On what was, all things considered, otherwise a fairly shitty day, I finished reading A Memory of Light, the final volume of The Wheel of Time. This is, if you don't know, a fourteen book epic fantasy series whose author died prior to its completion. Each of these books is, by itself, around the size of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. One or two of them are really very dry, and finishing them comes dangerously close to feeling like work.
So do I recommend that you set out on this 12 thousand page, 4 million word journey? Emphatically yes.
I should probably admit up front that I only really set out to read the series because knew it was being completed, after Robert Jordan's death, by Brandon Sanderson, whom I think I may have mentioned being a bit of a fan of in the past. The books are quite intimidating, to say the least, and do have a (well deserved) reputation for being quite meandering and (in places) slow.
What they also have, though, is a truly excellent set of characters and an incredibly detailed and epic world. This is, essentially, the story of five country bumpkins who leave their small village in fear of their lives, and slowly accept the mantle of legendary heroes which is placed upon their unwilling shoulders. There are many, many other characters, but everything for the most part revolves around these five. A don't want to say too much about them specifically, because I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say this: the character I started off liking the least ended up being my absolute favourite. There are some excellent character arcs here.
It's also the story of a world which was once a utopia, but was (literally) broken due to the actions of those striving for more power. A world filled with magic and wonder… but also bone chilling evil. A world on the brink of destruction, where magic is a path to madness and death for any man who wields it, while female magic users (channellers) are both feared and respected.
It's not a perfect series by any means. A couple of the books towards the middle are particularly slow and uneventful. It's also not a series which coddles you. The actual events of the prologue, which begins just as the greatest hero of the last age has succumbed to his madness1 and unwittingly killed everyone he loves, are not fully illuminated until something like the sixth book. It's also quite jarring when Brandon Sanderson takes over the reins of the series in book 12. The voice of the characters changes subtly, but noticeably.
When one side of the seesaw goes down, the other rises, however. Sanderson writes action better than just about any other author I've ever read and the finale really doesn't disappoint. A lot of plot threads are woven together and the series many, many characters are mostly given satisfying conclusions (even if that conclusion is sometimes "No! Why did they have to die!?"). Sanderson also understands "awesome moments", and there was much in the last three books which left me grinning from ear to ear.
Actually that's not entirely true, one thing does disappoint: I want more. I want to know what happens to these characters next, and there aren't too many higher recommendations than that. I'm very glad I took the time to read this series, and would do so again.
Possibly a minor spoiler: The madness is a result of his own actions. He saved the world, but imperfectly, and in the process damned all male magic users, including himself, to this fate. He's an incredibly tragic character, is Lews Therin Telamon. The once saviour of the world, but one who has been remembered for thousands of years only as "Lews Therin Kin Slayer". ↩