Treating The Wheel of Time as one long novel, the books Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams, The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light make up the third and final act. The beginning and end of the story are bookends, what shows up in one should be resolved in the other. As of this writing, I have yet to acquire A Memory of Light, but the concept of the story’s end is simple to guess at.
Rand was told he must save the world, which he grows determined to do despite what the world may have to say on the matter. He tries repeatedly to force people to act as he thinks they should, eventually using the Dark One’s own seductive True Power to exert his will on them. The end justifies his means, a philosophy once espoused by Mordeth, who viewed any cost as worth paying to be rid of the Shadow. Rand finds that even unbelievable achievements such as cleansing saidin earn him little gratitude or respect, pushing him further down a path where he seeks to validate his accomplishments and soothe his ego.
Other characters face their own intense desires and duties, each of them successfully fending off thoughts of absolute adherence to some objective at any cost. Each of them finds a balance, weighing the need versus the cost, never entirely certain how hard each objective must be strived for, yet willing to stand for their values at great personal cost. They all learn that only they can find the balance, and when they do they become free and powerful.
Rand’s balance is much harder to achieve, coming only after he has nearly abandoned his humanity in a misguided attempt to protect his loved ones. He callously murders and rationalizes his actions, and even Nynaeve, the stand-in for his conscience, considers that he may be right. Only when faced with his father, does he relent and reflect upon his actions as he holds the power to end the Pattern. Rand realizes that the Pattern allows people a second chance to correct their mistakes, and that strength comes from fostering relationships, not cutting them off. Rand has finally overcome the delusion that he has to face his destiny alone, a falsehood perpetrated on him by Lan, who has now come to the same realization.
From the early books the characters used their formidable force of will to overcome obstacles, and after fumbling about for a while, they finally know when and how to use it. The heroes have acquired followers in the thousands, and have learned how to lead them after stumbling a few times. They no longer require mentors, having earned equality and rank equal to those who used to guide them. The greatest foes they faced, gholam, Forsaken, otherworldly creatures, have all fallen before them. The heroes are adults, full-fledged members of their community, and have attained the pinnacle of their power and influence, and have learned how to use them well, just in time for the challenge of their young lives.
Almost every character has entered into a romantic relationship, many choosing to be bonded as well. Battles showing large circles of bonded men and women have not yet appeared, but promise to reveal the full glory and importance of male-female relationships, drawing on the power of creation to defeat the forces of the Shadow.
Every book in Act 1 ended with a battle in Tel’aran’rhiod. The last book should also end in Tel’aran’rhiod. Lanfear freed the Dark One and is especially knowledgeable about Tel’aran’rhiod. She was last seen begging to be saved from the Dark One, opening the door for her to fulfill her role and have her sins redeemed by the Dragon. The rules governing Tel’aran’rhiod have at last been explained, almost in full, allowing the final confrontation to take place there.
The last final message Rand leaves should fit the themes running throughout the story: man needs guidance but has to be trusted to stand and act on his own; choices and attitude dictate who you are, no one can impose identity on you; it is wrong to impose your will on someone else; standing for and against what you cherish most is worth dying for; no philosophy should be adhered to absolutely.
Following the earlier comparisons of the series to American History, this final act covers the modern era, when world-changing events demand absolute commitment to fighting the enemy, and a grudging realization that the cost of rigid adherence to winning battles may cost the war. The Wheel of Time’s characters find a different path, one that balances on a razor’s edge, one that questions the value of conflict and the identity of the enemy and proposes a different solution. Rand will face the very nature of evil, and learn that it is often within oneself.
The Seanchan’s role as foreign invaders with a strange culture and vastly different treatment of some residents has its modern parallel. How can the heroes make peace with these aggressive people and get them to join the fight against the true enemy? The myth of the self-made man, the lone cowboy, is laid to rest and replaced with a multicultural community-minded set of values, wherein each person stands alone, in exactly the way they want, every difference laid bare and celebrated, and despite the differences is accepted and supported by the community.
Brandon Sanderson weaves the tale he took over with great skill, preserving the thematic elements and essence of the characters. His writing style is more direct than Robert Jordan’s, uses modern language, and short choppy chapter breaks which increase the pace of the story, and act as a structural version of the breakdown of the Pattern affecting the world. Like several of his characters, Robert Jordan had to delegate his life’s work to the next generation, living the very scenarios he wrote about, entrusting loved ones to carry on with his duty. Life didn’t imitate art so much as Jordan wrote about the essence of life and purpose of existence so well.
Know your story’s message and themes.