Wheel of Time Book 13: Towers of Midnight.
Brandon Sanderson’s second WoT book with his name on it is much better than the first. Everything just feels much more natural this time out. While The Gathering Storm set Rand for the last battle, Towers of Midnight does the same for Perrin, Mat and Egwene. Towers of Midnight also continues to ramp up the feelings of dread of Tarmon Gai’den’s eminent arrival. In all honestly, that last battle starts in this book. Right from the beginning it has Kandor falling under a never ending stream of Trollocs and other darkspawn. It has begun and the good guys are still scattered and fractured. Rand is rallying them, but his enlightenment on the mountain has taken away his rage and struggle in his role. Towers of Midnight show the world finally coming together to face the threat that is already starting to overwhelm them.
Rand doesn’t make many appearances in this book, but the ones he does make are memorable. The book proper starts with Rand walking down from Dragonmount, having found peace. His very presence is enough counter the Dark One’s touch on the world. It actually works to pull the reader away from him at this point. Rand’s storyline accelerated way past everyone else’s in the last book; you can see the wrinkly in the chronology with Tam’s continued presence with Perrin’s group despite ending that last book in Rand’s company. He has a few chapter’s scattered through, as he divests himself of direct power and prepares everyone to meet with him at Merrilor, where he will unveil his plan to break the seal and fight the Dark One. The biggest thing he accomplishes is finally sorting out the Borderlanders. While their absence from the Blight might have led to their fall, it might have actually been to the good that they weren’t there to face it and fall as the Trollocs hordes came.
The two characters that dominate this book are Perrin and Mat. The two of them really could not be more different. Perrin’s stories tend to feature a lot of what poor readers call whining but is really just constant introspection. Perrin wants to think things through before he acts; this has been his defining trait since the series began. Now that he has had the mantle of leadership thrust upon him, he spends a lot of time trying to think of exactly what that means. Perrin, the most direct and straightforward character is probably the one that Sanderson, who tends to be blunter in his writing, writes best. Perrin’s story over the last half of the series tend to repeat, but that is because he is determined to accept change in half measures. Every time it seems like he’s solved his problems, he achieves the goal in front of him and starts everything over again. He doesn’t want things to change; so he makes bargains with himself. He will lead the Two Rivers until they clear out the Trollocs, he will lead his amalgamated army until he has rescued Faile. He will use his wolfbrother skills only as much as he must. It isn’t until this book that Perrin finally admits that he has to take full responsibility. Only after having thoroughly considered what that means, of course. That is why his wolf connection terrifies him. Giving in to the wolf means living by instinct, to act with the careful consideration that makes Perrin Perrin. His concerns are dealt with by dealing with the act that has haunted Perrin since The Eye of the World. He killed two Whitecloaks, which set them against him and caused him to fear giving in to his wolf abilities. Here, is finally forced to confront the Whitecloaks and he does so in his own way, by allowing them to put him on trial. He is willing to accept judgment for his actions because even as he accepts his role as leader he knows that if the laws don’t apply to him then they mean nothing.
His story in Towers of Midnight plays into his role as the builder. Other than Rand himself, Perrin is the one who binds the greatest number of people to Rand’s cause. By the time he has returned from his endless sojourn, he has brought with him Ghealdon and the remnants of Amadicia and The Whitecloaks, forged some ties with the even the Seanchan. While Perrin wasn’t able to bring back the Prophet, he did bring back a force much greater than the one he left with. He also gets one of the coolest scenes as he brings back power wrought weapons to world by forging his hammer, as well as making his mythological connection to Thor as overt as possible. It is also great to see Perrin work once he accepts leadership. He manages to match wits with Elayne over what to do about the technically rebelling Two Rivers, coming to a useful solution.
Unlike Perrin, Mat is not one for reflection. He seems almost pathologically incapable of introspection. Only Nynaeve rivals his lack of self-awareness. He is capable of forethought, but he does not consider his role. Mat doesn’t have the trouble taking the leadership of an army because it would never occur to him that it could change him. Fittingly, Mat’s final plotlines are mostly action based. He hunts the Gholam and rescues Moiraine from the Snakes and Foxes. Most of the rest of the main cast has undergone significant change since the start of the series, but not Mat. At least not in his heart. He may dress nicer now, may actually be a Prince, and has had ages of military knowledge jammed into his head but he is still the same. He still spends his time in taverns and let’s his mouth run more than is likely healthy. It is somehow reassuring. It is also hard to write about without simply spoiling it all. The trip to the Tower of Ghenjei is pretty much exactly what readers had been expecting for more than a decade. How little in is actually surprising should be disappointing, but it is not; it remains wholly satisfying, even if Moiraine’s return seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity.
Aviendha had been largely sidelined for the better part of three books at this point. But here she gets one of the most momentous scenes in the whole series. Back in The Shadow Rising, Rand going through the arches and seeing visions of the Aiel’s past was an amazing piece of writing. Here Aviendha goes through them and sees their future. Starting far in the future and coming back to just past the present, Aviendha’s vision of the fate of the Aiel is heartbreaking. She sees them first as barely more than animals before slowly going back and showing their fall. To see this come at the hands of the Seanchan is all the more devastating. It is becoming obvious at this point that the Seanchan problem is not going to be dealt with in the course of this series, which is fine. But to show a future where they are not only an ongoing problem, but that they manage to conquer all of the world that readers have spent more than a dozen books getting to know is perfectly horrifying. That is not even getting into the complete loss of culture the Aiel go through, the loss of everything that makes them what they are. It is one of the most devastatingly effecting scenes in the whole series.
Even though she also had a large role in the last book, Egwene doesn’t fade into the background like Rand kind of did in this book. While she has rooted out the bulk of the Black Ajah from the White Tower, she know that a member of the Forsaken is still hiding. What she doesn’t know is that a handful Seanchan assassins are also running around. It is a perfectly fine storyline that is hard to read thanks to Gawyn continuing to be a complete blockhead, albeit a very deadly blockhead. He forces Egwene in to the position she finds herself in more and more often in the latter half of the series, the killjoy bitch. While I never really found her likeable, her abrasiveness is generally justified. She needs to force the other Aes Sedai to recognize her power or they will try to walk all over her. She also must do the same with her friends so they will recognize her a Amyrlin Seat, not just their friend Egwene. It is uncomfortable to read, but it is necessary for her character. Especially with Gawyn, who has a habit going off half-cocked on poor information. Egwene really takes her place as one of the most badass characters in the series here, joining Rand and Nynaeve (and maybe Moiraine depending on how you look at it) as characters to take on a Forsaken and win.
Towers of Midnight is a more enjoyable book than its predecessor for many reasons. The first of which being that Brandon Sanderson just seems more comfortable with the characters this time out. Mat is still a little off, but he is much better in this one. While The Gathering Storm had Rand reaching his nadir then apex, Towers of Midnight has the rest of the cast reaching the conclusions, or nearly so, of their character arcs. That means that readers get to see a lot of their favorite characters triumphant one last time. However, the book never lets readers forget that the end is coming. That is never more apparent than with Lan’s hopeless march across the Borderlands, heading for the former Malkier and what he assumes is certain death. Even that is positively slathered with heroism, as many displaced Malkieri and their decendants come to join him, eventually forcing him to do the thing he had always refused to do: raise the Golden Crane, the flag of Malkier, formally accepting his place as King and leading men into the Blight, all of them knowing that the most likely outcome is death.