Print Edition: February 20, 2013
Thus says Lan Mandragoran many times in this last chapter of The Wheel of Time series. It is a saying that has played several roles in this long and convoluted fantasy epic for the man who was born with two things: “a sword that would not break and a war that would not end.”
It’s simply too bad that Robert Jordan (and more importantly Brandon Sanderson) decided to apply that saying to A Memory of Light itself, rather than a single crazy prince of Malkier. In the fantasy tradition of which Jordan is a part, death is symbolic, it has gravity, meaning, purpose. This ain’t Game of Thrones, no badass horse lords get blood-poisoning as a plot device. “Death is light as a feather, but duty is heavier than a mountain.”
A lot of people die in A Memory of Light. I won’t give names, I don’t need to as no one who’s read the entirety of the series will expect all of Jordan’s thousands of characters (or even his dozens of important ones) to survive Tarmon Gia’don, the Last Battle. This is right, it is necessary, but it also reveals the massive schism between the cohesive epic this series could have been, and what it has become.
The truth is, the only death that meant something was Robert Jordan’s in 2007. The Wheel of Time died with him. For all his faults, for all the annoying, simpering Aes Sedai and tugging of braids, Jordan was the man with the vision, the power, the skill. Jordan’s widow’s decision to pass the torch and his legacy to Brandon Sanderson (Brandon Sanderson of all people!) was the first nail in the coffin of Jordan’s memory. Sanderson’s strength is in his world-building, his soul contains neither the nuance nor the poetry necessary for The Wheel of Time.
And so Jordan’s beloved characters struggle and suffer, fight and die, and it means little, for behind every death and every triumph is the shadow of what could have been under a more subtle hand.
A Memory of Light, as the third and final installment of what Jordan hoped to be the final book, is simply a 900-page vicious clash between the gathered forces of humanity and an endless flood of trollocs, draghkar, myrddraal, Forsaken and sundry other forces. It’s powerful in the tedious, belabored way of any other 900-page battle (can’t think of another one at the moment). Gambles are won and lost, dreams are realized and rejected, and small but important flaws compel the doom of various players. Within the mountain of Shayol Ghul, Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, struggles with the Dark One for the fate of the Pattern, a conflict that (presumably) turns all other battlegrounds into sideshows of the main event.
Yet who would have thought the Dark One would be so incredibly … boring?
UFV professor Dr. Miriam Nichols once said that “radical evil requires a character of stature,” in order for a story to have a compelling struggle. There have been few forces in fantastical literature as inscrutable, as poisonous as Jordan’s Lord of the Dark, Shaitan, and yet somehow Sanderson manages to strip evil of any significance or guile. One would assume that, given evil’s place as the central antagonist of a series more than 10,000 pages in the making, Sanderson would find an angle, a slant, to make the creature itself as memorable as its fingerprints, but alas, he lacks the ability to paint beyond the primaries.
If it’s not yellow, red or blue, if it’s not black or white, it’s beyond Sanderson’s palette. He may have Jordan’s momentum, he may have over 30,000 pages of Jordan’s notes, but the creator’s vision has proven too elusive. Sanderson moves from point to point, notation to notation, with admirable promptness, but too much is lost in the translation to another mind. A Memory of Light is not the book it was meant to be.
It was an ending yes, but it was not The End as the wheel might have spun it.