Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: "A Memory of Light," by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan

So ends a 20-plus year journey.

With “A Memory of Light” ($34.99, Tor), Brandon Sanderson brings Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time to a long-awaited close. Despite Jordan’s death, despite a great deal of disappointment in the middle volumes of the series, I’m ultimately pleased with where it ended.

I still remember picking up the paperback version of “The Eye of the World” in college. I devoured it in one sitting, which was, and still is, pretty unusual for me. I came back to the dorm after a mid-morning class with nothing to do – or at least nothing I wanted to do, I’m sure I could have been studying something – and started it. I missed my afternoon class that day. I ordered pizza so I wouldn’t have to leave the book at dinner. I read late into the night, finally coming to an end that left me hungry for more.

"The Great Hunt," luckily, was already out, and I picked it up the next day. After that, I was at the bookstore for the release of each new volume and recommended it to anyone who would listen. I often called Jordan the second coming of Tolkien and raved about the series. A few years later, though, I came to regret making those recommendations.

Beginning probably about 1996’s “A Crown of Swords,” my enthusiasm waned severely. A six-book series grew to seven, then to 10, then to a perhaps never-ending saga. I often wondered if the joke was on readers and Jordan was repeating the punch line in every book when he said there was no beginning or ending to the Wheel of Time. Though many hardcore Jordan fans will disagree, I believe the series just got away from him. Jordan wove together so many threads that often he couldn’t even hit every storyline in each book. There was no structure or plot to those middle books, which were more a collection of vignettes than novels.

Still, I had so much time invested in them that I tried to slog through. With "Path of Daggers" in 1998, I decided to give up. I skipped 2000's "Winter's Heart," but decided to give "Crossroads of Twilight" a go in 2003. I never finished it and didn’t read the following volume penned by Jordan. I decided that if the final book ever arrived, I’d read it, but I wouldn't come back until then.

I greeted the news of Jordan’s death in 2007 with sadness and resignation that I’d never know how things turned out. Then Sanderson was chosen to complete the final volume from Jordan’s notes. It piqued my interest, but soon I was groaning again as the final book became three, and I thought I saw the pattern (pardon the pun, WoT fans) repeating. I hesitated for a year or so, but eventually picked up “The Gathering Storm,” Sanderson’s first foray into Jordan’s world, and was quite pleasantly surprised with the way things began to move along. Fans have told me the story actually started moving forward in Jordan’s final volume “Knife of Dreams,” but I can’t confirm that.

I think it says something about what Sanderson was able to do with the series that, after waiting more than a year to pick up “The Gathering Storm,” I preordered “A Memory of Light,” something I thought I’d never do again, and cleared my reading plate so that I could dive right in on release day.

No, I didn’t read this one through in one sitting as I did “The Eye of the World,” but I very likely would have, given the opportunity. After a lengthy prologue that ties everything that’s coming in the book together, Sanderson gets down to the business of Tarmon Gai’don. After those middle books, which moved with a glacial pace, “A Memory of Light” seems breathless in the speed that it races ahead. There’s still the depth and detail that readers want from Jordan’s work, but events move faster than they have since, probably, the very first book.

It’s hard for me to do any kind of plot summary for this book because there are so many things that I don’t want to give away for people who haven’t gotten there yet. Suffice it to say that the final battle is upon Jordan’s world, and it is epic. The final 300 pages or so of “A Memory of Light” are among the most compelling in any volume of the series, and I did read them all in one sitting, resulting in a session that kept me up until nearly 5 a.m., but it was worth every bit of lost sleep.  

Sanderson’s final three volumes, and especially “A Memory of Light,” left me quite happy and satisfied about the years I invested in the series. I doubt that I’ll ever go back and read the books that I skipped, but all of the frustrations from those books are forgotten in the climactic conclusion to the series. It was, indeed, worth the wait.

As Jordan, and then Sanderson, reminded us in every volume, there is no beginning or ending to the Wheel of Time. But this is an ending. And it’s a good one.

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