It took me almost a year and a half to read the whole series, but I finally finished A Memory of Light, and whoo! What a ride this has been. A pleasurable one, most of the time, but now it’s time for me to answer the question: Was it worth it? Whether you’re deciding if you should read the behemoth series in the first place, or if you’re bogged down by Perrin’s point of view chapters in the slog, or you’re nearing the end of the series and you’re worried it won’t have a good enough pay-off, this post will be a formal discussion dedicated to answering that question.
Before we get into it, I do want to explain that this will essentially be a full series review. I certainly want to do a story-beat and setting study for Wheel of Time; I think there is certainly plenty to learn from it. However, the scope of the series means I have to approach it differently than I would for a single book or shorter series, so just bear with me. And, unlike my studies, this shouldn’t include any spoilers, except maybe for a few minor or no-context ones.
Devouring the last ten chapters of A Memory of Light was, weirdly, not as sad for me as I thought it might be. I was eager to finish the series, though apprehensive to see it finally over. And in the week that followed, there were moments where I forgot that I had, in fact, finished reading the series, and other moments where I simply wished that I hadn’t. One doesn’t simple dedicate over a year to a series without getting attached to it.
Wheel of Time is, as you probably guessed, a narrative of massive scale. It is a fourteen-book long series, not including the prequel, and utilizes a relatively large cast in order to tell its story. Most of the PoV characters are fun to read, and even if they aren’t, they are at least informative. That said, I guess it’s no surprise if a reader comes across a few they simply cannot stand. For me, it was Perrin and Faile. For you, it may be someone else.
It’s impossible to say “Wheel of Time follows X characters,” because so many get a voice, and when I say the story is about more than just Rand trying to save the world, I mean it. Jordan wanted to show why it was worth saving. That left a lot of story to tell, with characters from all over this world given a voice so that we could see that even with all the evil people had to face, most people were just stumbling around the only way they knew how.
I do think that several plotlines could have been pared down or cut altogether, and it’ll be interesting to see how the upcoming WoT show handles it. However, overall, I think if you cut out too much of it, you do lose some of the narrative power. Even Perrin’s storyline in Crossroads of Twilight, one of the most annoying and frustrating plots for me to read, left him in a position to grow as a character, and that growth is revisited in the finale so that it no longer seemed as pointless and odious.
It’s also worth pointing out that from the very beginning of the series, it’s clear that the great adversary is the Dark One himself, a god-like figure. We the reader need much of the Wheel of Time narrative to fully understand the extent of the Dark One’s power and corruption. We also need that much of the narrative to see Rand and his friends grow into the people they’d need to be to fight him and his very powerful minions. Every bit of knowledge these three originally ignorant boys gain is earned, and then some. So, while I definitely agree there was some room to minimize, I likewise don’t feel like reading the likes of “the slog” was a waste of my time.
My only real other complaint is that A Memory of Light is so full of action, some of it repetitive, that I almost wish some of that word count had been moved to the resolution. We don’t really get a lot of information about the world that is left behind, especially when there was a whole, albeit small, plotline about the potential destruction of a specific culture. Not to mention the fate of the Seanchan is left unclear.
Jordan’s character work is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Something tells me it will be a long time before I read another book or series whose characters grow as much as these ones do and earn every inch of it. Largely, it works because they also retain some of their own personal essence, even towards the end. Matrim Cauthon is hands down my favorite character of the series. That will be the hill I die on. I know in the beginning he is an insufferable idiot, but I promise, there is more to him than meets the eye.
That’s not to say he’s the only redeemable character. There’s plenty I could say about Rand towards the end of his arc, but when it comes to mental growth, none are as steep, or as hard-won, as Rand’s. I do think that a lot of that can be attributed to PoV delegations. Readers don’t always have to understand a character or the decisions they make. Sometimes it benefits the reader to alienate them from a character, and Rand is just one such example. Yet he is humanized when it matters.
The arcs that Egwene and Nynaeve find, while slightly smaller in scale (especially for the latter), are still significant and impressive. That they can make such leaps and bounds in their arcs while sharing the narrative with so many other people, just goes to show how deft Jordan is with establishing potential and allowing his characters to grow into it.
Most of the main cast is like that. There are certainly characters I enjoyed reading more than others, and characters I’d have been happy to live without, but I cannot recall a single time when a character felt like a character. Always, they felt real and three-dimensional, and if Robert Jordan wasn’t the greatest at the budding romances, at least most of the romantic connections were built off-page.
Wow. The setting. There is just so much to say about it. It’s very clear that Jordan spent a lot of time world-building, and that he enjoyed doing so. And while I think most writers would agree that that level of world-building is immensely difficult to pull off, I still think that Wheel of Time is something that many fantasy authors aspire to mimic, at least when it comes to depth and breadth.
I’ve already mentioned it plenty of times on my blog as I made my way through the series, but with every single nation and culture, there is something that feels beautifully distinct and diverse. And they are not enjoyed from afar. With our cast of characters, we are able to spend a little time in almost every single nation, and what we get to see from a distance towards the beginning, we get to taste firsthand at some point or another in the overall series.
What is absolutely mind-boggling is just how different some of the cultures are. Nations in the main part of the continent have their own differences, something that makes them unique, whether it’s Cairhienin Daes Dae’mar or Domani dresses. But those that are sequestered are given even more, from the Aiel sense of humor to the the Seanchan’s obsession with omens.
My only critique, one that I voiced in a post back from February called A Matter of Language and Culture. There is, really, only one language spoken in Wheel of Time, and that is the common tongue. Sure, there is Maiden hand-talk, and terms specific to different cultures–most of which are found in Seanchan–and the Old Tongue. But it’s a little hard to believe that someone from a nation across the sea, a nation that had sequestered itself so thoroughly that only specific people could visit, and even then, only visit their coastal trading towns, would speak the same language as those on the mainland. The only thing that really varies from nation to nation is accent. It was just… somewhat disappointing.
Robert Jordan knew how to write. Better yet, he knew how to tell a great story, from word choice to dictating points of view. I will never forget this moment:
That was probably one of my all-time favorite scenes of the entire series, but Jordan’s prose is was accessible and well-crafted consistently throughout the entire narrative. Even in the slower books, it wasn’t that they were written poorly. It was just the pacing that took a bit of a hit.
Obviously, there is a shift in prose style when Sanderson takes over, and it felt like a small step back in quality. One of the biggest disappointments in A Memory of Light was just that I find Sanderson’s prose to doesn’t live up to Jordan’s. Don’t get me wrong, I know Sanderson probably felt a lot of pressure trying to complete someone else’s work, and I don’t envy him for it. In fact, most of the time, it wasn’t particularly noticeable. But there were far more noticeable moments in A Memory of Light than in the previous three books Sanderson had written for the series, and there were several moments when it took me out of the action.
For many, Sanderson’s prose may not be much of an issue, and perhaps you’ll find this as more of a nitpick on my part. It’s quite possible that I just found it harder to ignore because as a Creative Writing graduate, I’ve spent a lot of time studying prose. But this is a review, and so, I must be thorough about all of the things I liked and disliked, and this is one of the latter.
Conclusion: Should You Read It?
I think that Wheel of Time is such a major pillar within the fantasy community that, if you want to be able to participate in any major discussions about the genre, it would really help to have read this. Do I think you need to read Wheel of Time to call yourself a lover of the fantasy genre? No. There are so many really good fantasy books and series out there, and this one is big. It’s unfair to expect anyone to invest so much of their time in a series, especially if they do try to read it and find it isn’t to their liking.
I do think, though, that Robert Jordan set the bar high from the offset, and part of the reason people hate the slog is not that it is necessarily subpar writing, but more that it just isn’t to Jordan’s usual standards. I think that even those books have quite a bit to teach an aspiring fantasy author, when it comes to foundations of the genre, character arcs, plot arcs of major and minor scale…
But what about just for enjoyment? What if you’re not a writer; you just want to know if it’s worth reading just for the sake of reading? Well, I still say yes. Just remember that the first book was published over thirty years ago, and when it comes to writing trends, a lot can happen in that time. It won’t share many similarities to current fantasy, especially YA, but it is still a great narrative. And while I did not necessarily find the conclusion to be as devastatingly brilliant as I’d been led to believe, I still see what it did, and I am still glad I got through the slowest books and made it to the end. I do hope you read it, and that you are just as glad as I was that you did.