Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time)

I started reading the Wheel of Time series in 1989. Twenty-one years ago and, yet, I stick with it. Some people would think I am a glutton for punishment however, books like "Towers of Midnight" serve as a reward for my patience.

Sanderson took over the writing duties for the series in the previous book, "The Gathering Storm" and he took a while to get comfortable with each of the characters which is why I felt the second half of that book was much better than the first. Fortunately he continued to improve as he wrote "Towers of Midnight" and, I think, at this point he has hit a great stride.

It took until the 12th book of the series for me to start like Nyneave; I think Sanderson's take on her is sufficiently different as to make her a more believable character. While Jordan was penning the series many of the women just seemed so depressingly disgusted with everything any man did that it became offputting to read. I can remember Jordan saying that the women in his books were written as he has experienced women and, if that is true, then I am sorry for his experiences. The Nyneave that came forward in "The Gathering Storm" is still a strong and confident character she just doesn't feel the need to treat all men like they are shit anymore. It's refreshing. In fact, she even is willing to admit that Rand doesn't constantly have his head firmly up his ass all the time now. Granted, emotionally Rand was pretty crazy for a bit but that should be expected considering all of the turmoil he is going through. However, some of the people he dealt with such as Cadsuane and Nyneave could have shown a touch of empathy considering Rand is probably in his early 20's and is being asked to not only overcome his own inner demons but also to gather the worlds forces and, while he's at it, prepare to face off against the most powerful and evil force the world has ever or will ever know - the dark one himself.

In "Towers of Midnight" Rand, thanks in no small part to Nyneave's improved demeanor, Rand completes a metamorphosis that began in "The Gathering Storm." Now, Nyneave has the unenviable task of convincing and converting every other Aes Sedai she meets so that they might trust Rand to not be a completely wool-headed farm boy. It won't be easy especially considering that Egwene still thinks she knows everything (even though she too is only in her early 20's) and Elaine hasn't learned any humility at all yet and still refuses to learn pretty much anything from any of her experiences.

Fortunately, we see little of Elayne or Egwene in this book. Instead, the majority of the tale is focused on Perrin and, to a lesser extent, Mat. In fact it felt like nearly 60% of the story revolved around Perrin. While he isn't my favorite character I am very glad his story arc finally moved forward a significant amount. Perrin, much like Rand, goes through a personal metamorphosis that is not only long overdue but much needed. An additional plus is that Faile isn't completely unreasonable in every one of her interactions with Perrin again. In fact, she shows a bit of empathy for his situation which is refreshing to say the least.

Mat and Thom finally make their move toward the Tower of Gengji but not before facing a dark nemesis that has been trailing them for quite a while. Overall I didn't really feel like Mat, as a person, changed much however he does finish up a story thread that has been dangling loose since back in the Great Hunt (book 2!) so it was great to reach that milestone. The best news about Mat in this book is that Sanderson is finally starting to get comfortable with his wise cracking personality. Mat's still missing a lot of his "zing" but he is much better in this iteration than he was in "The Gathering Storm" where he had become sort of a petulant child.

Towers of Midnight does an admirable job of pulling a wide variety of story lines forward and setting the stage for the last battle while at the same time another new dilemma is revealed that Rand and Aviendha are going to have to resolve. Further, the division within the Black Tower is more fully explored but no apparent progress is made toward resolving it. I imagine that will be something Rand has to face early on in "A Memory of Light." Honestly, at this point, I'm not entirely convince the series can really be finished in the next book but, supposedly, it will be. Sanderson has a herculean task on his hands but if he continues on as he has I think he is up to it. I certainly hope so because I am not sure I can keep reading until year 25!

I gladly award "Towers of Midnight" 4.5 out of 5 stars.