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Book Review: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

memoryoflightFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2013

Pages:  909

Reading Time:  A long, long time…maybe 17 hours?

I must admit that I’ve wrestled with the approach to take on this review. The most effective review would be to look at the book as it stands, alone from the rest of the series, as well as it’s place in the series as a whole, due to the fact that it’s the conclusion. However, I freely admit it’s been 23 years since I read The Eye of the World. And here’s another neat fact about me – my long term memory is terrible. I really couldn’t tell you what happened in that first book, it’s been so long. I have a vague idea, mind you, but the details pretty much escape me. No, my time is better spent approaching this book as the final part of the trilogy that Sanderson has written.

Furthermore, I’m not a Wheel of Time superfan. I’ve never been to Dragonmount.com, I don’t debate and argue plot points, or speculate on what should have happened between the pages and what would have happened in the future. For some reviewers, the Wheel of Time is an important part of their life. I was simply a 23 year old guy who picked up and read The Eye of the World in 1990, liked it enough to continue buying the sequels, got more and more frustrated with the characters and the lagging pace and plot in each successive book, gave up on the series completely, figured it was toast when Jordan died, but renewed my interest when Sanderson took over. Now the series can have closure, and for me, I feel like that should suffice. Though the book has serious flaws, it also has its share of both shining and tragic moments, and I’ve walked away with a feeling that…well, let’s not say I’m completely thrilled, but instead, I’m satisfied enough that the 23 year journey was a memorable one. I’ve touched on both what I liked and didn’t like about the book in bullet format below. Minor spoilers to follow…

What I liked:

  •  As other bloggers have mentioned, Sanderson does a wonderful job of taking a cardboard character like Talmanes and breathing some real life into him during the opening battle for Camelyn. interestingly enough, Talmanes doesn’t show up for the Last Battle.
  • The bonding between Androl and Pevara is well done and one of the best parts of the story. It explains how a member of the Red Ajah could go from wanting to gentle a man with channeling to wanting to marry him. That’s no easy feat. Especially for a woman a couple of hundred years older than Androl.
  • The subtlety of Compulsion on the great captains was lost on me at first. I couldn’t understand why the shadow wouldn’t just kill the generals off. But it’s really a brilliant plot point. The idea is that by the time the armies discover their tactics have been compromised, it’s too late to recover. Were the Shadow to just kill the generals, some other commander would take their place. It also clears the way for Mat to step in and use those memories he’s been given.
  • Rand has a moving scene with his father, learning to duel with one hand, while they repair the rift that had grown between them. Both realize that this is probably the last they will see of each other.
  • The confrontation between Egwene and Fortuona is great, especially where Egwene dares Fortuona to put on the a’dam.
  • Where The Gathering Storm focused on Rand and Towers of Midnight put a heavy emphasis on Perrin, in A Memory of Light Mat steps up front and center to lead. And more of Mat is a good thing.

What I didn’t like:

  • Moraine’s importance seemed overstated. From my perspective, any Aes Sedai would have satisfied the “two women” requirement that Rand desired, including Egwene, Cadsuane, or Aviendha. And indeed it is Egwene that has the biggest impact when Rand is in trouble.
  • In addition, the Last Battle seems pointless. Why did the Shadow send a million Trollocks to attack the lands when it is Rand that determines the outcome of humanity and the pattern itself? Why not bend all its resources to stopping him and killing him?
  • The scene between Rand and Fortuona, after so much build-up, was bland and disappointing.
  • Many of the individual showdowns – Perrin vs. Slayer, Matt vs. Fain, even Rand vs. The Dark One – seemed underwhelming. The showdowns between Lan and Demandred, and Egwene and M’Hael, were better.
  • Elayne as the leader/coordinator of the entire army was ludicrous.
  • The use of the Mask of Mirrors. This is the single biggest flaw in the series, and its use is far more glaring than gateways. When anyone can pretend to be anyone at any time, why don’t they? Forsaken should have pretended to be generals, or Aes Sedai. Egwene could have pretended to be Forsaken or a Darkfriend and got close to Demandred and killed him. There’s just so many ridiculously possible storyline abuses of such a power…it was so effective that Demandred couldn’t see through Androl’s and Pevara’s disguise…that both its use and non-use is staggering. Just a horrible plot point, very deus ex machina.

Other random thoughts:

  • Many lamented Gawyn as a useless character; however, he was necessary to get Egwene into the right frame of mind to challenge M’Hael, and much more.
  • You can bet that Artur Hawkwind spoke to Fortuona about a great many things – including the abolishing of the a’dam.
  • It was good to read about the battle for the Black Tower, but it was somewhat underwhelming. However, the comment about “making the Asha’man into their own men” instead of being Rand’s weapons was accurate. At first I thought, “no, they just worship Logain instead. But when the time came for the Tower men to choose between Logain and doing what was right, they turned their backs on Logain. Impressive.

Final thoughts:

There were moments of intense grief. After finishing page 795, I had to stop reading as the tears just kept rolling down my face. A character who I had grown to love as my favorite was gone. This occurred again on page 904, when one character paid tribute to another that had fallen. I expected more big showdowns, awesome displays of one-on-one badass moments, and was disappointed that this was not the case. Overall it was an exhausting read…too many battles and tactics going on for page after page…the grief I just mentioned…the sheer number of pages to wade through. And the Epilogue is very, very short. It has been noted by those other than myself that it would not have hurt the book, and far enhanced it, to have about 150 pages less of battles and 150 more of Epilogue. After all, this is The End, and there will never be another Wheel of Time book. At one point in the series I would have shrugged, but now…it seems like a shame. A big thank you to Brandon Sanderson to get us to this point.

Thus it was that the Dragon rode once more upon the winds of time, and as I rode beside him, I observed and marveled at the immensity of his purpose, and wept as the Dragon fulfilled his destiny, but it was not the end. There are no endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was an ending…

January 23, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Memory of Light Update

wheel of time 2

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Now Reading: A Memory of Light

I cancelled my pre-order for A Memory of Light yesterday, so that today I could make the trek to Barnes & Noble and pick it up, instead of waiting for it to be shipped to me. The lady behind the counter said they’d sold a lot of copies today. I could have saved $3 by being a B&N club member, but after the demise of my Borders account, I’m not doing that again.

Let the Last Battle begin!

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

towers midnightFormat: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2010

Pages: 843

Reading Time: about 15 hours

Okay, you know the drill…I’ve been reading the Wheel of Time series since 1990 blah blah blah…the end is nearly here blah blah blah, and so on. It’s really a series that is long past needing an introduction. Towers of Midnight is the 13th book in the series, and at a hefty 843 pages, is packed full of amazing stuff. So read on, but be warned that minor spoilers will follow.

The title of the book at first glance seems to literally reference the thirteen fortresses in Seanchan that, during the Consolidation, when Artur Hawkwing’s descendants seized power, was the center of Seanchan might. However, the Seanchan barely factor into this story. I thought it might refer to the two towers that have been hinted at but largely ignored to this point: the Tower of Ghenjei, where the Aelfinn and Eelfin reside, and the Black Tower, where the Asha’man are living and training. And certainly those do become the focus of the last 10 percent of the book. But what about the other 700+ pages? They are a buildup to the Last Battle, which is now suddenly, frighteningly close. Returning to the reference of the Seanchan fortress, Artur Hawkwind’s armies were able to conquer Seanchan, despite the presence of the fortress, due to the divided nature of the Seanchan lands, where factions were pitted against one another; such divisions weakened the Seanchan and made them ripe for the conquering. With that in mind, the time has come for Rand al’Thor to break the seals on the Dark One’s prison. Will he be able to unite the various factions into a single purpose, to break the seals and fight the Last Battle? Or, will the differences and divided factions turn against him, and much like the Seanchan fell before the armies of Artur Hawkwing, allow their division to be the means in which the Dark One defeats them? Though the question hangs in the air as the book ends, as of yet unanswered, it is the events throughout this book that bring us to this point.

The pacing of the story, for the most part, is fast and furious…there’s so much happening that if you let your mind wander, or skip a few pages, you’d be likely to miss something important. I often found myself reading ahead in anticipation, and had to go back and re-read the section I jumped, chiding myself for a lack of discipline. The change of pace in the series is so different – so incredibly quick now – it seems like the glacial pace of entries like Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight are but vague memories, the side plots and characters in those stories completely irrelevant to what has needed to happen. Towers of Midnight does possess a few slow moments, like Perrin’s attempt to master the wolf dream or Elayne’s political maneuverings, but these are small sections of the book. As armies march and travel through gateways, disparate events suddenly begin to tie together, plot threads are resolved, and the pieces are in place for the conclusion. There’s no telling how long it would have taken Jordan to get from Crossroads of Twilight to the Last Battle, had his health not suffered, but it would have been far more than four books.

The characters readers have grown to love – Rand, Mat, Egwene, Perrin, Thom – at times in the series were nowhere to be found; now they dominate the pages. Other supporting characters that once had pages and pages of focus, such as Aviendha, Min, and Cadsuane, are now reduced to bit roles. The whole reversal effect, of main characters returning to the forefront while supporting characters step into the background, is a good thing – heck, it’s a great thing. Where A Gathering Storm returned the focus to Rand, with Egwene’s situation as the other major plotline, Towers of Midnight focuses mainly on Perrin, with a generous helping of Mat sprinkled in. With Perrin being the focus, his storyline is finally fully resolved in a satisfying way. Though Mat’s loose ends are tied up as well, he suffers the cost greatly, and someone close to him is not who they seem to be. Even characters I once despised – such as Elayne, and the Whitecloaks – I grudgingly followed in this book without skimming, and it proved to be a good decision. Mat has a brilliant exchange with Elayne, and the Whitecloaks show that they aren’t all religious nutcases. There were still moments when I was peeved about Elayne’s arrogance as Queen, which is in stark contrast to how Rand attempts to lead people, but those moments are blessedly few in this book. This time around, Sanderson has a firm grip on Mat’s voice, and he even manages to make Aes Sedai feel different, which is no small feat.

I was fortunate to start reading this book at just the right time, during my company’s Christmas shutdown. It allowed me to sit and relax in solitude as I consumed my reading in large chunks, and it allowed me to be immersed and entranced by the story. I think reading it in smaller chunks, only a few chapters at a time, would be more difficult; the story requires – no, demands – your full attention. There are many plot threads occurring: Perrin’s attempt to destroy Slayer and face the Whitecloaks; Egwene attempting to flush out Mesaana in the White Tower; Mat and Thom attempting to rescue Moraine; Rand trying to convince the Borderlanders he is the Dragon Reborn; Lan reluctantly mustering an army for a suicide run; Nynaeve taking the test to be Aes Sedai and trying to recover Lan’s Warder bond; Elayne attempting to take the throne of Carhein; Gawyn trying to find his place in Engewe’s new world; trouble at the Black Tower…and that’s just a brief summary!

There are so many questions still to be answered: why is rescuing Moraine so important? What will happen when Rand breaks the seals? Who will aid him and who will oppose him? How will Min’s visions translate into actually events? What happened to Logain, and what’s going on at the Black Tower? What will the Dark One do now that so many Forsaken have fallen? What are the Seanchan going to do during the Last Battle? I can’t wait for the last book!

If there’s one failing of the story, it’s Aviendha’s visions of the future in Rhuidean. Though they are essential to her character’s plotline, I feel the authors gave away too much of the future and robbed the story of some of its tension, and I would have been happier not knowing. However, assuming Aviendha attempts to change the future, maybe things will shake out differently. But that’s my only real criticism.

Towers of Midnight is a brilliant read, the best book I’ve read in a long time. Plenty of action, tension, resolved plot lines, and the return of prominent characters as the focus make this the best book in the series by far. Here’s to hoping A Memory of Light, which should be holding in my hands in less than a week, lives up to expectations that have now set the bar very, very high…

January 6, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

gathering stormFormat: Hard Cover, First Edition, 2009

Pages: 766

Reading Time: about 13 hours

The Gathering Storm is the 12th book in the Wheel of Time series. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been with the Wheel of Time since The Eye of the World was released in paperback in 1990. The series has been both a delight and a struggle, and the payoff is finally here. There are a few minor spoilers ahead, so read with caution….

I would like to take a moment and offer the utmost praise to a man that has recently become my favorite fantasy author – Brandon Sanderson. What he has done here – advancing the story to it’s conclusion with nothing more than Jordan’s notes – is simply amazing. It’s hard enough to write your own stories; I can only imagine how much harder it is to write someone else’s story, in their voice. A standing ovation for Mr. Sanderson.

I’d also like to sidebar for a moment on the concept of the book itself. Initially fans were upset that the final book was to be split into two and then three books. They felt that they were being milked out of yet more money just to see the series to its conclusion. If you think about it, however, that’s really an asinine attitude. There’s absolutely no way this could have been wrapped up in one book – it wouldn’t have felt right. Conceptually, it’s already a struggle to relate this book to the previous few books that were glacial in pace, filled with padding and unnecessary detail, with viewpoints from a multitude of characters. To finish the story, it’s necessary to abandon that writing style, level of detail, side plots, and character viewpoints. With so many events that need to take place, main plots to explore, and main characters that need to be where they are, The Gathering Storm already feels much different from the previous few books. It would be worse with only one volume – it would be so jarring that it would never feel right. Splitting the last novel into three is the right move.

And speaking of right moves, the story is as good as any of the Wheel of Time books, maybe even better. Matt and Perrin are maneuvering their armies for the last battle, while Rand struggles with his inner demons, and Egwene tries to fix the broken White Tower. The pacing of the book is excellent; it’s been a long time since I was reluctant to walk away from a Wheel of Time book, but that definitely was the case here. I found the battle for the White Tower to be incredibly compelling and thrilling, as well as the final chapters when Rand seems to lose control and threatens to wipe out the Pattern (and all of humanity in the process). Both plot threads are resolved in a satisfying manner. I’m guessing that Towers of Midnight will feature both The Tower of Genjii, where Moraine is being held, and the Black Tower, which was notably absent in this book.

The characterizations are pretty much spot on, with Rand, Egwene, and most Aes Sedai captured perfectly. While Sanderson had a difficult time with Mat’s character, he did manage to capture Mat’s voice in a few places, and I wasn’t bothered by it as much as some other reviewers were.

While I don’t normally pay attention to cover art, Darrell Sweet’s cover is uninspired and just plain awful. I would have liked to see some Michael Whelan cover art (like the one done for A Memory of Light).

In conclusion, this is really an outstanding and thrilling book that is setting up a finale that has been over 20 years in the making. I’ll be moving on to Towers of Midnight with great relish, content in the knowledge that the conclusion of one of the greatest epics ever told is in good hands. Highly recommended for Wheel of Time fans; readers who want to get into the series should not start here – go to the beginning!

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

Format:  Harcover, First Edition, 2005

Pages:  761

Reading Time:  about 17 hours

 

Knife of Dreams is the 11th book in the Wheel of Time series. It is a reward of sorts, a bone thrown to those who mired through Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight. Though I still did a little skimming, I read almost all of the book cover to cover, and it is a vast improvement over the previous two installments.

In Knife of Dreams, there is a sudden shift away from menial characters, and the focus of the story returns to the characters readers love most. Rand gets a small but important section, a huge battle with forces of the dark that foreshadow the final battle. Perrin’s “kidnapped wife” storyline is finally resolved in a curious way, with another big battle, and if not completely satisfying, at least readers can exhale and say, “I’m glad Perrin can move on.” Matt also has a big battle battle, and his relationship with Tuon comes to a head. Engewe takes punishment in the White Tower but starts to make converts. Elayne attempts to claim the Lion Throne.

In each case the plot threads are compelling, except perhaps for Elayne, who continues to be one of the most uninteresting main characters ever written…her chapters are the ones that I skimmed. In other plot lines, as battles begin, and pieces start to move on the board, we are sure that Tarmon Gaidon (the showdown with the Dark Lord) is now coming soon. It is a radical departure from the two previous books and almost shocking when compared to where the series had been taken. Was Jordan feeling the heat from criticism? Or was it the fact that as his body betrayed him and his health flagged, he realized he had gone too far and the story would be left with a conclusion? Regardless of the reason, the plot advancement has been welcomed by Wheel of Time followers, and overwhelmingly positive reviews are Knife of Dreams’ legacy.

In addition to the Elayne story line, some of the usual complaints still exist. Over the years, Jordan has devoted far too many pages to spankings, which continues here and has a fetish-like feel. Almost all Aes Sedai behave the same way, so their personalities make it hard to tell them apart…the ones with Matt are just like the ones with Perrin, and so on. They do not have their own voice. And Jordan still overuses gestures such as braid-pulling and smoothing of skirts. In reality, however, these are well-established and minor criticisms that are annoying but do not harm the story.

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that the story is back on track, and as the final book written exclusively by Jordan, is a fitting end for a writer that burst on the scene in 1990 with so much promise and flair. I can’t wait to see what Brandon Sanderson has done with the remaining pieces. Highly recommended for fans of the series, or at least people who have enjoyed books one through six.

September 22, 2012 Posted by | Book Review, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2003

Pages:  680

Reading Time:  Unknown

Crossroads of Twilight is the 10th book in the Wheel of Time series, and it is truly a crossroads of sorts. Many readers who struggled through Winter’s Heart decided to give up on the series at this point. Those who continued on were rewarded with not only Knife of Dreams, in which the story starts to move forward again, but also the last book, which has been split off into 3 books, 2 of which, as of this post, have been completed by Brandon Sanderson.

I was there at the beginning of the Wheel of Time…I bought The Eye of the World in trade paperback way back in 1990. I had abandoned the series after struggling through Winter’s Heart in 2002, but I’ve pressed on now that the end is in sight. So much has already been written about Crossroads of Twilight, I’m not sure I have anything new to add. Here’s what some others have written:

The problem, however, lies in its continuance. The last four novels of the series have increasingly slowed in pace, or spun off in new directions that as yet have not significantly enhanced the development of the central themes, if anything at times seeming to exist for their own sake and a playing out of the narrative. With Crossroads of Twilight the story has reached idle, a situation not improved by reports that Jordan intends to interrupt the series in order to write a prequel. Originally begun in 1990 and intended as six books, since Lord of Chaos output has gradually grown prolonged, acceptable if the rewards of reading had proven worth the wait. But instead the story’s progress has lagged with its writing, until now it seems effectively stalled. Online discussion boards abound with speculation and readers’ displeasure — “he doesn’t know how to end it;” “he’s milking it for the money;” “it was always intended to be thirteen books: that’s the number necessary to form a magic circle” — any of which may singly or together offer an explanation. My concern is not so much with possible motivation, as with the quality of the overall story, which frankly seems to be going nowhere fast, regardless of the craft displayed in its writing or any fleeting pleasure derived from revisiting a narrative world that by now any follower of the series has far too much invested in to readily abandon.” – William Thompson, SF Site

Jordan, I’m sorry to say, is not a well man. He suffers from that pernicious writer’s disease, Epic Sprawl. This story (which he has been writing, let’s not forget, since 1990) started as a brisk jog, at times even a sprint, but lately has strolled, hell, it’s dawdled, through a total of ten volumes and is not discernibly closer to an ending. Keeping up with all the names and faces, and infinitely proliferating plot lines from previous volumes is hard enough, but the reader is left utterly dazed by the slew of new people and places and narrative directions…

The pleasure of meeting old familiar characters, and the tension of watching them struggle through their lives and master their challenges, is irrevocably soured by the blizzard of digression, the welter of new acquaintances, and the unbelievable mass of trivia with which the story is packed out. Does it matter a damn how reluctant Aviendha is to take a bath, with a servant’s help or without it? Who cares about the fact that Valan Luca’s wife is a lousy cook? Why dwell so painstakingly upon the progress of Elayne’s pregnancy?

Well, perhaps there are crucial plot hooks buried in these doldrums. Let’s hope so. Jordan is writing what is, I think, the single longest and most involved Fantasy Epic in the history of the genre. It’s unavoidably fascinating for those of us who’ve made the investment in time (and money!) to buy and read the books, but at the same time it’s howlingly frustrating. I cannot point to a single major plot thread which was open and active at the end of book nine which has reached a clear and satisfying conculsion at the end of book ten. Worse thing is, it didn’t used to be this way.” – Simeon Shoul, Infinity Plus

Here’s the bread and butter:  I love the series.  Some of the books (1-6,11+) are very much terrific epic fantasy and altogether classics within the genre.  Books like CoT, however, are not.  They have value – which is why I rated it a 3 of 5 (I’m not hating it as much as a lot of reviewers).  Due to a lack of action, books like CoT dissuade readers from staying entrenched in a deep fantasy series (which defeats the purpose of a series-pushing volume).  I enjoyed the world-building, different viewpoints, and interesting images, but I can understand how one would be frustrated by the same plot lines over multiple volumes and a book that nearly ignores the series protagonist.

Ultimately, if you’ve read this much of the series, you should continue it.  I think it’s worthwhile and I’m sure there are a lot of WoT fans that would say the same.” – Bannon Thyrses, The Surly Mage

Though the tenth book of the Wheel of Time series has a reputation as the worst in the series and one of the worst books of all time, it isn’t. While, it is undoubtedly the worst in the Wheel of Time series, but it isn’t even really that bad of a book. Just padded, slow, and dull. The entire book is a dearth of action, with is surprising, given that the events and stories going on are actually quite interesting…And it’s all boring, with all of these plots flowing along at a glacial pace. This book is so thoroughly crammed with fluff and filler that it will strain the patience of even the most seasoned reader. Robert Jordan’s biggest flaw as a writer has always been his somewhat droning prose, giving too much detail in most places and not enough in a few others, meaning that the Wheel of Time has always been a series that had to be read with patience, the prose a chore to get through in order to digest the considerable, deep, rewarding story behind it all, but this book takes it to its outmost extreme. I did a lot of skimming reading this book, to get through it faster, and I found that I missed nothing of importance and enjoyed the book quite a bit more than if I had tried to process every word. Jordan demonstrates his technical skill, from fleshing out every character to detailing every leaf on every tree, but the problem is that he bores the reader with all this pointless detail. Do I really need to know what some chap in Tarabon is doing when he has no relation to the main story whatsoever? Why are all of these characters taking away from characters like Rand, Mat, Elayne, and the rest that I’m most interested in?

The bottom line: CoT is well-written but hopelessly bogged down, a classic transition book, but certainly not a terrible book by any means. I think the majority of the vitriol directed at it, as the +1,000 one star reviews attest to, is that at this point, people are tired of waiting and aren’t so willing to put up with this kind of crap any further without protest. I, for one, tighten my patience and press on.” – High Fantasy Reader, Amazon.com

I agree with all these reviewers. It wasn’t terrible…I particularly enjoyed Mat’s cat-and-mouse with Tuon, and unlike others I’m actually enjoying Perrin’s storyline. But I did some skimming, and thus I was unable to nail down a firm reading time. I like Brandon Sanderson’s writing, and I’m eager to see what will happen to these characters that I’ve followed for so long.

May 16, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , | Leave a comment