Monday, July 29, 2013

The Wheel of Time [14] A Memory of Light - Part 2

This is Part 17 of my continuing series of blogs regarding what may possibly be my last re-read of The Wheel of Time, coinciding with the release of the final book in 2013. Please see this blog post for an overview of the re-read and why I am blogging about it. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES. The best way to approach this retrospective is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet, you may want to wait on reading this.



Book 14: A Memory of Light (2013) - Part 2
Now we get into the meat of the book.  The Last Battle.  Imagine my surprise when I realized the chapter entitled "The Last Battle" was actually 190 pages long.  It's a novella in itself.  Bravo to Brandon Sanderson for deciding to do it that way... perfectly fitting in terms of epicness (is that a word?).  He wanted to make it feel like you couldn't put the book down during the battle, and it does feel that way.

There's even a quote at the beginning of the chapter, something we never see in Wheel of Time.  Sanderson does it in his work, though (see The Way of Kings), so it wasn't surprising that he squeezed one in there somewhere, and the importance of the chapter does call for it.

The Last Battle
When I first looked at the Table of Contents, I noticed there was a map for the Field of Merrilor later on in the book.  At the end of the previous book, Towers of Midnight, Rand is preparing to meet the leaders of the "world" there to discuss the Last Battle, etc.  I thought that would happen right at the beginning.  Surely that wouldn't be delayed until then?  Not to worry... turns out the Field of Merrilor also ends up being the location of the Last Battle.

Hinderstap
My opinion of the strange, almost out-of-place Hinderstap storyline in Book 12, The Gathering Storm, is revised after this.  The way Mat used them was pretty awesome.  I didn't catch the hints about them the first time I read the book, so when they came back to life to take down the Dreadlords and Trollocs at the dam, I was pleasantly surprised.  The setup was much clearer on my re-read.

Quick Character Cameos
I'm a bit torn on these.  During the Last Battle, the action will cut to a character we haven't seen or heard from in a long time... characters whose stories you thought were pretty much complete and didn't expect to reappear.  I understand the purpose: to let you know that everyone, high and low, is fighting against the Shadow.  But some almost take you out of the action, because they abruptly appear and are abruptly gone.

The ones that stand out are:

Ila = The Tinker married to Raen, grandmother of Aram (the Tinker who took up a sword, died in Book 11, Knife of Dreams).  She hadn't been seen since Book 4, The Shadow Rising.  I don't mind her appearance too much, her and the other Tinkers checking the battlefield for wounded that can be Healed; it shows how every type of people are helping at the Last Battle somehow.

Juilin Sandar = Had been with Mat for a long time, doing nothing important, went to Tar Valon before Last Battle.  He hadn't done anything impactful since Book 9, Winter's Heart.  I don't like his abrupt appearance in the Battle, especially when you never learn if he lives or dies.  Better to have left him out, in my opinion.

Hurin = Featured character in Book 2, The Great Hunt, but he had pretty much been gone since then, only briefly reappearing in Book 12, The Gathering Storm, as part of the Borderlander army.  Not a fan of his brief appearance either... at least you find out that he dies later, when Rand sees what has happened to his friends on the battlefield.

Androl Stealing the Seals
I don't know about you, but this seemed a bit unrealistic.  Taim has the 3 remaining seals on the Dark One's prison - the real ones.  They had been stolen from Rand's hiding place at some point in the past.  Androl disguises himself as one of the Dreadlord Asha'man using a Mask of Mirrors to get close to Taim on the battlefield, and proceeds to steal the seals by bumping into Taim and filching them from the pouch at his belt in the few seconds they are in contact.  Taim is completely unaware they are stolen.  Really?  By far the most unbelievable portion of the book.  It would almost have been better had the seals not been stolen.

Credit Todd Cameron Hamilton

Abrupt, Off-screen Deaths
There are a couple of these.  And it sucks that you don't realize that a long-running character has died until after the fact, when someone's telling someone else.  I know it's war and this happen abruptly like that, and I can understand that sometimes it doesn't make narrative sense to break away for a quick death... but in the case of Gareth Bryne, I feel Sanderson should have.  Bryne and Siuan have been around since the first and second books, respectively - they deserved a little more than that.  At least cut away to show Bryne going mad after Siuan dies.  I was disappointed in how that was handled.

Demandred and Shara
I thought this was the coolest part of the entire book.  It was a huge plot twist that I honestly did not expect.  As I mentioned in the blog for Book 6, Lord of Chaos, I've always thought the mystery of Demandred's whereabouts and disguise was more interesting and important than that of the biggest mystery (Who Killed Asmodean?).

The first theories thought he was Mazrim Taim in the Black Tower, which seemed obvious until Jordan denied it.  Others thought it was King Roedran of Murandy, which I never bought into (Sanderson kills this theory right at the beginning of A Memory of Light, when Rand first meets Roedran at Merrilor; it's an amusing moment and I felt like Sanderson specifically put this in there to kill the theory without question).  Not epic or important enough.  So where was he?  There were subtle mentions about how he had an army ready, but we never got anything concrete.

When he appears on the battlefield with a massive army of Sharan warriors and channelers, I was completely stunned.  Sure, people theorized that he was in Shara, but the way Shara was essentially ignored and how Jordan intimated that nothing would take place in Shara, I figured it would continue to be ignored.

Not this time.  My basic reaction to Demandred and Shara's appearance was "Fuck Yeah."  Keeping it secret all this time made his reveal that much more effective and awesome, though it might have been useful to put a few more obvious hints about it throughout the series, to keep it from the realms of deus ex machina.  Because it was very close to being that, and I know many readers felt it came out of left field.

Either way, we finally get to learn a substantial bit more about this culture that has been shrouded in secrecy the entire series.  Channelers are tattooed all over and rank is determined by how few tattoos you have.  So as Egwene astutely notes, you can fall down, but you can't rise back up.

But since Demandred and his time in Shara are covered in the short story "River of Souls," which was released in the Unfettered anthology (see below), I'll talk about it more in the blog for that.  After reading that, I'm a bit torn on Jordan's treatment of the storyline.

Demandred and the Three Champions
Demandred turns out to be a total badass in this book, and I loved how the Light essentially sent three champions out to try and take him down in single combat.  Now Logain did try to battle Demandred with the One Power, but that was a silly notion on Logain's part, and he got his ass whooped.  It's not worth recounting here.

Gawyn
This battle is only made interesting because of Gawyn's use of the Bloodknife rings.  He would have never stood a chance on his own.  It was a good fight, but you knew hands-down that Demandred was going to win.  No contest.

Galad
I actually thought Galad would win.  The foxhead medallion was a great twist, because it rendered Demandred's channeling relatively useless.  It seemed like the perfect scenario to take him down and I kept thinking about that prophecy that says the royal line of Andor would be the key to the Last Battle.  That can be interpreted in different ways, to refer to both Rand and Gawyn/Galad/Elayne, but it's obvious by this point that all of them were important to battle in their own way.  Still, it was too early for Demandred to die and in the end he was much too skilled in the sword, even for Galad.

Lan
What else can be said about this, other than it was completely awesome?  Lan practices what he preaches and essentially won his self-proclaimed war against the Shadow by knocking out their general.  Waaaay back in Book 2, The Great Hunt, he mentions "Sheathing the Sword" to Rand:
"I said listen sheepherder," the warder growled. "There will come a time when you must achieve a goal at all costs. It may come in attack or defense. And the only way will be to allow the sword to be sheathed in your own body."  
"You will know when it comes, sheepherder, when the price is worth the gain, and there is no other choice left to you. That is called Sheathing the Sword. Remember it." 
Now, Rand uses this at the end of that book, when he battles Ishamael in the sky and receives the first of his never-going-to-heal wounds.  So to see it used again, by Lan himself, was awesome.  It was by far the most important battle of Lan's life, and he knew it.  I also loved how Demandred was defeated during a simple swordfight, rather than by a massive channeling battle.

From the WoT Wikia

The Other Ta'veren
In Part 1 of this blog, I talked a bit about Mat and how he ends up the general at the Last Battle, so I won't go over that again.  I was satisfied with his story and Sanderson did a good job with Mat in the last book (in my opinion), though his whole affiliation with the Seanchan is weird.  Will he really stay with them after Tarmon Gai'don?  I think he would, for a while... then eventually leave.  I can't imagine him staying within the Seanchan Empire and under Tuon's heel for the rest of his life.

As for Perrin... well, his sections grew a bit tiresome.  It was the same stuff that happened in the previous volume, Towers of Midnight, more Matrix-style fighting against Slayer in the Wolf Dream, dreamspikes, etc etc.  His Towers of Midnight arc was great and he became cool for me again, but only for one book.  In this one he went back to being boring.  I always thought he was going to lead the beasts to the Last Battle, but that didn't happen (Elyas did).  He simply watched Rand's back while he fought the Dark One.

And what about his new hammer, Mah'alleinir?  After that great forging scene... nada.  Virtually irrelevant in the Last Battle.  His skill in Tel'aran'rhiod killed Slayer and his hands killed Lanfear.  Disappointing, to say the least.

Speaking of Slayer... that whole deal I've never liked.  Like Fain, he's a confusing character who ends up an amalgam of multiple people, and really doesn't make sense to me in the overall arc of the story.  It's like Jordan got lost along the way and didn't know what to do with either of the characters in the second half of the series.  They essentially end up being Mat's and Perrin's nemeses, but aren't really that important in the grand scheme of things.

Olver and the Horn
What happens to Olver during the Last Battle became one of the most memorable moments in the series for me.  Olver is the only true child character we have in this series, so his journey is a lot different than all the others we've been following.  It's a nice change of pace whenever we get to see things through his eyes, because he has a completely different perspective on the world than the adults do.

The Horn of Valere was found in Book 2, The Great Hunt, and was blown by Mat.  The entire series we figured Mat would still blow it at the end while commanding the armies of Light, despite the fact that he had seemingly died twice and may have lost his link (once in Book 4, The Shadow Rising, getting hanged in Rhuidean and saved by Rand; twice in Book 5, The Fires of Heaven, when Rahvin killed him in Caemlyn, but Rand brought him back by using balefire to kill Rahvin).  Jordan already confirmed that he did not die at Rhuidean.  Now, given the fact that Olver blows the Horn at the Last Battle, we learn that the Caemlyn death did indeed sever his tie to the Horn.  It's one of those things that is ambiguous and is not fully explained, and could be considered a plot hole.  Apparently his death and his link to the Horn are separate things, and balefire only repaired his existence, not his bond to the Horn, and I'm fine with that.

From the WoT Wikia

So... the sequence of bringing the Horn to Mat was very well done.  It was quite ironic that Faile, who starts out the series as a Hunter for the Horn, ends up being the one to bring it to the Last Battle.

And Noal (Jain Farstrider) returning as a Hero of the Horn to save Olver?  Brought tears to my eyes.  Very well done sequence.  Birgitte coming back for Elayne was cool too, but not even close to the Noal return.

Padan Fain
There weren't too many disappointments in the final book for me, but this is by far the biggest one.  I knew that Jordan didn't intend for everything to be resolved or explained sufficiently, and I'm okay with that, but the resolution on Padan Fain seemed carelessly tossed in there.  I asked Sanderson about this at the signing I went to and he said that it was a matter of "Jordan says Padan Fain meets this fate, so I made it happen."  He said there was nothing else left to him in the notes for Fain to do.

There might have been more that Sanderson could have done with the character, but it would have been complete conjecture / invention on his part, and I understand the decision.  So I have to place the blame for this squarely on Jordan, who built up this character as important during the first half of the series, then completely ignored him.  He explained Fain as a "rogue," operating outside of the Shadow's plans, and like I said earlier, it feels like Jordan didn't know exactly where he was going with him... and throwing the death into the end like this left a bitter taste in my mouth.

If he wasn't going to be important or worth writing about later, just kill him earlier.  After injuring Rand in Book 7, A Crown of Swords, he served no purpose.  Fain is nothing more than a victim of the sheer scope of the series.  There was no place for him later on, and it showed with the way he was disposed of here.

My favorite picture of Fain.
From the WoT Wikia.

Moiraine
I have to say that this was another disappointment for me, though very minor.  All the build up to free Moiraine... and she really did not do much.

She did convince the rulers of the world to sign the Dragon's Peace, so that was important, but in terms of Rand's fight against the Dark One... well, any Aes Sedai could probably have done that.  Though I guess the point was that she and Nynaeve were the only Aes Sedai that Rand trusted enough to take with him to Shayol Ghul and perhaps put his life in their hands.

So on one hand, she probably should have remained dead, but on the other, without her survival we wouldn't have such awesome storylines as the Tower of Ghenjei sequence from Towers of Midnight and the return of Noal as a Hero of the Horn.

On the other, Sanderson has said that her purpose was to prevent Rand and Egwene from going to the Last Battle separately.  They had to be united and in agreement.  Which she did, at the meeting at Merrilor.

Rand vs. The Dark One
This was slightly underwhelming the first time I read it.  Since time works differently near the Bore, days can pass on the battlefield while it's only minutes for Rand.  So what's a relatively short confrontation with the Dark One is stretched across half of the book, in small bits and pieces.

In retrospect, and after a second read of the book, the confrontation makes sense.  At least it wasn't a cliched sword fight, right?  Though it started out as one, with Rand and Moridin (effectively the avatars of the Creator and the Dark One) dueling it out.  But this is thankfully interrupted for the real battle, and Rand and the Dark One simply take turns showing each other the realities they would make if they were to win, while pointing out the flaws in each reality.  Eventually Rand scraps his plan to destroy the Dark One or create a world without Shadow, because there has to be some sort of balance.  You cannot have Light without Dark.  The common duality you find in a lot of fantasy work.

Rand also learns to "let go," and let others fight their own battles, die on their own terms, be heroes on their own.  All throughout the series he assumes he has to do all of it for them, which he finally realizes was selfish of him.  He has his battle, they have theirs.

And so everything goes according to plan.  The surprise is that Callandor is actually a sa'angreal for the True Source and has a flaw that allows females to take control of the male wielding it.  So they essentially trick Moridin into drawing the True Power through Callandor, then Moiraine and Nynaeve seize control of him.  From there it's a simple matter to patch the Dark One's prison after Logain breaks the remaining seals (part of the "glory" Min saw for him many books ago).

Callandor, aka The Sword in the Stone, from
the cover of Book 3, The Dragon Reborn

Finally, People Die
This has been something people have criticized Jordan for in the past: his main characters never die.  Even Moiraine, who we thought was dead, comes back 8 books later.  Half of the Forsaken are resurrected and put into new bodies through the course of the series.  It does bother me on some level, but it doesn't ruin my enjoyment of the series.  This time around, however, we have the Last Battle and all bets are off.


I will say that having them around for so long does make their eventual deaths more emotional - when they are given the attention they deserve, at least.  I'll just give my thoughts on each major death.

Gawyn Trakand
At least he went out trying to make a difference.  He's always been an okay character for me; I neither hate nor love him.  He was a good choice to die.

Egwene al'Vere
This was a surprise, but in retrospect it makes sense.  I cried when she died, it was a very powerful scene - one of the most powerful in the series for me.  She definitely went out in a blaze of glory and took out a big chunk of the Shadow: M'Hael (Taim) and many other channelers.  Her death also trapped Sakarnen, the male sa'angreal of Demandred's that he gave to M'Hael to use, and prevented it from being retrieved from someone else.

Bela
I wish she hadn't died.  I liked how this one horse was featured throughout the series, all the way from the Two Rivers to the Last Battle.  In the end she dies doing something important.  Every creature has a purpose it seems, and that was hers.  We do know that Harriet mandated her death, so if you're upset about it, blame her.


Siuan Sanche
This one surprised me.  Once Min said that her viewing about staying close to Gareth Bryne had not actually come true, I was like, "Oh no you didn't!"  That was a great reveal.  Jordan was very clever with his prophecies and foretellings and visions, etc... and this added a new layer to it.  You know immediately that something bad was going happen after Min's reveal, but when she did die... it was a bummer.  I had grown to like the post-Amyrlin-post-Healed-now-married Siuan.

Gareth Bryne
After Siuan dies you know Gareth will.  His death scene getting cut was a disappointment for me.  I've already discussed that so I'll just move on.

Birgitte
Not a true death since she comes back as a Hero, but the way she went out was brutal.  Beheaded by Doilin Mellar, who then plans to cut Elayne's babies from her womb.  At least now we know that Birgitte would have come back as  Hero, had Elayne not bonded her to save her life back in Book 5, The Fires of Heaven.

Davram Bashere 
Another abrupt, off-screen death.  I've never been a huge Bashere fan, so eh.

Rhuarc
This one was a bit sad.  Rhuarc was such a strong man, so to see him reduced to one of Graendal's pets was sad.  It's actually a good thing he died, it was pretty much over once Graendal got a hold of him.

Forsaken
I thought they were all going to die, so I was slightly disappointed there.  The ones that did survive, though (Hessalam/Graendal and Moghedien), got their just desserts.  For the others, it was time for them to die.  Finally.  None would serve a purpose after the Dark One had been defeated and the Bore sealed, and the Dark One would not have the power to bring any of them back, since he would be shut away from the Pattern again.

Rand's Resurrection
And so in the aftermath, Rand survives the Last Battle.  Did not surprise me.  We all knew it was coming.  He somehow swaps bodies with Moridin (this is left unexplained).  His previous body is burned on a pyre and most believe he is dead.  Except...

...for his three lovers.  His bond to Elayne, Min and Aviendha remains.  So they know what is up and don't act very sad at Rand's funeral.  There is no explanation as to how the bond remained after he switched bodies, which I thought was lame.  How much better would it have been had everyone truly thought he died?  Rand could have gone out into the world a free man, no more ties, no one else to be responsible for.

Instead, he rides off into the sunset with a few knowing he still lives, which I'm not thrilled with... but what can you do, it's not my story.  Still, it's quite bittersweet and I like how he's rewarded with a new life and a clean slate.  I keep thinking, what would he do?  He's been virtually everywhere already.  If you had spent two years traveling the world and saving a generally ungrateful humankind, what would you do?  Things that make you go hmmm...

Credit Duncan Lilly

Who Wrote What?
A topic that has come up many times since the first book of the "Sanderson Trilogy" (as I call it), The Gathering Storm, was released, was "who wrote what?"  Which parts were Jordan, which Sanderson?

Personally, I don't really care, as for the most part Sanderson did a fine job of melding his style to Jordan's writing and WoT, but since A Memory of Light has been published, Sanderson has elaborated a bit on who did what.  He doesn't go into detailed specifics, since that would distract from the story - and I agree with him.

If you're curious, here's what we do know:

  • The Gathering Storm = Egwene is more Jordan, Rand is more Sanderson
  • Towers of Midnight = Mat is more Jordan, Perrin is more Sanderson
  • A Memory of Light = Ending is Jordan
  • Prologues across all 3 books = Mostly Jordan

So as you can see, there was a ton of filling-in-the-blanks that Sanderson had to do.  He's also mentioned that many times people think he wrote a part, when actually Jordan did.

Also, it has been noted that two deaths were added by Harriet McDougall (Jordan's widow / editor) and Sanderson.  Harriet said Bela should die.  Sanderson was responsible for one of the major deaths, but refuses to specify which.  It's not Egwene, I know that, since that came from Jordan's notes.

Chapter Names
A brief note on something that I probably should have included in Part 1 of this blog, rather than Part 2.  Chapter Names.  It's known that Harriet came up with most of the chapter names.  She even thought up and assigned the chapter icons and most of the book titles, after each manuscript was complete.  I find this interesting, because I like to come up with chapter names while I write.  Of course, for the book titles, it makes sense since Jordan had no idea how many books the series would take or what exactly would be in each book.

From the WoT Wikia

But I digress.  What I wanted to mention was that I was actually disappointed with the chapter names in this book.  I felt they should have been more epic and interesting, without giving too much away.  You should be able to read through the list, be intrigued by the chapter names, and also be eager to read if you're familiar with the series - it should give hints of things to come.

This is the most epic book of the series, yet we have titles like "A Smile," "Too Many Men," "A Practiced Grin," "A Knack"... etc etc.  I know for some of the chapters, there's not much to go on, and I know how that is (in coming up with chapter names for my current work, The Hope of Memory), but still... they aren't very exciting to me.  Oh well.  I suppose it doesn't matter, they don't really need to entice readers with chapter names in the 14th book of a series.

The End?
As Darth Vader famously said in Star Wars, the circle is now complete.  The Wheel of Time is over and after 20 years I finally got to read the end of the story.  It was very emotional for me.  I never thought it would come.  It was an odd feeling - for the first time, I was able to finish a WoT book feeling content.  But I can say that I was completely happy with the ending despite a few minor disappointments; it was appropriate, and I was satisfied.

There's still one more piece left, though.  A section was cut from A Memory of Light, entitled "River of Souls."  It was cut for pacing reasons and because it introduced too much new information when things should be wrapping up.  This section is included in the Unfettered charity anthology as a "Wheel of Time tale."  The story is from the POV of Demandred, detailing some of what he was doing in Shara while Rand and Co. were having their adventures in Randland.


I finally received this book in the mail while writing these blogs for A Memory of Light (it was supposed to released in May, was pushed back to July).  So that will be the next entry.  After that I'll do a conclusion post and finally wrap up this Retrospective after 2+ years.  There are a few more things to talk about, but after Unfettered and the eventual Official Encyclopedia that Harriet has mentioned, there will be no more Wheel of Time stories.

Depending on what kind of content the Official Encyclopedia contains, I'll do a blog post for that.  We'll see.  I will buy it, regardless.

Usually I end each blog entry in my WoT Retrospective with thanks... since I've thanked everyone already, I'll just thank myself for sticking with the Retrospective and actually getting it done!

Next: 

Short Story  River of Souls

Previous:


Book 14 – A Memory of Light – Part 1
The Wheel of Time is Complete
Reference  The Big White Book
Prequel – New Spring
Book 13 – Towers of Midnight

Book 12 – The Gathering Storm
Book 11 – Knife of Dreams
Book 10 – Crossroads of Twilight
Book 9 – Winter's Heart
Book 8 – The Path of Daggers
Book 7 – A Crown of Swords
Book 6 – Lord of Chaos
Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven
Book 4 – The Shadow Rising
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn
Book 2 – The Great Hunt
Book 1 – The Eye of the World

Retrospective Overview

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