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3.0 out of 5 stars Plot advances; characters, not so much, November 3, 2010
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This review is from: Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, Book Thirteen) (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 3, 2010 6:41:34 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 3, 2010 6:42:08 AM PDT
T. Simons says:
Good review! Sanderson's definitely got a different set of strengths from Jordan. I'm not sure how much of what you point out was really avoidable, though, given Jordan's decease -- for example, I suspect we got the plotlines we did in The Gathering Storm because Jordan had worked on Rand and Egwene more, so the more "finished" plotlines were gotten out of the way first. I did think that his mastery of Jordan's characters has significantly improved since the last book; I think his presentation of Mat has dramatically improved, and Galad & Gawyn seemed nigh-perfect to me (not that they had all that much prior screen time for comparison). I do see what you're saying about a lack of definition, though, especially in the side characters -- Thom especially seemed to fade into the background a bit.

In the end, I'm just happy that we can finally *see* the end.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 3, 2010 12:45:46 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 5, 2010 7:35:29 AM PDT

I'd definitely agree that with Jordan's untimely death that a lot of this was unavoidable because of his unique style, and I'd bet you're right on Rand and Egwene's plots having more work. Sanderson has said that the notes on Lews Therin and Rand were pretty extensive (and refuses to divulge parts of them), so it makes quite a bit of sense.

I'm not sure I would on the presentation, though. Having read Warbreaker (Tor Fantasy) fairly recently, what jumped out at me (especially with some of the female characters) was that if you'd taken some of the characters there and transposed them into this book, you'd really have not noticed all that much of a difference between them and Sanderson's version of the Wheel of Time ones.

Part of that is just Sanderson's writing style and dialogue, but what hit me is that if this were a standalone novel, I'm not sure I'd remember any of the characters in a few weeks. This is about as radical a departure from Jordan as you can get. I think the only reason he gets away with it is that they are so well defined in previous novels that Sanderson just figures if you're reading this you already have the characters built in your mind. His job just becomes writing dialogue for them to finish the series.

The flip side, though, is that Sanderson does produce, and so we get to finally finish this off. Nothing against Jordan, but I suspect we'd still be waiting for a 3000 page novel.

Posted on Nov 7, 2010 3:12:34 PM PST
This review is SPOT ON. You've covered all my own mixed feelings about this book. Thanks.

Posted on Nov 10, 2010 1:15:22 PM PST
missile742 says:
Great review. I think that the main problem with TOM's pacing and overall "feel" is that I am guessing Brandon had to write almost the entire book, save for the Tower of Ghenji rescue. If I recall correctly, Jordan planned for AMOL to be a single (albeit extra large) volume or perhaps two volumes, but definitely not three 800 pg behemoths. That tells me that Sanderson succumbed to his fanboy side and used Jordan's notes to tie up a lot loose ends in TOM that Jordan might have left out (Asmodean) or gave a passing mention (Morgase reunions, Perrin/Two Rivers status). Dont get me wrong, I am all for it but it just serves to magnify the differences in writing styles and subsequent change in character voices. You know there's a different writer in charge when I actually took notice of a character in TOM "sniffing" at something. Jordan couldnt go a page with the female characters without several "sniffs" and "smoothing of dresses," something that Sanderson kindly minimizes.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 13, 2010 10:26:17 AM PST
Wonderful review! I am curious, however, if you wouldn't mind sharing what long-standing question about the Forsaken was answered in the book. I found them fascinating in this book, as usual, but perhaps I missed something as it has been a few years since I read the earlier novels.


In reply to an earlier post on Nov 13, 2010 8:06:51 PM PST
There are actually two reveals about the Forsaken that are somewhat anticlimactic, but the one I'm specifically referring to is revealed in the glossary after a bare hint in the book. (Best I can do without spoilers!)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2010 3:05:02 PM PST
Thanks for the tip - I re-read the glossary and it was definitely anticlimactic! My idea about Aviendha killing Asmodean was so much better!

Posted on Nov 18, 2010 10:24:46 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 18, 2010 10:26:03 AM PST
I agree completely. When You are tasked to finish a job so completely stylistically different than yours, you are bound to take a while to make it your own. The only disappointment I had was when that one character seemed to be in 2 places at the same time. I was sure it was a huge mistake or a forsaken posing as them for quite a long time.

ON THE OTHER HAND, Sanderson is much better than Jordan with huge multi-page battles. He has had time to move the characters where he wants them and set them up for a book that he can really make his own. I expect the battle to last about half the final book and Sanderson is just about the best guy for that job.

Posted on Nov 21, 2010 3:01:11 PM PST
I agree with your review - I liked ToM less than TGS. I think, mainly, due to the fact that the first half of this 800+ page monstrosity was wasted space. The whole Perrin and Galad bit which consumed most of it was repetitive, and could have been shortened by half, easily, improving the pacing and freeing up more room for, say, the Tower of G. expedition that seemed like a half-hearted afterthought, when it really should have been the crowning climax of the book.

It had a couple really good set pieces, though, notably the giant four-way battle in the dream world about 2/3rds of the way into the book.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 29, 2010 8:30:16 AM PST
Michael says:
The thing you must remember with regards to a certain character jumping around in time and space within ToM, is that originally the last 3 books were to be one book. Sanderson was about half done with the single book when the call was made by the publisher to split it into three. Thus, he had to scavenge what he could to make a solid book 12, and then he had the carcass remains of what would become half of Towers of Midnight remaining.

Since Gathering Storm focused so fully on Rand and the Tower, and thus Perrin's plot-line was left for book 13, it resulted in the awkward time 'distortions.' I reread book 12 right before 13 came out, knowing that they were originally supposed to be one book. It vastly helped in keeping things straight, as the ta'veren rainbow psychic viewings would keep you on track of where in book 12's timeline the events in book 13 were taking place.
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