordan intended.

    On a side note a lot of people in various forums have commented on the three loves thing with Rand, Elayne, Min and Aviendha being hard to stomach. Yet having lived in the Middle East through most of my childhood, the idea of polygamy is not really that alien. Men are allowed up to four wives provided he treat them all equally (if you buy one wife a house, you must also buy a house for the others). Mr Jordan reflects that attitude very well when he shows the Aiel as being able to have more than one wife and how baffled the Aiel are over the responses of the wetlanders to this part of their culture. This is the same with the mixed bathing of the Borderlanders and the reactions of those from the Two Rivers. This custom Mr Jordan took from the Japanese who up to this day still have some old hotspring inns where mixed bathing is still accepted. Single sex bathing only became legalized during the Meiji era when Japan opened itself to trade relations with the west. Bad reactions to these is I think simply a lack of in depth exposure to different cultures. Elayne’s reaction of trying to accept the the Aiel’s view on polygamy despite her automatic reflex to judge through the eyes of her culture shows a very broad mind befitting her wide education on different cultures.

    Getting back to Rand’s three loves from the point of view of the Pattern, Aviendha would be Rand’s link to the Aiel and his teacher of their ways so that he could effectively bond and lead them to battle, while Elayne would be Rand’s link to Andor, and his teacher in how to be a ruler. Min however would play as his rock so that he does not quickly lose himself to the pressures exerted on him by the Dark One, people’s fear of him and his impending death. If you reread his epiphany on Dragonmount, he mentions many lives lived of how love changes everything. “He remembered lives, hundreds of them, thousands of them, stretching to infinity. He remembered love, and peace, and joy, and hope. Within that moment, suddenly something amazing occurred to him. If I live again, then she might as well!”

    Those three women were re-weaved into the pattern to be his rock, to keep him human, one would apparently not be enough against the Dark One’s influence. During his epiphany it was never mentioned if Ilyena was among those three which seems to indicate that they are his other loves from other lives. Most probably chosen for their strengths to be woven into the Pattern for this particular Last Battle. That said this facet was not touched at all during his battle with the Dark One. Another element to the story not clearly fleshed out and ended properly. The reason why three loves should have become clear at Shayol Ghul, most probably when he almost gave in to despair at his final creation of a possible future that he thought to be perfect and he saw that his desire made him no different from the Dark One.

    Just some of my thoughts after rereading the entire series before reading A Memory of Light, thank you so much for helping me to articulate some of the things I found troubling with the series conclusion with your great commentary.

  10. Vivienne says:

    ,” you will likely irritate your readers and cause them to ignore both your future responses as well as the blog you’re trying to market. Articles are generally longer than blog posts, but not always.

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