23 years. That’s how long since the first book in the Wheel of Time series came out. Being just 4, I read it for the first time 3 years later.
Over 2/3rds of my life now, I have followed these books, all leading slowly towards this end… I remember when Mr. Jordan died. I had never felt so sad for the loss of someone I never met before. Worse, it was a selfish sadness at him. I was sad he was dead, but more angry that he would not finish this story he had started, and I loved so dearly.
The other day, I finished the final book. Completed from Jordans notes, by Brandon Sanderson. For those who followed the series, he’s written the last 3 volumes. In doing so, a few characters have changed, either subtly or not so subtly. But in the end, they all worked.
From the very beginning, this was by far, the most rapid paced book of the entire series. Moving rapidly from opening to close. Reading it, for me, was timeless. I sat there, rapt in what was going on, and oblivious to my own clock ticking away. In some ways, passed critiques of the previous books slower style, full of explicit detail, was washed from this book. No one could accuse it of being overly detailed, or monotonous.
In that however, I find my largest issue with the book. Characters we’ve grown to love and care about over the last two decades died, as to be expected… but they did so without a fitting pause. There was no moment to truly absorb, and revel, in the significance of such an act. While I can, from a stylistic perspective, understand the choice, and it’s purpose in building up what was to feel like the end of all life, it left me feeling rather hallow. And there was just so much death. The book could have tripled in length to give all those who deserved it the deaths they earned.
Mats’ battle plans and the way he was worked in was well done. To finally see him embracing (in a way), his own destiny of becoming royalty, was grand.
But to me, the most amazing thing was Brandon Sandersons’ ability to write the war. I’ll be frank, I was petrified of how he would do with the Last Battle. Mr. Jordan understood war. He had been a soldier, seen fighting in Vietnam, and understood what it meant. I was openly nervous that anyone lacking that kind of experience or expertise could compellingly write about the final war.
I am glad I worried for nothing. The battle was visceral. I could almost feel the blood bathing humanity. But most importantly, it was shown clear as day… no amount of skill, talent, or drugs will win a fight you want to survive. Only when you give over, and accept that success is more important than survival, can you win.
I find myself wondering if it was this mentality that allowed Brandon to write these books. In the end, he would have had to give over to the fact that he was opening himself to a level of criticism very few authors ever face. He was stepping in to complete a work over (at that point) nearly 20 years.
And truth be told, this isn’t the book Jordan would have wrote. We’ll never have that book. We may never see the other prequels he had planned. Nor the further books independent from this series by set in it’s universe that whispered rumour spoke of.
And yet many critics hold Mr. Sanderson to an impossible standard. We want him to commune with the dead, to become a living hand, for Jordans mind. The changes we notice, we feel obliged to point out, while we worry about what RJ would have done differently.
Would Galad have died? Would Gawyn have lived? Maybe Bashere would have been given a longer death than a single sentence? While we will always wonder, we must try not to let it detract from what was a fantastic book.
(Stop here if you don’t want to hear about the ending of the book)
We’ll never have the book Jordan would have written. We have the ending he did write, before he died, but that almost makes it worse. For so many, the ending was unsatisfying. Rand, managed to escape the fate laid out for him, and survive. Sure, it was wearing a new face, but he lived. In fact, in the battle that was meant to be the end of almost everything, most of the core characters lived. Only Egwene actually died of the core lot. In a tale full of such darkness, it was almost a letdown to have so many of them walk away unscathed.
But the worst bit… To me, this ending supports the rumours that Jordan planned more books in this universe. He left it open, to return to familiar characters, to answer the unanswered questions of the series, and to explore this new, 4th Age, that was just beginning.
While knowing Jordan himself penned the final scene is touching and very fitting… it also makes one wonder if Sanderson could not have altered it enough to close the open doors, bolt the windows, and let us put the Wheel of Time to a meaningful rest.
But that, like so many other questions, will go unanswered.