Towers of Midnight: An event-filled book that moves the big story forward

Robert Jordan Brandon Sanderson Wheel of Time 13, A Memory of Light 2. Towers of MidnightTowers of Midnight by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

One of the problems with reviewing books like Towers of Midnight is that as you’re taking your notes and then as you’re writing the review itself, you know that really, none of it matters. Because let’s face it, nobody’s reading a review of the thirteenth book in a series — the penultimate one no less — to see if they should read the book. So we’ll dispense with the recommending part of the review and just give some spoiler-free impressions of this almost-the-end book by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson.

I’ll begin by confessing that over the years I’ve become somewhat ambivalent toward the The Wheel of Time, feeling that while some of the books (especially early ones) were absolutely fantastic, the series overall has had wide variations in quality of characterization and plotting, generally becoming pretty bloated.

Towers of Midnight does a mostly good job of taking care of the plot aspect. I’m starting to think, based first on The Gathering Storm and now on Towers of Midnight, that Brandon Sanderson was an inspired choice to finish the series following Robert Jordan’s death. The reason for that is one of Sanderson’s strengths, perhaps even the major one, is his ease and speed of pace. As mentioned, I think Jordan’s series bogged down with plotting somewhere after the first 4-5 books and we started to get a lot of repetitive or superfluous scenes. That holds true somewhat here as well, one assumes because Sanderson is still working off of Jordan’s outlines, but I give credit to both authors for the improvement on this front. Jordan seems to have streamlined the general plotting as we head toward the conclusion, while Sanderson has streamlined the prose and transitions so we speed through all that plot more quickly than before. What we’re left with is an event-filled book that moves far faster (in most spots) than its 800+ pages would portend. I maintain my belief, though, that the series didn’t justify 14 books, and I’m not fully convinced it needed three to wrap it up. (Two would have done the job, I think.)

Sanderson showed this same facility with quick-moving plot in The Gathering Storm, but I said in my review of that book that while we moved quickly through individual scenes, by the end it didn’t feel like we’d moved forward much in the overarching story. That’s not the case here, however. The Last Battle is near and the characters need to be put in their places. And so we finally get characters accepting and/or entering fully into their roles and moving determinedly through events because of that acceptance. Rand, for instance, is no longer hardening himself at a glacial pace; instead he has found his center and is decisively moving forward. Egwene has mostly consolidated the White Tower, Elayne the same for Andor and they too are sharp and decisive. Mat (who feels much better handled in this book, less overtly and clumsily humorous and thus even more funny) is making his move to find Moiraine. The exception to this is Perrin, who has gone far too long declaring he isn’t a leader and does so here as well, though once he finally makes his decision (in one of the better scenes of the book) he too is strongly resolute. Personally, this final acceptance of their role comes a bit late for me, especially as many of the character arcs are relatively predictable in terms of the big picture: Perrin and Mat both pretty much do what one would expect and end where one would expect, though there may be some small-detail surprises.

Meanwhile, beyond moving characters into place for the Last Battle, we get other plot strands — some large, some small — resolved from earlier books and a small number of new ones added. These are handled solidly, if at times a bit perfunctorily. There aren’t a lot of emotionally-stirring reading moments, though there are a few. Interestingly enough, I’d say that the strongest of these don’t even involve the major characters.

The writing itself is solid. I wouldn’t really call Sanderson a wordsmith in terms of imagery or startling use of language, but he creates a scene concisely and does a nice job with dialogue. Finally, he has thankfully pretty much scrubbed the book of those annoying character/descriptor tics (I think there was only one “folded her hands under her breasts” in the entire novel).

Like The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight is a very quick, effortless read, no small achievement for a nearly-900-page book (though it probably would have been better at 700-750). Unlike the prior book though, Towers of Midnight really moves the big story forward and by the end there’s a sense of bated breath as events and characters start to narrow to a point. Those who have stayed fans throughout will, I think, find that Sanderson is doing a credible and respectable job bringing it home. Those who, like myself, have become somewhat ambivalent lately and are reading more to finish and “just find out how it ends” will be happy for how smoothly and speedily Sanderson gets us closer to that point.

~Bill Capossere

In the WHEEL OF TIME series, there are two kinds of conflicts: those that are contained within the scope of the novel and those that are contained within the scope of the series. When Rand defeats Sammael in A Crown of Thorns, it is the climax of a novel. When Rand cleanses saidin in Winter’s Heart, it’s a climax within the series. Somewhere along the way, Robert Jordan began to focus on one of these arcs at the expense of the other.

When Brandon Sanderson took over the series after Jordan’s passing in 2007, many noticed that the voice of the novel — particularly with Mat — had subtly changed. However, what Sanderson achieved was a tightly plotted entry that contained a clear-cut exposition, conflict, and resolution. And while I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with The Gathering Storm, it is a surprisingly contained story in a series that long ago seemed to have grown beyond any sense of authorial control. To his credit, Sanderson has assembled a real plot again in Towers of Midnight.

Here are a few conflicts that find resolutions in Towers of Midnight: Perrin is fighting Whitecloaks (again) — and there’s a Forsaken on his trail. Egwene, now the Amyrlin, is hunting down a Forsaken within the White Tower. Mat faces off against the gholem, and he finds time to start rescuing Moiraine in earnest. Morgase wonders about her identity and whether she should marry. Gawyn has to come to grips with the irrationality of love while he hunts for assassins. Elayne secures Andor’s throne and sets her sights on new territories. Last but not least, Rodel Ituralde has begun fighting the last battle.


Somehow, Sanderson makes it look easy.

The external conflicts have begun to be resolved, but so too have the internal ones. Finally, Perrin comes into his own as a leader, which is particularly gratifying since everyone around has been telling him how great at leading he is since The Shadow Rising. Rand has finally moved on from his “cold as ice” routine, an epiphany that leads to a fantastic comeuppance with Cadsuane. And Nynaeve, too, has overcome the insecurities that have — dare I say it — occasionally made her irritating over the course of this series. When it comes to change, the only exception is Mat, who doesn’t come into his own so much as the people that usually berate him for being a scoundrel finally accept him as a heroic scoundrel.

As satisfying as it is to finally be getting closure on this series, Towers of Midnight wouldn’t be a WHEEL OF TIME novel if there weren’t a few loose threads. Lan is still headed to Tarwin’s Gap and there’s trouble brewing in the Black Tower — but, as this is the second to last entry in the series, it finally feels all right that storylines are not resolved. Like the characters, we’re approaching the end of an era.

What will happen after the Last Battle? Actually, Aviendha receives a vision of the Aiel’s future. Up to this point, the Aiel have been defined by their time in the Waste. Soon, the People of the Dragon will have fulfilled their purpose. What will happen to them? It’s a question that reveals the detail and depth of Jordan’s world building, but it also has the feel of a conflict that might not be resolved within the series proper. Are we being set up for a tangent series?

Regardless, there are many reasons to read Towers of Midnight, not the least of which is that it begins to reward all the time that Robert Jordan’s fans have dedicated to this epic series. On top of this, there are fine action sequences and battles — it feels like forever since we last read about Trollocs, but they’re back. The world is ending, but Sanderson reserves a lot of time for humor, particularly with Mat. And there are moments of prophecy offered, defied, and fulfilled. In short, Towers of Midnight features some of the best things that THE WHEEL OF TIME has to offer.

~Ryan Skardal

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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  1. Thanks, Bill. I’m glad to hear there’s been improvement!

  2. Sanderson really was an excellent choice IMHO–and I say this as someone who gave up after Winter’s Heart. He’s an absolute workhorse, and I say that in the best possible way. I’ve seen very few authors who can flog themselves on to be that prolific and that disciplined about it. And he knows how to actually end things; heck, he even knows how to write a standalone! ;)

  3. Hate to break it to you, Kelly, but I read somewhere recently that Warbreaker (and I think possibly Elantris) is eventually getting a sequel.

    I like Sanderson’s ideas but I really wish someone would take a red pen to his work. Vigorously. Perhaps a red marker, even. A Sharpie. Something. His work is kinda like dough, you know, if you stretch it out too far…fine on either end, but it risks getting saggy and thin in the middle.

  4. I agree with both of you, but Sanderson makes a nice transition from Jordan. Jordan’s writing style had become so bloated and inexplicably self-important that I had given up. Sanderson is not a shock to the WOT fans (it still definitely feels like WOT), but he’s subtly and methodically trimming it down so that those of us who’d bailed are willing to come back and see how it ends.

  5. Yeah, he doesn’t have a style that really calls attention to itself, which is good for a project like this. If he jumped in there and started writing like, say, Catherynne Valente, I think the WOT fans would be going *blinkblink*

  6. You mean, all poetic-like? (sorry, couldn’t resist) :D

  7. Exactly. :D Valente’s style is really striking and so it wouldn’t blend as well with another writer’s style as does Sanderson’s, whose style is more neutral.

  8. You know, taking a good look at the cover art, I’m wondering why we didn’t do what we did last year.

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