They say there are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time.
But there is an ending.
And what an ending it is/was/will be.
(Warning, there do be spoilers here.)
The Wheel of Time series has been, for me, many things. Best friend in the annals of high school loneliness, support in times of college strife and romantic misadventure, steady backbone of fantastic escape when all I wanted was to switch off and disappear from a mundane, workaday existence of assignments and term papers and weekly tutorials. It has seen me grow from a self-assured fourteen year old to a less-self assured twenty-three year old, from high school to a first job. It arrived shortly after my first foray into Middle Earth, and like Middle Earth, it stuck by me, and shaped me in ways that I don’t yet comprehend.
Maybe a re-read would settle those questions. Hey, any excuse works!
Given its importance in my life, reading ‘A Memory of Light’, the last book, has been a very, well, emotional experience. Not only would I constantly find myself thanking the team at Tor and Brandon Sanderson for taking up Jordan’s heavy mantle with such spirit and enthusiasm, but there were times when I had to force myself to stop reading, so that I could have one more day with this universe. I didn’t want to let go.
Jordan and Sanderson have really outdone themselves in this last book. Each of the characters shone, even the ones I had disliked (or been irritated by) in previous novels. Elayne was such a brilliant Queen, an inspiring figure that I couldn’t help but admire as she rallied her troops and gave Aragorn-like speeches in the face of certain destruction. Min finally found herself, it seemed, and stepped out of Rand’s shadow, coming into a role of her own in her office as ‘Doomseer’. Aviendha, that wonderful woman, blazed in battle, a fount of determination and strength that I am sure I will look to when I feel weak and lost myself. Nynaeve, though less vocal here than in the earlier books, stood solid and steadfast to the end.
But all of them, every single character, male or female, paled beside the one who has been steadily stealing my heart for the last seven books. The one who would not be bowed, though pressed time and time again. The one who does not, and never will know the meaning of the words ‘give up’. Honestly, I think she outshone Rand, the Dragon Reborn.
Egwene al’Vere was amazing. The immature girl who left the Two Rivers grew to hero status steadily in the course of the books, and she exited in a beautiful storm. I don’t think I’ve seen a better or more affecting death-scene in a fantasy novel. She’s risen above the rest, in my estimation, on a crystal column woven of Light, a heroine for Ages to come.
If I were to sit and discuss every character, I suspect this review would become entirely too long. So I’ll save my thoughts for a later day, and do each of them justice in individual posts. Let’s turn to more pedestrian, less emotionally charged aspects now.
‘A Memory of Light’ proceeds smoothly from the night before the grand meeting at the Field of Merrilor to the close of the Last Battle, when Rand’s body is cremated before Shayol Ghul. We get glimpses of old, familiar faces- Hurin, Juilin, Haral Luhhan, Ila the Tinker- as well as longer, more sustained rendezvous with characters like Tam al’Thor, Lan, Faile, even the until-now elusive Demandred. The central characters of course dominate the book- Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Rand. Each of their stories is followed with attention and detail, and you can see how much Jordan, and by extension, Sanderson have loved and invested in these people’s lives.
It was heartening to see that the Shadow did have a plot, that it stood a good chance of winning, and wasn’t bested simply by the luck of the protagonists or the will of the author. I know its unfair to compare, say, Demandred to Lord Voldemort, but if only Voldemort had had some of the former’s brains and planning ability, the conclusion to Harry Potter might not have been as anticlimactic as it was. Here, the Light won on its own strength. It was a good victory, precisely because it came so hard.
The ‘true battle’ that took place in the bowels of Shayol Ghul, I’m still wrapping my head around it. At least, around its fall-out. I know people have been predicting the ‘body swap’ for ages, but I’m still a little confused on how it happened. I suppose a re-read will help sort that out. It is ironic that Moridin was forced to help seal the Light’s victory, a tongue-in-cheek manoeuvre to show that yes, no matter how long someone walks in the shadow, he can turn back to the light. Even if against his will.
I didn’t care much for how the Black Tower plotline was concluded, but it was one small smidgeon on an otherwise ‘exquisite’ canvas. Jordan has left just enough open doors for his readers’ imaginations to run wild, to wonder what happens now. Will the Aiel be safe from the doom Aviendha and Bair saw for them? Will the Seanchan chain of command collapse after the revelations that Egeanin and Min will bring to light concerning the damane and sul’dam? Will Perrin and Faile move to Saldaea, or stay in the Two Rivers and govern from afar? Will Olver really dispose of the Horn?
I’m sure someone will pick over these questions, in forums, in fan fiction, in theory blogs. But right now, all I want to do if find the ‘Eye of the World’ again, return to a time when Rand, Mat and Perrin were young and innocent and thought Baerlon was a big city. I want to follow them through their adventures once again, secure in the knowledge that no matter how dark the moment seems, they will be all right, nay, more than all right at the end.
It will not be the beginning, there are neither beginnings nor endings to the reading of ‘The Wheel of Time’.
But it will be a beginning.