The rapid reviews keep coming, as Towers of Midnight continues in the same brisker pace as The Gathering Storm. Once again, it only took me six days to read this, despite it being nearly 900 pages long — the combination of Sanderson’s slightly more natural writing style and the fact that the plot is winding up are definitely combining to make the last few books faster reads than the ones in the middle of the series. Perhaps most remarkably, for a series that has been extended so many times (the original estimate was somewhere around 6 books, if I remember right), and which has had so many books that feel like pure setup, Towers of Midnight actually feels like the penultimate novel that it is. Just about all the dangling subplots are resolved, leaving only the big climactic finish.
It’s about time, really.
Previous books have often felt like they belonged to a particular character, that it was their turn to have their plot advanced while others sat on the sidelines. To some extent, that’s true here, as the book — particularly near the end — feels like it’s primarily for the character Mat Cauthon, whose storyline in this novel is both interesting and exciting, and again has a healthy dose of humor in amongst all the darkness of the story. But rather than the usual feeling where the other characters seem like they’re just idling, in Towers of Midnight every major character’s plot line advances to a point where they’re either joined back with the main plot line, or are just about to be. Not all of these plots are particularly deep, but they’re all reasonably interesting, and the result is that this huge, sprawling world finally feels a bit more like a cohesive whole.
All this character juggling doesn’t come without a few dropped balls, however. Brandon Sanderson wrote that Robert Jordan had intended the final three books to all be one novel, but that it simply grew too long. He said, in his blog, that he had found some natural break points to split it up. Those break points are certainly natural, but in Towers of Midnight it’s also abundantly clear that the separation wasn’t completely smooth. When you have different characters following different plotlines, it’s natural that sometimes the flow of chapters doesn’t exactly match the flow of time — for example, you might follow one character for a week, and then follow another character’s experiences during that same week, rather than going back and forth between them day by day. That comes into play in an interesting way in Towers of Midnight, in that Perrin’s story, which was largely back-burnered in The Gathering Storm, is in full focus in the early chapters, while Rand’s story continues to move forward intermittently from the beginning to the end. This would normally go unnoticed, except that one character transitions between the plotlines in The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight. The result is that the character finds things out in Towers of Midnight that he already knew in The Gathering Storm, and leaves Perrin’s camp about 600 pages after he arrives at Rand’s. It’s not a major issue, but there was this constant itch in the back of my mind going “OK, we’re not quite in synch yet, not quite… there!” This bit of anachronic order was exacerbated a little bit with a flashback to a previous scene, which revealed that things which had happened weren’t all that they appeared to be; this can be a very cool bit of revelation, but it felt a little out of place, as the series hadn’t pulled this type of stunt before.
Those concerns aside, Towers of Midnight is still a very entertaining novel, and moves the story forward to a point where it finally feels like it’s ready to be concluded. I expect it’ll be February before I finish and review A Memory of Light (I’m just starting it as this post goes up), but I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.