What most of you are probably thinking right now is something along the lines of: ‘Why is he now reviewing this book? Hasn’t it been out for a month?’ And you would be right, Towers of Midnight, the penultimate tome in Robert Jordan’s emblematic epic series has been out for a month. Now about the whole month part... Well, let’s just say that due to some troubles in the mail (and the jury is still out on which of the Royal Mail or the Belgian bposte is to blame) the book took a while to get here. I did, of course, devour it as fast as humanly possible (I like to think) as a volume of its status requires and yes, I’m finally in the capacity to pass judgment on it. So here it comes. Though fulfilling in its own ways, Towers of Midnight does not achieve the independence of its direct predecessor and instead aims strongly at setting the scene for what promise to be a hugely satisfying, as of yet mystifying and epic conclusion to one of the most monumental works of fantasy fiction of the past two decades.
The Last Battle has started. The seals on the Dark One’s prison are crumbling. The Pattern itself is unravelling, and the armies of the Shadow have begun to boil out of the Blight.
The sun has begun to set upon the Third Age.
Perrin Aybara is now hunted by specters from his past: Whitecloaks, a slayer of wolves and the responsibilities of leadership. All the while, an unseen foe is slowly pulling a noose tight around his neck. To prevail, he must seek answers in Tel’aran’rhiod and find a way - at long last - to master the wolf within him or lose himself to it for ever.
Meanwhile, Matrim Cauthon prepares for the most difficult challenge of his life. The creatures beyond the stone gateways - the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn - have confused him, taunted him and left him hanged, his memory stuffed with bits and pieces of other mens’ lives. He had hoped that his last confrontation with them would be the end of it, but the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. The time is coming when he will again have to dance with the Snakes and the Foxes, playing a game that cannot be won. The Tower of Ghenjei awaits, and its secrets will reveal the fate of a friend long lost.
Dovie’andi se tovya sagain. It’s time to roll the dice.
At this stage in a series the size of The Wheel of Time, both in number of pages and abundance of content, it becomes difficult as a reviewer to firstly give a solid opinion of an individual installment without spoiling the series and without being clouded in judgement by the other books. There are two simple solution to those issues, as I see it. For the first there is the quite logical assumption that most people reading the review for the 13th tome of a series will probably have some interest or another in the previous books and so is unlikely to have anything spoiled for him or her. Theoretically. For the second issue I personally believe that there is no way, or no better way, to judge a novel as being a part of the series it does in fact belong to. So please bear with me in this oh-so-difficult-to-write-review.
As the middle part of what was originally planned as a single book, Towers of Midnight unfortunately, though predictably, suffers from the middle section syndrome. It lags a bit. The Gathering Storm saw Sanderson pick up the story of the Wheel of Time where Robert Jordan had left it in Knife of Dreams and shake things up a bit, concentrating on a more limited section of the cast of characters to develop them more appropriately and throwing in some well-dosed action. All in all, it was a fine addition to the series. As glad as I was to see the return, either altogether or in larger part, of many of the series’ side characters, it became quickly evident, as in past volumes of the series, that the cast had simply become too large to co-habit in a volume.
Admittedly Sanderson keeps a tighter control over the characters than even Jordan did during those famously lacking novels from book 8 to 11, but still things did mesh together as nicely as in The Gathering Storm. To be fair, Towers of Midnight has a very different duty to perform than its predecessor, that of truly setting up the series climax and conclusion in a way that leaves the reader prepared and hopefully anxious for the end. So maybe it is not so much the return of too many characters as the way they were employed.
Ultimately though, and complaints aside, its a Wheel of Time book. And it’s good to be back. One can never take away from Jordan the power of his worldbuilding and the sheer capability for escapism that his books offer. In a matter of pages I found myself thrown back into the thick of it - joyfully so. Sure the characters didn’t play the parts I quite wanted to (but the way things are looking, A Memory of Light should deliver that nicely) but it’s hardly something to cancel out the benefits of being reunited with a long-gone friend.
Also, unlike in the previously mentioned ‘lacking’ books of the series, Towers of Midnight moves a long at a pace that keeps you reading, if not as intently as in The Gathering Storm. The plot threads are now noticeably coming together and it’s a great thing to see after so long with them dangling about. Most prominent in my mind of the threads that moved forward was that of Perrin. As the blurb puts it ‘at long last’ Perrin give appearance of growing into his own and finally getting his ass moving, so to speak. Annoyingly, Mat’s thread, also disused in The Gathering Storm, doesn’t move as quick as I might have wanted it to, and one of the most anticipated events of the novel get pushed back to the very last annals of the book where they feel rushed. After much exposure in the previous novel, Rand and Egwene don’t get as much ‘screen time’ but are present enough for their changes in character from the previous book to be noticed and enjoyed.
So final verdict? Good, but not the best. More of a segway really than a novel in itself, which is understandable considering its placement in the series as a whole and the original nature of its content. But really a verdict isn’t necessary. Fans of the Wheel of Time that have read this far will continue on into Towers of Midnight (most probably already have) and will find bits and pieces they truly and enjoy and others... not so much. That’s why, as you’ll notice below, I’ll pass on giving this book my usual rating, leaving to readers the right to decide what they think of it. In all event, the end is near. Bring on the final confrontation so we can finally see how the Light will fare....
My Rating: Pass
Reading Age: 14 and up
Brandon Sanderson's Website:http://www.brandonsanderson.com
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