The Towers of Midnight
Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Reading The Towers of Midnight, the 13th and penultimate volume of The Wheel of Time, one thing becomes glaringly obvious: the final three volumes could never, ever, have been one book. In fact we are probably lucky that we are getting only three. In the previous volume, The Gathering Storm, Brandon Sanderson managed to more-or-less maintain a theme across the two big narratives that spanned the novel; a feat possible due to the very fact that there were really only two main POVs. In The Towers of Midnight the narrative is spread a little a thinner. While Perrin and Mat form the bulk of our perspective there are many other characters who play integral roles in wrapping up, or beginning to wrap up, numerous plot threads. While the deliberate move towards wrapping up plot threads that have seemingly been dangling for ages is certainly appreciated the overall effect works against this entry; robbing it of the strength seen in The Gathering Storm.
Minor spoilers below! Consider yourself warned!
While one might say that a lot happens in The Towers of Midnight what does happen frequently lacks the emotional weight and sense of grave importance that were the hallmark of events in The Gathering Storm. That isn’t to say that the novel lacks those effects completely, it doesn’t, only that there is a certain sense of the arbitrary to some of the plot advancements. Of course there were also moments that didn’t feel forced but elicited something long the lines of, “ABOUT FRICKIN’ TIME!” Yes, Perrin, I’m looking at you! Perrin, who despite doing some great things over the course of the first four novels or so, has been in a holding pattern doing next to nothing to confront his inner demons finally gets his act together. While there is a certain amount of triumph to Perrin’s plot developments, thinking about them too hard makes me wonder why nothing had been done about it over the last couple thousand pages.
Indeed that line of thinking steers me towards troubled waters because I start to wonder why a lot of what happened in the two latest volumes wasn’t sprinkled more liberally across the slower entries late in the series. Now, if I’m being fair, I understand that Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan are about as different as night and day when it comes to style. Sanderson tends to be a bit more direct and is a more kinetic writer than Jordan was; it gives Sanderson’s style a more modern feel. Jordan was nothing short of ponderous, lavish in his descriptions with a tendency to linger where Sanderson has a tendency to push onward. Both styles have their benefits and both have their detriments. While Sanderson is extraordinarily apt at capturing the voice and nature of Jordan’s characters (Mat is much improved this time around) his own tendency towards action, and the absolute need to press on in order to finish the series, does not always serve The Towers of Midnight well.
Yes it is perhaps a tad backwards to chide a series for being too slow at the same time as being too fast. But the sudden upswing in pacing, even over the fast though even-paced, The Gathering Storm is jarring in The Towers of Midnight and left me somewhat disappointed in several sections of the novel. Most notable for this here was the unexpected return of Aviendha. While her sudden reappearance marked an abrupt change of both scene and pace the brief time we see spend with her opens up some fascinating new possibility and, surprisingly, seems to open a new plot thread (sort of). Wedged in between all of the other characters my initial read of those sections suffered as a result though I eased in to her POV eventually and really wish Sanderson had lingered just a bit longer so I knew where that new idea was going. Of course that wasn’t the point and the Aviendha section illuminates one of the subtext regarding Rand’s involvement with the Aiel that, while mentioned, has not been dealt with directly. It is a beautifully written and extraordinarily powerful moment that just seemed a bit oddly placed wedged in between the other narratives occurring across the novel. Similarly the extraction that every fan has been waiting for felt a bit rushed, wedged into the end of the novel, and our favorite troublemaker’s decisions at its apex was one of those moments that left me squinting in a bit of confusion, falling a bit flat for what I thought would be something a bit epic.
On the other hand Sanderson captures more than a few moments of awesome. The showdown in Tel’aran’rhiod, the defense of Maradon, and Perrin’s ultimate decision all left me either on the edge of my seat or grinning like a madman. Like in The Gathering Storm I found Sanderson’s grasp of Egwene to be near pitch perfect and his take on her character is built upon nicely in The Towers of Midnight; particularly with the return of character that is both an avid supporter of the new Amryllin and one willing to voice her own unflinching opinion. Elayne remained a character I’m not too fond of, and though she isn’t overtly annoying something about her just rubs me the wrong way; maybe I’ve absorbed too much of Mat. Sanderson’s characterization of Mat is much better in The Towers of Midnight than it was in The Gathering Storm though still a bit off the mark from Jordan’s portrayal; it works once you adjust to it.
OK so putting away my structural complaints, and other more or less quibbling issues what did I think about The Towers of Midnight? Frankly, it frickin’ rocked. While everything I’ve said so far is true, at least in the rational part of my mind, the ravening fan part of my just keeps screaming “OMG WTF OMG WTF” over and over again. Not only just in terms of the long-expected but in terms of the unexpected (like the beautiful Aviendha sequence). Balancing rabid fan enthusiasm with objective criticism is never easy and, as is typical for the Wheel of Time (at least for me), it is the fan that wins over the objective critic. Like I stated above I have no idea how this series could end in one more book it just feels like there is too much left to do. Brewing in the background of the big prophesied confrontation at the heart of the series is one that I don’t recall ever being mentioned and whether or not this secondary, and potentially more deadly confrontation, will link to Rand’s battle with the Dark One will be interesting to see. Last, but not least, WHERE THE HELL ARE THE OGIER! I miss Loial, whose brief cameo in The Towers of Midnight consists of the opening epithet and here is hoping that A Memory of Light will finally see some long handles placed on axes.