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775 of 798 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'Two Towers" of the Wheel of Time series
If you've been waiting on this series to *finish* for as long as I have, this book is for you.

It's the next-to final volume in Robert Jordan's twenty-years-in-the-making Wheel of Time series, not the ending itself, but -- well, I'll explain below. If you're familiar with the series at all, you know that Jordan passed away before he could finish writing the...
Published on November 2, 2010 by T. Simons

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177 of 225 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plot advances; characters, not so much
While it's not the breath of fresh air that "The Gathering Storm" provided to the Wheel of Time series, Brandon Sanderson's "Towers of Midnight" is a decent addition. Pluses include continued resolution of numerous plot lines, but pacing issues and weaker character writing detract from movement towards the long overdue conclusion of this saga. The result is a slightly...
Published on November 3, 2010 by Indy Reviewer


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775 of 798 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'Two Towers" of the Wheel of Time series, November 2, 2010
By 
T. Simons (United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
If you've been waiting on this series to *finish* for as long as I have, this book is for you.

It's the next-to final volume in Robert Jordan's twenty-years-in-the-making Wheel of Time series, not the ending itself, but -- well, I'll explain below. If you're familiar with the series at all, you know that Jordan passed away before he could finish writing the final volumes, and you know that Brandon Sanderson, an expert writer in his own right, has been brought on to finish the final three books -- The Gathering Storm, released last year, this volume, Towers of Midnight, and a final volume, _A Memory of Light_, which seems likely to be released around March 2012.

Of those three volumes, this is the "Two Towers" equivalent: there's a heck of a lot of action and movement, but ultimately, this book is about things *finally* falling into position for the final confrontations -- if The Gathering Storm put the key in the ignition, this one turns it, and now all that's left is to watch the last volume put the pedal to the metal. There's a real sense throughout the book that the many, many characters and plots are all locking into place, falling towards their final intersections.

Sanderson's writing is excellent, and in some ways significantly improved since the last volume. Due to the nature of the coauthorship (Jordan wrote some sections of the last three books before he died, and Sanderson is completing the rest from Jordan's extensive outlines and notes), it's hard to know precisely how much we're seeing here of Brandon Sanderson's work and how much of Jordan's, but Sanderson does appear to have a few minor "tells" (chiefly, a tendency towards more modern diction and phrasing), and from those I'll venture a guess that this volume has significantly more of Sanderson's writing in it than Jordan's. That's no criticism, though, as Sanderson's an excellent writer in his own right; the most important thing is the story and the characters, and those Sanderson carries through clear as day. Whatever problems Sanderson might have had adapting to Jordan's voice, he's clearly been working on them, and his work has clearly paid off. He's still not pitch-perfect, and there are definitely still moments where you're reminded of the transfer, but overall there's a vast improvement, even in characters he seemed to "hiccup" on in Gathering Storm (such as Matrim Cauthon). The result is that every point-of-view character, at least, speaks clearly with a voice that's recognizably *their own*, the voices we've known for all the twenty-odd years some of us have been following this series.

I'll avoid detailed plot summaries for fear of spoilers, apart from noting that the book focuses primarily on Perrin and Mat's storylines, overlapping much of the timeline in Gathering Storm and extending past it slightly, with significant further development for Rand, Galad, Gawyn, Egwene, and Elayne as well (in approximately that order, proportionally). Perrin especially gets a lot of development, and if you've ever thought anything like "Perrin used to be my favorite character, but. . . " you'll probably be very happy about the turn he takes in this volume.

The pacing is torrential, to the point that I read most of the book quite literally pacing around the room, too hooked to sit either myself or the book down. It does pay a price for that -- the action moves *so* quickly that at times some of the fine detail work is lost, some side-plots feel a little rushed through and some characters feel a little peripheral -- but it's probably a price worth paying at this point in the series.

The main defining trait of this volume, though, is that as I read it, I had the same sense of cascading finality that I get when I've almost solved a particularly nasty crossword puzzle or rubik's cube: the sense that after all that struggle and effort, *everything* is *finally* falling into place. At the end, it's pretty clear that all the dominoes are in line, the horses are at their starting gates, the match is poised above the fuse; all that's left is the flick, the home stretch, the final explosion. I'm looking forward to it. It's a feeling I've been waiting twenty-odd years for, and, well, to give in to understatement, it's pretty cool. If you've followed this series like I have, if you've been waiting for it too, you'll like this volume.
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167 of 189 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the Best of the Series, November 2, 2010
Team Sanderson/Jordan knock another one out of the park with the penultimate volume of the Wheel of Time series. While The Gathering Storm was a wonderful book, I can see Sanderson's growth as a writer in Towers of Midnight. He's taken a lot of hard material and turned it into something that I can just almost pretend that Jordan wrote himself.

The biggest difference from Jordan's own books is that in ToM the pacing is break-neck.

If you're a fan of the series, you'll find moments to laugh and moments to cry and moments of extreme and wonderful emotion. I hate to sound cliched, but for those of us who have grown up with these characters, we start seeing some of the scenes that we've been waiting for for many years.

In my opinion, few other writers living could've pulled off so elegantly what Sanderson has accomplished in Towers of Midnight. Bravo! Onto Tarmon Gai'don!
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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well...it's definitely a Brandon Sanderson novel., November 11, 2010
I've had a love/hate relationship with Wheel of Time for years, a litany of loathing, forgiveness, despair, and faltering hope that's far too extensive to go into just now. Suffice it to say that this series and I have history. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that Sanderson was taking over from Mister Jordan: speaking plainly, there were a lot of poorer choices out there. I'm trying to keep that constructive attitude in mind two books on.

The good news: the book is great. Better than Gathering Storm. Sanderson is settling in, as it were, and I think that writing with one successful installment behind him gave him the confidence to improve the novel with a few of his own signature touches. At the same time, he's obviously improved on some characterizations: Mat in particular feels closer to the character we know from Jordan than he did in Gathering Storm. Towers of Midnight also manages to get things done. Sanderson has really pulled out all the stops on his pacing, and the contrast between this installment and something like, say, Crossroads of Twilight is absolutely stunning. From molasses in midwinter, we've gone in the course of two books to driving a sports car down a steep incline...with the sensation that we're seconds away from free fall. This gives the series a much-needed kick in the rear: Tarmon Gai'don, at long, long last, actually feels imminent.

My problems with the book, if they can be said to be problems, are minimal and actually make me suspicious of their origin. This is because they're basically all centered around the fact that it is Sanderson, and not Jordan, who is writing the book. But I still don't feel quite honest giving the novel five stars. It was fast, it was fun, it got a lot done, and (no small feat) it managed to pull Perrin back from the brink of complete pointlessness by the very tips of his much-discussed whiskers. But in doing all of this, I really feel it's becoming a Sanderson book more than it is a Jordan book...unfortunately complete with Sanderson's usual flaws.

The Flaws of Brandon Sanderson, Fantasy Writer (Ahem):

1) Sanderson shalt always use modern language for easy digestion, even when said language may not be strictly appropriate.
2) Given a choice between slowing for poignant imagery and moving the plot forward, Sanderson shalt generally hit the gas with extreme prejudice.
3) Rather than allowing characters drama by letting them do something unexpected or moving, Sanderson shalt explain every decision with much internal monologuing, in order that his readers need not stress their little brains over trying to figure out what any particular actions mean.
4) And finally, the great law of which the other three are a part: given the choice between making the book easily palatable and making it deep, Sanderson shalt move for the former.

In a sense, these are all (arguably) good things. They certainly lend Sanderson a VERY marketable style. That is, there are no potentially boring scenes where we focus on imagery or interpersonal relations just for the sake of depicting sparks of human life. Everything, everything, EVERYTHING is about moving the plot forward in such a fashion as to make it as easy to read and hard to put down as possible. And in some ways, that's just what these books needed. Jordan was falling into the dark, dark pit on the other side of the spectrum.

That said, though, this--more than the previous book--gave me the feeling that, as Jordan's influence begins to wane, we're starting to swing back into Brandon Sanderson's tried-and-true territory. That means less detail, mysticism, and showing, and more emphasis on pacing, exposition, and telling.

I don't want to sound like a fanboy ranting about "what have they done to my SEEEERIEEEEESS?!" or what-have-you. The book is definitely very good, and I recommend you acquire it as soon as possible if you ever loved this series as I did. But for the true Jordan fans who always held out a tiny, flickering hope in their heart-of-hearts for the return of the sweeping, emotional world-building of the first few WoT novels...for good or bad, I'm afraid that's not coming back, not in the same way. We see flashes of it. Jordan's hand is still felt in the larger events, and some of the characterization still bears his signature mark. And I think in fairness Sanderson is doing a stellar job handling it as well as he has. I laud and applaud him, and wish him nothing but the best in writing the last book, and the second installment of The Stormlight Archive.

And yet...*sigh*. Rest in Peace, Mr. Jordan. You're missed.
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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Last Battle, Part 1, November 2, 2010
After twelve books of slow-moving, intricate plotting (and a hefty dose of filler), the Last Battle against the Dark One is here.

So is "Towers of Midnight" good? Oh yeah. Brandon Sanderson and the late Robert Jordan came up with a solid penultimate volume, sprinkled with solid characterization, epic moments, and the occasional discovery that will probably have you bouncing and screaming with joy. It's a rich, fast-moving experience that will leave you on edge for the grand finale.

And yes, thanks for asking -- it IS hard to review this without spoiling too much.

While the previous book was more centered on Rand and his inner turmoil, this one centers on Mat and Perrin -- there are countless intertwined subplots in this one, but the important ones rest on those two. Specifically, Mat has to grapple with the gholam at long last, and Perrin has to work out his issues as well as his wolfish other side.

Tarmon Gai'don is coming, and Jordan and Sanderson really hammer it home that this will not be an easy or quick battle. "Towers of Midnight" has a lot riding on it: not only does it have to build up to an epic grand finale in the next book, but it has to start wrapping up all the important storylines. Does it deliver?

For the most part, yes -- Sanderson doesn't quite capture a few of the characters' personalities (such as Mat), but overall this is a smashing book. Sanderson's vibrant juggernaut prose actually meshes very well with Jordan's intricate, slow-moving storylines, and it feels much sleeker and less bogged down in minutiae.

And despite Tarmon Gai'don looming over the characters' heads, there are actually some funny moments (mostly from Mat) and some powerful, riveting ones that seem to leap out from the pages. Additionally, Jordan/Sanderson deal with some long-running subplots such as "Who killed Asmodean?" And without revealing too much, a favorite character returns after many books, although some unexpected revelations about said character had me scratching my head.

As I said, Perrin and Mat take center stage here -- and while Mat was a bit off in The Gathering Storm, Sanderson seems to have gotten a grip on his quirky sarcastic personality. And after getting put on the backburner for awhile, Perrin has a strong, action-filled arc in which some kinks are ironed out of his personality.

Actually, pretty much all the characters get at least SOME time, Egwene especially as she keeps grappling with problems in the White Tower. As for Rand, he's a little mixed -- he's finally gotten over his annoying wangst and whining, but he's now a little too mellow. Did someone slip him some pot between books?

With the series back on track and new blood injected into the prose, "The Towers of Midnight" is a powerful mixed experience -- it leaves you craving more, but also dreading the end.
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54 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CONTAINS NO SPOILERS, November 2, 2010
I for one have loved the wheel of time series since the beginning, but I am glad to see that it is finally drawing to a close. We've been through a lot with these characters and I think it's time they get the rest they deserve.

On the book itself, Sanderson has done a great job. In many ways, his writing style is an improvement over Jordan's (though I don't mean to take anything away from Jordan for creating the world, plot, and characters). There is less smoothing of skirts and arching of eyebrows than there used to be and more fast paced action that give us the answers we have been dying for since day one.

The only exception to this is Matt. Sanderson doesn't write Matt very well, who ends up sounding more like Calvin (From Calvin and Hobbs) than he does the trickster turned reluctant hero that I have grown to know and love. If Matt is your favorite character, you may be disappointed in this book (even though he gets one of the coolest parts of the story).

As could be expected, we get many of the answers we were looking for, some surprises we weren't looking for, and the rising sense of urgency to see everything wrapped up before the end. Sadly, I believe that we will be left with some unsatisfactory answers, (or no answers at all in some cases!) But I think it is shaping up to be a good ending to one of the best fantasy series of our time.

Sanderson has done a great job of being true to the story and bringing us all towards the closer we so desperately need.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Towers of Midnight - Fantasy Book Critic's Review, November 2, 2010
(From my review at [...])

After more than 20 years, the Wheel of Time is drawing to a close. The Last Battle looms on the horizon, but as of the last page of 2009's The Gathering Storm, there was still much to do. As impressed as I was with The Gathering Storm, I admit I closed the book and wondered how in the Light the late Robert Jordan's successor, Brandon Sanderson, could suitably conclude all the dangling storylines in only two more books. Fortunately, Towers of Midnight, the penultimate book in the series, is further evidence that Robert Jordan's opus was left in capable hands.

The Gathering Storm was occasionally riddled with exposition, a means of reminding readers where characters stood in their respective adventures since the release of the previous Wheel of Time book, Knife of Dreams, in 2005. Such reminders were necessary, seeing as four years separated Knife of Dreams and The Gathering Storm. Towers of Midnight, released only 13 months after The Gathering Storm, has no such recaps to wade through. Consequently, the pace Sanderson sets in Towers of Midnight is, by and large, appropriately quick and infused with adrenaline.

Aside from some slight slowdown approximately three-quarters through, there is always something happening. Battles are fought, relationships--romantic and otherwise--are explored, and perhaps most importantly, plot threads that began way back in the first four books come to a close, and beautifully. Towers of Midnight very much has a "full circle" kind of feel. As characters move toward resolving their personal plights, dozens of allusions to The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, and The Shadow Rising are made, not only reminding readers of the origins of threads in Robert Jordan's Pattern, but why the characters featured in Towers of Midnight have become so beloved by readers over the last two decades. As character thought back on events, I recalled those circumstances right along with them, which served up a warm dose of nostalgia that instilled the desire to reread the series yet again.

What characters am I referring to? The vast majority. Rand, Mat, Perrin, Thom, Egwene, Nynaeve, Lan, Gawyn, Galad, Faile, Birgitte, Min, Aviendha, Tuon, Cadsuane, Morgase, a few Forsaken, various Aes Sedai and Asha'man... Burn me, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a Wheel of Time book with a more generous spread of characters--and that list only includes characters whose points-of-view are directly explored. Each character receives as much attention as is needed to move things forward, so don't worry that the large volume of plots weaved throughout Towers of Midnight results in any one story or character getting shafted.

The advancements each character makes in Towers of Midnight is by far the most exciting element of the story. Rand, having conquered the darkness inside him, makes moves to right the many wrongs born of his self-imposed emotional numbness. Egwene may be the Amyrlin Seat, but the White Tower is still suffering a schism due to her predecessor's mad machinations that pitted Ajah against Ajah, as well as fear over the encroaching Seanchan. Mat and Perrin, only occasionally mentioned in The Gathering Storm in order to move them into position like stones on a stones board, are given much larger roles in Towers of Midnight. Perrin makes strides to come to grips with leadership and his inner wolf, while Mat, who many fans felt was not quite himself in Brandon Sanderson's hands, steals the show at several intervals with his trademark blend of wit, action, and the Dark One's own bloody luck.

Although I enjoyed spending time with all of my favorite characters, there were two segments of Towers of Midnight that especially stood out. The first is an emotional reunion between two characters that has been a long time coming. The second comes when one character finally voices a question I've asked myself countless times since reading the first book: do Aes Sedai really serve the world, or do they only purport to serve others while serving themselves? As much as I like many Aes Sedai characters in the series, they have all too often come across as bullies, using magic to bend others to their will in order to see their own schemes bear fruit, the rest of the world be damned. The fact that these questions are (finally) voiced, and voiced by a significant character, will hopefully bring about a change in the way the women of the White Tower view themselves and others. Such a change likely won't be seen by readers, given that only one book remains in the series. But I would be satisfied with Aes Sedai (especially their Amyrlin) resolving to analyze and adjust their attitudes as the characters continue to exist in their world long after readers have read the final page of the final book.

If Towers of Midnight has any failing, it is that some storylines are wrapped up quick as a blink, which may leave some readers with whiplash. This very problem also occurred infrequently in The Gathering Storm, such as when the wife of one character murdered one of the series' main antagonists--one who had risen to power over the course of approximately nine books, only to die in little more than three pages. However, the sheer magnitude of plot that had to be resolved over the final three books in the series dictated that some stories would simply have to end more abruptly than others. In this writer's opinion, Sanderson was prudent in determining which loose ends to tie up posthaste, and which to draw out to appropriate and satisfying lengths.

With its emphasis on character development, exciting pace, and large cast of characters, Towers of Midnight is the Wheel of Time book fans have been waiting for since The Shadow Rising. The amount of ground covered in a single novel is staggering, and if Towers of Midnight is any indication as to what awaits us in the forthcoming A Memory of Light, the end, while bittersweet, is sure to be incredible.
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177 of 225 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plot advances; characters, not so much, November 3, 2010
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While it's not the breath of fresh air that "The Gathering Storm" provided to the Wheel of Time series, Brandon Sanderson's "Towers of Midnight" is a decent addition. Pluses include continued resolution of numerous plot lines, but pacing issues and weaker character writing detract from movement towards the long overdue conclusion of this saga. The result is a slightly uneven book that picks up pace in the last third, hopefully providing momentum for "A Memory of Light". A half star off for the pacing and a star off for the characterization issues leave it at 3 1/2 stars, rounded down to a strong 3 for the sake of having at least one reasonable counterpoint to glowing 5 star reviews.

There have been some truly awful books in this series - "Crossroads of Twilight" comes to mind - and the best news of all is that this isn't anywhere close to being on that list. Sanderson starts the book out with a bang by challenging some assumptions that readers might have made based on the previous book, ends it 850 pages later with more bangs by getting around to the title subject of this book, and in between sets up his main characters so that the Final Battle is nearly ready to be fought.

As such, there's plenty of plot resolution, some questions get answered (although the way an answer to a long standing question about the Forsaken becomes confirmed will probably disappoint some fans), and romantics should be satisfied with weddings galore. But as other characters catch up in the first 500 pages to the breathtaking advancement of Rand and Egwene's timelines from the previous book, the pace stutters.

Compounding this, Rand and Egwene push even farther ahead while other plotlines simultaneously try to catch up. This saddles the first two thirds of the book as an unnecessarily complex if not outright confusing read, and some sloppy editing adds to the problems. One example: a secondary character shows up in Rand's timeline on his way someplace, 60 pages later shows up in the past on the way to someplace else, and then concludes the book in parts unknown as all the timelines finally converge. It's generally hard for any book that focuses on side plots and getting things in order for the next novel to be the best of a series, but with self-inflicted distractions like this it's also probably fair to ask if the 1000 pages of "The Way of Kings", the debut work of Sanderson's own new 10 volume epic, took away some of his focus here.

The character writing presents a bigger issue. Much of Jordan's magic (and many of his problems) came from fleshing out extraordinarily powerful and unique personalities in a intricately complex world. Sanderson takes the opposite approach, where he's more than happy to drop detail in order to try to move the plot along with quick pithy dialogue. Perhaps the best way to describe the overall difference is a significant loss of definition for many characters, kind of like watching them on a old VHS tape instead of a Blu-ray. Without a doubt some of this stems from the inevitable stylistic differences between the two authors and isn't entirely fair to quibble with, since fans are lucky to have the series being concluded at all.

What compounds this contrast, though, is not just a less vivid approach but also giving many characters far more modern voices and far less rigid beliefs than they'd expressed in past books, especially in first person views that are often filled with self analysis. On the bright side, this frequently bypasses potential tripwires for plot advancement, since conveniently enough the self analysis often leads to common ground and compromise. Unfortunately, it also leads to scenes that can feel somewhat contrived and (if possible in an 850 page book) even slightly rushed. Perhaps all this is a necessary sacrifice to finally get this series finished, but Sanderson clearly reached a better middle ground in the previous book.

Sanderson once commented on his role as akin to being a new director for a few scenes of a movie while the actors and script remained the same, and that probably remains an apt comparison. Fans of Sanderson's other work probably won't even notice his "direction" here, but perhaps the best way to sum things up is that for better or for worse "Towers of Midnight" is the first book of Brandon Sanderson's - and not Robert Jordan's - Wheel of Time. Still, a solid addition to the series that's worth reading, and hopefully it sets up a great conclusion in "A Memory of Light". 3 stars.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another 'taint' healed..., November 19, 2010
By 
David Kimber (pacifica, CA United States) - See all my reviews
So, I've been following this series religiously for the entirety of its' run, from Book 1 and on. During the course of it I've seen the female characters go from being strong and willful to becoming downright hardass bitches. You -want- to like them, but they've typically been so prickly, so stubborn, so downright mean and controlling that you just can't. And you find yourself dreading encounters with them.

Conversely, the men became confused dunderheads that had no idea what these women were thinking half the time and were constantly in trouble and/or paranoid about it. The only guy that seemed to semi-hold himself together was Lan, and that's 'cause he's practically Clint Eastwood and doesn't give a hoot. But all the rest, Rand, the frickin' Dragon Reborn himself, couldn't escape the wrath of these vengeful, spiteful harpies and staggered around reeling under their perpetual anger. I found myself losing respect for almost every single character, except for the Forsaken and the Dark One's minions, who were at least honest about their intentions.

It made me wonder just how RJ was treated by the women in his life! That may be stepping over the line, and I do not mean to disrespect his memory at all but I'm just talking about the writing and the characters.

And then, Sanderson comes along and first thing he does is kill off the Prophet. YES. SOMETHING HAPPENED BEFORE THE END OF THE BOOK. I was already hooked.

And then, to the point of this whole missive, in ToM, amazingly, he put a softer edge on the girls. They remained true to who they were but weren't horribly unlikeable characters. He healed the rifts between many of the men and women. Yes, at times it devolved into fairly immature notions of romance (talking about Morgase here) but that was a forgivable sin compared to the greater good he accomplished. I began to like the characters again that had long been borderline despicable to me. I think his character development actually has an arc to it compared to what RJ had done, where the players were just archetypes of concepts (Rand: cold, hard, Elayne: queenly, prim, Mat: gambler, womanizer, Perrin: gruff, socially awkward, etc. etc.). In ToM we get a better sense of them learning from their mistakes and process, and becoming better for it.

And, for myself, it was painfully apparent where RJ wrote and where Sanderson stepped in. Particularly some of the Mat inner-dialogue, where he just spun in circles thinking inane crap that didn't have any point to it whatsoever except to reiterate what he'd thought before.

True, some of the Sanderson dialogue should have had a 'period' pass, since it was a bit modern. That said, he rolled the story along, had a LOT more action and excitement, and is drawing us closer to the Last Battle, instead of endlessly revolving around it. No more lengthy paragraphs-long description of clothing, only when it matters and has a point. Kudos to you Sanderson, for doing your research and having the talent to fix really horrible aspects of the books.

Again, I do not mean to disrespect RJ, he started something amazing, but it was clear that he just couldn't bring himself to finish it. Now, maybe we need Sanderson to step in for George RR Martin and start kicking some ass there too :)
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The beginning of the end, November 4, 2010
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The Last Battle has begun. From Saldaea to Shienar, vast armies of Shadowspawn burst forth into the unprepared Borderlands. Whilst Rodel Ituralde prepares to stand siege against overwhelming numbers, Lan Mandragoran rides for Tarwin's Gap with the last of the Malkieri at his side.

The Dragon Reborn has overcome the darkness that was threatening to swallow him but now faces a struggle to repair the damage his actions have unleashed. Arad Doman is starving, the Borderlander army at Far Madding must be confronted and Cairhien remains without a ruler. But before Rand can address those problems, he must stand within the Hall of the Tower and answer for his actions to the Amyrlin Seat...

Perrin Aybara and Mat Cauthon have their own challenges to face. Perrin must make peace with his wolf side and forge a dangerous alliance with those who only want to kill him for crimes from long ago. Mat must face his own nemesis on the streets of Caemlyn and undertake a desperate quest to rescue an old friend, but the price will be high. And, in the Aiel Waste, Aviendha must journey into Rhuidean and confront a terrible truth that could shatter the Aiel more completely than Rand al'Thor's revelations.

Towers of Midnight is, at last (and third time lucky) the penultimate volume of The Wheel of Time. The fourteenth and final book, A Memory of Light, will be published in early 2012. Towers is published just short of the twenty-first anniversary of the series, which is appropriate as this is where the series finally matures and comes of age. Lots of the more irritating quirks of the series, such as the inability of the major characters to, you know, talk to one another about what's going on, are absent from this novel as fresh alliances are forged, plans are laid and armies are readied for the grand finale.

Just as Rand al'Thor has decided that he must sweep away the rubble of the Bore before he can confront the Dark One, Towers of Midnight sweeps aside many storylines and side-characters in preparation for the grand finale. The pace of the novel is relentless as we drive towards the moment when the Last Battle must be unleashed in its full fury, with each chapter seemingly ticking off character and story arcs stretching back all the way to The Eye of the World. Many characters who first appeared in that book, including relatively minor ones like Dain Bornhald and Morgase Trakand, have important roles to play here, giving the feeling of a vast circle slowly being closed off. There are also strong ties to The Shadow Rising, with the Aiel playing a larger role in events then they have for a while and a revisiting of Rhuidean and its glass columns providing a late-series game-changing moment that was wholly unexpected but quite satisfying.

Thematically, Towers cannot hope to match The Gathering Storm's tight focus on Rand and Egwene and their respective journeys through chaos and fire and out the other side. This book is far more epic and sprawling, with many more storylines and characters visited and progressed. However, Sanderson manages to maintain a strong focus on getting the original major characters back into the thick of the action, this time with Perrin and Mat. There's also an interesting dramatic device used where Lan's march across the Borderlands towards Tarwin's Gap serves as a countdown to the moment when all hell truly breaks loose, which helps the book achieve its oppressive feeling of events moving towards a final, chaotic doom.

In terms of the writing, Sanderson continues to do a fine job of integrating his and Robert Jordan's styles, although Sanderson's 'voice' is a little bit more noticeable here (Towers apparently has far less of Jordan's finished text than the other two books). Fortunately, his grasp of Jordan's characters is more assured than before, with the major weak link (Mat) coming across far more like he did in earlier books. Of the characters prominent in this novel, he only really struggles with Berelain, hardly the most vital of characters anyway, whilst he gets the likes of Perrin, Elayne and Birgitte spot-on (for example, Elayne continues to make wince-inducingly stupid mistakes and not really learn from them). In fact, Sanderson achieves the near-impossible here of making Faile actually quasi-likable for a few chapters, which may be his most towering achievement in writing these concluding volumes so far.

Elsewhere, problems remain. The formal agreement between two armies to do battle at a given place on a given time feels very odd and doesn't ring true. Whilst the pace is mostly furious, there's possibly a couple too many chapters and scenes where people sit around and talk about the plot rather than getting on with business, although these are less noticeable than they have been in the past. There's also, to this reader's frustration, the fact that this is the seventh book in a row where Perrin and his forces are messing around in the Altaran/Ghealdanin backwoods (a story which, thankfully, finally and definitively ends here) rather than doing anything that's actually interesting. Fortunately Sanderson even rescues this storyline, taking advantage of the longueur to conclude Perrin's 'wolfbrother' arc. However, I suspect there will be complaints that both the Seanchan and Black Tower storylines are only barely touched on here, rather than being explored more thoroughly. As it stands, it is dubious that Sanderson can bring those two storylines into play and conclude them satisfyingly with only a (relatively) small number of chapters remaining, but we will see.

Many events unfold that people have been expecting for years (and yes, we learn the answer to a long-standing but utterly irrelevant mystery that Wheel of Time fans have furiously debated for over a decade), but Jordan's plotting skills and Sanderson's writing means that there are still plenty of big surprises to come, some of them almost strokes of genius in how they were set up beforehand.

Towers of Midnight (****˝) clears the decks of a lot of dead wood and brings us almost to the end. Some minor issues mar what could have been the best book of the series, but there is nevertheless the feeling that we have been set up for a huge finale. Time will tell if Sanderson can deliver on that. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indescribably Appropriate March Towards Tarmon Gaidon: A SPOILER FREE Review, November 8, 2010
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Towers of Midnight is a great book. That's not to say there aren't shortcomings in consistency or stylistic hiccups, but as a whole, this is a volume that contains everything a Wheel of Time fan could ask for, and more!

As another reviewer mentioned, the plot development truly is torrential, and the feeling of inevitability is really brought out by the way Sanderson (and Jordan) present events. There's hardly a lull in the excitement, and even the less adrenaline-filled scenes contain a sense of purpose and direction. As you read through the book, you really feel the pieces locking into place, not unlike a combination of Perrin's locksmith puzzles and Mat's imaginary dice.

The characters are true to their personalities, save for select instances. A number of the characters show significant departure from what we've been seeing in past volumes, but this is arguably a result of their character development rather than Sanderson's inability to stay true to writing form (that said, there were a few spots where I did feel that Sanderson deviated from the series narrative approach and/or character personalities).

Perhaps more so than in the previous volume (The Gathering Storm), Sanderson's writing style comes across as starker than Jordan, whom we all know had a penchant for exquisite detail. True, we are no longer provided with as much information and color as the earlier volumes gave, but this no-frills, all-business attitude came across as extraordinarily appropriate on the eve of The Last Battle. In a way, Sanderson has the benefit of being able to utilize the fleshed out images that Jordan has created without having to go through the difficult process of bringing them to life himself.

However, there is one seminal event that Sanderson seems to downplay. The action and momentum is undeniable, but the entire occurrence has a somewhat empty or shallow feeling to it. Perhaps part of it has to do with Mat's loss of dimensionality (IMO, Sanderson latched onto a few more obvious character traits of Mat and threw away less obvious ones).

Ultimately, Towers of Midnight is exactly what the series needed (it makes one seriously doubt if RJ himself could have finished the series in even 5 more books), being able to build upon the amazing foundation Jordan has laid and adding in a sense of urgency that marches the plot to its crescendo.

PS. Some people mention that this is not a particularly beginner-friendly volume. But honestly, to start a series as involved as WoT on the 13th book is asking to be confused. As we well know, RJ's insistence on repeating very fundamental concepts at some point in EVERY single book got tiresome after a while (it may be fine due to gaps between releases, but rereads reveal the irritation it can cause).

PPS. Please have the courtesy to NOT rate a product you do not actually own. Yes, I'm talking (typing) to you, Kindle owners. I understand it is frustrating to be shafted by a publishing decision, but don't detract from the product itself because of that. You can boycott until they release what you want, you can write strongly worded letters to the parties involved, you can petition your Congressman, but please do your fellow consumers a favor and NOT damage the reputation of a product before you have actually had first-hand experience with it. And no, the logistics of a product should NOT be considered part of the product itself. Rating an otherwise praiseworthy product as a 1-star failure won't convince anyone to release the Kindle edition earlier. All it does is deter casual buyers from taking a chance with this amazing series.
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Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time)
Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan (Mass Market Paperback - October 4, 2011)
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