Monday, July 8, 2013

The Wheel of Time [14] A Memory of Light (2013) - Part 1

And now... it all comes to an end.  Earlier this year, in January, the 14th and final book of The Wheel of Time, entitled A Memory of Light, was released.  After more than 20 years of waiting, I could finally read the end.  I took the day off work as usual, though it still took me 3 days to finish, reading it any free chance I got and neglecting more important responsibilities.

The post for this book ended up a bit longer than all the others, so much like the last "planned" book of WoT was split into 3 books, I'm splitting this into 2 posts.  It took me quite a while to put together, mainly since I took a break and eventually re-read the book once it was released as an eBook in April.  I thought about leaving it as one single post - which would be fitting, considering how long and epic the last book is - but in order to make it easier for me to review and the reader to digest, I split it.  The second half will be along soon.

In this post I'll talk about the first half of the book - everything prior to the Last Battle - along with the Sanderson signing I attended.  The second post will feature the Last Battle and character-specific musings.

I'll also be going back and updating previous posts in this Retrospective to address any conjectures I made about the final book, now that I know how to it all ends.  So recheck the previous posts to see those, if you like.

Before you continue:
  • This is part 16 of my The Wheel of Time retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of the series

A Memory of Bookstores

During this Retrospective I've touched on how the bookstore landscape has changed over the years... well this time I went online to look for the closest place to get this book, as I moved to San Jose, CA after the release of Towers of Midnight, and most books I buy now are from Amazon.  I only bought 13 brand-new physical books in 2012 (stats brought to you by my handy media database).  Only one was bought at an actual bookstore - all the rest were ordered online.

Anyway, since I had bought that one book, I knew there was a Barnes & Noble around 20 minutes or so away across town, but figured in a city like San Jose, with a population of 1 million, there would be a closer "large" bookstore, one that was guaranteed to have the book.  Nope.  I had to drive out to that one.  All the Borders have been closed.  There are no Books-A-Million in California.  All those other big chain bookstores that existed when I started reading this series - B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, Little Professor - all gone.  Now there's only Barnes & Noble, and even they are starting to close some locations down.

So all I have left are online outlets, which have the best price anyway, though publishers and authors have lamented that fact for a while now (most noticeably L.E. Modesitt, Jr, one of the few authors I follow regularly; his blog posts are usually good reads).  Today, most books I order from Amazon or occasionally buy at a used book store.

My go-to bookstore now...

The Future of Books

And so we have eBooks, which I'm starting to prefer, as after so many years of tracking my reading habits, I've discovered about 90% of the books I buy I only read once.  They then collect dust on bookshelves and make moving a pain in the ass.  So I only buy physical books for authors I like, or for specific series I know I want to re-read eventually or show off to visitors.

Speaking of eBooks, there was a big hubbub on Amazon when this book was released.  Even though it had been announced nearly 8 months prior, and had happened for the last couple volumes as well, everyone got all upset that the eBook version would not be released until April 2013.  So everyone freaked out and bitched about it and posted a number of 1-star ratings on Amazon (look at the early 1-star reviews) - which I think is completely unfair to the author and the content of the work.

Our on-demand internet-enabled world has definitely spoiled us.  We are not entitled to an eBook version on day of release if the publisher doesn't want to release it.  It's like a movie... if you want to see it when it comes out, you go to the overpriced theater.  How many times do you see people complain and rate a movie poorly because they didn't release the DVD edition the same day it came out in the theater?  Never.

Regardless, it's been an interesting journey, watching the rise and fall of book retailers over the course of this series.  Publishers can complain about it or try to fight it, but the real solution is to adapt to the changing book market.  It's never going to be like it was before.  Not with the advent of the internet and eBooks.

The Cover

I'm not going to go in-depth on the cover, as I already covered that when it was released back in Apr/May 2012.  Suffice to say, I like the cover, but honestly would have been fine with either version.  Yes, I actually like the Sweet cover for once.  It would have cool to use it... the unfinished cover for Jordan's unfinished novel...

Anyway, here is the official, final cover (by Michael Whelan) with the text and stuff.  I was so excited to get it, I even posted this on Facebook, to prove that the book was in my actual hands.

More Forsaken

So you thought we were done with new Forsaken and their continuous rebirths, eh?  Well, if you were one of those that liked how the Forsaken kept coming back, you'll like the beginning of this book, when the surviving Forsaken (or Chosen, as they refer to themselves) meet up for one last pow wow before the Last Battle.  At this point, the only ones left are Moridin (Ishamael), Demandred, Moghedien, Cyndane (Lanfear) and two new ones...

First, we have Hessalam, which means "without forgiveness" in the Old Tongue.  This is actually Graendal, after being "punished" by Shaidar Haran at the end of the previous book, Towers of Midnight.  This new body of Hessalam is quite ugly, something that highly irritates the vain Graendal.

Second, we have M'Hael, whom we all know and love by a more familiar name, Mazrim Taim.  In this early meeting, the theory of Demandred = Taim (which is hard not to subscribe to) is finally tossed down the drain as both are present at the same time.  They just happened to look like each other and entered the story around the same time (Book 6, Lord of Chaos).  Demandred did recruit Taim, though, and the Asha'man is elevated to the Chosen because of his success with recruiting Dreadlords (the Black Tower).

Side note: I don't know about you, but I've been rather disappointed in the new names for the Forsaken.  The original names are all badass.  The only cool new name is Cyndane... the others are weak and uninspired.

The "rebirth" of Graendal (I assume she was killed and cast into a new body) was not surprising, though if you've been reading these blogs you should know I'm not thrilled with the constant rebirth of Forsaken.  However... there's a nice explanation later in this book, I believe by Demandred, where he thinks about how the Dark One doesn't discard useful tools just because they've failed once.  Which makes sense.  The Dark One has no time to train and find new Forsaken, as he's lost so many now.

Graendal... no longer hot.
Courtesy of
Dabel Brothers / Dynamite Publishing

The Black Tower

This storyline essentially wraps up before the Last Battle proper.  The Black Tower has been neglected quite a bit since Rand set it up in Book 6, Lord of Chaos.  We visit it here and there over the second half of the series, and though details are scarce, we realize that something's very wrong.

There's a division in the ranks, between the erstwhile false Dragons Logain Ablar and Mazrim Taim.  We figured Taim was a Darkfriend of some sort. All signs pointed to it.  We learn here that he's been forcibly Turning "good" Asha'man (those that follow Logain) to the Shadow.  Logain has been a prisoner, resisting the Turning so far... but he's close to breaking.

Side note: I wonder why Jordan chose to call Logain by his first name in the narrative, while Taim went by his last name.  An intentional hint of the division to come?  Or simply because Logain sounds better than Ablar?

Anyway, the "problem" of the Black Tower is quickly resolved early in the book.  Sanderson takes Androl Genhald and develops him into the savior of the Tower.  Androl's only appearance during the Jordan books is a brief one in the Prologue of Book 9, Winter's Heart.  Sanderson said he wanted a character that Jordan hadn't really touched that he could develop on his own.  Team Jordan suggested Androl and he ran with him.

Side note: Some readers didn't like how much screen time Androl got (we don't need new characters at this point!), but it didn't bother me at all; I enjoyed it quite thoroughly.  He's the only character that has a complete arc in this book, which helps give it more depth and make it more than just the "final book."

So Androl rescues Logain (with some timely, convenient help from Perrin, who removes the dreamspike at the Black Tower).  And instead of them being pissed at Rand for abandoning them, they realize it was a good thing: they were able to fend for themselves, which they'll need to do after the Last Battle anyway, since Rand will be gone.

Taim and his new Dreadlords flee to prep for the Last Battle.  It's also hinted that Taim has the remaining Seals to the Dark One's prison - something Rand and Egwene are not aware of.  And Androl has plenty more to do during the Last Battle... we'll get to that in the next post.

On the Uses of Gateways

Speaking of Androl... many seem to feel that the new ways in which gateways were used in this last book reeks of fan fiction.  Sanderson has confirmed that they are entirely his own creation.  I think it's cool and agree with his reasoning on it. Instead of inventing new kinds of weaves, extrapolate on existing ones.  This happens throughout the series and things are discovered and then used in new, interesting ways (like the rediscovery of creating cuendillar, which is then used to turn the harbor chains in Tar Valon to cuendillar to block the harbors during the siege).

Jordan essentially opened Pandora's Box when he introduced gateways; they can be used in almost limitless ways.  He already proved that with Deathgates in Book 11, Knife of Dreams.  Who knows what else he planned on doing?  Sanderson picked up on that and I didn't feel any of the new uses were out of place; they fit the story perfectly.  The characters have had plenty of time to get used to this new weave and now should be able to invent clever ways to use them.

It's kind of like the game Portal...

First, we have Androl.  Since his Talent is anything gateways, despite his weakness in the One Power, he has to find efficient ways to use them.  Thus we get things like small gateways to swallow rays of balefire, or to get hot water for tea from a hot spring, or opening a gateway within a volcano so the lava can be unleashed on others in battle to devastating effect.  Pretty much anything he did with gateways was awesome, and he turned into one of my favorite characters in this book.

Second, we have Gareth Bryne, who gets one of the Aes Sedai to create a horizontal gateway high in the air to give him an overhead view of battle.  This was probably my favorite new use of gateways.  Who knows if Jordan would have done something like this, but along with Androl's clever uses it adds a new layer to the Last Battle, making it even more interesting and exciting.

Magic Limitations

However... the concept of gateways does seem flawed and almost a plot hole when you step back and think about the way Sanderson started using them.  Jordan was very reserved and restrictive when it came to them, as if the people in the current age were scared to try anything new.  There has to be limits on that sort of magic, which he did have in place - until Sanderson gave Androl the Talent of gateways.  I can see how Team Jordan was concerned about getting too crazy with them, because you then start wondering why they didn't do this stuff before.

Sanderson has written about a few "Laws" for magic systems that he uses when creating them (magic is his favorite thing to toy with in his writing).  The second one states that Limitations should be greater than Powers.  The paradox here is that the One Power already has limitations built into it, as Sanderson mentions in the essay.  But when you give someone a Talent like gateways, and coupled with the fact that the taint has been cleansed from saidin (a limitation for male channelers in WoT), that virtually cancels those limitations when it comes to Androl, as his strength in the One Power doesn't matter to the Talent.  Sanderson kind of breaks his own law when you really think about it...

Many others on forums brought up similar concerns, too.  If Androl and his ideas with gateways were so efficient, why not take it further, as discussed here?  Open a gateway to a river and let it wash the Shadowspawn into another gateway (which would kill them immediately, since only gholam can safely pass through a gateway).  I suppose it would be tough because if they started doing that, Androl would be targeted almost exclusively and be killed... but still.  Things that make you go hmmmm.

Four Battlefronts, One General

I was hoping these early battles weren't going to be the Last Battle, as they weren't even close to what I'd imagined.  But they get underway a bit early, and since there's a huge chapter called "The Last Battle" much later in the book, I quickly realized they were more of a prelude.  This is a decent section, yet it pales in comparison to the meat of the Last Battle.

What these early battles really did, was make things look bleak for the forces of Light and set the stage for Mat to command their armies in the Last Battle, something we all knew was coming since roughly Book 4.  He secured the Seanchan by marrying Tuon (I suppose I should say Fortuona now, may she live forever), but obviously the others wouldn't just hand over command, not with the four great Captains (shouldn't it be Generals?... it's kind of used interchangeably at times) still around: Davram Bashere, Gareth Bryne, Rodel Ituralde and Agelmar Jagad.

Instead, command falls into Mat's lap after Hessalam uses Compulsion on the four Captains, sabotaging each of the four fronts.  Since Mat has the foxhead medallion that prevents all channeling against him... the choice is clear.  It's set up rather neatly, though I doubt many expected it to turn out that way.

Once again, it's clear that Jordan was a master at planting seeds and hiding the sprouts... then suddenly a half-dozen books later there's a tree before you and you wonder how you could have missed it this whole time (like the secret of Mat's ashandarei).

The Last Signing

The Last Battle will be in the next blog, as it takes up an entire entry in itself.  To end this one, I'll skip ahead to the Last Signing.

For the last time, I attended a Wheel of Time book signing.  This one was 45 minutes away, in San Francisco, CA, at Borderlands Books in the Mission District.  I had never been to this bookstore, so did not know what to expect.  It's a pretty awesome store, though, specializing in new and used fantasy and science fiction.  You can even check out the interior on Google Street View.  If it weren't out of the way for me, I'd go there regularly.

Although we didn't have to purchase anything to get books signed (marking the first signing I've been to like that), I got there early and bought Sanderson's The Alloy of Law.  I always like to get something from the bookstore since they have expenses that come with signings.  Borderlands probably didn't have an issue with that, though... they have a side cafe (where the signing took place) and lots of people were getting coffee, etc.

The signing featured Sanderson and Harriet Rigney (Jordan's widow).  An interesting tidbit of information is that Borderlands was about the only place that wanted Sanderson to come sign after he released his first novel, Elantris.  Everyone else rejected him.  Sanderson drove all the way from Utah for this one signing, signed and drove back the next day.  So now, when Sanderson wants to come to SF for a signing, who gets it?  Not a big store like Barnes & Noble, but Borderlands, who have supported him from the beginning.

Another thing I found interesting was that during the Q&A most of the questions from the audience were not about WoT, but about Sanderson's own work.  And many people seemed to be there for Sanderson, not WoT, which is quite different from the signings I attended for The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight.  Sanderson spoke about some of his future works, and he has some interesting things planned for the future.

The one that intrigued me the most is that he's doing two more trilogies in the Mistborn world, one in the present, another in the future, where the first trilogy has turned into the myth of the present and the future features space travel.  This is somewhat annoying because I've had similar ideas brewing for some of my works - a lot of what I focus on now (in Bonebearer and my upcoming trilogy, The Hope of Memory) is how events affect others over time and how they are perceived later.

Anyway, I got my books signed by Sanderson and Harriet.  I only asked him about Padan Fain, and his response will be covered in the Padan Fain section of Part 2 of this blog entry.  I even got my picture taken with them.  I figured I might as well, the "Memory Keepers" (helpers chosen by were offering to do it and it was the last WoT signing, after all.

Oh, and someone took a video of the Q&A as well.  I'm the guy in the bottom left wearing the gray hoodie and red hat (as you can tell from the picture above).  It won't let me embed it for some reason, so just click the link to watch it on YouTube.

So thanks to the person who filmed that.  :)


Book 14 – A Memory of Light – Part 2


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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