So I have finally carved out enough time to finish the latest Wheel of Time book by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Towers of Midnight. This is the penultimate book in the series and the middle book of the three that Sanderson is completing from the work Jordan left behind, and it really feels it, in ways that makes it hard for me to give a coherent evaluation of it as a single book. In fact, my dominant impression is that this book, far more than the previous one, brings home to me just how difficult it is to conclude this series.
One of the difficulties is pacing. This book starts a little slow in that its early sections are more concerned with personal interactions than major plot events. This is entirely welcome—indeed, my mental designation for this book is “the one where people finally talk to each other, already”—and I didn’t notice it while I was reading, because it mostly flowed smoothly [*] and I was pleased at the substance, but still, from a step back, the book does take a while to get going. Similarly, Perrin’s arc, which is central to this book the way that Egwene’s was to the last, has a wheel-spinning quality early.
[*] There are still some jarring prose bits, though I noticed fewer of them here. In particular, no-one in a quasi-medieval society should ever think, “She’d been played,” when realizing that she’s been manipulated.
Yet, paradoxically, many of the events in this book also felt ever-so-slightly rushed. While it feels entirely ungrateful to complain about this when I actually stopped reading the series earlier because everything was so drawn out, I’m still not quite satisfied with the balance struck here. Which brings me back to the difficulty of concluding the series, especially one where many resolutions have been anticipated for so long. This book also stands alone less well than The Gathering Storm, which is not a surprise given that the next volume is the last and that it is effectively the middle book in the concluding trilogy.
To conclude my list of things that make me feel a little removed from the book as a whole, I think neither Jordan nor Sanderson is the writer to pull off the characterization of Rand in this book. I can see the logic behind it, but I don’t feel it emotionally, because it’s a heck of a difficult thing to convey and that level of delicacy is not something I associate with either of them.
All that said (and note I am very, very busy and sleep-deprived right now): there was a lot of really good stuff in this book. I don’t want to get too specific here, but I was very pleased with various character developments, I sniffled on occasion, I was genuinely surprised at some points [**] and creeped out at others, and I stayed up too late reading it when I really couldn’t afford to. I’m glad I read it and I’m eager for the last book, though I lean toward recommending that someone wait until next year and read the final two books back-to-back, because I suspect this one might work better that way.
[**] And not just the appearance of a very, very minor character named after me, though that was extremely surprising (and pleasing!) when people told me about it. (Early in Chapter 5, page 104 of the U.S. hardcover; Sanderson was picking some names from a list of charity donors.)
A spoiler post follows.