written by David Steffen
(I’ve done my best to keep this spoiler-free as long as you’ve read the previous 13 books)
It’s the end of a saga twenty-three years in the making, the conclusion to the Wheel of Time series. I picked up book one of the series when I was in eighth grade. I was at a Barnes & Noble with no money and time to kill, so I picked the book on the SF/fantasy endcap with the coolest looking cover. The one on the endcap was book 8 in the Wheel of Time series, so I found book one, “The Eye of the World” and sat down in one of their cushy chairs to read for a half hour until my ride showed up.
By the time I’d finished the prologue and first chapter, I knew I had to read the series. I stuck with the series as I went, getting each book as it came out. And now, a decade and a half later in January 2013, the final book has been published.
Robert Jordan is the creator of the series, and he wrote the first eleven books of the series. In 2007 he came down with a blood disorder and passed away. He left copious notes behind, and eventually Brandon Sanderson to finish the series. Brandon has done an extraordinary job with his work on the series. I can’t tell what parts he wrote and what parts Jordan wrote, and I didn’t notice any shift in the tone, the style, or the characters.
This final book is all about the leadup to the Last Battle, and the Last Battle itself, which everything in the previous thirteen books has led up to. All of the nations have been gathered by Rand with the intent to unite them. It is finally revealed what identity Demandred has taken since escaping the Bore. The armies of Light face off against the forces of the Dark One. Slayer, the creature that had once been Padan Fain, the six remaining Forsaken, hordes of Trollocs, all against Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene and the White Tower, Fortuona and the Seanchan.
The book was solid throughout. The prologue started out with a huge reveal that ties into details revealed ten books ago. There’s plenty of variation in action, and the stakes have never been higher. In the previous thirteen books, Robert Jordan had shown that he was very reluctant to kill off any major characters who fight for the Light–that is one of the major criticisms that could be leveled against the series since it does lower the tension quite a bit. But this is the last book, and it is the Last Battle, and all bets are off. Any character can die, and some of them do.
Rand’s fight against the Dark One is a very interesting one which goes to places I wouldn’t have expected. The Dark One gets some unexpected character here that I wouldn’t have seen coming, some glimpse of his motives in the grand scheme of things. In some ways he’s not entirely evil though his acts generally are. That was a pleasant surprise since, for the most part, the Dark One has been a stereotypical Satan kind of character.
The battle scenes of the last battle are epic and tense. The most badass characters in the series are there facing off against one another and you never know who’s going to die or when. Every day when I had to set the book down I was eager to pick it back up again to find out what happens next. The best part of the book, though, is watching how Perrin has developed. From the beginning of the series he has been my favorite character, especially his abilities that come from being a wolfbrother. In this book he finally reaches his full potential and he needs every ounce of that to fight against Slayer. His battles against Slayer in Tel’a'ran’rhiod are some of the most exciting reading I ever remember reading. It’s a great setting for a battle between two experienced fighters who have cultivated the flexibility of mind to be truly dangerous there.
Another one of my favorite characters plays a big role in this book, this one who had only been introduced in The Towers of Midnight (Book 13), Androl Genhald, an Asha’man Dedicated who is among the group loyal to Logain (rather than Mazrim Taim). Through his eyes we get to see some of the inside stories at the Black Tower, which has been closed to most other characters for half the series. Androl is, strictly speaking, one of the weakest of the Asha’man in raw strength, but he has a Talent that allows him to create gateways despite his weakness and in greater quantity and size than any other. You get to see Androl unleash this Talent, and he can be quite badass.
The one thing that I was disappointed with was the resolution of the plot thread with the creature that had once been Padan Fain. That is one of the longest plot threads in the series, starting in the first few chapters of the first book when the Darkfriend Padan Fain arrives in the Two Rivers and later in that book is distilled by the Dark One to hunt Rand like a hound, only to be corrupted by Mashadar, the mindless entity that haunts Shadar Logoth. His abilities have grown and grown throughout the series so that no one, not even the Dark One can match him. The books have talked up his abilities so much, I was wondering how they were going to resolve it at all. So I watched for him with great anticipation, at which point that thread was resolved a little too neatly, a little too easily.
So, well done Brandon Sanderson for finishing the series with high quality. I truly believe that Robert Jordan would have been proud of you, and quite happy with how it turned out.