It has been difficult for me to process my thoughts about A Memory of Light. It’s a big book in which a lot happens, and it represents the ending of a series that has been in my life for a good long time and which I have a lot of respect and adoration for. The opportunity to actually discover how the Wheel of Time ends (for want of a better word, of course, given the concept), to appreciate RJ’s vision in its entirety… for that, this book is a blessing. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple, because on a deeper level, this book has so many massive issues and faults.
From here there will be spoilers.
The biggest problem with AMoL is the same problem I had with Towers of Midnight: Mat. ToM presented a massive tonal shift in Mat’s characterisation; I remember sniggering to myself about things Mat said during first read, and then immediately feeling unsettled because that wasn’t how I’d ever responded to Mat before. In the end I dealt with that and for the most part enjoyed ToM, but all of these problems came back stronger in AMoL, where literally everything about Mat felt wrong. Most prominent were the changes in his speech and thought patterns, particularly his constant peppering of his speech with ‘here now’ and ‘hey nows’, a form I really despise and not something Mat has ever done before, and most jarring of all, his constant mental referencing of himself by his full name, Matrim. Again, this was a relatively rare quirk pre-Brandon, but in this book it happens ubiquitously, and oh man I hated it.
A useful metaphor for my opinion of Mat’s character is Shakespeare’s fool. This is a character archetype pops up in quite a few plays, and whilst seemingly in the rather undesirable position of existing to make people laugh, holds the unique position aside of the main narrative, a position that allows them to postulate dangerous truths that other characters might not even realise, or at least be able to verbalise without backlash. Under RJ, Mat had a similar role; a lighter, comedic character but with a serious side, an intellectual maturity that informed his character. Under Brandon, all that depth seems to have vanished and we’ve just got a false fool, an immature joker whose role as ‘comic relief’ is so exacerbated that the serious side of his character suffers as a result. Maybe under RJ Mat’s decision to flee to Tuon might have made sense, but under Brandon it seemed incredibly wrong, and yet sadly in tune with BS’s own derailment of the character.
Mat used to be one of my favourite characters, and I still love him pre-Brandon. In fact, after finishing AMoL, I went back to some of my favourite chapters in the whole series, ‘A Different Dance’ from Lord of Chaos, and ‘A Stave and a Razor’ from Knife of Dreams, for a bit of therapy time with the Mat I once knew. Thankfully I was still able to enjoy those chapters thoroughly, despite my foreknowledge of Mat’s upcoming character fail, which is good, because if Brandon had managed to damage my appreciation for RJ’s work with his ‘efforts’ it would have been unforgivable.
So that was the biggest disappointment, not just with AMoL but with the series since Brandon took over. Sadly, it was by no means the only thing that left me dissatisfied with the final book. My second most major criticism is how we spent so much time blandly describing repeated charges and retreats and other battle quandaries; it got to the point where, at one point during a scene with the Borderland armies, I actually skipped over the paragraph of battle details. Now, the first time I read the Wheel of Time, I often found myself skipping past paragraphs and sometimes even whole pages (oh RJ) in order to get to the next speaking part and so advance the plot, but over time and most pointedly with my last re-read, I took my time to savour the details, the intricacies and quiet moments of the world that RJ created. To find myself falling back into those habits after such a deep and enjoyable few months savouring the rest of the series was a sad disappointment, but it was really only an illumination of something I’d already realised after re-reading The Gathering Storm and ToM; that Brandon’s books don’t have that sense of depth. They’re not something I want to take my time over. I thought at first that I was burning through them to ensure I was ready for the final book, but in the end there just wasn’t enough meaningful content to savour, so I didn’t stick around, and that is a shame.
Still, I might have hoped that things might be different with AMoL, until we spent so many, many pages and words with the Trolloc slaughters and battle descriptions, which were so repetitive and generic (I lost count of how many times I read about the Andor/Cairhien/Aiel lines ‘buckling’ without ever actually breaking). Those words could have been so much better used. I didn’t expect there to not be a strong focus on the Last Battle, of course, but to have it so badly articulated at the expense of, say, more moments with the characters I’ve loved for so long was a terrible disappointment. I think I might have preferred bad character moments even to well-written battles.
Without wishing to belabour this point, I’d like to provide an example: one of the scenes in AMoL that I legitimately enjoyed was the scene with Rand and Tam, and their discussion and sparring match about the ‘weight of that missing hand’. This was a perfect character beat that I really enjoyed, and I’d have taken a few more of those over overwrought battle scenes without hesitation. Interestingly enough, I seem to recall reading somewhere that it was Brandon’s decision to reunite Rand and Tam in the first place, which made this scene all entirely his own work. If that’s true, then Brandon is capable of not only creating powerful scenes from RJ’s notes, but also building similar, well-presented scenes on his own accord. He is not talentless. So then why was so much of this book so.. insipid, the flashes of brilliance lost in a sea of mindless bloodletting?
Beyond all this, I had a lot of comparably minor issues. Moiraine’s return felt underwhelming, and the fact that we had to witness Rand seeing her again not from inside his head but from Perrin’s disappointed me – it felt like Brandon was intimidated by the moment, and so fled to the head of the character he’s always been the most comfortable with. Many of the deaths of characters whom I’ve come to really like over the course of the series, most notably Siuan, barely registered any emotional significance with me, a problem I can only once again attribute to uninspired prose. The deluge of fake-out ‘is person X dead/evil’ cliffhangers and plot twists also wore out their welcome very quickly, most notably in the cases of Galad after losing to Demandred, Aviendha after her gateway exploded and the ‘Vanin and Harnan are Darkfriends oh no’ episode that I didn’t believe in for a second. Whilst most of this I lay solely at Brandon’s feet, RJ has to be held accountable in some instances, particularly those of Padan Fain, whose ultimate role ended up being little more than a footnote, and the fact that Nynaeve felt barely present for the entire book.
That’s pretty much the roll call of my criticisms. Extensive though it is, it shouldn’t be taken to mean that I think AMoL is a complete write off, just, in my opinion, deeply flawed. When looking at how the plot threads writhed to a conclusion from a distance far enough that the details are slightly blurry, I am happy with how the series ended, with how RJ’s vision played out. I have no problems with Rand re-sealing the Dark One rather than killing him, and I’m happy that a lot of characters, even minor ones whom I’ve liked such as Gaul and Jur Grady, survived. The Dragon’s legacy of peace is a nice thematic contrast to his previous life’s legacy, and it pleased me that Rand was able to live on, even if the mechanics of exactly how he was able to do so were quite obscure to the point of being completely omitted. Though I would have preferred a more expansive epilogue that told me a little more about the 4th Age, in the end I’m fine with preserving some mystery and leaving it to the imagination of the readers.
To end this review/diatribe/piece of crap on a happier note, here are a few more of the things from AMoL that I genuinely enjoyed:
– Moiraine off-handedly referring to Mat as ‘the father of us all’. Maybe it’s just because I caught the reference, but I really liked it.
– Noal saving Olver was one of the few moments that I had a genuine emotional reaction to. ‘That man still lives’ was another, which is a good thing considering it was pretty much the climactic point of the book.
– The realisation that Demandred had gone completely mad somewhere along the line was pretty cool, although the fact that it just happened without any prior build up prompted a raised eyebrow. Nonetheless, his entrance was impressive, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that he couldn’t even do insanity as well as Lews Therin did.
– Logain’s arc was well done. I was genuinely worried for him after we got a glimpse inside his mind after what Taim’s crew had done, which made his redemptive moment very sweet, on behalf of all the Asha’man as well as himself.
– Rhuarc falling victim to Compulsion was another emotional gut-punch.
– Rand calling Aviendha ‘shade of my heart’ after the Aiel fashion was a quick, brief moment that I nonetheless really appreciated.
I feel like my thoughts are a bit more in order now. Final word? Although I currently have absolutely no desire to even open AMoL, much less re-read it, I’m hopeful that this funk will fade. I’m sad that The Wheel of Time didn’t end under the pen of the man who created it, and I hope that Brandon’s ultimately underwhelming efforts don’t undermine the series’ legacy or my enjoyment of it in the long term. AMoL wasn’t the ending we deserved, but it was the one we got, and I suppose I can be grudgingly thankful to Brandon for at least giving us something. I don’t think I will ever be able to respect the man, though; some combination of his terrible WoT prose and his attitude from interviews has left me with an infinite hatred for this man, despite my reasonable side recognising that finishing this series to everyone’s satisfaction was an impossible job.
I just think he could have done a better job than he did.
Hell, I almost think I could have done a better job, and I’ve always been the first to criticise my own ability.
Thank you Robert Jordan, for a series that set my world alight.
Thank you Brandon Sanderson, for a glimpse of what might have been.