Friday, 21 February 2014

A Memory of Light Summary

A Memory of Light brings Rand's epic journey to a cataclysmic end in near perfect harmony with the rest of The Wheel of Time books.

The majority of A Memory of Light is taken up by battle. A few early moments of respite allow the heroes to make their goodbyes before the final confrontation takes their attention, and in many cases, their lives. The clever placement of a scene where Rand crafts a treaty to guide the nations after his death informs readers what the world will be like after the series ends, leaving the remainder of the story free to concentrate almost exclusively on the struggle against overwhelming odds. It makes it possible to end the story at the exact moment of Rand’s final victory.

The buildup to the Last Battle is itself monumental, as capitals are torched and entire nations laid to waste by innumerable hordes of Trollocs. The defense of human lands quickly degrades into a struggle to survive as humanity's leaders are undercut by the hidden influence of the Forsaken. Each of the principal heroes from the early parts of The Wheel of Time has a time to shine, bringing the story full circle, and one new addition has a significant number of pages dedicated to the struggle faced by Rand's successors at the Black Tower.

With reluctance and the haste of necessity, the forces of the Light make allegiance with the enigmatic Seanchan, whose very way of life is an affront to the White Tower. All of humanity sets aside its differences to make a final stand upon the Field of Merrilor.

Unlike the precision with which earlier books carefully followed travel times and offered cues which allowed the timing of events in one locale to be compared to the next, the author uses a convenient explanation of time dilation radiating outward from Shayol Ghul to cause the final confrontations in all locales to take place simultaneously, but at different rates of progression. The battles leading to Merrilor last weeks, while Rand’s confrontation lasts less than a day. This effect is mostly due to the Dark One's touch on the world, yet it could be argued that as Tel'aran'rhiod disintegrates, its relativistic temporal properties are transferring in some fashion to the waking world. It offers the author immense freedom to allow events in any locale to unfold as needed with as much or as little detail as seen fit to include. In particular, it allows three key events to occur at precisely the same time, forming the cornerstone moment around which the rest of the book is centred. The rapid changes in point of view are essential to the build up to that key moment, and are more appropriate here than in the preceding novels. The result is a magnificent and emotional resolution to several pivotal characters’ story arcs, and offers an unforgettable climax to a gruelling build up of tension.

Rand battles the Dark One on a previously unimaginable scale, wielding the force of creation itself, literally able to remake the world as he sees fit. His conflict is not only against the Dark One, but against himself, as even at this late stage he has yet to fully embrace the lessons others have tried to impart upon him. Matching the reality-altering consequences of Rand’s choices to aspects of his character keeps the scale grand even as his battle is personal and intimate. The Last Battle is truly about Rand choosing what kind of man he will be.

The central tenet of the series is well represented in Rand’s reluctant allegiance with the hated Seanchan, his late realization that destroying the Dark One is as bad as letting him win, and in several characters defeating the potential hate and mistrust in their hearts by compromising and accepting alternate points of view.  The absolutism represented by Padan Fain is thus defeated, and so he is dispatched just as simply as each character in turn chooses not to win at any cost, even preferring to lose than change who they are and what they stand for.

Keeping with my ongoing comparison of the series to American history, Fain is akin to the nuclear era, the scorched earth doctrine, the possibility of wielding power enough to destroy oneself along with the enemy just for the sake of defeating them at any cost. Embracing Fain’s philosophy carries heavy consequences.

The concluding pages offer a couple of unexplained mysteries regarding a mysterious woman and Rand’s new ability. For these I offer my suggestion that his mother spoke with him one last time before he entered adulthood, and that Rand’s ability is a literal representation that a man guided by his conscience and his duty can accomplish anything. This new power is the story’s final message, in line with the themes expressed in both this book and the earlier books in the story, and as with many of the story elements readers have grappled with over the years, it is subtle enough to invoke much debate.

A Memory of Light is fulfilling in every way I hoped, surprising me, delivering on promises, shining with heroism and dripping with sacrifice. It has taken me a year to read and reread it and comprehend its magnitude, and its deep personal meaning to me. I don’t want it to be over. Of course, there are no endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time…

Writing Lessons:

End your story right after the critical moment by foreshadowing less important epilogue elements earlier in the story.

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