This is it. The final book. 23 years after the first one was published. 14 door-stopping tomes, plus a prequel. I started re-reading the books I’d read already back in April 2012, and reached the new-to-me books early this year. Early on my birthday, February 2nd, I finally finished reading the final book.
So how does A Memory of Light hold up as a novel and as a conclusion? Like a lot of the series, it’s a decent book, but not without some flaws. I don’t think any long-time fans are going to be unhappy with how it turns out, however.
There are essentially three things that a concluding novel has to do in order to be satisfying — beyond just “tell a good story”, which is always a requirement. It has to give a good send-off for all the fan-favorite characters. It has to have some surprises in store — otherwise there’s little point in reading it. And it has to have an ending that, whether happy or sad or in-between, is somehow satisfying and appropriate to the series. On the last two notes, A Memory of Light definitely succeeds. There are some things which can be seen coming, but there are definitely a lot of twists, many of which are fairly clever. And the ending brings things to a natural conclusion, and does so in a dramatic way that is reasonably exciting.
Now, does it give all the characters a good send-off? Yes. To a fault, almost. All of the major characters get significant dramatic moments and exciting scenes. And so do nearly all of the secondary characters. And several of the minor characters. And all the villains — save one secondary villain whose fate I don’t recall seeing — get dealt with in satisfying ways, though not always with a sense of finality. But this attention to all the characters is a bit of a double-edged sword. It makes sure that nobody’s favorite character is left out, and it definitely gives a grand sense of scope to the last battle. But it also makes that last battle drag out quite a bit. The chapter actually titled “The Last Battle” — which doesn’t contain all of the last battle — is nearly 200 pages long, all by itself. By way of comparison, the C.S. Lewis novel of the same title is barely more than 200 pages in its entirety. “Long” is not necessarily the same as “bad”, but it does point rather suggestively towards “over-extended”.
Also, while most of the twists and turns made sense, there was occasionally a sense of contrivance. For example, a few books prior, a couple of the protagonists found and identified a cache of over a dozen artifacts that could be used to communicate over long distances. It’s the sort of thing that would be tremendously useful when coordinating a battle effort on four fronts, as happens in the final novel. These artifacts are never used at any point in the series; as if to show the author realized how out-of-place this is, there’s a throw-away line in A Memory of Light stating that they weren’t able to figure out how to make them work. While it arguably preserved some tension by making it more difficult to ensure that everybody was on the same page, it just felt kind of chintzy.
These complaints, however, don’t outweigh the good points of the novel. Despite its length, the novel is still a fairly fast-paced read (it took me six days to go through its 900 pages), and keeps the reader turning the pages with exciting scenes and a constant question of what will happen next. While there’s never really any doubt the heroes will succeed, it maintains tension by having it be unclear how they will succeed, and keeping open the question of whether the heroes will survive their success.
It’s not a perfect novel. This isn’t surprising, as it’s not a perfect series. But it’s a solid way to finish out the series.
Sunday I’ll give a few thoughts on the series as a whole.