James Oliver Rigney, Jr, better known as Robert Jordan, author of The Wheel of Time series, died on Sunday 16 September.
Whenever I get on the internet I generally look at three author websites, in this order: stephenrdonaldson.com, georgerrmartin.com, and dragonmount.com/RobertJordan. The two or three times I’ve tried to visit this last site while I’ve been here in Canada – and maybe back in Britain, too, I can’t remember – it hasn’t loaded – and this’ll be why: it’s been far too busy. I was surprised and saddened to see the news, but also annoyed that I hadn’t come across it earlier.
The Wheel of Time is, up to a point, the best post-Tolkien fantasy series. It has an epic storyline of exactly the sort that makes high fantasy high fantasy, the world-building is pretty much second-to-none, and, while Jordan’s character’s aren’t the most diverse or striking, the protagonists have lived on in my mind for the last decade and a half.
Jordan was working on the twelfth and final book when he became ill with amyloidosis and was a long way from completing it. To be fair, the series had gone on too long. The first three books are generally agreed to be the stand-out volumes, but the second three books are a little different (longer, more detailed) but just as good in their own way; book six, Lord of Chaos, is my favourite. After that they started to go downhill. For me, books seven to nine are worth reading, but volume ten, Crossroads of Twilight, was abysmal. The most recent book, Knife of Dreams, was better, but I didn’t much enjoy it – the spark had definitely gone.
Even so, I was still intending to read the concluding volume, A Memory of Light, when it eventually came out. Not just for the sake of completion and not just because of a kind of dogged loyalty to the series, but TWoT still has a place in my affections, and for all the flaws in the latter part of the series it remains one of the best contemporary fantasies.
I don’t doubt that A Memory of Light will see the light of day before too long has passed. David Gemmell’s last book came out recently – a year or so after his death – and Jordan was apparently dictating plotlines during his illness in case of exactly this eventuality. More of a loss, perhaps, is the books he would have written once TWoT was done and dusted. Whether they would have been as good as the early TWoT volumes is another matter, but would have been interesting to find out. We’ll never know. Unless, of course, he rises from the dead to continue his career Virginia Andrews-like, and become not so much an author as a franchise. Probably best if that doesn’t happen.
It’s a real shame that Robert Jordan has died, and also a shame that his reputation as a writer was tarnished by the continuation of his seemingly never-ending story. All stories must end sometime, I suppose – and that’s not just inevitable, it’s completely natural.