How to reread Wheel of Time before A MEMORY OF LIGHT.

This article is dedicated to Carey Peters, Bruce Lecus, and Ryan Jones.

So you’re a Wheel of Time fan. The final book, A MEMORY OF LIGHT, is finally finished. Praise the Light! Only it’s been years since you’ve read the Wheel of Time, which contains rich mythology, heavy foreshadowing, and loads and loads of characters. And most of the books are long. Will Continuity Lock-Out keep you from enjoying the final volume?

Don’t panic; there are a variety of ways to enjoy this epic tale before Tarmon Gai’don. And most of them don’t require rereading the entire series from pages 1 to 10,670, though that is certainly an option. Brandon Sanderson did so multiple times while writing the penultimate novels, so you’re in good company.

The idea of skipping books or chapters will strike some as odd; I assure you, it’s warranted. I’d rather you enjoy what you can than skip the whole series.

About NEW SPRING:

I was furious that Jordan wrote a prequel with the series unfinished, and (at the time) most releases failing to resolve much. I haven’t read NEW SPRING and don’t plan to. It is omitted from this guide.

Why your first reading was worthless:

The series is an order of magnitude better on subsequent readings. To modern readers, Jordan is dry, long-winded and fills his books with pointless chapters, especially later in the series. Only upon rereading (or reviewing supplemental material) does it become clear just how much Jordan planned in advance. Chapters which seemed at first irrelevant actually fill critical niches in the chronology.

For example, I used to hate any chapters with Whitecloak or Forsaken POV. They seemed to progress nothing. But both are rarer than I originally believed, they just seem longer when you want to read more about Mat. What you can’t tell in a single reading is how important a particular event becomes to the main characters  along arcs that take 8+ books to resolve.

Whatever you think of his prose, Jordan was a master planner; the foreshadowing and resolutions in Wheel of Time are second to none. On page 204 of the first book, Jordan tells you what Mat will do at the end of Book 13 to resolve a dangling thread from Book 5. Jordan’s work is photomosaic: Single chapters and books are downright ugly until you can see the larger picture. There’s too much to digest in one reading.

Your Prime Directive

I’m outline options to get you started, but the cardinal rule for rereading WOT is:

Don’t read what you don’t enjoy.

If you hated a book, chapter, or character, skip it. Even on your first read. I would rather you enjoyed the remainder. Remember Sturgeon’s Law:

90% of everything is crud.

…and the fan corellary:

The remaining 10% is worth dying for.

Before deciding how to reread the series, let me introduce the Encyclopaiedia-WOT,  a required supplement.

How to use Encyclopaiedia-WOT:

  • This page provides a list of the books, with links to each.
  • Clicking a book will bring a list of chapters and (at the bottom) a handy diagram of plot threads.
  • Clicking on a chapter link brings you a summary of the chapter; these will contain spoilers, but are an excellent way to review chapters (or whole books) you’ve already read. The first line tells you the chapter’s POV.
    • There are additional links to each character & place mentioned. Do not click these pages unless you want spoilers; they are excellent for review, however.
    • The character pages give you a chronology by book and chapter for the related character. For example, here are the first three entries for Bela (the horse):
      • Tam and Rand take Bela to Emond’s Field. (TEotW,Ch1)
      • Hu and Tad stable Bela at the Winespring Inn. (TEotW,Ch2)
      • Tam and Rand take Bela back to the farm. (TEotW,Ch4)
    • Below chapter synopses is a list of “notes” which clarify points you might have missed. For example, here are the Notes for the very first chapter of THE EYE OF THE WORLD:
      • [Rand] looks like an Aiel man.
      • We will learn much more about Rand’s true heritage in (TSR,Ch34) and (LoC,Ch16).
      • The dark horseman is a Myrddraal.
      • The gleeman is Thom Merrilin.
    • Each character/place/concept is linked to its own page in Wiki style. (I removed the links here to prevent spoilers.)  It’s an excellent way to navigate and connect the pieces
  • How to use plot diagrams:

Consider this example from THE GREAT HUNT (left).

There’s a few things you can tell immediately by this diagram (some are minor spoilers). At a glance, you can tell all the characters start together and will end together.

This also tells you when you get to read your favorite characters, which can make waiting more palatable. The first half of THE GREAT HUNT only has Min in four chapters, but she’s in 5 chapters in quick succession near the end.  Rand’s chapters are much more concentrated

Compare a later book (on the right) which connects no threads to each other.

There are numerous ways to use these diagrams: Just glancing at the threads can remind you what happened, especially at splits/merges. You can follow particular characters and jump to their chapters. Or you can jump backwards to reread a scene you can’t remember.

Now that you’re familiar with the tools we need, let’s consider our methods.

OPTION 1: SUMMARIES ONLY.
Chapters Read:
None.
Chapters Summarized: 609 from 13 books
Pros: Fast, reveals the entire mythology without confusion.
Cons: You will miss the truly great moments in the series and the buildup to the final book. You will also miss Sanderson’s superb prose in books 12-13, which contains critical development for the major characters, especially Rand.
Recommended For: You’re extremely familiar with the series already, know most of the mythology, just awaiting the final volume.

This method is simple, but dry. It’s for those in a hurry to read A MEMORY OF LIGHT and can’t stand the idea of returning to the other books. The method is simple: Start Here and read the prologue summary for 1. EYE OF THE WORLD. Clicking the right arrow will take you to the first chapter of the prequel; alternately, you can Jump Here to the main series.

This method assumes you aren’t worried about spoilers, so jump around the wiki at will and learn everything.

OPTION 2: SANDERSON ONLY (Books 12, 13)
Chapters Read: 107 from 2 books
Chapters Summarized: 502 from 11 books
Pros: Sanderson’s prose plus Jordan’s planning makes the penultimate books the best in the series.
Cons: Resolutions will lose impact without the buildup. Poor for Jordan fans.
Recommended For: Sanderson fans, or readers who stalled between books 8-10.

This method starts with the first book Sanderson co-authored, THE GATHERING STORM. I enjoy Sanderson’s prose more than Jordan’s, and there is no denying Sanderson explains more about character motive than Jordan does. Sanderson also has the advantage of working with the conclusion.

There are two approaches to this method: You can pick up STORM and read it cold, starting in media res. It’s plenty enjoyable  because you still know the characters and concepts. Lacking the recent developments will quickly cease to matter as new developments replace them, and plenty happens in STORM and TOWERS to make them standalone enjoyable reads. After reading STORM and TOWERS, return to the summaries and fill in the gaps.

Alternately, you can summarize the series leading up to STORM before reading.

OPTION 3: THE PENULTIMATE TRILOGY (Books 11, 12, 13)
Chapters Read:
144 from 3 books
Chapters Summarized: 465 from 10 books
Pros: The best ramp-up to the finale without rereading the entire series.
Cons: By book 11, there’s a ton going on; you might be lost at first, and Jordan lacks Sanderson’s clarity.
Recommended For: You stalled between books 7-10 but remember most of the series.

This method starts with the last book Jordan released, KNIFE OF DREAMS. It’s a significant improvement over prior/drier volumes mid-series, and one of the best Jordan authored. It seemed a return to the pace of early books but with the added benefit of Jordan’s long-term vision. I do not recommend wiki reading with this option, because there are just enough new and old characters for you to mix up which ones are spoilers. (Prior chapter summaries are ok.) Just take it for granted that you won’t remember every character, and that the important ones will be further developed.

OPTION 4: JASON’S FAVORITES (Books 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11, 12, 13)
Chapters Read:
396 from 8 books
Chapters Summarized: 213 from 5 books
Pros: Balanced between reading & summary, includes the best of the series and most critical events, skips the driest books
Cons: A very long read, omits a few critical events, especially for secondary/tertiary characters
Recommended For: You remember major events and characters, but not larger implications, or you’re polarized on a book-by-book basis.

Books 1-4 are phenomenal, even if you’re familiar with the events. Many fans begin to complain by book 7, though the series slows considerably by book 5. This is probably the most balanced approach to rereading the series, allowing you to skip 30% of the prose.

Option 4A: Read Book 6 from Chapters 42-53  so you’re familiar with Dumai’s Wells and related Rand-based events.
Option 4B: Include Book 6 or books 5 & 6, skipping only 7-8 and 10, the worst in the series.
Option 4C: Omit book 9 for a faster read, but if so, you must read summaries of it before continuing to book 11. Book 9 contains one of the most important events in the series and significant development for Rand.

OPTION 5: THE POWER TRIO CHAPTERS ONLY (Books 1-11) plus books 12-13
Chapters Read:
439 from 13 books
Chapters Summarized: 170 from 11 books
Pros: This is as caught up as you can be without rereading every page; you’ll know 100% of the main character events and each book will feel faster.
Cons: Still a lengthy read, includes some dry chapters.
Recommended For: You become impatient with secondary & tertiary characters but need to reread the series.

This method reads only the chapters about Rand, Mat and Perrin (occasionally from other POVs).

Book 1: Chapters 1-53
Book 2: Chapters 1-11, 13-17, 19-21, 25-28, 30-33, 36-37, 41, 44-49
Book 3: Chapters 1-9, 19-20, 24, 28, 30-36, 40-56
Book 4: Chapters 1-18, 21-37, 40-45, 48-50, 53, 56-58
Book 5: Chapters 2-7, 15, 20-25, 29-32, 41-46, 51-56
Book 6: Chapters 1-5, 10-11, 16-22, 26, 28, 32-33, 38-40, 44-55
Book 7: Chapters 1-7, 18, 27, 33-34, 41
Book 8: Chapters 7-11, 13-14, 21-24, 27, 29-30
Book 9: Chapters 1-6, 11-12, 14-19, 22, 25, 28-35
Book 10: Chapters 1-3, 5-8, 23-29
Book 11: Chapters 4-12, 18-21, 25-30, 34, 36-37 (& E)

That list is daunting, but don’t panic. You can do this just as easily by scanning for Rand/Mat/Perrin the first page of every scene…if they aren’t in it, skip ahead. That list was compiled using the plot thread diagrams from Encyclopaiedia-WOT, which you can also use book-by-book, or for:

Option 5A: Include Min chapters. Besides being one of the more palatable females, Min observes several events the Power Trio misses, and her viewings provide additional perspective.
Option 5B: Read only the Power Trio chapters from books 12-13 instead of the entire book. (NOT Recommended.)
Option 5C: Include Egwene chapters from Book 9 onward — she graduates from being POV for token-B-plots to being as important (and enjoyable) as the big 3 by book 12.
Option 5D: Skip books 7, 8 and 10.

Read the synopses for skipped chapters to keep up with mythology and progression.

OPTION 6: READ EVERYTHING (Books 1-13)
Chapters Read: 609 from 13 books
Chapters Summarized: None
Pros: Experience the series as originally intended, with all the characters, buildup, foreshadowing and development.
Cons: Extremely time-consumming (over four million words), and will bog you down when you reach slower books.
Recommended For: Readers with multimedia formats (see below) and extra time to read during the holidays.

If possible, get both print and audio format. The Kindle’s text-to-voice option serves as a poor-man’s audiobook (and saves your place for later reading). Audio will allow you to read while driving or exercising, and you can move to print during downtime. This will speed your progress considerably compared to one format alone: You’ll read the series roughly twice as fast.

I still recommend reading synopses after each book, particularly when you aren’t sure what the purpose of a scene or character is. This will help you connect the dots. There are “spoilers” that you won’t understand in just one reading.

Option 6A: Skip any chapters that annoy you as needed. Highly recommended: It’s better to do this than not finish.
Option 6B: Skip book 10. Highly recommended: Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Option 6C: Skip books 7, 8 and 10.
Option 6D: Skip any chapter referring to the Bowl of Winds. (Ugh.)

Final Thoughts

Whatever you decide, I have a few more tips before you read A MEMORY OF LIGHT (or the books leading up to it).

First, The Seanchean and Whitecloaks are both more important than they seem early, or when reintroduced. You might skip early chapters about them; I don’t advise it beyond mid-series.

Second, the Forsaken seem like background information in early books becoming major players later; almost the reverse is true. There is a token-Forsaken-battle at least once/book until book 5, and afterwards they’re influential secondary characters akin to other rulers. The critical exception to this is when one of the Forsaken infiltrate the camps/bands of the heroes. Knowing who they are makes seemingly useless chapters rife with meaning. Key examples of this are Aran’gar and Osan’gar, both reincarnated Forsaken under different names, are known by different aliases to the heroes they fool. Similarly, Lanfear is known by four names throughout the series: Lanfear, Selene, Mierin and Cyndane. Once, she appears in disguise as Else Grinwell.

Third, Perrin stalls for most of books 7-11. He does have a major plot thread, but it takes 3 books to resolve and is reminiscent of earlier events; not a crowd favorite.

Fourth, Jordan never explains things unless the characters figure them out. This is why supplemental materials are so important. Regardless of your reread, I recommend the synopses on Encyclopaiedia-WOT to supplement your reading. After you’re caught up (finished book 13), the character chronologies are more helpful than the chapter summaries; just avoid them until you’re ready for spoilers. Some revelations are blink-and-you’ll-miss it. For example: in LORD OF CHAOS, Rand realizes his mother’s identity, and that he has a half-brother. He discusses this with no one; the half-brother doesn’t know, and even Rand’s page on Encyclopaiedia-WOT doesn’t mention it (though Tigraine’s and Galad’s pages do).

The Wheel of Time FAQ  is another great resource. For example, under the “Prophecy” heading, there’s an entire page that explains all of Min’s viewings: What she saw (and when/where), what it probably means, and when it came true.

A third resource for completing the puzzle (not to be underestimated), is discussion with a fellow fan such as yours truly, over coffee or beer.

Of paramount importance is that you enjoy what you read and read what you enjoy. Prior experience proves that I don’t always enjoy it; other fans have found the same. So skip what you need, enjoy what’s left.

If we survive, I’ll see you after the Last Battle. Tai’shar Manetheren!

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  • Wow, brilliant complexity. Speaking as someone who hasn’t read the books, the uniqueness of the masterful planning is definitely enticing.

    • JasonRPeters

      They’re thoroughly enjoyable too, but not until the very end.

    • JasonRPeters

      To clarify my earlier comment, the planning is more enjoyable towards the end. The events themselves and the story are enjoyable throughout, to varying degrees as you might gather from my extensive guide.

    • Doooooooooooooo it!

  • Brandon Peters

    This article was a great read itself and I will definitely use that website to brush up before starting the final volume. Those chapter summaries are great the way they stay in character and keep everything extra in the footnotes. Think I’ll just read them all…

    • JasonRPeters

      Thanks. Turns out the Encyclopedia-WOT is one of the most-clicked outlinks on this site. (Fortunately so are some of my shirt designs.) It’s a great resource I’ve used frequently to supplement my WOT rereads. Some authors delight in the complexity that prompts fansites to interpret it all.

  • Ha! You’re my hero! I do totally disagree with some of the above, but that only makes it more fun. I felt exactly the same way about _New Spring_ — RJ, WHAT ARE YOU *DOING* F-ING AROUND WRITING A PREQUEL?!!????!!!!!? It’s gonna be Asimov (or whomever that was, who died and left us so painfully bereft… aaaaargh) all over again, but possibly even WORSE –but my nonbiosister talked me into reading it last year (oh, so stubborn) (and still not anywhere near cleansed of aaaaaaargh), when I’d finally agreed to read Brandon Sanderson’s (I mean, come ON: how could anyone match Robert Jordan in the middle of his own game?) books. It fills out Moiraine and Lan a bit, and is worth the 12.3 minutes it takes, though I’m not planning to re-read it on subsequent full series re-reads (OMG so excited to read it all knowing all I know now!) (Yes, they’re all real, aren’t they? DUH.). Try it and then let’s nerdbookclub it up! Coffee/chai at Kilim next week?

    P.S. Your use of ‘penultimate’ is odd, perhaps just to me, because the reason I find that word so crazy useful is it disambiguates all the caca around “next-to-last second-to-last-screw-it-I’ma-go-throw-[self-included-]sh!te-through-portals.” Unless it’s from when BS (teehee) was writing say the last 2.

    • JasonRPeters

      What about propreantepenultimate?

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