Towers of Midnight – Book 13 of The Wheel of Time

The latest book in the Robert Jordan series The Wheel of Time has been out for a few months and I finally finished it, which at 800+ pages is somewhat of an accomplishment . We talked about book 12 here.

This book is the next to last book in the series and the word from Brandon Sanderson, the LDS author and BYU creative writing instructor hired to finish the series after Jordan’s death, is that the 14th and last book in the series, A Memory of Light, will be out around March of 2012.

Which means that this current book is essentially the middle book in a trilogy that Sanderson has been writing as the conclusion to this overgrown series. Cue alarm bells.

The good news is that, as he did in the last book, Sanderson performs a yeoman effort at searching out and tying down the plethora of flailing strands of character and narrative that Jordan left him with.

The bad news is that Sanderson can’t completely escape from the trap that writing the middle book of a trilogy places him in, partly, I assume, because this trilogy is one that is both highly anticipated and fraught with enormous deadline pressure and fan expectations.

This means that the book is concerned primarily with moving all of the chess pieces to the required locations so that the scene is set for the last battle and other scenes that are to take place in the final volume. Which makes it far less interesting than, presumably, the final book will be, and yes, less exciting than the previous one as well. It also seems slightly less well-executed. There is a bit of a “rushed” feel to it, like Sanderson didn’t get a chance to flesh out all of the scenes as well as he would have liked. I actually noted a few of typos as well, which is uncharacteristic of Sanderson’s work and this series. These issues make me think that Sanderson and the publisher are pushing hard to get these books done in order to meet a predetermined schedule, rather than just getting them out at the time they are truly ready.

That’s a shame, because although this series has dragged on way too long, it’s worthwhile at this point to take the time to wind it up in the right way. My hope is that Sanderson will do that on the last book and really finish things off right.

Having said all of that, there are also a lot of good things going on in this book. As the ebook cover art (above) shows, much of the book is concerned with the character Perrin Aybara, a blacksmith by training and one of the three friends who fled their small farming village of Emond’s Field in the beginning of the story. I’ve always thought that Perrin was probably the least interesting of those three characters, having neither the romantic destiny of Rand al Thor nor the swashbuckling panache of Matrim Cauthon. But this book proves me wrong in some ways.

The most interesting thing about Perrin has always been his supernatural connection with wolves, a connection which causes his eyes to turn a wolfish yellow hue, getting him nicknamed “Goldeneyes.” This book spends a lot of time delving into Perrin’s conflicted feelings about this supernatural gift, his recent marriage, the things he has had to do in rescuing his wife from his enemies, rumors of infidelity, his reluctant leadership of his people and his army, and his power over his dreams, his distatste for killing and violence, among other things. We learn a lot about this character and, though not all of it is stellar storytelling, the things we learn and the action that takes place between Perrin and his arch-nemesis Slayer holds your attention for the majority of this long book.

Speaking of bad guys, the Forsaken don’t fare very well in this book, even compared with the defeats they’ve been suffering at Rand’s hands in the previous volumes of the series. We find out that Graendal’s still alive, but Aran’gar is dead. Then Graendal is tasked with killing Perrin and, when she fails, gets a visit from ubercreep Shadar Haran. Makes you wonder how villains stay motivated.

I do have one major quibble with one of the plot devices in this book. One of the things that Verin Sedai does before she dies in the previous book is give a letter to Mat that he’s not supposed to open. We spend most of the last book and nearly all of this one wondering what’s in that letter. Turns out that it’s pretty critical information that Verin actually wanted Mat to know about and act on. That being the case, her actions with respect to this info are completely inexplicable. The whole thing makes no sense whatsoever.

All in all, however, I enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to the final volume in the series. In the meantime, Sanderson is doing a reread of the entire Wheel of Time series and tweeting about it as he goes along. You can follow him @BrandSanderson or use the hashtag #wotrr to see all tweets on that subject.

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