First thing's first about the much-awaited final installment of the revered "Wheel of Time" series. It's about battle; specifically, the Last Battle, Tarmon Gai'don, the Light's last stand against Shai'tan and the agents of the Dark. And it's a doozy.
For those not completely familiar with the series, Jordan began crafting these novels well over twenty years prior to this final tome. In this world, there are elemental forces of magic that can be accessed by both men in women, called the Source, and used for distinct purposes by the adherents of good (the Light), and those of evil (the Dark, named Darkfriends most often). Men and women sense the Source differently and often have different strengths regarding the ability to properly "channel" the force, ease with finding and controlling it, and the powers for which they have the greatest affinity, the forces are both opposite and complementary. The Source is balance, the power that controls and guides all life in this mythos, as it drives the Wheel of Time constructed by the Creator.
The guardians of the magic, and the world at large, who opposed Shai'tan and the Dark, were Aes Sedai (the Servants of All) and key to him being sealed away from the world millenia before, so that his evil might not destroy the world and the Wheel. However, prophecies dictated that his influence would come again, and that humanity would have to rise up, united, to battle him and his followers. Those followers, frighteningly enough to their world, can come from anywhere, sometimes, even from the careful, guarded ranks of the very protectors and monarchs of the world. The leader of the Light's forces would be one known as the Dragon, a male Aes Sedai from an "Age of Legends", reborn on the slopes of a dreaded mountain that he created after he went mad from battling the Dark One and touching his influence. This hero, Rand al'Thor, is the only one who can fully defeat Shai'tan in the Last Battle, and keep him from the world. If he falls, humanity is lost.
Well, now that's out of the way, let's get to the heart of it. Little prelude is given before the reader is thrown into the thick of the fighting, with first, a look at the devastation and despair that the Battle has already wrought upon a portion of humanity, with the utter defeat of a rebel Andoran force, marshalled by a claimant pitted against Elayne Trakand, (Aes Sedai and Queen, for those unfamiliar with the series) for the throne, by the Dark, and then, in the next step, the reader is shuffled off to join the Band of the Red Hand as they make their own stand in the Andoran capital of Caemlyn to prevent the capture of the city by Trollocs and Fades, common footsoldiers for the Dark.
From there, the conflict expands to all fronts, real and imagined, from the throne room to the dreamscape, as the forces of Light attempt to reclaim the world from the Dark. It seems every inch of Robert Jordan's world sees it's own struggle, and the reader is sometimes left feeling a little discombobulated by the fast-paced, continuous shifts in venue, but, it reflects the chaos of battle amongst split forces, using only their meager resources, wits, and a little luck to just survive from moment to moment. Every nation on both sides gets a bit of a say and an insight, and Sanderson channels Jordan's military mind in much of the strategies and flow of the battlefields. In these battles, everything but the kitchen sink from Jordan's world is thrown in from Dreadlords (channelers/Aes Sedai turned to the Dark) and the mysterious, Dark-bending Sharan people, who were, up until this ending, very rarely seen or mentioned in the series, to the gentle, soft-spoken Ogier numbers clearing the field as axmen do a grove of trees for the side of the Light.
Sanderson does right by most characters involved in Jordan's huge cast, in my humble opinion, and manages to bring out the best of their resources. Fans of the original triad of protagonists, Rand, Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara (my personal favorite), won't be disappointed, as each man gets his share of the story, despite our hero Dragon being the focal point of the series. Mat's reunion with Tuon brought a few good chuckles from me. Very few loose ends were left dangling, from Padan Fain to Leilwin Shipless to Berelain, but plenty is left to the imagination at its conclusion. Without giving too much away in spoilerish fashion. I can say safely that even I didn't see that twist coming.
But, gentle reader, be prepared. It's a battle of apocalyptic proportions and some readers' favorites, minor and major, may not survive. I can't say that every demise was a tear-jerker or a cheer-worthy end, but, even a few of the near-misses brought a few embarrassing sniffles...and I can count on one hand the number of books and movies that manage to work that out of me. In the end, however, the sacrifices are treated with respect and feeling...and they made the story all the more poignant to even a cynic like me.
As a faithful Wheel of Time fan, I was happy to have the opportunity to read the final chapter of this tale. It is a fitting conclusion to the story that Jordan so lovingly crafted and executed, and a grand epic with which I can only hope to share with the next generation. So, to Mr. Sanderson, I'd say, "well done". And in honor of Mr. Jordan and his gift of this wonderful series, I will say this, in conclusion:
May the Light illumine and protect you, and may your soul always find water and shade.