I spent most of the last two days steaming through A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time series from Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. To say I was greatly anticipating the book would be a bit of an understatement. As my (soon to be completed) reread shows, I love this series. I am more invested in this story and its world than I have ever been in a fictional world. Which is why it is hard for me to process my reaction to this last book. I have never anticipated an ending like this and had it actually meet my expectations.
A Memory of Light is a nearly perfect ending to this monumental series. It is not the best book in the series, probably not even in the top half of the series, but it ties up nearly everything in a better way than could have been reasonably expected. There are flaws to the book. It often feels scattered and rushed. Part of that is obviously intentional, as the forces of the Light are scattered. Also, many pages are devoted to relatively new characters and threats while storylines that have been building for book or in some cases the whole series are finished off in a few short pages. These flaws do little to detract from the overall experience. A Memory of Light is filled with moments. Moments of incredible heroism and bravery, moments of triumph and moments of bone deep tragedy. If you have any connection to these characters it is a hard book to read, to see their final fates. However, it is also incredibly well worth the bittersweet moments and the tragedy. It is awesome.
As I said, I am having trouble processing actually liking how this concluded. While I am more invested in the Wheel of Time than any other series, I have had several other book and movie series that is was into. I was big into the Harry Potter books, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, the X-Men and Matrix movies and everything Star Wars. All of those series invariably let me down at their conclusion, to one degree or another. The first Matrix movie was terrific, but the two that followed it up were all but unwatchable. The third X-Men movie failed similar spectacular fashion. Those I didn’t like, but it didn’t affect me much. Harry Potter is a little different from the rest. For one, by the time the last book came out, I had kind of outgrown the series. I was at the target age with the first one, but I was a few steps outside of it by the end. By then it was not a book for me. Also, it didn’t really disappoint me as much as the rest. It abandoned a lot the things I liked about the previous books, most notably the school setting and focus. That had to go for story reasons, but that part of the series was what I liked most about the series. I wouldn’t call the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a disappointment, but I definitely didn’t like it as much as the rest of the series. The Dark Tower, on the other hand, killed any interest I had in reading anything else by Stephen King. Up until the seventh book I greatly enjoyed the series, even the interminable asides into past stories with little relevance and King’s degeneration into laughable self-insertion. But the second half of that last book was insultingly awful. It somehow manages to both pander and deliver nothing that reader wants. King’s in book defense of his ending simply proved that he knew it was junk. Then there is Star Wars. I am actually talking about the Expanded Universe novels, which I know have not ended, but the New Jedi Order series was the ending for me. The original trilogy was already complete before I was born and though RotJ is likely the weakest of the three it is still a fine movie. When they first started publishing post-RotJ novels, I was there to snap them up. Not all of them were great. When a dozen plus writers are all taking shots with the characters the story is not going to be perfectly cohesive and the quality is going to vary. But I liked plenty of them. Then came New Jedi Order. It came with a mandate to shake things up, but to me it seemed to be burning down and salting the earth of my then favorite fictional world. While I don’t have specific criticisms, it did end my interest in reading any more books from then on. What all of these series have in common is that none of the endings lived up to my expectations of what they should be. But A Memory of Light did and I do not know how to react. What do I do when the destination is as good as the journey?
I haven’t touched the Harry Potter books since I finished book 7, I will never read another Stephen King book, and when I come across The Matrix or X-Men on TV, I change the channel. I am completely finished with those series. But I have been reading the Wheel of Time pretty much constantly for the last ten years. My good friend Bob turned me on to the series in high school and since then I have read the first six books in the series at least five times apiece, and the rest aren’t far behind. Now that is it finished, that I am no longer going to be pouring over each tome in search of what is to come, I still think I am going to keep reading the series. A break is coming, as the last two months have been nothing but Wheel of Time for me, but I know I will pick up the series again. The Wheel of Time really got me into reading fantasy, it made me want to be a writer and for that it will always be special to me, but based on my past experience, I expected the ending to kill my desire to relive it again. But it hasn’t.
A Memory of Light is the conclusion to a monumental journey, one that took nearly a quarter of a century and has held readers in suspense that whole time. The series set the bar so high for a satisfying conclusion that I thought getting one would be impossible, but Sanderson and Jordan greatly surpassed my expectations. The Wheel of Time is the greatest work in its genre, and its ending further cements its place as the best fantasy series ever written.