Some minor plot spoilers!
Show me a fantasy reader who hasn’t heard of The Wheel of Time, and I’ll show you a liar. The series, and its latest novel, Towers of Midnight, needs little introduction. Book 13 of the bestselling series, the work is Brandon Sanderson’s second book based on the notes of originating author Robert Jordan. It is also the second to last novel in the entire epic, full of the conclusions of subplots, the bringing together of characters separated by time, space, and several books, and the reintroduction of the minions of the Dark One.
Where The Gathering Storm followed Rand al’Thor, and Egwene al’Vere as its chief protagonists, with some deviations into Perrin Aybara and Mat Cauthon, Towers of Midnight focuses on Mat and Perrin’s tales; with a heavy dollop of Egwene and a smattering of Rand. In truth the book is mostly Perrin’s. However, each of the three character’s tales is a conclusion to some smaller villain/hero subplots woven into the grand scope of the epic.
Mat, hiding in Caemlyn from Verin’s letter and trying to discover how to enter the Tower of Ghenjei, finally confronts the gholam which had haunted him for so long. Perrin faces Slayer in the wolf dream and the consequences of his own murder of two Children of the Light. And Egwene, the Amyrlin Seat, must find Messana the Forsaken hiding somewhere among the sisters of the White Tower. Each confrontation is highly significant and written so that the tension is built carefully and slowly, so each climax is mostly fulfilling. A significant number of subplots and character arcs are either resolved or very nearly so, including various romances, political maneuverings and even some long held fan suspicions about Tel’aran’rhiod. Though some of the subplot conclusions lack emotional punch, others are chock full of it, so the book is uneven dramatically, but satisfying overall.
Rand, meanwhile, has stopped trying to be steel and has learned to love and laugh again. Readers of “Apples First” will have seen a hint of this, which blossoms as the story progresses. Rodel Ituralde reappears, and several key chapters highlight his battle against the Trollocs and Mydraaal – highlighting just how close the Last Battle is and providing significant action to a novel that is primarily concerned with troop movements and characters being placed properly for Tarmon Gai’don. Lan also has a significant presence in these pages, but sadly Sanderson doesn’t quite capture him in speech as well as he does in thought and deed.
Though Towers of Midnight is fairly well-written and certainly entertaining, I did not find it fit either descriptor as well The Gathering Storm. It is obvious that Sanderson is working with more notes and fewer written scenes from what Jordan left him. Sanderson inserts more of his own writing style into the narrative (such as his occasional tendency to end sentences with a preposition, and his overuse of “to be” verbs). Mat Cauthon still lacks the cleverness and wit Jordan originally endowed him with, coming across as a whiny schoolboy, not a leader of men and a ta’veren. So Sanderson still fails to grasp Jordan’s Mat. Lan is a mixed bag as mentioned before, though Sanderson certainly ramps up the action and speed of this novel, as compared to the slow rising action approach Jordan adopted.
There is also a significant issue with a character’s placement in the timeline. Tam al’Thor seems to be in two places without explanation. In one scene he is with Perrin Aybara as part of the Two Rivers contingent of Perrin’s army in Ghealdan. In another chapter just a hundred pages later, Rand falls at his feet in Tear. There is no adequate explanation in the text for Tam being in these two places, though it is possible that I have forgotten something from the previous book, or that the reader is to assume a gateway was used.
But the greatest flaw of the book falls on the shoulders of more than just the author. This novel, one of the most anticipated and talked about of the year, is riddled with grammatical errors. And not just one or two, but one approximately every twenty pages of a 850+ page book. Misplaced punctuation, sentence fragments, missing and repeated words are common. It’s like taking a Van Gogh masterwork and shooting holes in it. Perhaps I’m being too much of a stickler, but in a book that is going to be analyzed and talked about as much as this one, I would have thought the editing would have been of higher quality.
However, these are mostly nitpicky issues, ones that better minds than mine are going to think about, analyze, rehash and write about at length. The truth is, I liked Towers of Midnight. I didn’t like it as much as The Gathering Storm, but I was pleased with the resolution to some subplots, the fact that the nonhuman races of the world get more page space, and that so many characters had significant turning points that shifted them from selfish, unthinking, near anti-heroes into noble, selfless, thoughtful leaders. There are some truly moving scenes and a more complex interweaving of plotline than in The Gathering Storm. It is also darker in tone than The Gathering Storm, due mostly to the fact that The Last Battle is drawing ever closer, and I’m still wondering just how this whole thing will be resolved.
Ultimately, Towers of Midnight is a significant departure from The Gathering Storm in terms of narrative style that moves with more alacrity than its predecessor, yet that has fewer reveals and poignant scenes. It is not going to be considered the best book of the series, but neither is it the worst. At the very least, the reader will feel a real sense of closure to some longstanding elements, with enough left over that A Memory of Light still has lots of material to cover.