Binge Project: ‘The Wheel of Time,’ Book 14

Welcome to the LAST installment of the Binge Project: Wheel of Time series! These Binge Projects feature me reading or watching an entire run of comics, books, TV shows, or other media in rapid order, then writing expansively about the experience. This installment was a slower process, as I worked my way through the lengthy “The Wheel of Time” book series. 

Previously: Book 1 (The Eye of the World)Book 2 (The Great Hunt)Book 3 (The Dragon Reborn)Book 4 (The Shadow Rising), Book 5 (The Fires of Heaven), Book 6 (Lord of Chaos), Book 7 (A Crown of Swords), Book 8 (The Path of Daggers), Book 9 (Winter’s Heart), Book 10 (Crossroads of Twilight), Book 11 (Knife of Dreams), Book 12 (The Gathering Storm), Book 13 (Towers of Midnight), Book 0 (New Spring).

And now, The Wheel of Time Book 14: A Memory of Light. Spoilers ahead.

AMOL_full_coverWell, jeez. I don’t even know where to start.

A Memory of Light was one of the greatest fantasy books since Tolkien, a sprawling epic that was a more than fitting conclusion to The Wheel of Time. It was hard to put down, a whirlwind of excitement and action. The other entries in the series had largely followed a pattern of rising action with a few action beats interspersed on the way to an exciting climax. Book 14 felt like it was all action, opening on Talmanes and the Band fighting a losing battle for Caemlyn, and never truly letting up. Even the scenes with no fighting were usually packed with tension under the surface, such as Rand and Egwene’s battle of wills at Merrilor. The pace got all the more furious by the time we reached the 220-page chapter called “The Last Battle.” There were deaths and tears galore, and when the dust settled, I felt almost hollow, as if the sheer scope of this journey had exhausted something within me.

I’ve been trying lately to put the negatives early in the post to get them out of the way, so we’ll do most of that again here. One arguable negative — Rand’s survival — we’ll save for later. The others are mostly small. After being kept in the dark for so many books, I was annoyed that no one came out and explicitly said who killed Asmodean and why. It was only after finishing A Memory of Light that I googled the question and realized I missed the implication at the end of Book 13 that Graendal did it (Shaidar Haran saying she was responsible for the downfall of three Chosen/Forsaken, when we’d only known of two before). I also found theories for why, most of them plausible (from Asmodean stumbling into one of her plots, to concern that Asmodean was truly turning back to the Light). It sounds like Jordan wanted to keep it ambiguous because it amused him to keep the fans guessing, which makes him a little douchey to me. I feel like fans were owed at least a paragraph of explicit explanation. Along the same lines, final confirmation on Sammael’s status would have been appreciated. Again, the internet tells me that Jordan had confirmed Sammael was truly dead in an interview, and that Sanderson said in a later interview that death by Mashadar meant he couldn’t be resurrected, like with balefire. But Book 13 also told us that someone pretending to be Sammael had been sending Trollocs through the Ways. It certainly doesn’t seem uncommon for members of the Forsaken to pretend to be each other, but nor do I see why one of them would feel the need to impersonate Sammael if just ordering Trollocs. Again, a single paragraph of clear explanation was due, imo.

The only other significant negative, to me, was my uneasiness with the Seanchan getting a happy-ish ending. I really wanted to like Tuon at various points in this series, but I struggled to get past the damane issue, and that’s not really resolved here. Rand caves and agrees to allow them to keep all the women they’d forcibly enslaved so far, a true WTF that baffled me both in-story (that’s a line Rand is willing to cross, after his hissy fits with Egwene at Merrilor?) and out-of-story (I truly don’t understand why Jordan/Sanderson would present an option for taking the slavery out of a slave empire, and then decline to take the option). Egwene and Tuon reached an uneasy agreement that Tuon would offer to set free damane if the White Tower would offer to let Aes Sedai go become willing damane, but that was still weak. One, we see in this book that Tuon at least has no problem considering breaking her word, so would she really hold up her side with Egwene dead? And two, it doesn’t solve the issue that most of those damane, including some of the former Aes Sedai but especially the Seanchan-born ones, were so psychologically abused by this systemic slavery that many may not be truly capable of choosing to be set free. This really undermines the entire (and otherwise adorable) Mat and Tuon relationship for me. Mat isn’t riding off into the sunset as the lovable rogue married to a strong but challenging woman; he’s going to help rule a slave empire.

Another milder negative was that Moiraine’s return seemed largely pointless to me. We got to see her reunion with Rand, but we’re not even told what happened between her and Lan (other than, basically, “not happy”) and her seeing Siuan isn’t even mentioned. Plus she didn’t really do much once back. She helped calm things down at Merrilor, but Cadsuane probably could have played that role just as well; Moiraine obviously joined with Nynaeve and Rand in Shayol Ghul, but it felt like her part of that could have been done by literally any female channeler (including Alivia, whose role in this book was much smaller than I expected). I suppose I also didn’t love Elayne initially being the overall leader for all the armies of the Last Battle. While we did know she’d trained some under Bryne, the idea of her being truly qualified for such an immense job hadn’t been developed much until they kind of sprung that on her. Was that the way she fulfilled Elaida’s prophecy that the ruling line of Andor would be key to the Last Battle? Because she mostly seemed pretty nonessential to almost everything in this book. Or was Elaida’s foretelling actually about Rand, by way of Tigraine? In any event, I was relieved when Elayne ceded military control to Mat. But that does it for the negatives, at least until we get to Rand’s ending.

The positives are almost overwhelming. Let’s start with the bad guys. I made several guesses about who Mazrim Taim “really was,” only for him to have actually just been Taim all along, albeit revealed to be evil and powerful enough to get elevated to the Forsaken. I made just as many guesses about Demandred, only to have the Sharans come out of left field. It was slightly jarring to see that group become so massively important after being mysterious recluses only rarely referenced in the rest of the series, but I loved the idea of Demandred fulfilling an evil prophecy to take his dark parallels with Rand to another level. I wish Moghedien had just been killed earlier in the series; she really never did do much since escaping from Salidar, and her ending in this book only served to reinforce the Seanchan desire to keep enslaving anyone they could. But all of the other Forsaken had a chance to shine in this book, as well as Padan Fain and Slayer.

Mat was probably the biggest hero of the book. Rand obviously did the big deed, but thanks to the time warp in Shayol Ghul ( which was a clever piece of storytelling), he was otherwise out of most of the action. Mat, meanwhile, was a damn action hero. It was truly joyous to watch him match Demandred move for move across the battlefield, finally overcoming him. I had no idea what to expect with Padan Fain’s return, but I can see now in retrospect that it made so much sense that defeating Fain was the reason Mat had to be there. That moment when Mat jumps up to reveal his immunity was a wonderfully crafted piece of writing.

Perrin is also out of commission for much of the action, and it was a bit unfortunate to me to see his battle against Slayer drag on a bit. But the resolution was well worth it. In just the last two books, Sanderson did wonders toward redeeming Perrin into a badass, enjoyable character, and he had several big moments here. While finally beating Slayer was the ostensible highlight, I also loved that his love of Faile overcame Lanfear’s Compulsion enough for him to save Rand and company at the end. And I consistently loved the wolves throughout the series, so I literally jumped for joy when Perrin saw that wolf heroes had also been tied to the Horn of Valere.

There were several smaller but satisfying plotlines throughout the book. Androl and Pevara were adorable, and I really enjoyed their liberation of the Black Tower and subsequent successes in the Last Battle, particularly Androl opening the giant Gateway to send lava pouring into the Trolloc lines. Talmanes has been a fun character I should have written about several times before now, but his gruff humor was an excellent recurring joke; he was one of a few characters in this book whom I thought maybe should have really died, because of the quality of the potential death, but instead received a miracle recovery. But it’s hard to be upset with seeing him continue, either. Faile and Olver each got to play underrated heroic roles. Graendal’s Compulsion of the Great Captains was good stuff, making the Shadow forces seem more formidable; RIP Davram and Mrs. Bashere, as well as Bryne and Siuan. Logain’s struggle with his own darkness was good stuff, leading to his acceptance as a hero at the end, and his moment of glory in breaking the Seals.

memory of light 2The book really did its best work in the aforementioned “The Last Battle,” a single chapter that took up nearly a quarter of the long book. Not coincidentally, that’s where everyone started dying. I wondered in a previous post at the relative lack of deaths over the long series, and while I still think a couple more people could (maybe should) have kicked it, boy did the bloodbath begin here. I was right about the Chekov’s gun of Gawyn’s stolen ter’angreal leading to his death, but I was surprised by how fruitless his death was. Perhaps Egwene couldn’t have escaped the Sharans without his first use of the Bloodknives’ power, but his final charge was utterly useless, getting slain by Demandred without really accomplishing anything. It was actually rather fitting for him to die that way: caught up in the hubris that he was doing the right thing but without actually accomplishing anything good; that’s basically been Gawyn for most of the series. His brother Galad followed him in defeat by Demandred, but then got rescued and recovered. I would quibble with that choice; that was a fitting way for Galad to die. Other deaths, from Birgitte to the Basheres to Bryne and Siuan to Bela (not Bela!) to Rhuarc, were all big and powerful yet still chump change to the biggest of all.

Egwene. Probably the main character I felt most likely to survive, and she didn’t. But holy hell did she go out with a bang. From her staredown with Tuon to her unleashing of hell with Vora’s sa’angreal, Egwene kicked serious ass in this book, leading up to her big moment of defeating balefire, a super-charged Forsaken, and the cracks in the Pattern, all in one last moment of glory. I was actually whimpering when that happened; I just couldn’t believe it.

It was a rare moment of Jordan (assuming that Sanderson was bound by Jordan’s notes on the big deaths/survivals) actually taking the famous advice to writers to “kill your darlings.” Elsewhere, he mostly rejected this. Lan’s charge against Demandred was incredible, flashing back to his lesson to Rand about being willing to sacrifice his life as he seemingly gave his to take out one of the most powerful Forsaken of all. Except…he didn’t, and was just Healed a few minutes later. It led to a happier ending, with him and Nynaeve being one of the few surviving couples and having a chance to finally rebuild Malkier. But it did undermine the weight I felt at his sacrifice in the moment.

Which brings us quite smoothly to Rand. His battle with the Dark One was handled exceptionally well; until the very end, it was mostly a battle of wills more than an actual fight. The varying views of the possibilities for the Pattern based on who won the fight (and how) were interesting, especially the near-bombshell that Rand killing the Dark One wouldn’t actually be a victory at all. After so much build-up to this contest between them, it was amazing to see Rand realize at the end that the Dark One was never truly the enemy, even though he needed to be defeated. If you had told me before Book 14 that the series would end with Rand just permanently sealing the Bore, I would have expected that to be unsatisfying, but in its actual execution, it felt perfect. Rand’s plan to use Callandor to trap Moridin felt so brilliant, and seeing him channel all three Powers for one final push was an amazing moment and a fitting sacrifice.

Except it wasn’t a sacrifice, of course. Somehow he and Moridin switched bodies, leaving the bad guy to die and him to live. All that while making all his friends and family think he was dead, everyone except the three women who only know better thanks to their bonds. I don’t get how that transference between Rand and Moridin even happened at all — it’s not really explained, and nothing previously in the series foreshadowed the possibility that could happen — or especially how it could happen without Nynaeve and Moiraine knowing, since they were linked to both men while it happened. I just think Rand should have died, just like Moiraine should have died in Book 5 and Galad and Lan in this book; in each of those cases, the final sacrifice would have felt more poignant than the narrow survival to me. But it’s especially true in Rand’s case, when we’re given the alternative of him riding off into the sunset, wondering about which of the three women will come bone him, while his father and friends cry over his former body.

But to some extent, none of those flaws mattered. A Memory of Light just has so many incredible action sequences and wonderful character moments that it made you feel its successes far more than any drawbacks. And you could say that was the genius of The Wheel of Time as a whole. It was often a flawed series. Robert Jordan wrote women horribly and he let things drag out longer than needed; if he’d had someone to rewrite all his women for him while shortening the series to about 10 books, I think the series could have challenged the pantheon of greatest fantasy epics. It had a wonderfully large and complex cast of characters and inner politics, with maybe the most strongly devised system of magic I’ve ever seen. It was engrossing and exciting and made you feel the big moments. But those flaws did exist, and they did weigh the series down at times, keeping it from being as great as it could have been. But a series as ambitious and sprawling as The Wheel of Time cannot be solely defined by either its successes or failures; it’s defined by both the highs and lows. There were times when I felt the lows more strongly, but with the more focused energy of Brandon Sanderson for these last three books, the series ended with an impressive emphasis on those highs. Fourteen books, fifteen counting the prequel, and the last one was the clear best — that statement alone feels like something of a testament to not only the overall strength of the ending, but the degree to which Jordan and Sanderson made us feel invested over the course of the journey.

And now, my own personal journey ends. I started reading The Wheel of Time in late May, and while that’s obviously nothing compared to the people who waited two decades for this series to end, it was still a significant investment of time and energy for me. Ideally, I would have made it through much faster, but I had several setbacks in my availability to read along the way; as is, I’m just glad to be done in time to start on the holiday reading materials I’ll be getting. I’d like to thank everyone who’s been reading, as well as any of you who stumble upon this in the future. This hasn’t been the biggest pageview-getting Binge Project, but it’s still been rewarding. Special thank you’s go out to my friend Matt, who gave me the initial push to finally get into reading the series; to Ryan, who has been a reliable commenter on this Project and a joy to talk with about the books; and to Eric, who has also sent me several messages of feedback, despite his aversion to making public comments. It’s been really fun to get inducted into this fandom, and I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment just for joining the ranks of fans who made it through such a long series.

So now, we end Binge Project: The Wheel of Time. May the Light shine favorably upon you, and may the Pattern always treat you well.

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  1. Fine fine, I’m making a public comment. Happy? 😉

  2. Pingback: 2016: My Year in Audible, Ranked - Seven Inches of Your Time

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