Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: "Towers of Midnight" by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan

The world conceived by Robert Jordan marches inexorably toward its Final Battle in Brandon Sanderson’s “Towers of Midnight” ($29.99, Tor), the penultimate (so we hope) installment of The Wheel of Time.

Since Sanderson took over to complete the tale, based on Jordan’s notes dictated before his death, the story, which had stalled in some of its middle chapters, has moved steadily forward. In “Towers of Midnight,” we see the Dragon Reborn, Rand al’Thor, continue to unite the world behind him for his battle with the ultimate evil. All of the pieces for that fight are now in place. The White Tower of the Aes Sedai has been made whole under the rule of Rand’s childhood friend Egwene al’Vere. Perrin Aybara and Matrim Cauthon have both amassed their armies to bring together under Rand’s banner. Elayne, carrying Rand’s twin children, has taken control of Andor and has her sights set on Caemlyn. And they all begin to converge for the finale in this book.

I can’t say whether it’s because I was so pleased to see the story move ahead in the previous volume, “The Gathering Storm,” that I overlooked the flaws or if it was really a stronger book than this one. “Towers of Midnight,” though, seems a bit uneven to me. While I rushed through “The Gathering Storm,” I took this one a bit more slowly. There were, certainly, moments that were compelling and kept me reading into the wee hours. One of the most interesting aspects of the book, Mat and Thom's effort to rescue Moiraine, believed dead for quite some time now, gets a bit shortchanged, while there are stretches where the story moves slowly, and it seems like the characters just want to hear themselves talk. The good moments far outweigh the weak ones, though.

The most interesting thing for me, as a reader who has been with this series since it’s beginnings nearly 20 years ago (minus a few of the middle books, which I skipped, but more on that later), is to see how most of the threads that were laid down in the earlier books are finally being woven together. There are a few “a-ha” moments here and there throughout “Towers of Midnight” where things that happened earlier in the story begin to take on a greater meaning. That’s as it should be with a series of this length and magnitude, but it’s still nice to see.

There are a few things in the book that made me nervous, as Sanderson introduced a couple of new characters and subplots. I once gave up the series because of Jordan’s propensity to add more and more storylines, making things so convoluted that the story never moved forward and he couldn’t even touch on every subplot in a 1,000-plus page book. I skipped his last few volumes, and quite frankly, picking up with “The Gathering Storm,” don’t feel like I missed much. But Sanderson has promised to finish this in three volumes, and for now, I’ll trust him on that.

He has things lining up neatly for Rand to meet the Dark One at Tarmon Gai’don, but there are also still a few wrinkles in the pattern. The Seanchan are still out there, hell-bent on leashing every woman who can channel, and there’s discord and something a little sinister going on with the male channelers, the Asha’man, at the Black Tower. Either of those could disrupt or derail Rand’s plans to seal the Dark One back in his prison and bring peace to the world.

“Towers of Midnight” ultimately does what a second book in a trilogy should do – and, I think, you have to view Sanderson’s three final books in the series as a trilogy to themselves. It moves the action forward and puts the pieces in place for the finale. Here’s hoping it’s a grand one.

No comments: