And so the Third Age Ends, not with a Whimper but with a Bang.
There are no endings in The Wheel of Time, but this is an…no, wait, this is the actual end of the series. Over 20 years since I began reading it, after 14 books, after well over 4MM words, after the final three books were completed by Brandon Sanderson due to Robert Jordan’s untimely death, with A Memory of Light The Wheel of Time has finally ground to its final conclusion, even if the Wheel and the Pattern grind on (or maybe not! I’m not giving any spoilers).
Now that the series is complete and we can look back on it in full, this review must answer two questions: What do I say to the reader who has never read The Wheel of Time, and what do I say to The Wheel of Time reader who at some point abandoned the series? To the first, I emphatically encourage you to pick up The Eye of the World. You’re in for a very long ride, but Jordan told a story that is, not only the most epic ever told, but perhaps the greatest. To the second, come back! Come back for the ending you so richly deserve.
The danger with writing an extra-long series is that expectations for and demands from the ending rise with each additional book. Fumbling the ending can ruin books and books of good work, just as a running back fumbling on the one yard line can ruin a 90 yard drive in football. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s 7-volume Death Gate Cycle is a good example (I’ve heard similar complaints about Stephen King’s Dark Tower series). At 14 books, The Wheel of Time has created the biggest demands of all. But oh how it delivers. In his famous ESPY speech, former N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano encouraged us to do three things every day: laugh, think, and cry. A Memory of Light will cause you to know each in bushels and droves. The final climax is both emotionally and philosophically satisfying. We get long awaited reunions, long awaited confrontations, epic battles (and battles and battles), Crowning Moments of Awesome, and a character or two going down in a Blaze of Glory. Some beloved characters live and some beloved characters die (and some beloved characters are maimed). Philosophical questions the series has alluded to from the beginning are brought into sharper focus. This being The Wheel of Time, we get at least one more romantic pairing and more world-building.
A Memory of Light does have a handful of problems. The characters and the tone remain ever so slightly off, an inevitability for an author finishing such a long-running series, but that’s not the primary issue. Sanderson is much improved in that respect. Nor do I have any problem with the various choices I’m sure he had to make to fill in the blanks in Jordan’s notes. The essential problem is word allocation and pacing. Some plotlines and characters drag just a bit while others race by, some plotlines and characters are given pages better served by others. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fitting capstone.
As Jordan before him, Darrell K. Sweet, who created the artwork for each of the original 13 covers, died before his work was complete. Although Sweet finished a sketch of a proposed cover for A Memory of Light, Tor decided to start anew with Michael Whelan. Whelan created one of the best covers of the series (stalactites notwithstanding), and A Memory of Light has joined The Eye of the World, The Dragon Reborn, and The Path of Daggers as the only Wheel of Time books on my bookshelf that get to keep their dust jackets.
Final Supergirls ‘It’s a Trap!’ Counter: A Memory of Light-0 (yay!), total-9.
Original or new cover? N/A. (Final: Original 4, New 10)