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A Memory of Light (The Wheel of Time #14) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
"A Memory of Light" opens on what we were told at the end of "Towers of Midnight" was the morning before the Last Battle. I had assumed that Rand would just head off to Shayol Ghul, deal with the Dark One, and then the rest of the book would be spent tying up the loose ends. Apparently the "Last Battle" is not so much of a battle, at least at that point. Rand spends several days negotiating a peace treaty among all of the nations, including the Seanchan, saying good-bye to his loved ones (including, apparently, fathering Aviendha's previously foretold quadruplets), and generally tying up loose ends of his own.
Then with that accomplished, Rand heads off towards Shayol Ghul. While he is there, however, most of the remaining loose ends get tied up in his absence. This is because time flows more slowly the closer you get to the Bore. The final confrontation with the Dark One takes what we are told is less than one hour for Rand, but takes over one week for the rest of the characters.
During this period, there are a large number of battle scenes spread out over four separate fronts. This is great if battle scenes are your thing. They truly aren't mine, however. I don't really need to know how many Trollocs are on which flank of what army. I usually end up skimming battle scenes to see if anything important happens (deaths, battlefield promotions, surprise arrivals of characters who are supposed to be somewhere else, other things of that nature). Strangely, however, the battle scenes were less onerous the second time I read the book. This is not a normal pattern for me. I usually find the battle scenes to be even more tedious during my second and subsequent readings.
Speaking of battle scenes, we get the final confrontation between Perrin and Slayer in "A Memory of Light." These were definitely not my favorite scenes. While some of the battle scenes got less boring with future rereadings, the Perrin/Slayer confrontation seemed to drag more. They read like a description of some wuxia action movie, which is not one of my preferred genres to begin with, and having it written out rather than playing out visually in front of us takes away even what little charm that I can find in the whole "wire-fu" phenomenon.
I have seen Rand throughout this series less as a fully-formed hero (and certainly not an idealized Mary Sue-type) than as a kid who's still working things out. He is continually making mistakes, and getting people angry with him, and then trying to figure out how to rectify his mistakes without making the angry people even angrier (with, generally, limited success). And that has always rung fairly true to me. Sometimes he's right when he jumps to a conclusion; often he's wrong and he has to make up for it.
And, in light of this view, I felt that it was very in-character for him to keep making mistakes and learning to the very end. In fact, Rand learns several Very Important Things during the course of this book. Two of these things are things that I saw coming: one was something I worked out with friends on a message board probably a decade ago now, and another is something I've been saying all along. I did take some time out of my reading to pat myself on the back as we got to these points. Another thing he learns was not something I saw coming, but I still found it to be a neat twist and a great revelation for Rand.
In the positive column, this book mercilessly exploits the warm feelings that I developed for these characters over the years, and I am perfectly okay with that. There are plenty of heartwarming triumphs, humiliating defeats, and painful deaths to go around.
Despite some questions marks that still linger, the ending was just as awesome and action-packed as I had hoped. I have read the book three times now and still end up feeling kind of a warm contentment each time I close that cover.