The Wheel of Time. I know, with that one title, some of you are completely uninterested in this post now. Please, bear with me, this is not what you think. After I finished A Memory of Light this week, I was thinking about the story and how I would write a review of this book. I was trying to consider how much I could talk about it. I was concerned about spoiling elements of past books. I was worried about the overall length of the book.
Mostly, though, I worried that I am not up to the task of writing this review. I am not a book critic, I play one on the internet. I write about genre fiction contained in a fairly narrow field. This book is something that you could easily label as being literature. Emily would jump on me about that statement. Really, all books should be considered some form of literature, even if you don’t think it adds anything to the culture. To me, though, this is a book that talks about a lot, and one of the things that this book in particular added to the series’ themes, the human condition.
That’s as much as I’m going to say about the plot of this, the last book of the Wheel of Time.
What I am going to talk about is my experience with this series.
I get sentimental about some things. I get emotional about a few things. I don’t tend to show it much, and really I’m pretty irreverent about a lot of subjects. This book series is one of the things I can be both about, because I can recognize the shortcomings of the writing and story. But, unlike some of my friends, I feel like the good points of this series outweigh the issues.
It’s over, now.
A Memory of Light is the final book in the series. If you read the FAQ on Brandon Sanderson’s website, he says in a very straightforward way that this is it. There will be an encyclopedia on the series, which I will assuredly purchase when it becomes available, and that’s it. No more narrative. There had been some talk prior to the passing of the original author and creator, James Oliver Rigney, Jr., better known by his pseudonym, Robert Jordan, about a precursor or a side series, Outriggers. Those plans are gone, they will not occur. The narrative is finished.
The fact that this is it, no more, is something that I’m still absorbing. Here’s what this post is really about, my experience with this series.
I started reading this series when I was ten. It was 1996, I was in fourth grade, and I needed something to read. I had tried to read The Lord of the Rings and I got about halfway through the Fellowship and I gave up. I didn’t care, the book felt like a text book to me and I maintain that it still reads that way. In the words of Jim Butcher, another of my favorite authors, Tolkien could have used an editor.
My older brother, who I haven’t really talked about much, but whom I credit as being responsible for the majority of my character, handed me the first book in the series, The Eye of the World. I suspect that he did this so that he had somebody to talk with about it, which, for him, paid off in spades since I still talk with him about it in depth.
I started reading it, and I latched onto it. Since I was in middle school and had other stuff to do, it took me something like two weeks to read. But during that period, I couldn’t help but feel like I was totally wrapped up in it, it never felt like it took long to read.
The story started as your traditional story about a group of young men and women leaving to go have an adventure, mirroring the Lord of the Rings initially, which my brother and I have essentially decided was on purpose, and then totally jumping the tracks off of that. It’s not a quest story after the first book anymore, not in the traditional sense, it’s not the magical McGuffin story.
I fell in love with it, and I dove into it head first. When I started, there were five books out, all of them available in paperback. The summer of the following year was spent buried deep in those books. If you aren’t familiar with these books, they’re doorstop books. They’re huge. A Memory of Light in hard back is over 900 pages. They’re big. We quickly picked up the sixth and seventh books, Lord of Chaos and A Crown of Swords in hardback and my brother bought the eighth the day it came out, Path of Daggers.
He and I talked about these books to no end, and really, I feel like the experience has been a truly unique one. The story may not be, I acknowledge that it draws a lot from other books and especially from Norse mythology, the three primary male characters are all based on Norse gods in thematic ways. In another way, I feel like these books are unique for their setting, and I can tell you that it probably seeded my love of world building. There are over 2000 name characters in the series, according to the NPR review of the last book.
The story takes place in a high medieval, early Renaissance society that is evolving toward an industrial one. I’m not saying that nobody else has ever done this, I’m saying that it’s the only one that I’ve read, or at least the earliest. There are well defined nations with not just their own armies and accents, but customs and even senses of fashion and politics.
I’ve loved this series because I’ve loved watching this world grow every book, as the world grows more real to me. There are so few things that are not explored that you are left with so little to try to extrapolate. The answers to nearly all of your questions are there if you read carefully enough.
And in the end, even the tiny little cultural things that you kind of just glanced over initially, end up being important.
My love of the series only grew over time. There may have been a few plateaus, but my brother and I could always sit down and talk about it. Just trying to guess what was going to happen yet has supported entire communities for better than two decades.
So, to me, I guess what I’m really trying to communicate is this. I’ve followed this book series since the early middle. It’s fourteen books plus a prequel, an RPG, and a ‘World of’ book with a lot of information and terrible art. I’ve loved it. I’ve experienced it side by side with friends and family. It’s shaped who I am today to some degree. And now it’s over, and there’s still some dissecting to do.
But it’s over. And that gives me a sense of loss that I don’t think I could really have expected. I’ve lived for most of my life waiting anxiously for the next book, needing my next ‘hit’ and revering the books so much that I sought out, with some help from my wife, a complete collection of the series in hardback. I’ve loved it. And it’s over.
So now I’m left, sitting here, feeling almost lonesome because of this finale. I’m really left with just a question. I have tried getting into other series with the same kind of following, like A Song of Ice and Fire and just could not get into it. It is so dark and so hopeless. It’s not the same. So I only have the question:
What do I do now?