“You think you could stay away from me?” Rand asked, smiling. “You really think it would let you?”
“I could bloody try. No offense, Rand, but you’re going to go mad and all. I figured I’d give you one less friend nearby to kill. You know, save you some trouble. What did you do to your hand, by the way?”
“What did you do to your eye?”
“A little accident with a corkscrew and thirteen angry innkeepers. The hand?”
“Lost it capturing one of the Forsaken.”
“Capturing?” Mat said. “You’re growing soft.”
Rand snorted. “Tell me you’ve done better.”
“I killed a gholam,” Mat said.
“I freed Illian from Sammael.”
“I married the Empress of the Seanchan.”
“Mat,” Rand said, “are you really trying to get into a bragging contest with the Dragon Reborn?” He paused for a moment. “Besides, I cleansed saidin. I win.”
Authors: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Synopsis: The armies of the Light are finally marshaling against the armies of the Shadow for the Last Battle, Tarmon Gai'don. While Rand prepares to go to Shayol Ghul and challenge the Dark One, the remaining Forsaken compete with each other for the Shadow's favor by working against Rand's allies. But even without the Forsaken to deal with, the Light's armies are outnumbered and desperate. Their only hope of winning means laying aside differences and even old enmities: Seanchan and Aes Sedai, Whitecloak and Windfinder, farmer and fisherman and Aiel warrior must all take up their weapons side by side.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to 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 nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
Notes: The wind that is a beginning rises in the first chapter of every Wheel of Time novel, and as it blew down from the Mountains of Mist to herald the series finale, it carried—like a snatch of haunting melody, like a familiar scent—a startling nostalgic rush. The world so carefully and thoroughly built over thirteen previous installments and a prequel, the characters we loved enough to travel this far alongside—this was an ending for them and us together. Our ending.
"Eastward the wind blew" reads the chapter title, and certainly the wind blew east, directing the story up the final arcing segment of its circle: a circle ultimately shown to be half black and half white, the contrast marked off by a single, sinuous line. While I noted the (modified) yin and yang imagery throughout the series, I failed to think through certain of its implications, which took me by surprise toward the end. But as Light faced off with Shadow, as White and Black Towers played their part in the war, as the White Lion of Andor flew its banner over one battlefield and the black hawk of Shienar marched on another, the symbol upon which the story turned was as obvious as ever it had been.
Structurally the novel was tighter than some of its predecessors. Sanderson's meant-to-be-touching scenes were sometimes a little trite, but to make up for that, there was good humor and some quality character development. Character arcs got priority over plot points in regards to completion, which has other readers complaining around the internet, but which failed to bother me. The great heart of this story is in its cultures and characters, and the authors did not disappoint me there.
Which is impressive, considering that of the nine hundred pages, probably six or seven hundred were battle scenes. This would not normally be my thing. Because each scene was shown through a character's thoughts and emotions, however, I got through with little difficulty aside from wondering how Elayne was bouncing around on horseback while six months pregnant with twins, or from trying to imagine Shayol Ghul as large enough to house Shadowspawn in the apparent millions needed for the Last Battle.
The perspective changed every few pages, which proved less aggravating to read overall than the alternating long and short head hops found in some of the previous novels. More importantly, all of my favorite characters got head time. Rand and Egwene. Nynaeve, if not nearly often enough. Min. Perrin and Faile. Mat and Tuon together—I could never stand either of them separately, but together they’re fantastic. Aviendha. And comparative newcomers Androl and Pevara turned out to be wonderful.
There were deaths, of course. Without spoilers, all I can say is that while J.K. Rowling probably killed off a higher percentage of her key players, Jordan made up for that by killing more named characters than Rowling even possessed. I was sometimes surprised by who died and who kept surviving, but then, plot developments surprised me all over the place. That's all to the good.
Without spoilers, it's also hard to comment much on individual character trajectories. Perrin, Mat, and Elayne had, if I recall correctly, the most onstage time of anyone besides Rand. Perrin fans like myself will almost certainly enjoy his growth as he pursues and battles Slayer. Elayne was Elayne as always, brash and queenly by turns and sometimes funny as well, but she also learned a few things. Mat was outstanding as general and hero and comic relief; Sanderson wrote his personality perfectly as far as I was concerned. Lan got some airplay, too, and his climactic scene was beautiful.
But the most interesting and emotional parts of the story for me involved Rand and Egwene. When the pair of them left the Two Rivers, innocent and in love, I rooted for them all the way. Even when they discarded the romance, leaving Egwene free to fall for Gawyn Trakand and Rand to get Wheel-woven into his exceedingly weird polyamory, it always seemed clear to me that they had some joint destiny.
It's not an obvious thing—not nearly as clear as I expected it to be, but that joint destiny is there. It's in their titular headship of the White and Black Towers; it's in a small continuum of interaction between them throughout the book. Most of all, it's in the fact that his big moment and hers bore a whole spoilerific list of interesting parallels. The hints of Christian influence in the imagery—whether intentionally included by the authors (Anglican and Mormon, respectively) or merely incidental to the esoteric symbolism—happen in part through the two of them. Egwene's moment of glory was, for me at least, probably the most powerful part of the story.
The ultimate symbolic direction of the book, however, hashed out in an extended philosophical contest between Rand and Shai'tan at the cusp of the final power struggle, did not quite make sense to me. My cruciform thought processes got tangled in the circular syllogism, and have not yet sorted themselves out. I'd rather not prove myself a fool by attempting to interpret what I know so little about, so I'll just say that the resolution suited the tale.
Despite the deaths, the ending was generally satisfactory. Sometimes happy. And for all my love for good sound moral philosophy and theology, for all my cataphatic Western preference for things that mean something positive and sensible—if I set those expectations aside enough to just enjoy it as a story, I did enjoy it. It was a good story, with flawed but beloved characters and a brilliantly realized world. I don't have a single regret either for starting it or for finishing it. Someday I will probably pick it up and walk in its winds again.