The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legends fade to myth, and even myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the third age by some, an Age yet to come, an age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. there are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
So it began, and so it ends. I’ve been waiting about 25 years to finish this series, and though the journey was long and often unfulfilling, I’m glad I finally made it. But now that I’ve made it (and written nearly 20,000 words about these books), I don’t really have much to say. There’s no great revelation. I don’t have a massive weight lifted off my chest. I don’t feel changed in any measurable way. I’m just…done with it.
Reminds me of that scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack goes out to dinner with Charlie, the ex-girlfriend played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. He revisits his past because he thought she was so cool, and charming, and better than him, but he ends up hating the experience.
The book itself is pretty good – don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate it – but the lesson still holds: you can’t go back and relive your past. I’m not 15 anymore, and if I had never read the series as a teen, I doubt I would’ve made it this far. My nostalgia was enough to keep me sustained through the slog, but it wasn’t enough to make me like the books overall. And, I think, enjoyment of this particular book is so dependent on your overall enjoyment of the series as a whole.
It’s like the final episode of a TV show that’s lasted several years. If you didn’t like the show, the final episode isn’t going to have much of an impact on you. Even while my enjoyment increased once Sanderson took over, I was just so exhausted by the slog that I lost interest in the overall story.
Unlike my re-reads of A Song of Ice and Fire or Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, I didn’t find new things to love about this series. It feels the same, now, as it did when I read it as a teenager. Though my love for the series is dead and I was just kind of waiting for it to be over, it was a mostly enjoyable read. I would recommend it to someone who loves fantasy and the hero’s journey. I’ve changed since reading it – it hasn’t. And Brandon Sanderson is a superb storyteller. Not only did he do a great job pushing this story up the massive hill Robert Jordan had been avoiding for so long, I think he did a better job than Jordan himself would have. At the end of it all, this series has a place among the pantheon of great fantasy stories.
But, for me, I don’t know that it was necessarily worthy of a re-visit. I didn’t gain anything from it, other than the ability to honestly say I’ve read the whole thing.
If I did love this series, or even this world, I think this would’ve been a tour-de-force. It’s basically one massive battle from cover to cover. People die – including characters we love – and it is epic. The Last Battle takes place over most of the landscape – including the dream world. Perrin hunts Slayer, Mat commands massive armies, Egwene and Aviendha battle Forsaken, Gawyn, Galad, and Lan all take turns fighting Demandred, and Rand struggles to define reality against the Dark One himself. 15 year-old me couldn’t have wanted more from this book.
40 year old me just kind of felt like I was at a work Christmas party. Yeah, I mostly like these people – but I spend all day with them during the week. I don’t really want to give up my Friday evening to make small talk with them at a mid-tier restaurant I wouldn’t otherwise go to. Of all the things I could be doing with my evening, this would be pretty far down the list.
I like the book. But it’s not the book I want to be reading. These aren’t the characters I want to be reading about. This isn’t the world I want to be in. I’m reading this book because I want to be able to say I’ve completed the series – and, like any sunk cost fallacy, I’ve invested so much into The Wheel of Time, I can’t pull out so close to the end.
Part of me thinks I would’ve loved to have read this book if Sanderson had written it from the beginning. But, at the same time, we have plenty of Brandon Sanderson books out there. I’ve only read the first Mistborn trilogy, and I’ve yet to read the latest installment in his Stormlight Archive series (I got it for Christmas last year, but it got stuck on a shelf as I got bogged down in The Wheel of Time).
Now that I’m done with the whole thing, I don’t really know that I can say it was “worth it”. Again, I’ve now written over 20,000 words on this series. I’ve probably said everything I have to say about it. I don’t think I’ll ever read it again. I don’t really even think back fondly on my reading life over the last year. I started this series the same way I start a diet: with a lot of passion and hope. I’m ending it the same way: bored and apathetic.
As for the TV show – my wife and I watched the first two episodes. On the one hand, Amazon has put a lot of money into the show, as the production quality is high. It’s nice seeing the world brought to life…..But the tone they’re going for is all wrong. It’s far, far darker, which makes sense given their inevitable attempt to capitalize on the success of Game of Thrones. But these books are very comfortably PG/PG-13. Even the evil characters pretty much have their hands clean. They say and think evil things – but they don’t really do a whole lot. There is death and violence in these books, but it’s mostly bloodless. Even the language is mild – probably the worst thing a person says is “bloody light” as a curse.
I don’t necessarily say this as a complaint against the show – but it’s a bit of a shock going from these books to the show, even when the show is pretty solidly following the books. The tone is all wrong.
Beyond that…there are some stark differences in character and plot, as well. Perrin is married in the show – and something very striking happens early on. Mat seems more somber in the show, as well – and his family life is about as far removed from the books as possible. There are a few other things, but I could tell from the first couple episodes that the adaptation wasn’t going to be perfect.
Which is totally okay, don’t get me wrong. Not only do I think that is inevitable, I think it’s necessary. You can’t adapt a 14 book series into a TV show and expect it to stay the same.
My wife – who hasn’t read the books – enjoyed the first couple episodes immensely. I’m on the fence.