When a series has been building for almost twenty years, each new release is met with a certain amount of anticipation. The kind of anticipation that leads to pre-orders, midnight parties, tons of fan fiction, and page after page of fan-operated websites dedicated to analysis and speculation. Each release is also met with a certain amount of pressure. Towers of Midnight is the second book of the series that is written by Brandon Sanderson, using the notes of original author Robert Jordan, who passed away in 2007. Although Sanderson has a different writing style than Jordan, he has proven to be an excellent vehicle for continuing the series, and Towers of Midnight is even better than his first contribution to the series, The Gathering Storm.
The Wheel of Time is famous for its intricacy: every character or event is key to the plot, and a character that appeared crossing the street in one book might prove to be an important character in another, and there are a seemingly infinite number of sub-plots. Trying to keep track of all the plotting and action often feels like a descent into the rabbit hole. And that is why Towers of Midnight feels like the reader’s reward: finally, the many stories begin to come together, weaving into one larger story, setting up the stage for the final battle between Light and Dark in the next book.
Perhaps even more important than the convergence of storylines is the maturation of several key character arcs. The young heroes of the series, who have been engaged in a constant struggle to balance their small town upbringing with their epic destinies, finally develop into men and women who seem capable of the gigantic tasks ahead of them. Mat begins to balance his gallivanting with a sense of honour; Perrin faces the Wolf Dream; Egwene learns to be both a woman and the Amyrlin; and Rand emerges from the darkness of the previous books, revealing his incredible strength, and also a new found wisdom and humanity. For the first time, it is possible to believe that he can beat the Dark One, not because of the prophecies, but because of the man he has become.
The stories surrounding those who will oppose the Dark One all focus on wrapping up old plot lines so that the forces of good can flock to Rand in preparation for the Last Battle. The stories surrounding those aligned with the Dark One are a mixed bag of failed plots and new plans. Although the Last Battle has not really begun, massive battles along the Blight hint at its imminence, and also at the incredible destruction that will accompany it. We are also treated to glimpses of the future through Dreaming and Ter’angreal.
In Towers of Midnight, Sanderson and Jordan present us with an image of a world on the brink. A tension runs throughout the book, a sense of looming doom, of a strike about to fall.