I like to think that my first thought upon learning of the death of Robert Jordan last September was sadness and empathy for the family he left behind. But I have to admit that it was more likely to have been a little flash of ironic annoyance, wondering what was ever going to happen to his Wheel of Time series, one book from completion.
Okay, I'm not that big of a dick. His fans had known for close to a year that he was suffering from the effects of cardiac amyloidosis, a usually fatal heart condition that claims its victims in only a few years. So it's not like I wasn't prepared for the possibility of his death. And neither was he, it seems. In the last few months of his life he wrote and dictated copious notes as to how the twelfth and final book in the series, A Memory of Light, should be completed if worse came to worse. If it were to be completed.
I don't believe there was ever a doubt in anyone's mind that it would be completed; the only questions were when, and by whom. A few months after Jordan's death, it was announced that AMoL would be finished by Brandon Sanderson, who was chosen because of how much Jordan's widow had been impressed by his novel Mistborn: The Final Empire.
Naturally I had to see for myself what sort of writer he was. I bought the book an read it -- devoured it, actually -- and it's terrific. Fantastic, really. He's an amazing writer, with a gift for dialogue and characterization that I found myself envying. And I suspect one reason I enjoyed the book so much is because it's written much like I think I would have written it, with long sections of dialogue that never fail to advance the plot, written in a natural style that seems as though it could have been transcribed from actual conversations.
One thing I noticed right away, however -- and the friend I loaned my copy to saw this as well -- is that Sanderson is a better writer than Jordan ever was. While a fantastically gifted visionary and plot constructionist, Jordan's lethal weaknesses were an inability to edit himself, and an often exasperating fondness for irrelevant narrative description. The Wheel of Time series was already 11 books long (and I do mean long), stretched over 15 years as of the last published volume in 2005. I think the series easily could have been condensed to 9 or 10 volumes, given some restraint on Jordan's part -- and I'm not sure if the news that he had vowed to complete the series in one final volume, even if it was 2000 pages long, was a good thing or a bad one.
So far at least, Sanderson doesn't seem to be suffering from any or Jordan's peccadilloes. The book and a half that I've read so far are both crisply written, tightly plotted, and show no signs of wandering off on lengthy tangents. In his blog, Sanderson recounted his thoughts while he was re-reading the series this past spring, and to his credit argued against many of the series' flaws perceived by its fans. Whether that's sincere, or merely a wise decision to not bite the hand that fed him, I don't know.
It doesn't matter anyway; he's a terrific writer, and I can't wait for the final volume -- which, unfortunately, will not appear until late in 2009. But I've been reading Jordan's epic series since 1993; I suppose I can wait a little longer.