The Wheel of Time turns and an epic fantasy series churns towards its end. With all due respect to the late Robert Jordan, for the second novel in a row, Brandon Sanderson proves that he was exactly the writer that the series needed in order to finish on a high note. In Towers of Midnight, book 12 of the of the Wheel of Time series, Sanderson makes a strong case for being the most exceptional fantasy writer of his time.
At approximately 850 pages, Towers of Midnight is the longest Wheel of Time novel ever written. Yet despite the colossal page count, the story is actually one of the quickest reads in the series as well. The reason for this is simple. The story never slows down and is always interesting.
Long time fans of the series will be ecstatic while reading this book. Nearly every major plotline in the story either concludes or makes rapid progress towards a conclusion. Sanderson is able to progress a story the same distance in 100 pages that would have taken Jordan 300 pages. Despite the increased pacing, there is no sense of lost detail at all.
In fact, amazingly, Sanderson manages to give each character a unique voice, something that has been missing in the series for about half a dozen books now. Consequently, the story actually feels slightly different when told from the perspective of different characters, reviving the style of storytelling that seemed to disappear in the 4th or 5th book of the series. While it is great for each character to have a unique voice, some of the new voices are a little frustrating. Most notably, Gawyn as a whiny spoiled brat and Berelain as a calculating politician feel a little off and make the characters less interesting. Thankfully, other character voices like Min as a scholar and Perrin as the humble king are truly brilliant.
Obviously, due to the increased pacing of the story, some stuff has disappeared, but almost to a number these disappearances are good for the story. First and foremost, the majority of the gender warring has vanished from the tale. While a few characters, Mat and Egwene most notably, inspire moments of gender warring, the concept is no longer central to the overall story. The lack of this plot element makes the story infinitely more pleasant to read. In addition, the book basically adds no new plotlines and only introduces one meaningful new character.
The lack of new plotlines and characters allows this book to do what few others have done: wrap up ongoing plotlines. Impressively, many of these plotlines are intricately interwoven in this story, allowing multiple plotlines to be wrapped up in quick succession. The quality of the narrative is so good that the interweaving of disparate plotlines doesn’t feel forced in the least. In fact, it occurs so naturally that it is impossible to determine whether Sanderson deserves the praise for excellent writing or whether Jordan deserves the praise for such unbelievable long term thinking.
As impressive as the story is, a few flaws mar its near perfection. The biggest of these flaws is the fact that about half the story takes place chronologically during the last book, while the other half takes place chronologically after the events of the last book. This wouldn’t be a problem except that the story switches back and forth between these events, sometimes in the same chapter. It is very disconcerting to switch from the fast paced story of Rand racing a deadline measured in days to the slow paced story of Perrin or Mat that takes place over weeks. Admittedly, it was probably a better way to tell the story than if all of the past events were revealed before all of the following events, but it still makes the story a little hard to track.
The only other major flaw of note is the fact that just about every single character in the book seems to easily and conveniently resolve their love life. If anything in the novel feels forced, it is the various romantic entanglements of these characters. Problems that plagued Perrin, Morgase, Faile, Berelain, Egwene, Gawyn, Tallanvor, and Thom almost from the beginning of the series all seem to miraculously disappear, despite minimal effort by these characters in resolving those problems. For a series that often breaks the stereotypes, this feels like a stale and unnecessarily tidy way to wrap up all of romantic storylines.
In truth, given the frustrations that have been present in many of the past novels, these flaws are practically trivial and the story proves that many times over. Towers of Midnight is an exciting read from end to end, and for the first time in what feels like forever, the main character, Rand al’Thor is both an interesting and endearing character. The story has direction and that direction guides every single plotline towards a unified purpose. Given the length and expansiveness of this epic tale, it seems almost impossible, but Sanderson has actually raised the bar for expectations of the final story. Based on the quality of Towers of Midnight, it looks like he will meet or exceed those expectations.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)