The first barrage of Towers of Midnight reviews burst over us on November 2nd, when Tor's embargo on reviews was lifted. I had to wait for the book like everybody else however, it took me a bit longer to come up with one. So for those of you who haven't had their fill of Tower of Midnight reviews, here we go. The thirteenth and second to last book in the series is one that is gathers the scattered plot lines and ties off a number of loose ends. As a result it is a lot less focussed than The Gathering Storm but it does make some great strides towards the climax of the series.
A plot summary is almost impossible for this book. Pretty much all the main characters make an appearance in this novel. If there is a focus I suppose it is on Mat and Perrin. Mat finally manages to introduce gunpowder into war and gears up for a final confrontation with the snakes and foxes, while Perrin tackles the last obstacles in his way to Tarmon Gai'don: the Whitecloaks and his status as Lord of the Two Rivers. Egwene and Elayne are mostly busy solidifying their position as Amyrlin Seat and Queen of Andor. Aviendha makes a brief appearance in her quest to make the remnant of a remnant of her people that will survive the breaking as large as possible. Rand himself in the mean time, implements his new insights gained in the crisis that was the finale of The Gathering Storm.
The world is not waiting for the Dragon Reborn to put all the pieces just right before the last battle. The world is more clearly affected by the shadow with each passing day. Crops rot in the fields, food supplies mysteriously spoil overnight and starvation is rearing it's ugly head. The Dark One takes more direct approach as well. Trollocs overrun Bordeland outposts and Saldea is invaded by a massive army of shadowspawn. Elsewhere in the lands various plots by the shadow's minions are also nearing completion. In short, the forces of the Light are running out of time.
With Sanderson tackling the full breadth of Wheel of Time characters in this book, it is noticeably different from The Gathering Storm. Sanderson keeps a good pace in this novel. It is a large book but as I mentioned above, he had a lot of loose ends to tie up. It reads a lot faster then for instance Crossroads of Twilight, where Jordan's tendency to get bogged down in vivid descriptions of things irrelevant to the story he was trying to tell reached a peak. Cutting back on the descriptions of dresses helps, but a large part in the pacing of this novel is also in the way in which Sanderson switches from point of view in a chapter. Jordan didn't do this a lot. In the early books most chapters were seen through the eyes of one character. Later on he switches a bit more. In Towers of Midnight the point of view changes a lot. A good example is chapter 7, in which the point of view bounces back and froth between Perrin and Galad. It also tends to have slightly shorter chapters than the last books Jordan wrote solo. I can't really tell for sure of course, but I suspect Towers of Midnight has a bit less of Jordan's writing in it than The Gathering Storm.
The pace Sanderson sets has its disadvantages too. A great many story lines left hanging are tied up in this novel. In some part of the book it felt like the Sanderson was checking items to be resolved from a to do list. Only Perrin escapes this to an extent. He seems to receive more than his share of attention in this book. Many of the issues dealt with in this novel have been theorized to death by the Wheel of Time fanatics and as a result there wasn't all that much going on in this book that really surprised me. What I did think an interesting development is the way the responsibilities the young people we started out with have taken on and how it affects their relationship. Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Elayne are all in a position of considerable political and military power, their perspectives, motivations and agenda have begun to drift apart. The rift between Rand and Egwene is most prominent in this novel. The days when they seemed destined to be married in The Eye of the World are long gone.
The high stakes the main characters are playing for these days does seem to have made them a touch more reasonable. Rand in particular is on a quest of reconciliation with as many of those whom he once treated badly as he can find. Rand's mild behaviour is a stark contrast from the increasingly erratic behaviour he's shown throughout the later books. It is not limited to him however, with the Last Battle looming a lot of characters seem to be more willing to compromise. It has taken the edge of Faile's behaviour as well (do I hear a sigh of relief here?) and even Egwene seems to have given up her policy of tricking the Aes Sedai into having her way. All this being reasonable takes the edge of the rather strained relationship between the genres a bit. A good thing as they had reached ridiculous proportions in earlier books.
There are a number of major issues left for the final volume besides the Last Battle. Besides the looming conflict between Egwene and her supporters and Rand's (the division still appears to run along gender lines for this one) the Seanchan prophecy that the Dragon will kneel before the Crystal Throne is the most important. That took me by surprise, the title of this book refers to the Seanchan but their part in it is minimal. Rand also has to deal with the mess he created in establishing and then neglecting the Black Tower. With Aviendha very concerned about what it going to happen after the Last Battle there will probably need to be some sort of epilogue as well. Plenty of material left for the final book, A Memory of Light. Sanderson cleared a lot of things of his plate but I still think the final novel is going to be a big one.
While Jordan and Sanderson get a lot done in this book, I didn't think it was a truly inspired piece of writing. A lot of this book is about how things will happen rather than what will happen, Sanderson is executing a story lines that were set in motion half a dozen or more books earlier. With fans and a publisher demanding an end to the seemingly everlasting series this puts some severe restrictions on how many words Sanderson can spend on properly developing the story. I must admit I wasn't sure a split in three books would be necessary but seeing how things play out, three begins to look like an absolute minimum. If I didn't know this book to be part of a huge series, I'd say it suffered from the middle book syndrome. Will fans like this book? Absolutely. It is Wheel of Time, it is competently written by a man who's insight into the world is close to that of The Creator and especially in the large scale battle scenes where very well done. As for me, I'm not quite as excited about it as The Gathering Storm.
Title: Towers of Midnight
Author: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
First published: 2010