The Wheel of Time Retrospective: A MEMORY OF LIGHT: Perrin and Egwene
Just a reminder, all. Steelheart—my new novel—is out right now! It hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in the Young Adult category. If you’re curious, you can read about the book here, and listen to a cool audio sample here.
For an explanation of my Wheel of Time retrospective, see the previous posts on the topic. Here’s post number seven. Before we begin, it should be stated that this post will contain spoilers for the entire series, ending included. If you haven’t finished, you will want to do so before reading this post.
Now we come to the big one. The Last Battle, the final book of the Wheel of Time.
There was so much to pack into this book that at times I wondered if I’d be able to create a cohesive narrative from it. The danger was that instead, it would feel like a sequence of “Oh, hey, I forgot to tie this up” loose ends being completed one after another. Many of these things did need to be tied up, but it needed to happen in a way that came together into a story.
When I launched into this book, I’d just finished Towers of Midnight and was in a very “Perrin is awesome” mood. I wanted to keep writing Perrin, so I did his sequence for the book first. It worked, to an extent. I love the Perrin parts of this book. However, by the end—and after finishing the other viewpoints—we found that the book had way too much Perrin in it. Cutting the sequence where Perrin travels through the Ways to try to close the Caemlyn waygate from behind was one method of balancing this out. The sequence was also cut because Harriet felt I’d gone too far in the direction of returning to previous themes in the series, bringing back something better left alone so we could focus on the Last Battle. (In addition, Maria thought my descriptions of the Ways just didn’t fit the story.)
This was a 17,000-word sequence (and it ended with the Ogier rescuing Perrin and his company from the Black Wind, driving it off with their song). I love the sequence, but unlike the sequence with Bao (the deleted scenes named “River of Souls” and included in the Unfettered anthology) it is not canon. It couldn’t happen for a multitude of reasons, and got trimmed.
Otherwise, Perrin ended up as I wanted him. A lot of people were surprised that I knocked him out of the fighting for a big chunk of the Last Battle, but I felt it appropriate. The fighting armies were Mat’s show, and Perrin’s focus for the fighting was to join Rand and protect him in the Wolf Dream. There was so much else going on, I decided to bench him for a chunk of the warfare—and I’m pleased with the result. It brought real impact to the Slayer fight, where Perrin was left wounded.
There were three particular things that were quite a challenge in writing this last book. The first was how to use Rand fighting the Dark One in a way that would be interesting, visual, and powerful. The second was how to do the tactics of a large-scale battle. The final one had to do with Egwene.
In his notes, Robert Jordan was very specific about the fact that Rand and Egwene needed to almost come to blows in the lead-up to the Last Battle. He called it the grand union of the armies against Rand, whose decisions were considered too radical, too dangerous, to be allowed to proceed. Moiraine was to be the force that brought the two of them together, unifying the armies of light, cementing her importance—and showing why she needed to be rescued by Mat before the Last Battle. (There were a lot of instructions about what Moiraine was to say, and some good writing on that meeting at the Field of Merrilor.)
The burden upon me was to realistically bring Rand and Egwene to the point where the reader believed they’d fight one another—or at least go to the Last Battle separately, without cohesion—if Moiraine hadn’t intervened. This was difficult. Having The Gathering Storm end on such a high note for Egwene left me struggling to figure out how, in Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light, to make her go at cross-purposes to Rand without alienating the reader from her viewpoints. I felt what she was doing was very realistic and in character for who she was, but I also knew that making the decisions she would make was going to cause some readers to be very annoyed with her.
In the end, I decided that the proper course was to let them be annoyed. The very same strength that had made Egwene shine in The Gathering Storm was also the strength that let her lead the Aes Sedai—of whom she had truly become one. The will of the Aes Sedai against the rest of the world is a major theme of the Wheel of Time, and say what you will of it, the theme is consistent—as are the characters. Egwene was at their head. Yes, I wanted her to be relatable, but I also wanted it clear that she was Aes Sedai, and she wasn’t about to let someone else dominate the decisions on how to approach the Last Battle.