Saturday, 9 February 2013

Book Review: A Memory of Light

When a book series sprawls to 14 books over 20 years and outlives the original author, to describe the whole thing as “epic” feels a bit of an understatement. Such is the case for the Wheel of Time series, which Robert Jordan began in 1990 and Brandon Sanderson finished off with concluding trio of books, including the latest, Memory of Light.

For the characters stuck in the pages of Memory of Light, a mere two years have passed since Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cathoun, and Perrin Aybara were chased out of the Two Rivers and plunged into an adventure that continued to balloon in size and scope with every passing book. The character roster expanded alongside the import of what the books built up to and Memory of Light does it’s best to “off” them during the End of Days, Final Battle that essentially begins about 100 pages in after an extended and often rolling post-End of The World peace negotiation, and wraps up with a dozen or so pages to tie up some loose ends. That means readers get a 800-page battle scene, which Sanderson alternately zooms in and pulls back from across the various characters involved. There are moments of rest where there’s some dialogue but a lot of those exchanges happen waiting for the next wave of Trollocs.

This is particularly true of the one-on-one fight between Rand and the Dark One, which happens on a psychic level rather than a physical one. Those two talk a lot and the Dark One in ALL CAPS, which is suitable for the character but somewhat distracting when seen on the page.

I like the way Sanderson writes his battle scenes, particularly anything with Ogiers fighting. That’s some bad-ass fantasy right there.

That’s actually something I continually had to say to myself. No matter the fact it's a fantasy novel, I couldn't help but continue to revisit and question some of the battle tactics the forces of good employ; the magical gateways, for one. Only a handful of times do characters use gateways – think with portals on this – to any useful effect. One use of the gateways is basically a view of the battle from a blimp. A commander has a gateway opened on his table and the other end opens above the field for a view of the entire battlefield. That’s a good practical use of a gateway as a planning tool but the gateway is really an underutilized BFG when it comes to the defense from the forces of darkness, never mind the Horn of Valere, which swings back into play.

Once it’s used to tap into a store of lava being stored under pressure. Good idea. Have cannons – or “dragons” – firing from a hidden spot into the battlefield via gateway, that’s a good idea, too. Opening a gateway on the ground in front of a charging knot of Trollocs and have the exit point a hundred feet above the back lines. That’s a good idea since shadowspawn die instantly when they enter a gateway and the rain of dead beasts will do a good job crushing the opponent’s back line. However, gateways can also very easily cut through things. So, why not set up defensive lines of small horizontal gateways arrayed at 3 to 6 feet off the ground and watch any charge get ripped to shreds as they stumble forward? Stuff like that bothered me.

Then it bothered me that I was being bothered by magic logic in a fantasy novel.

I did like how the novel wrapped up. I'm not sure I'm qualified to speak on the close of the series because I've only ready books 1 through 5, then book 13 and Memory of Light. How satisfied would I be if I’d spent decades of my life following the series and it reached the conclusion that Sanderson writes? I won’t speculate on that but as an ending, I think it’s good one. It's a good tie-up of loose ends, with a couple of strands left loose if someone else wants to take up the challenge of another epic journey back to the Two Rivers.

- Aaron Simmer