Friday, 11 January 2013
Posted by emmetocuana at 06:28
Rand put his hand over Tam's. "Please. A blademaster deserves a fitting weapon. Take it - that will ease my conscience. Light knows, any burden I can lighten now will help in the days to come."
Tam grimaced. "That's a dirty trick, Rand."
"I know. I've been spending my time with all kinds of unsavory types lately. Kings, clerks, lords and ladies."
The Wheel of Time is a fantasy series that began in 1990 with the publication of The Eye of the World. Robert Jordan's story had all the familiar trappings of the genre - naive farm boy is taken away from his home by a stranger with magical powers to fight an ancient evil - but the author also drew on influences outside of the typical European mythical set, with references to Eastern philosophy, and delivered an astonishingly large supporting cast. Chapters would frequently be told from the point of view of a number of different characters. The hero Rand al'Thor is your typical magical messiah, but from the beginning we learn he is doomed to either go horribly mad due to his powers, or die fighting in the Last Battle with the evil Dark One. Over the years the series has attracted a devoted fanbase with a strong online presence. There has been long gestating talks of a movie franchise, a comic series from Dynamite and German rockers Blind Guardian even served up their own tribute. Sadly author Jordan passed away in 2007, with Mistborn writer Brandon Sanderson appointed by widow Harriet McDougal to complete the series. A Memory of Light is the fourteenth book in a sequence of novels that has spanned two decades.
Needless to say, expectations among fans have been very high.
The book opens with the city of Caemlyn besieged by the Dark One's army of monsters. Only a fraction of the refugees in the city are rescued. The coup by Mazrim Taim over the Black Tower seems unstoppable, with only a small band still free of his influence looking to resist. Mat Cauthon infiltrates the city of Ebou Dar to find his wife - who controls the invading Seanchan armies - just in time to uncover an assassination plot. The demented Forsaken Lanfear decides to seduce the good-hearted Perrin to become her new consort following a final rejection from Rand. Petty factionalism between nations is either dropped, or stamped out by Rand, as certainty dawns that the Last Battle is coming. Even in their own dreams, the heroes are at risk of being influenced by agents of their enemy. Finally in the north there is a strange Town, a twisted facsimile of a community, where men and monsters live side by side. There men not only worship the Dark One, but can be forced to become devoted servants against their will.
Everywhere Rand looks he can see traps and distractions, friends dying needlessly in an effort by his enemies to draw him out. Despite his misgivings, he decides that what he must do as the mythical Dragon Reborn is kill the Dark One - and die in the attempt.
But when he finally goes to face his enemy, will his two childhood friends Mat and Perrin be by his side? Will his sacrifice be enough?
When Sanderson took on the task of completing the series, a very definite shift occurred. For one the plots tended to resolve themselves much faster. In A Memory of Light a large number of threads are tied neatly up - or at times simply concluded abruptly. Given the series theme of events reoccurring in different eras, with the protagonists themselves reincarnated heroes from the past trapped by prophecies most cannot understand, foreshadowing was something of a constant. While the book does not spell out what happens to every character - there simply are far too many of them - it does do a relatively fine job of coming up with some neat explanations for the various dooms and prophecies that have hung over Rand, Mat and Perrin since the start.
Other aspects of the series are not so neatly resolved. Granted as the book descends into multiple battlefronts between the armies of the Dark One and Rand's forces, it is understandable that a number of character do die suddenly. However, in previous volumes the skipping back and forth between different points of view brought the large cast to life. Here the focus is too narrow, with the result that as heroes from previous books are whittled down, because they have had little to do in A Memory of Light their deaths feel almost offhand (it is odd that perhaps the most emotionally affecting death is that of an animal). Others do not die, but are given little to do. One key figure in the early Jordan books fills a very important role, but literally spends most of the book standing in a cave frozen in a magical contest. The reader is given no insight into what this person is thinking or feeling, which given their pivotal status, is oddly disconcerting.
The Wheel of Time has long had its critics and this book will certainly do nothing to change their minds. The often-commented upon battle between the sexes that underpins much of the action is still present and accounted for, although there is notably less braid pulling (it...it was a major facet of the books, take my word for it). Various catchphrases and refrains appear once more in the dialogue, perhaps to form a sense of continuity, but there is a risk of it occasionally feeling like a 'connect the dots Wheel of Time' novel as a result. A scene with Rand and Mat bantering cheerfully while surrounded by deadly warriors feels particularly forced in its humour.
Again the theme of time and the perception of time, means that some characters see events of vital importance to their friends, but through some contrivance or other are unable to tell them. This can be quite frustrating, as it feels like a needless way of ratcheting up tension. Also the notion of The Town, where humans live directly under the rule of the Dark One, first appears in this book. It is a fascinating idea, similar to those conspiracy theories of Soviet 'American towns' designed to train spies, but dispensed with briefly, during a sequence overstuffed with narration about a particularly difficult 'childhood' (the word itself is irritatingly repeated).
So this remains a flawed fantasy universe - but as an ending, is it satisfying to fans? Honestly anyone who has read the previous thirteen volumes might as well read this for a sense of conclusion. The scenes between, for example, Rand and his father Tam actually are moving. Mysteries are solved, prophecies explained, certain villains get their just deserts and some of the heroes find their happy ending. Sanderson faced a difficult challenge and for the most part pulled it off - delivering a book close in spirit to the style of Robert Jordan, while also speeding up the pace. Fans can expect little better than that.
Labels: A Memory of Light, Books, Brandon Sanderson, Fantasy, Mistborn, Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time |