This is not going to be a review of only A Memory of Light, but rather a review of the series as a whole. Finishing the series feels so much like the end of a long, long journey. In truth, it's been a long journey: spanning almost a whole year of reading (with the initial reading and subsequent rereading of the series), one paperback, many ebooks, a couple of audiobooks, hundreds of thousands of stone faced Aiel, a hundred or so other nations, peoples and cultures, memorable villains and protagonists, and about two years worth of plot progress. It really has been a long, long ride.
The series is more than epic. The sheer scope of the the entire thing is staggering, mind blowing. It's hard to imagine one man putting together something as vast as this. Kudos to the author! WoT should be a constant challenge to other fantasy writers. Despite its brilliance, it would be totally unfair to judge other epic fantasy series using WoT as a yardstick. Here, I'd simply say "other series have done well, but WoT surpasses them all''. Does this mean WoT is officially my best ever fantasy series? The answer is a resounding YES!
There are so many elements that make this series so different from others. One is the relative youth of the major players. Rand, Mat, Perrin, Elayne, Egwene, Galad, Gawyn, and Nynaeve all seem to be between the ages of 18 and 26 at the start of the series, with an average of about 22 years between them. The development of the characters is done in such a manner that it belies their youth. The characters actually develop very quickly; the length of the books, and volume of action and events give the illusion of a slow and steady development.
Second, there a whole lot of cultural diversity. The different peoples have different clothing styles, modes of speech, variants of humour, as well as unique trends. Domani women are known to be skilled at the arts of seduction, the Tairens have a distinct way of speaking obvious even in the writing of the author, Cairhienin are short and skilled at political maneuvering, the Aiel have a strange, violent sense of humour... the list goes on. The best part is that you come to understand and appreciate these cultural differences like you come to appreciate various cultural elements in the real world, such as the Chinese general respect for old people, and American individualism. The details of each culture are not glossed over, but rather described in detail, until it is seen in every aspect of the respective subjects.
A third feature of the series is the fact that although the author does not specifically outline it, all of the protagonists are flawed. Many readers make the mistake of assuming that WoT protagonists are too perfect, too skilled. My reread of the series has proven the opposite. Gawyn is plagued by a need to constantly prove himself to others, and is also untrusting. These two qualities prove to be his undoing in the long run. Galad, despite being an excellent duelist is exposed in his style of leadership. As a person preferring to lead from a distance by example, he fails to impact the bulk of those around him. Galad's honourable and seemingly perfect nature are ironically the main factors behind his staunch pragmatic stance on nearly everything, a stance that gets him in trouble many times while also creating problems for those around him. Perrin's weakness stems from an inability to accept who he has become. Egwene is proud, and overconfident. Nynaeve and Rand are similar, compassionate, yet volatile. The examples go on and on.
A major theme throughout the book is a struggle of wills between three groups of extremely stong women. Generally, the book has some of the strongest female characters in the literary genre. Even the ones with less bite and grit are far more clever than most of the male characters. It makes for a fascinating and fresh read.
Just as well, there is the concept of dual personality. A lot of the characters, especially the main antagonists sport multiple personalities. In addition, there is the concept of fate and destiny, two of the most recurring themes in the series.
There is also a distinction in the way oaths are viewed in the series. As one of the few cultural universals in the books, oaths are incredibly binding, seen as near sacred, and taken with utmost seriousness. Many of the subplots deal with oaths and their effects on characters.
Another major theme is the unique fighting system that employs the use of Sword-Forms. As a unique way of describing battle scenes, it paints quite vivid as well as distinct mental pictures. Apple Blossoms in the Wind, Wind Blows over the Wall and Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose might seem odd ways to describe moves in sword fights, but they definitely paint a brilliant picture once one gets used to them.
The world of WoT is a dream world. It lures unsuspecting readers in and doesn't let go, until they fall in love and wish they could just exist there forever. Personally, I would give up a huge chunk of my life just to live the world of WoT.
Unfortunately, AMoL did not end how I'd like, although the battle scenes were brilliant, and the Last Battle was just how I imagined it would be from when it became obvious there would be a Last Battle. Unfortunately, the main author is dead, so there is no hope of a sequel series. But then, readers can rest easy in the knowledge that the Wheel of Time still turns, and the Ages still come and pass, bringing memories that do not fail to fascinate and inspire with every read.
Good news! A TV Adaptation is on the way. I just hope they don't botch it.