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AICN Books: Adam Balm reviews the newest Wheel of Time novel, Towers of Midnight!

Published at: Nov. 2, 2010, 12:57 a.m. CST by quint



TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT (Wheel of Time book 13) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson Tor To read the Wheel of Time is to live in anticipation. In the entire length and breadth of written science fiction and fantasy you can point to few things that have the level of hype and anticipation that the final Wheel of Time book has generated. Maybe the final Potter book comes close, but then again, unlike with Wheel of Time, people didn't have to wait decades for it. Mainly this is because the entire Wheel of Time series has been one long build up to a single event: Tarmon Gai'don, The Last Battle. The gist of the series is that in the beginning, at the moment of creation, the Creator imprisoned The Dark One, aka Shai'tan. The bore to his prison was closed with seven seals. From then on the Creator and the Dark One have been destined to play out the same cycle, over and over again as the wheel of time turns. In each age, both powers have a champion, one man that stands with the creator and one that stands with Shai'tan. In the last age it was Lews Therin Telamon (Called the Dragon) that fought for the Light, and Ishmael that fought for the darkness. In the third age, the new incarnation of the creator's champion is Rand al'Thor (Aka the Dragon Reborn). So basically the only thing that matters is the Last Battle, and everything else is foreplay. By the middle of the last decade, after eleven books (stretched from the original four or five that were planned), Robert Jordan was plotting A Memory of Light, the final volume of the series that would tell the tale of the Tarmon Gai'don. This would be the big pay-off. This would make it all worth the wait. Then Robert Jordan died. Now, plenty of series were never finished before their authors exited this world, but somehow this was different. Because, again, to read Wheel of Time is to live in anticipation. Because it had violated the law of franchise fatigue that says that the more the story goes on, the more it drags on and fizzles out. Instead, since it had a fixed finish line, the Wheel of Time only picked up speed as the Last Battle approached. But when Jordan died, he left millions of fantasy fans with the biggest case of blue balls in literary history. So as is fashionable these days, they took Jordan's notes and brought on someone new to finish it. In 2007 it was announced that Brandon Sanderson, one of the rising stars in the new wave of epic fantasy authors, would be finishing A Memory of Light. Years passed, and the size of the work became untenable. It was later announced in 2009 that the final Wheel of Time book would be split into a trilogy. (Because everything must be split into a trilogy. Everything.) The Gathering Storm was to be the first book, spanning the first act of the final volume. Towers of Midnight is the second act of this trilogy, and represents the climax of all that has come before. Now in fairness I should probably mention that I've almost never reviewed epic fantasy, mostly because I almost never read it. Fantasy as a whole is a little bit of a blind spot for me, and epic fantasy...well, I just don't have the attention span or the interest. But it makes no difference. if you read a lot of SF, even a fantasy-phobe can't go for very long remaining ignorant of Wheel of Time, and even a fantasy-phobe like me would be crazy to not take up an offer to get an advance look at the latest book. (Minor spoilers ahead.) So after having read through all 841 pages of it, what's the verdict? Is it any good? Depends. The short answer is that it gets the job done without a whole lot of bumps along the way, it's a page turner that pretty much does what a penultimate book in a series is supposed to do. (Meaning it ties up all the loose ends that it has to and sets the stage for the final book in a way that makes you want to throw the book when you get to the last page and realize you have to wait another year for the rest.) I think Sanderson probably understands the raw mechanics of story-telling better than most genre authors who've been at this for decades. (Anyone who doubts this should listen to his podcast Writing Excuses.) So that's the short answer. The long answer is...I honestly don't know. And not just because I know fuck all about fantasy. First, in any book ongoing series with a continuous narrative, each book is basically a single act in one long arc. You can't say "Oh, Lord of Chaos was absolute shit but Path of Daggers blew my hair back and made me see Jesus." Second, it's almost impossible to really evaluate how successful a book is that's been finished by another author. You can only judge a book by how well it succeeded in what the author intended to do, but in these cases, it's hard to say what that is. No two authors are going to have the same intentions or the same vision, even if they're starting from the same place, and it's not like you have Jordan's notes alongside Sanderson's finished draft to compare the two. I ran into this problem when reviewing the final book in the Dune series, and I was positive that Frank Herbert would never have ended it with Duncan Idaho ruling the universe. It was philosophically opposed to the theme Herbert had been developing in the later books of creating a universe where no single person could change the course of the entire human race. So in my mind, the more I look back on it, the more I'm convinced that the Frank Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson union was made of pure fail. Sanderson, on the other hand, is much more seamless. Now, some were bitching after Gathering Storm about Sanderson's choice not to ape Jordan's writing style. Sanderson's prose at times can be generously described as minimalist. He values clarity above beauty. In a way, I was actually a bit grateful for this. In a series with 13 books written over 20 years, averaging about 700-800 pages a piece, with 1800 named characters (With some of them often having multiple names), the biggest sin against the reader is going to be confusion. It could easily become a virtual impossibility for all but the most hard core fan to follow the storyline without consulting an outside source like the Guide or the WoT encyclopedia. So yeah, Sanderson is more likely to spell things out with all the subtlety of a nail gun, but I call it a feature, not a bug. And lets be fair, as far as series finished by other hands goes, there's far less daylight between Sanderson and Jordan than Kevin J. Anderson and Frank Herbert, or Christopher Tolkien and J.R.R., or Kevin J. Anderson and A.E. Van Vogt, or H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, or Kevin J. Anderson and pretty much anyone. In fact, some things you could go so far as to call an improvement. Sanderson is from the ADD generation, meaning he has the ability to tell if a scene or a piece of dialogue is a part that an audience actually cares about or not. For the most part, side character plots are short and to the point, we're told just what we need to know and quickly cut away. And one good thing about this being nearly the end of the series, you don't have half the book taken up by the following: A character has a dream, strange stuff happens in said dream, they wake up realizing it was a dream, they then spend an entire chapter talking about what the dream could mean, rinse, repeat. No offense to the memory of Robert Jordan, but that was bloated writing at its laziest. Anyway, thankfully by now nearly all the signs and portents have been explained, all the prophecies have either come true or not. Towers of Midnight picks up not far after where Gathering Storm drops off. The skies are boiling. The dead now walk again. Crops are dying in the fields, hunger and famine sweep over the world, refugees abandon the burning cities of civilization and pour into the waste lands. Thousands of Trollocs (Like Orcs but spelled and pronounced differently) bubble up out of the earth, raining a death and destruction that hasn't been seen in millennia. Shai'Tan's prison is weakening and armies now ride north for the Last Battle that will break the world once again. (By the way, none of this is going to make sense to anyone who hasn't read the first twelve books, so don't even try.) Rand's introduction, as he walks down the slopes of Dragonmount is probably the biggest "fuck yeah" moment of the entire series. I can't help but think this is one of the parts that Robert Jordan had written before his death. Up until now we've seen Rand progressively more uncertain, as his sanity slips away and his two personalities battle for control. After the end of the Gathering Storm, however, we see that the lives of Lews Therin and Rand al'Thor have merged together. Now there's no more turmoil, just a zen-like messianic sense of purpose. This part is going to come as a shock to a lot of fans. The Rand that they have been following for thirteen books is mostly gone, at least when we first meet him. "I was broken," he explains, saying he's been "reforged". You might say that he has only now fully become the Dragon Reborn. He goes to Egwene, who has finally unified the White Tower, and reveals his plan: He's going to Shayol Ghul to finally unseal the crumbling Bore that keeps the Dark One in his prison and then reseal it for good, this will mean loosing him upon the world one last time before they're able to imprison him again. To do that he'll need both Saidin and Saidar, (He failed the first time because he only had the male component of the One Power) which means he needs the Aes Sedai to help him. In this, he's made his peace with the White Tower, having fought to free himself from their strings for the entire series. But Egwene isn't convinced. In fact, If you could pin down one overriding theme of Towers of Midnight, it's in the three characters who finally accept the part they have to play, and finally becoming who they were always meant to be: Rand, Perrin, and Lan. Perrin, like Rand was the last couple of books, is in turmoil, torn between the world of men and the dream world of the wolf, between the desire for a simple blacksmith's life and his calling as the Lord of the Two Rivers. He finally faces the Whitecloaks that have hunted him and damned him as Shadowspawn, and will finally come face to face once again with Slayer. Lan, meanwhile, is crossing the Blight toward what was once his home, as more and more flock to the Uncrowned King of Malkier calling on him to raise the banner of the Golden Crane, taking his place leading them into the Final Battle as the Lord of the Seven Towers. At the same time, Elayne steps up to claim the Sun Throne, Egwene hunts the Forsaken known as Mesaana and begins to rally an army to oppose Rand and his plan to break the seals. Mat rides to the Tower of Ghenji to confront the Snakes and the Foxes who have manipulated and controlled his life and to rescue Moraine (And while he's at it, reinvent the lost art of artillery by introducing canons to the battlefield.) And plenty is going on with the Seanchan, with it seeming more likely than ever that they are destined to destroy the Aiel. (Although I seriously don't understand what the hell the purpose of the Seanchan is. They're to the Wheel of Time universe what the Yuuzhan Vong are to the Star Wars universe.) The final line of the book, "The end had come. They would meet it with swords raised." tells you pretty much all you need to know about where this is going. Towers of Midnight is a sliver of a sliver, a single act in a work that's almost overwhelming in its scope and complexity. Sanderson doesn't buckle under the weight, but then again Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight were the easy part. The real test for Sanderon is going to come a year from now when the final volume drops. Then we'll see a whole different kind of Final Battle, this one in the hearts and minds of fans who have been waiting their whole lives with expectations that no author could possibly live up to. All of the blame will fall to him, not Jordan, if he doesn't measure up. I'm guessing that for Sanderson, nothing waiting in Shayol Ghul could be as terrifying. Anticipation cuts both ways. Towers of Midnight goes on sale later today.


Readers Talkback

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  • Nov. 2, 2010, 1:19 a.m. CST

    I honestly tried...

    by maelstrom_ZERO

    ...reading most of the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series. The first one was fantastic at setting up a decent universe, and the following 3 fleshed out the story pretty well. But after that, things started getting more and more grandiose and bloated, until there were literal chapters devoted to what seemed to be the most irrelevant and mundane things. I supposed I should have been more patient, but the literary excess, combined with how silly the women acted whenever interacting with a half-attractive male, and the (seemingly) direct cherry picking of Herbert's Dune just made me give up at book 10 or so. Honestly, the Wheel of Time seems to me an appropriate candidate for series that failed to live up to their potential. Kind of like Evangelion. Or King's Dark Tower. But to give credit where credit is due, those first 4 books were fantastic.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 1:23 a.m. CST

    ...been waiting over a decade...

    by Unknown Canadian

    ... to find out what's happened to Moiraine! Gonna be locked in my house for 2 days reading this one!

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 1:33 a.m. CST

    i better get reading now

    by antonphd

    i was waiting until the series was about finished. i hate waiting for a next book in a series.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 1:33 a.m. CST

    ETA on the last book?

    by Jimbonx

    i might give the series another shot when all books are out.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 2:05 a.m. CST

    I stopped reading this series...

    by Happyfat73

    ...after about the thirty millionth time that Nynaeve tugged her braid. I swear, it felt like every second page had Nynaeve tugging her braid. That braid got tugged more times than a 15 year-old's pecker.</p> Then, I read George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books and forgot all about Wheels of Time and Braid tugging and whatnot. </p> Now, I'm all in a kerfuffle, because George R R Martin has been possessed by the bloated spirit of Robert Jordan and is dragging his series on into infinity (sans braid-tugging) and will probably die before he finishes it.</p> Finish your goddamn series, George. Don't go and do a Robert Jordan on us.</p> Anyway I'd kind of said to myself I'd go back and re-read the Wheel of Time if it ever got finished, but I'm not sure I can sit through 40,000 pages of braid tugging again.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 2:15 a.m. CST

    I'm still waiting for the next Flash Gordon book.....

    by Hint_of_Smegma

    ...by David Hadberg...talk about blue balls waiting. I'm at roughly 27 years and counting for the continuing story on that one! Awesomely good, and unbelievably underrated scifi series that was. Not sure about this Wheels of Time stuff but I'll pick up the first book and give it a go....

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 2:43 a.m. CST

    Balm?

    by Ribbons

    wtf mate!

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 3:28 a.m. CST

    Hmmmm

    by KnightEternal

    Gotta be honest, i started reading these books soooo many years ago i have lost count and then having to re read the books when new ones came out because i couldnt remember who half the characters were...only for the new book to take place in the period of a day and for pretty much nothing to happen...except how someone put earlier lots of bloody braid pulling....But i suppose it is coming to an end, i only made it upto Winters Something or other so dont know if it picked up after that, anyone know if it is worth rereading? or am i just gonna get lots of braid pulling....i hate those bloody braids :(

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 4:05 a.m. CST

    Happyfat73, I feel your pain

    by lock67ca

    Martin seems to be preoccupied with everything but finishing the series. Editing anthologies, football, working with HBO, football, selling trinkets, traveling, football, making convention appearances every other month, bashing Republicans, football and generally pissing off fans who have now been waiting more than five years for the next book, which is only half of what was originally one book. This series will never have a conclusion.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 4:14 a.m. CST

    COME ONNNNNNN !!!!!

    by prettydaisy

    Life is so beautiful. Ma-ybe you want to check out a s ite named ===[[ /Bl-ack/wh-ite/ fli-rt-s ]] ===a nice place for see-king interr acial love.which gives you a chance to make your -life better and open opportunities for you to meet the attractive sin gles and treat you like a king or Q-ueen. Maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends !!!

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 4:19 a.m. CST

    prettydaisy

    by lock67ca

    Go get laid, you'll feel better.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 6:55 a.m. CST

    Nice article, but I disagree with a fundamental point.

    by V'Shael

    It is absolutely possible to point out the moment when this series jumped the shark, nuked the fridge, whatever the metaphor of your choice is. <p> Then it dragged and dragged and dragged. Possibly only Jordan's terminal diagnosis was enough to get the man going in the right direction again. And that is a shame. Because the first 5 books or so are pretty fucking amazing.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 6:59 a.m. CST

    Hey nerd, are you kidding me???

    by Executor

    That maybe just maybe the anticipation of the final Harry Potter book might come close to the anticipation of this book????<p> Potter was a worldwide phenomenon. You can say the name Harry Potter to anyone, and they'll know what it means. Like Star Wars or Luke Skywalker. But this...this is some sci-fi crap that the majority of people have no idea what it is. <p>I could give fuck-all about Potter, haven't read a book and think there were a few good films and a slew of average and crap...but to make a comparison between these two books is either moronic or your nerd goggles have got you blinded to the fact that the real world doesn't care about this novel. <p>Carry on.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 7:13 a.m. CST

    Bored with the series.

    by jwhj2007

    I've been reading book 6 (Lord of Chaos) for two months now. I'm finally near the end. I've already read "The Gathering Storm," which I thought was very good. Yes, I books 6-12, but I don't care. I'm not going to bother with books 7 and up. I'm just going to read Sanderson's final efforts and be done with this series.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 7:36 a.m. CST

    I am currently on book 4. been reading the series for

    by MAD_MIKE

    about 2 months. Yeah there is a bit of bloated writing in it with the dream sequences and slow convergance of past personalities, but, man this book series kicks ass! <P> I figure at the rate I am going, I will finish it all by February. Like the Dark Tower series, I am glad I waited until it was all out before reading.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 7:45 a.m. CST

    I skipped some books to read The Gathering Storm.

    by jwhj2007

    Not that it matters, but I meant to say I SKIPPED books 6-12 in my last post. Also, I kinda agree with Executor. If I mentioned the name Rand al'Thor to someone, they wouldn't know what the hell I was talking about. The WoT series is only for fans, of which I am not.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 8:44 a.m. CST

    Sanderson's WAY of KINGS was awesome!

    by dead youngling

    my fav book of his--BOOK 1 of 10!!! I'll be in my fifties prob by the time it's done.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 8:49 a.m. CST

    WAY OF KINGS WAS GOOD. LOVE WOT!

    by Unlabled

    Awesome that AICN is covering this. Buying ToM today!

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 9:23 a.m. CST

    by Omar B

    I'm glad Sanderson has a more economical writing style. Too many fantasy (and authors in many other styles) get caught up in world building. A lot can be done with a more efficient style, like Fleming, Hammet, Heinlein (the master of self editing) or even a modern guy like Deaver.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 9:25 a.m. CST

    Mad Mike...

    by Unknown Canadian

    ...you didn't wait long enough. The final book will be out next fall.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 9:43 a.m. CST

    Hey guys !!!!!

    by prettydaisy

    Life is so beautiful. Maybe you want to check out :) :) B-l-a -c -k-w -h- i-t -e-F- l-i-r-t-s. C-” 0-- M a nice place for seeking interr acial love.which gives you a chance to make your -life better and open oppor-tunities for you to meet the at-tractive sin gles and tr-eat you like a king or Q-ueen. Maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends !!!

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 10:10 a.m. CST

    Game of Thrones

    by I_Snake_Plissken

    Will be the next series to remain unfinished - I don't think George R.R. Martin is going to get it done before he dies.....he is a master procrastinator. But then again, making a sudden push to finish a fantasy series is not always a good thing (Stephen King, I am looking in your direction).

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 10:30 a.m. CST

    by Omar B

    I really don't think GRRM has a real ending in mind. In many cases he has seemed to write himself into a pretty tough spot.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 11:20 a.m. CST

    A Great series (now finished), but SF not Fantasy,

    by V'Shael

    is the Nights Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. (I think it was released as a 6 parter in the States, because they broke each volume into 2 parts)<br /><br />I thought the guy had written himself into a million tight corners, but the series resolved itself brilliantly (IMO). Would highly recommend it to anyone who likes hard SF.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 12:59 p.m. CST

    Is there any spoilers in this review?

    by DMAGnifier

    Did not see the tag, but want to be sure. I had to order the hardcover last week from Amazon because Harriet won't release the friggin thing on Kindle for three months (down from a year...her original decree). Damned hardcover weighs more then my car.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 2 p.m. CST

    DMAGnifier

    by MiserableRainGod

    The text of the review says minor spoilers...but it had some pretty big ones. I'm pissed that the review revealed so much, and hope I can forget it all before I start reading.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 3:21 p.m. CST

    The Way of Kings.

    by jwhj2007

    ^^Thanks for your mini-reviews. I've been wanting to pick it up. A friend of mine read it and LOVED it. Now I'm just trying to decide if I want it on Kindle or hardcover.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 3:21 p.m. CST

    I hate my Authors.

    by OnO

    braid tugging and all, with the last book I was actually able to finish the chapters with the female characters. The second novel the Great Hunt hooked me into actually finishing this series. I gotta admit with HBO taking on Martin's Fire and Ice I hope someday some cinematic idiot actually tackles this series. Poor fool.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 3:40 p.m. CST

    no way

    by brotherbradshaw

    No way I can continue. The last book was 5 years ago. I'm sure I'd appreciate it by some miracle I could remember what happened but 5 years between books is a long time. What I can say for sure is that I agree with those that say the series had become bloated. Any book where it takes chapters for a single character to cross a room could benefit from some editing.

  • Nov. 2, 2010, 10:34 p.m. CST

    Christopher Tolkien

    by tensticks

    As someone who has sat on the first 10 or so volumes of the Wheel of Time for the better part of a decade, simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by them, I appreciate this informative review. I might actually start reading them one of these days. But truly, I see most epic fantasy--after Tolkien and with the primal exception of Donaldson--as masturbatory rehashing of Tolkien's Elves/Dragons/Dark Lord mold. Often imitated, never topped. Having said that, as a Tolkienist, I need to correct the inference of this review that Christopher Tolkien's writing style jars with his father's. This is a fallacy that stems from the nature of the first Middle-earth work the younger Tolkien published--the highly anticipated SILMARILLION in 1977. While by his own admission the published SILMARILLION was "constructed" from his father's many drafts, Christopher Tolkien did not WRITE it and is not responsible for its style. If one explores the 12 volumes of The History of Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales, and the Children of Hurin, one can see that the difference in style was germaine to those stories, and it was THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS--the popular works published in the elder Tolkien's lifetime--whose style was actually an aberration. If one is still not convinced of their authenticity by over a dozen volumes of earlier versions and drafts, one can go to the various university libraries of the world (Bodleian, Marquette)and see the original drafts in Tolkien's own handwriting. Just sayin'. Anyway, for me, it's now just the countdown to the *truly* final volume of Donaldson's COVENANT series--a genuine example of authorial creativity and literary integrity, far more than Herbert Jr. and the Whore (KJA) and this Jordan thing.

  • Nov. 3, 2010, 1:18 a.m. CST

    Night's Dawn

    by nick_noltes_neckhair

    Oh yeah, the one where the hero seduces a sixteen year old.

  • Nov. 3, 2010, 3:59 a.m. CST

    tensticks, don't even get me started on Herbert Jr.!

    by lock67ca

    What they've done to Dune is unforgivable, to say the least.

  • Nov. 3, 2010, 5:21 a.m. CST

    Interesting

    by Werthead

    "Instead, since it had a fixed finish line, the Wheel of Time only picked up speed as the Last Battle approached." Highly questionable statement. Book 11 showed that Jordan was getting back into gear, but Books 8-10 saw the pace throttle back to a turgid crawl. Book 10 is almost unreadably slow. Agreed that Christopher Tolkien has never written anything about Middle-earth at all, he's just edited stuff left behind by his father, so the comparison doesn't wash. "But truly, I see most epic fantasy--after Tolkien and with the primal exception of Donaldson--as masturbatory rehashing of Tolkien's Elves/Dragons/Dark Lord mold." You haven't read any fantasy published in the last decade or so then? Because the likes of Martin, Bakker and Erikson don't do anything like the above.

  • Nov. 3, 2010, 5:34 a.m. CST

    Erikson & Martin

    by lock67ca

    At least Erikson only has one more book to go in the main series, and I doubt we'll be waiting over five years for it. Martin doesn't seem to be any closer to finishing than he was five years ago, when he said the book was about 60% completed.

  • Nov. 3, 2010, 6:38 a.m. CST

    Night's Dawn - Well, it's really something that

    by V'Shael

    in a 3000 page hard sci-fi epic, the thing that sticks in your craw is Joshua bedding a 16 year old. <br /><br />Projection much?

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 1:10 a.m. CST

    just finished Towers of Midnight...

    by Unknown Canadian

    ...and loved it! Not as many ah-ha! moments as the last one, but a shit-ton of loose ends tied up. The Moiraine thing was a little anti-climactic IMO, but all in all a well-paced, exciting and thourough penultimate novel in a series that's been a perpetual re-read in my life for damn near 20 years now. Well done, Mr. Sanderson!