DeFlip Side #137: Memories of Light

DS137.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

Well, it took 23 years, 14 books (not counting a prequel) and two authors, but Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time fantasy series has at last wound to a climax in its final volume, A Memory of Light.

Many of you regular DeFlip Side listeners are no doubt aware of my love/hate relationship with The Wheel of Time. I was initially a hardcore fanboy. But after book six, the series started to fall apart as Jordan seemed unable to move the narrative forward. One dismal volume followed another for years until, in the face of growing fan discontent and a fatal medical diagnosis, Jordan announced that he had begun work on The Wheel of Time’s final volume, to be titled A Memory of Light.

Unfortunately, he died shortly thereafter, leaving the series unfinished. In a tribute show that I broadcast at the time, I lamented Mr. Jordan’s passing, and relegated The Wheel of Time series to a memory of might—as in what it might have been, had Jordan remained true to his initial dazzling vision.

But that wasn’t the end. Enter author Brandon Sanderson, whom Tor commissioned to finish The Wheel of Time once and for all. But the story was too big for a single volume, so Sanderson broke it up into a trilogy, that has finally culminated in A Memory of Light, the 14th and final volume of The Wheel of Time.

And if, like me, you’ve been with the series from the beginning, all that reading time and emotional investment begs the question: Was it worth it? Do fans get the payoff they deserve?

Unequivocally, yes. A Memory of Light wraps up The Wheel of Time with a grand flourish, and Sanderson delivers a dazzling conclusion true to the original spirit and substance of Jordan’s ambitious fantasy opus. And because of Sanderson’s success, A Memory of Light is burdened by another question: Does it redeem The Wheel of Time series overall?

Well, let’s take it one step at a time.

The Wheel of Time has always been working toward Tarmon Gai’don, the final battle between the forces of Light and the Shadow, and A Memory of Light chronicles this cataclysmic war from start to finish—with Egwene, Elayne, Aviendha and Lan leading four armies on four different fronts against the forces of the Dark One. Meanwhile, the big three have their hands full elsewhere.

Matt is busy contending with his unlikely status as a Seanchan noble, and trying to bring his newly acquired military might to Rand’s cause; Perrin fights in the Wolf Dream against threats manifested in Tel’aran’rhiod; and Rand is fulfilling his ultimate destiny as the Dragon Reborn, directly confronting Shai’tan in his prison at the heart of Shayol Ghul with Nynaeve and Moiraine fighting by his side.

Sprinkle in some Forsaken-driven intrigue, a war between the Asha’man to decide the fate of the Black Tower and a huge array of proactive secondary characters and you get some meaty fantasy action.

These myriad moving parts are necessary to convey such world-encompassing events. But for all that, A Memory of Light remains focused and character driven. Sanderson keeps the narrative thrumming, giving characters big and small important parts to play, and no one seems shoehorned into—or shortchanged by—the story.

After about 600 pages, all of this narrative maneuvering culminates in a 200-page chapter fittingly called “The Last Battle.” And even after everything that has come before, it is a climax rife with page-turning tension and enough twists to make even the most jaded Wheel of Time fan gasp.

But the real test of A Memory of Light is how well it handles Rand’s story. Objectively, Rand gets somewhat less of a storyline compared to the other main characters. But he remains at the heart of the book, and the culmination of his fight with the Shadow is everything Wheel of Time fans might have hoped for.

My only minor nit is that some of the book’s final scenes pick up on story threads from much earlier in the series—like from books three and four—and if (like me) you haven’t read those volumes in 15 or so years, the resolution of these dimly-remembered plot points lack the narrative punch they might have had. And while the story has more than enough momentum by this point to carry you along regardless, it still serves as a reminder of how unfocused the series had become before Sanderson set things to rights.

Which brings us back to the larger question: Does A Memory of Light redeem The Wheel of Time series overall?

Sadly, no. While A Memory of Light—and, indeed Sanderson’s entire concluding trilogy—do an exceedingly fine job of ending The Wheel of Time on a high note, they still can’t change the fact that books seven through 10 are just plain terrible, and that book 11 is only marginally better. So unless Tor announces plans to condense and rework these five miserable volumes into two passable ones, I couldn’t in good conscience recommend the series to others—at least not without a huge caveat.

But you know what? Even after all my ups and downs with The Wheel of Time, I felt a pang of sadness once I had truly settled into A Memory of Light. Because it dawned on me. THIS IS IT. No more Rand. No more Mat or Perrin. The story is finally over. After two decades, I won’t have a new Wheel of Time book to read, and that’s kind of a bummer. I guess these characters have affected me more deeply than I realized.

But the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and as a long-time reader who had invested decades in the series and was determined to see it through no matter what, I’d like to express my gratitude to Mr. Sanderson. If you’re listening, sir, thank you. Thanks to you, whenever I think back on The Wheel of Time, I’ll do so with (mostly) memories of light.

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