Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Greatly Belated Book Review: Towers of Midnight

I've followed the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan for probably eight years or so. Compared to many of its fans, I'm a newcomer (little wonder, as I was pretty young when it started coming out), but I've been well aware of the series' staggering length and the increasing size of its volumes since I first caught up with its progress a short while after I got the first book. (I got two books from the series for my birthday one year, and was finished with the series by that fall, a couple of months later, and thus had to wait for the later books to come out.)

The series, I've discovered, has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism for becoming slow, bloated, and meandering. I'll agree that there was a certain amount of that in the last couple of books that came out while Jordan was still alive.

But thirteen books in, Towers of Midnight has turned things around, and I'm excited for the last book again.

I should explain a little. The author Brandon Sanderson, a long-time fan of The Wheel of Time, and also the author of The Way of Kings (which, in case you don't recall, is a book that I have said you need to read), was tapped to finish the series by Jordan's estate and publisher after his death from a long struggle with illness. (Jordan always said that he would keep writing until they nailed the coffin shut. Well... He pretty much did.) While Jordan literally plotted the series out to the end on his death bed, pretty much this entire book was written by Sanderson.

Now, I'm not saying that Jordan wasn't a good writer. He was; he got both myself and Sanderson (and plenty of others) hooked. However, the stretch which readers most often complain about seems to have been a rough patch in his overall plot.

But there's a payoff.

At the end of the previous book, The Gathering Storm, which was largely written by Sanderson, there was a Moment. It was one of the most defining scenes in the entire series.

Basically (I pretty much need to go into spoilers, so you should probably stop reading if you haven't read it but intend to), the main character, who is a prophesied and messianic figure, is on the verge of committing suicide and taking literally everyone else with him. He's been brutalized by his role, with a severe unhealing wound in his side, losing a hand, unable to use his magic powers without vomiting, and insane, with a voice of one of his past lives in his head that he must battle for control of his body. It's rather understandable why he's tried to cut off all his emotions, tapped into dark powers he shouldn't have, and set to murder his enemies with nuclear blast-sized bolts of energy that warp reality itself. And, oh, yeah, his messianic main character powers have turned to corrupting things around him.

And then, he gets better.

Just what this means isn't gone into until Towers of Midnight, but this is the point where things change. And the opening scene of Towers of Midnight shows us just how drastically things have turned around.

I don't want to go into it because details would ruin it, but it is seriously a brilliant exploration of how, within the world of The Wheel of Time, a messianic character works. Any meandering or padded narrative in previous books is forgiven, because much of it, ultimately, set up for this.

Towers of Midnight is the best book in the series for me. Part of the reason it works so well is because the character changes from narrating many to most of the chapters about him to being a mysterious figure that the others don't understand anymore, and don't even understand why they don't understand him. It is seriously one of the most dramatic transformations of a character I've ever seen in a narrative, and it works.

I have a difficult time recommending this book to a general audience. It's a great book, but there are twelve books of prerequisite reading you have to get through to read it. Also, many people would see the main character as too much of a power trip character, i.e. a Mary Sue of sorts. They're actually totally right in my opinion, but the thing is, there's actually a place for such characters.

And this is that place.

-Signing off.

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