Review: Towers of Midnight

Posted: November 2, 2010 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Epic Fantasy

Sometimes it is difficult to review a novel. In fact, this isn’t even the original review we had written for TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT (Amazon). There are so many variables that come into play that we have to take an accounting of, that we wonder where we should even begin. ToM, obviously, is one of these types of novels. There is the matter of the book itself; the story, the characters and the progression in the novel have to be considered. But then so does the rest of the series in one as large as The Wheel of Time. And to be objective when you all know we like our fantasy in the non-Jordan fashion. Yeah. It’s all sorts of difficult to put a review of this type of novel together in a way that makes sense to you lovely readers.

ToM has all the markings of a Wheel of Time novel. For us, that means that it is very frustrating, punctuated by points of awesomeness. Many of you that know us have come to realize that we aren’t real fond of the WoT as a whole. We feel the first chunk of the series is OK, but we also feel that the latter half is mostly absurd.

When Brandon Sanderson stepped on-board in THE GATHERING STORM, we noticed a distinct change in the narration style of that novel within the scope of the series. ToM follows that voice, and in fact is much more “Brandon” than “Jordan”. It is mostly free of the garrulous exposition, and repetitive descriptions that plagued the other bloated novels of the series. Don’t get us wrong, we love good description, and require it to give our thumbs up to a book, but not at the expense of plot progress. ToM doesn’t have this issue. It doesn’t have time for it.

Enough about our history on the WoT series. What about the novel itself? Here is essentially how our text messages to each other went while reading:

Nick: Steve, I’ve got good news and bad news.
Steve: Bad news first.
N: ToM is about Perrin.
S: You’re not funny. What’s the real bad news.
N: ToM is about Perrin…. and Elayne.
S: I’m taking your birthday present back to the store.
N: Good news is that Jamiroquai has a new album out in the UK.
S: … I know about Jamiroquai… I told YOU that in the first place. What does that have to do with ToM?
N: Nothing. I’m just reminding you, so that there was some good news. Remember, ToM is about Perrin.
S: Crap.
S: Oh hey, look. Our cameos.
N: I’m a drunk!
S: Yeah, so is your cameo.
N: Well yours is dead.
N: How far are you now?
S: zzzzzzzz… wha? huh? Sorry, Perrin was lamenting how he is a poor leader again. I must have fallen asleep.
N: Isn’t Rand great in this book?
S: This is the guy we’ve been waiting for for, like, 15 years. Awesometastic.
N: Too bad he shows up in the book about as much as Lindsey Lohan shows up in the news sober.
S: The White Tower storyline… Seriously? WTF?
N: Yeah. I just dyed my hair black, put on skinny jeans, and started wearing trendy bracelets and band t-shirts.
N: … you there?
S: Sorry, my wife had to talk me out of burning my Jordan collection. That emo idea sounds pretty good though.

We realize we said it before but we reiterate, ToM = periods of extreme frustration interspersed with moments of complete greatness. This isn’t a dig on this book in particular or on Brandon’s writing of it. That’s the Jordan way, after all, and we have seen it time and time again in his books. And it leads us into our next points and the multi-faceted reason it can be so frustrating.

Number one. We have seen all of this before. Perrin whines about being a leader and a lord? Check. Perrin worries about losing himself to the wolves? Check. Elayne acts hypocritical and spoiled? Check. People don’t communicate, leading to unnecessary problems and forced conflict? Check. These are all things that have been part of the character arcs since extremely early on.

To the point of repetition. Now we have to see Perrin really learning the wolf dream? Nifty, except he progresses the same way as when Egwene learned to be a dreamer. And when she trained everyone else, and we had to watch. Again, this should have been done novels ago. Oh wait, but we get to see Nyneave’s trial to become Aes Sedai. And thematically it is the same as all the other tests we have seen. Remember when we had to watch all the Accepted tests that were extremely repetitive? Yeah. Same thing.

Number two. So much of the book is filled with all the mundane (Perrin/Elayne), and not enough of the amazing(Taim/Logain/Rand/Min). For example. We get loads, and loads, of Perrin chatting with Faile, usually about how much he sucks. Despite all the blatant evidence to the contrary, when everything he tries ends in the most spectacular success. Though we are inclined to agree with you Perrin. You haven’t been cool, fun, or interesting to read since The Shadows Rising. Please go die at the Last Battle already. Take your annoying wife with you.

In addition to all the Perrin crap, we get so much Elayne nonsense that we both were tempted to keep an AED handy in case our heart stopped of stress while reading her sections. Elayne, Elayne, Elayne. You need to die. Now. Twice–it’s possible in Rand-land. Much like Perrin, Brandon’s Elayne’s segments are actually spot-on as far as “voice”. The problem is that the character’s, as Jordan created them, are bad. They just suck as characters, and are impossible to like. In the full series, we can think of no character as hypocritical as Elayne. She is who she is, and we hate her. Quote: “We can’t afford to be short-sighted right now.” Right, Elayne. We can’t. So how about you put on your big-girl panties and think about the last battle instead of selfishly seeing what you can take. Right now, Elayne is acting exactly like those idiots that go looting during riots and disasters. “I’m going to expand all my borders, and squish Perrin for being rebellious! I’ll take more and more kingdoms! What? Tarmon-what-cha-callit has started?”

Number three. With all this mundane tom-foolery filling up the book, the pacing feels off. The REALLY important things, take about half of a chapter to resolve and come together so cleanly and easily that any climactic feel they could have had, was completely lost. This right here is the single greatest failing in ToM.

There are numerous plot threads resolved in ToM–more than a few,in fact–which was very refreshing. The problem is that they were either wrapped up in a very unsatisfying way, or they were largely irrelevant. In fact, one of the plot threads ends in one of the most blatant maid and butler scenes in recent SFF history. You’ll know it when you see it, and it involves, of course, Perrin amidst a scene brimming with repetition. There is also a major event that rivals Winter’s Heart in magnitude but it is handled in a paragraph or two, and with a shrug of shoulders. Nynaeve does something really cool, and it takes her absolutely no effort or time to figure it out. It was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat and yelling TA-DAH!

Everything is robbed of intensity when it all comes together so cleanly and seemingly without effort.

Let’s talk about a few of the other characters that had lesser parts in the book.

Rand. This is the Rand that we have been waiting for. A character worth reading about. He has a full range of emotions that are used to great effect. Every time he shows up, he is utterly incredible. He owns up to his mistakes the way a general/leader/king/warrior/farmer/messiah should. How we wish that we could have had more of Rand, and less of everything else. With Rand, as it stands, this novel was redeemed by a large amount. Again though, why can’t he just communicate? It would solve so many problems. His justification, now, is that there isn’t time. But so much time would be saved if he would just take some of it to communicate, and talk.

Mat doesn’t feel as “off” as the last novel. There are parts where he is funny again, and parts where he genuinely warms the heart. There are also a couple sections where he feels a tad forced. Maybe a knee-jerk reaction to TGS where he didn’t seem like himself at all. But it was a major improvement and a very welcome addition to ToM. We were pleased with most of Mat’s presence here. The problem is that his portion of the novel (and something that fans have been clamoring for, for years) is resolved so quickly and cleanly (well mostly) and we are left with more of Perrin sulking.

And, finally, Lan feels wrong. All wrong. He comes across as a petty whiner. Luckily he’s hardly in the novel.

Speaking of hardly being in the novel. There are some extremely important things and people that should have been here, but were AWOL. Things that need more time than a final novel in a series. We can’t really talk about what’s not in the book without heavy spoilers, but when you finish the book we guarantee you will agree.

Ok… here comes something new for EBR.

***Spoiler Alert***

Yes, we are breaking our rule here. Reader’s find out this information in the prologue, and it is obviously expected, and a huge gripe of ours. So here we go.

Graendal? Really? “To get to Rand, I’ll go after Perrin! I’ll bring the D.O. his head! It will RUIN Rand! HA!” Really? Hi Graendal. Welcome to the plot of The Wheel of Time. Look around you and maybe you’ll see that this isn’t a new idea. You must have watched Spider-Man 3 in your cave between books. The very fact that Graendal is even ABLE to say these things ruins some of the awesome from TGS. It’s like ToM pulled an Alien 3 on us. Thankfully she is resolved also.

Again, a lot is resolved. A lot of answers are given. This is really what ToM has going for it. A very large chunk of plot threads are tied off. Yeah, lots of them feel extraneous, but there are a few big ones finished up. Yeah… a lot is tied off. Finally. You see, ToM is a checklist novel. It’s taking care of all the stuff that has been stagnant for the past… uh… forever. If these last three novels are looked at as one full piece of work, ToM is the, usually, boring middle section of the novel. It just is. Now, that said it has more movement in it than we are used to from a WoT book. A LOT MORE. It moves at breakneck speed compared to many of the others, but the repetition and unimportance of so much of what is moving makes it much less awesome. It was good, but not awesome.

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT has all the markings of a Wheel of Time novel. For us, that means that it is very frustrating, punctuated by points of awesomeness.

It’s all housekeeping.

In THE TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT, Brandon Sanderson is tasked with cleaning up a huge number of loose ends that should have been taken care of forever ago. His no-nonsense narrative helps overcome this portion of the story that feels like a laundry list. Brandon is working with the deck that was given to him, and he is doing amazing. Are there problems in this novel? Heavens yes. Does it have some awesome stuff? Oh yeah. Battles are great as usual. Rand is amazing. The secondary characters are better than the main characters in many cases. It is a Wheel of Time novel. There is going to be lots of frustrations, and lots of different stuff that will appeal to a variety of fans.

We have spent a lot of time, more than usual, on the characters and our reactions to them. Perhaps the fact we have such a violent reaction to them is that Brandon is doing a great job of writing them. As usual B’s writing is top-notch. He is our friend, but we definitely don’t pander to him. There are things we wish he would do differently, but what he does, he does in an incredible fashion. In a time in the industry when the gritty, dark, and gray are ruling supreme, Brandon writes Black and White and fantasy that is reminiscent of the good old days, and it is good. We can’t stress enough how much we liked most of how ToM was written (with the previous items mentioned excluded from the list). The “When” of the novel is cloudy sometimes, but it is mostly free of confusion in that regard. The PoV’s, transitions, etc., are all crystal clear. Kudos B.

Did we like ToM? Yes. The more we reflected on the book though, we realized how so many important things that should have been on the checklist were left off, and how minor the checklist seemed afterward. We liked this book, but juuuuuuuuust barely.

  • Recommended Age: There's no real age rec for WoT, so 10+?
  • Language: Nope
  • Violence: Yes. Action has always been handled pretty well in this series, and ToM is no exception.
  • Sex: Nope


  • Xhojin says:

    I will never understand how you can praise a terrible author (though great world builder) like Erikson and then lambaste Jordan.

    I'll say a few more things.

    1.) At least Jordans characters HAVE character arcs. What a concept! Eriksons characters are flat and never change. Usually erikson's characters dont' even express emotion and the reader is unable to fathom why they do what they do…other then to advance the precious plot.

    2.) People communicate poorly (or not at all) all the time and it causes conflict. This is not as you say “causing unnecessary problems and forcing conflict”. It's called being humans. IT is refreshing to read about people that act like people, flaws and all, rather then pieces on a gameboard that only move to advance the plot.

    3.)You have fallen into a trap, where because you are omniscient you think that the characters are as well. You know the end is coming but the characters do not. Of course they are still going to concern themselves with “petty” things like ruling their kingdom, their relationship with their wife, etc etc. Again this is a spot on reflection of reality. People ALWAYS focus on things that are important to them but irrelevant to the greater scope of things. Again.. that is good characterization. That is called creating realistic characters. a good character is not a piece that moves only to advance a plot.

    4.) Speaking of am emo Perrin….”N: …you there?
    S: Sorry, my wife had to talk me out of burning my Jordan collection. That emo idea sounds pretty good though.” Ya…emo much?

    5.) Maybe you should go read an old Dragonlance book. All plot. No characterization. poorly written. you should go check them out. You'd dig it.

    • See the thing is, I could easily take your first sentence and reverse the names. What you have done is fall into the trap of, “Oh, they insulted my fav. series with their opinions, so I am going to insult them directly by telling them their opinions are wrong.”

      Did we make any Erikson vs. Jordan comparisons here? No. They are different breeds of fantasy in my personal opinion. Everyone can like what they want, that's kinda the point of having different novels. But since you brought up Erikson, I will say I completely disagree with you about his characters. They almost all have dramatic arcs that keep the characters anything but flat. Paran, Icarium, Karsa, the Sengars, Bridgeburners, Bonehunters, etc.

      We could argue back and forth forever, but I personally don't think Jordan's characterization improved in the novels. I feel it regressed. If a character has to “tell” me what they are feeling like in WoT, then I have lost interest. I'd rather it be shown through how they progress as a character.

      Take Perrin for example. His arc has been flat for a majority of the series. It had the most change in the first few novels when the characterization for all the characters was at its strongest. Has he learned a lot from his mistakes? Not so much lately, which is why in ToM we have to go through basically the same exact, stagnant emotional cycle one last time to get him moving. And the thing is, he makes the same “I'm terrible” comment just a few sentences before he just flips a switch to say “OK, I'm actually awesome.” The fact that it got to this point is a reflection on poor character progression.

      My mark in a good character is if they learn from their experiences. If they learn that they need to communicate better. That they need to sacrifice without whining. I have trouble seeing that WoT characters do that.

      Again, this is my opinion. I don't recall attacking your opinions lately, but you've fallen into the trap of attacking the reviewers personally because you disagree with our opinions. All authors/people have significant shortcomings. We just point them out.

    • -Slamel- says:

      “4.) Speaking of am emo Perrin….”N: …you there?
      S: Sorry, my wife had to talk me out of burning my Jordan collection. That emo idea sounds pretty good though.” Ya…emo much?”

      Don't ever try to tell a joke Xhojin, I get the feeling you don't know what they are. The above is called 'irony'. It's just a little tool that has only been around for hundreds of years. I don't blame you for not catching on to such a new concept.

  • josh says:

    One major point of frustration for me throughout the book was the spelling, grammar and word substitution errors. Any book will have some of these, but it seemed like I ran into them quite a bit in this book. Especially in the Tower of Ghenjei segment: Thom spelled as Tom, Mat referring to the other two in the group as Mat and Thom instead of Noal and Thom and the random repeated adjective or adverb.

    • @Josh – You bring up an interesting point about Rand. I feel like in the last 2 novels we have really seen him grow, which is why I have heaped praise on his character after hating him for so long. I also have thought about what you said about his brief appearances. You may very well be right, plus I think the shorter segments plus very little from his PoV is intentional. I think he is playing Egwene and all the people who are banding against him. With 400+ years of age come wisdom, yeah? It sounds like you and I generally see eye-to-eye.

      There WAS one scene I liked of Perrin's that I should have made sure we included in the review: the power-wrought weapon. I mean, I've seen it coming for ages, but it was finally nice to see.

  • Xhojin says:

    The thing is you don't just point out authors shortcomings.. or at least you don't do it equally. Your reviews are very biased. You will praise one author for the plot of his book but say nothing about the flat characters. Then you will lambaste another author for flat characters and say nothing about plot. There is very little constancy. I guess this is your thing. You do a great job showing what books you like, but you seem to be all over the map with why you like things.

    The comparison with Erikson is valid. Not only because they are both on the top of the heap of Fantasy authors, but because they have opposite strengths. Erikson does an amazing job with world building. But he rarely shows or tells what any characters feel or think. We get straight plot progression without any reasoning behind it. Jordan is the opposite. He writes mainly what the characters are thinking and feeling which carries the story forward rather then forcing the plot along by moving pieces on the board. I've just finished the 5th malazan book and the only character that has undergone any change at all is Karsa. Lots of things have happened but no other characters have changed in their motivations or thoughts. They are flat and emotionless.

    It is also rather ignorant to call a character that you find annoying, snivelly, or irritating a badly written character (referring to Elayne, who I agree is annoying) a poorly written character. The Author has made you feel these emotions about this character. That is good writing. You don't have to like a character to have it well written. You could hate it, etc. If you feel an emotion the character is probably well done. IF you feel nothing at all then it's a flat poorly developed character.

    Obviously you like plot driven books far more then character driven ones, and that is fine. To each their own. But to criticize a book for being character driven rather then plot driven, or because you didn't like a character, or it didn't focus on your favorite character is silly.

    I guess I am expecting an impartial review on the quality of the writing, rather then if you thought the character was awesome or not. Maybe I'm on the wrong site.

  • Xhojin says:

    I also find it quite ironic (ya I get irony) that Steve says you all don't insult people and then Slamel goes and does just that. too funny.

  • josh says:

    One further comment…

    I think part of the reason that *this* is the Rand we have been waiting for and why he is so freaking awesome in this book is because of the tortuous journey that we have been on with him. We've watched him mature, harden and eventually break and reforge into the Dragon. Without that or with a more hurried pace it would not have been as amazing.

    Additionally, as much as I would have liked to see more of him, I think the brief encounters we have with his awesomesness are actually kinda cool and work from a story perspective. I think of it in terms of what I would see in a movie or tv show: brief clips of the hero righting wrongs while the rest of the story catches up to him.

    However, don't get me wrong: Perrin is annoying! Of course, his annoyance factor is minuscule as compared to his wife. That woman has to be the single most annoying character ever written, Pee Wee Herman included. (That's a somewhat hyperbolic statement, but not much.)

  • @ Josh – Yeah I noticed some of that too.

    @ Xhojin – I actually think Erikson's strength is his character. Yeah the world building is great, but I read for his characters. I see a ton of character growth and progression in his novels. I do also recognize that other people don't always see it the same way. It's that whole opinion thing.

    We obviously expect different things out of characters. If I hate the way a character is written–to the point of wanting to skip their sections entirely–then I consider that bad. I have read plenty of novels where the characters make me feel a strong emotion (positive or negative) and I still find them fascinating. The main character of R Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing for example (or even many of the side characters). However I personally don't feel that with many of the WoT characters. I don't think it makes me “ignorant” like you say.

    In fact, my personal opinion is that RJ stopped focusing on character half way through the series. It is was more about the world. This caused the problem of character stagnation as I see it. You obviously don't see the issues I see as problems. That's your right as a reader.

    Also, I never said “we” don't attack people. I said “I” don't. Usually. On weekdays. I leave that to Nick as most people know.

  • tomlloyd says:

    On the point of characters, one thing I like about Erikson is that a lot of them have history already – they're not as unformed as people in Jordan's often start out. When they've already been through the wringer, it makes them more like fully-formed people already rather than having to watch an often-standard character arc play out yet again.

    For me, the difference between two series that both have issues of length and bloat is this: I can't remember which Jordan book I read last, 7 or 8 I think but checking the blurbs I'm still not sure which it was. Erikson I read more recently for sure, but I'm actively excited at the prospect of the next one to come, whereas with Jordan I can't be bothered to continue.

    • @Tom Lloyd – Exactly. That's one of the main things about Erikson that I like. Now get back to work on your 5th book! The waiting is absolutely killing!

      • tomlloyd says:

        ;0) That reminds me, how do both Sanderson and Erikson write such huge books in the time-scale? If I had only a year to write 200,000 words + I'd… well, I guess need to earn as much as they do… Fair point, I'll get back to work.

  • Adi says:

    One thing I hate about WOT saga is the immortality of major characters(This is probably why the ASOIAF was all the more refreshing to me after reading a boatload of bad fantasy books). This might have been mentioned before, but I confess I haven't read the whole comment thread.
    More than anything else that is the weakest element of the WOT series; characters surviving by a hair's breadth. It gives the whole series the feel of a cheap thriller novel.
    For e.g (SPOILER) I hadn't the slightest fear of Rand dying after his encounter with Fain. The one that gave him the never-healing ever-throbbing wound.(End spoiler)

    Damn last comment was 7 months ago…I'll post this anyway…

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