(This is a repost of my review that appeared on SF Signal recently - reposted here for posterity)
Hardcover: 864 pages
Publisher: Tor Books (November 2, 2010)
How do you even approach reviewing something like a Wheel of Time book? I mean, it’s the thirteenth installment in the series...kind of hard to recommend to someone not already indoctrinated, and utterly futile to even try with an ex-reader—turned off by the scope and sluggish pace midway through the series.
So, what’s even the point? *scratch head, shrug shoulders* Come on! It’s the bloody Wheel of Time. Blood and bloody ashes! I’ve got to review it. The wheel weaves as the wheel wills. I am but a thread caught in its tapestry. *Yoink!* Off I go.
First, let me say that I have read the entire series—including New Spring—and loved the journey, though some of the stops along the way were a little lackluster. I have not yet re-read the series, and there is a span of a couple years between the last Jordan-written book and The Gathering Storm (2009) that was co-written by Sanderson. In the interim, my memory of WoT faded and some of the hundreds of characters remained mostly a blank. It didn’t really hamper my enjoyment of TGS, but I know there will be more to enjoy on round two, when the series is finally finished.
On to the review: Well, it is a mixed bag. The story starts incredible. Story, character, amazing events! They’re all there. Then slowly it shifts colors like a warder’s cloak. The vibrancy with which the book starts slides away, becoming almost invisible, from which it does not return. Not even at the end! This is an oddity for Sanderson. I’ve found his books to be a very consistent inverted bell curve of enjoyment. He always starts strong, hits a so-so middle and then brings it all together (more or less) to finish strongly at the end. This one is more like a high mountain plateau that starts great for a while, then plummets before lodging itself in mediocrity. Some may call this too harsh, but for the Wheel of Time it is not. We’re talking incredible epic-goodness that can not be played off with a simple pat on the butt.
Not to say that Sanderson had an easy job of pulling everything together. It’s a monumental task, and one I don’t envy. It’s like unraveling a massive knot of threads into a beautiful tapestry that has huge gaping holes that have yet to be woven. Some how, some way, he has to manage the impossible and turn it into the masterpiece that we all desire and Jordan’s legacy demands. Oh...and it has to be on time.
So, no hard feelings for Sanderson, but it was hard to read some of these glorious scenes that have been on the stove, simmering for years; finally ready to be revealed to the world in their culminating moments, only to find them...dull. Their potential was there, and either Sanderson didn’t have the time (which I suspect) or was too hesitant to alter the outlines left by Jordan to give those scenes the final polish they needed.
Every scene with Rand is incredible and nearly worth reading the book by itself. He has accepted who he is, what will happen and no longer is he determined to push everyone away. He has become more than just a man with great power and wise beyond his years.
Perrin comes into his own, though his voice seemed off in this book. Mat is a half-reformed flirt, and the ceaseless joker that we all love. Egwene is wise and in control, as is Elayne; but neither give trust easily to those that more or less deserve it. Min is merely background, and Aviendha’s role is significant, but sparse. Gawyn, Galad, Thom, Rodel, Tuon, Faile, Morgase, and many, many more are all there to varying degrees. I won’t even try to sum up everything that transpires. One boon to Sanderson’s writing is that things happen, and they happen fast. Sometimes too fast.
Grammar is a low point here, and I’m not sure where the fault should lie, or what I should even say about it. I can understand that any author writing a massive book like this is bound to miss some errors. And for all the others that worked with Sanderson to polish and fine tune the book? I’m sure there is a firm deadline that few want to mess with, but the misses are pretty substantial and embarrassing.
My biggest complaint about this book would be the artistry. Technically, I think Sanderson has done a masterful job pulling it all together, but somewhere in there the time needed to make the prose shine wasn’t given.
Early 2012 will see the release of The Memory of Light and I know it will be a great work of art that I am eager to get my hands on. It may be little comfort to people, but like each individual book, Sanderson’s strengths are in beginnings and in endings (or at least he puts the majority of his polish there). The Gathering Storm was the beginning of his work on the Wheel of Time and Towers of Midnight was the middle, The Memory of Light is the end and I think he will impress us with Jordan’s vision and his own ability.
For some great moments and pulling the book together, I’d give Towers of Midnight 3.5 slightly misspelled stars.