Towers of Midnight
by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
(The Wheel of Time Book 13)
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis
The gathering storm has broken. Black clouds roil the skies and the Dark One’s taint mars the land. Skirmishes rage along the borderlands as Trolloc hordes surge out of the Blight in horrifying numbers. The Black Ajah is still at large and death stalks the halls of the White Tower, with Aes Sedai found mysteriously murdered. And armies are marshalling too late under the banners of Andor, Malkier and The Dragon Reborn, as the Forsaken scheme in the shadows to thwart destiny and crush the Dragon before his final confrontation with Shai’tan at Tarmon Gai’don.
And thus has author Brandon Sanderson set the stage for Towers of Midnight, the penultimate novel in the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. With his seemingly effortless synthesis of plot, character and action, Sanderson has proven beyond doubt that Jordan’s legacy couldn’t be in better hands—better hands than Jordan’s, some might argue.
Regardless of your stance in that debate, there’s no denying that Sanderson has kicked The Wheel of Time into overdrive, and has brought some long overdue character growth to the big three: Rand, Mat and Perrin.
Sanderson presents us with a kinder, gentler Rand than we’ve seen in a good while. The Dragon Reborn has finally rediscovered compassion and is no longer willing to callously sacrifice innocent people and entire nations in his preparations for Tarmon Gai’don. Yet he remains unbendingly resolute in his chosen course of action for confronting the Dark One—a plan so shocking that it has put him at odds with Egwene and Elayne.
Mat, meanwhile, has taken the Band of the Red Hand to the outskirts of Caemlyn and joined forces with Elayne to begin his own preparations for the Last Battle. But there’s still the matter of the gholam that’s hunting him and a deadly mission he must undertake with Thom to the Tower of Ghenjei, embracing his foretold destiny and returning to the otherworldly realm of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn in an attempt to rescue Moiraine.
And Perrin’s evolution is the most marked and welcome by far. He had become such an introspective mope that he was like the Eeyore of Randland. Whenever you saw his wolf sigil at the head of a chapter you girded yourself for another heaping helping of sawdust and melancholy.
But internal battles with the wolf half of his nature, and an external final showdown with the Whitecloaks force him to finally quit the pity party and decide once and for all who he wants to be.
Towers of Midnight is, in fact, extremely Perrin heavy, mainly due to some glaring and pre-existing plot issues that Sanderson had to deal with.
Readers of Big Fat Fantasy expect characters to fork off onto different paths, with each subplot playing a key role in the story’s conclusion. Formula dictates that these narrative threads wend along concurrently until the cast reunites for the big finish.
That became increasingly untrue with The Wheel of Time. When Jordan died, the series had gone almost completely off the rails. Entire books would go by without a peep from Mat or Perrin or even Rand. Some novels spanned months and others only hours. It became impossible to tell who was doing what when, or how it all fit together in the context of the larger story.
You can imagine Sanderson in his office, tearing apart copies of the first 11 Wheel of Time books and compiling all the Mat chapters, all the Egwene chapters, all the Elayne chapters—right on down the line of principal characters—attempting to divine a master timeline that would tell him where all the moving parts were in relation to one another.
To his credit, Sanderson did a phenomenal job of re-synching the plot, both in his freshman Wheel of Time novel The Gathering Storm and again in Towers of Midnight. The course correction would have been seamless, but for The Perrin Problem.
(Warning: Minor spoilers follow.)
Perrin’s story had fallen so far behind the rest of the main cast that Sanderson was forced to spend an inordinate amount of time on him. But he had to keep the other characters moving forward at the same time. As Perrin’s story was fairly isolated, most readers probably wouldn’t have noticed it but for one glitch: the character Tam al’Thor.
Tam spends a good deal of the novel seemingly in two places at once, both with Perrin and Rand. It’s not until halfway through the book, when Tam takes his leave of Perrin’s camp—and Perrin subsequently witnesses the climatic event of The Gathering Storm—that readers can place him definitively within the larger story.
This may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s distracting and a little misleading. Two Tams? Is one of them a darkfriend imposter? A Forsaken in disguise coming in under Rand’s radar? Nope. The doubles are just the last lingering vestige of poor plot mechanics.
Also distracting were the numerous typos and missing words in the text. I’m willing to accept that an 864-page monster like this will have one or two mistakes, especially given Tor’s accelerated release schedule for the conclusion of the series. But the book is rife with copy errors which, though fairly minor, are readily noticeable and never should have survived a final edit.
These negatives notwithstanding, Sanderson finally has all the main characters in the same timeframe, and the story is firing on all thrusters. We’re no longer reading about three boys from Emond’s Field who are unwittingly in over their heads, but three men who know what they’re about, preparing to face what they must.
The pieces are in place for an explosive endgame in A Memory of Light. And if The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight are any indication, Sanderson will roll The Wheel of Time out with a bang.