The Wheel of Time, Book 13
Reviewed by Gillian Polack
This is the thirteenth (and second last) in Robert Jordan’s enormous Wheel of Time series. Jordan died when the series was not quite finished, but he left extensive notes. Brandon Sanderson was commissioned to complete The Wheel of Time. My review of the previous volume is here. And now we’re all on the same page.
It’s a very long page. Towers of Midnight checks in at over eight hundred of them. Hard to handle – best read in bed. Probably even better read on an e-reader of some sort, where you don’t have to struggle to find ways of holding it at the beginning and at the end of the tome. Also best read by those who know the earlier books and remember them well – there is little time given to backstory early in this volume and the narrative is complex and really does require some sort of understanding of what went before and what the politics are in order to enjoy it..
The question with blockbusters is never their size, but what is done with that size. Initially, with this volume, my thought was, “Not much.” Sanderson kept scene-setting to a minimum in the beginning and as a result, the volume starts with no atmosphere and little sense of location. Fortunately, this changes, and within a hundred pages (a lot for most novels, but less than an eighth of the way in for this one) his writing takes us back within that world and within the characters we already know. The last half of the book is better than the first half of the book. After the halfway mark the pace picks up, the challenges pick up and it’s a lovely rollercoaster ride. The writing is less distinctively Jordanesque, though still close enough for the novel to fit into the series and for readers to be reasonably comfortable with it. There are some resolutions (good and bad) and some nasty complications. There is a cliffhanger of an ending.
There’s one big change in this volume: the women are less intolerable. They don’t spend all their time scolding or complaining (although there’s still a fair amount of attitude and “I do not understand women” from the menfolk) and their characters are almost all more complex.
About halfway through the volume, I realised what I had been hanging on for was finally happening. There has been talk of the endgame throughout the series, but the world of the series shattered and then shattered some more and then kept on falling apart in new and exciting ways and the talk of endgame felt as if it was really just talk. While there are indeed new challenges in this book, there are also some important drawings together. For the first time, I felt as if there will be a confrontation in the final volume and that it will be significant and even epic and that the tension was going to start increasing at a significantly higher rate and would keep on increasing until the climax.
If this were any other series, I would honestly wonder why it took us so long to get to this point, but this is not any other series. It has a special status. One day we need an abridged version for readers who aren’t die hard fans and who want to know what happened (and the die hard fans will scream and kick and create havoc at such desecration of their dream fantasy) but for those who have stuck it out for this long, it’s good to know that there will be payoff and that it’s being sorted out in ways that don’t betray the underlying characters and cultures.
It’s not easy. I can see why Sanderson needed three volumes to bring up to the end. Some people die, some unite, some resolve problems in unexpected ways, and there are still enough problems outstanding so that, if the Dark Lord broke free of his seals that moment, the whole world would be dust.
Jordan and Sanderson now have distinct voices in The Wheel of Time. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it was certainly an inevitable thing. In this volume, Sanderson is channelling Jordan less. The style is more his own. I miss Jordan’s descriptiveness, but I don’t miss the higher levels of angst and humiliation he brought to his characters. There is serious inward-dwelling still, but it’s dealt with far more quickly. Inevitably Sanderson moves onto conversations.
In fact, the lessening of the almost sadistic element of humiliation and lessoning that’s a feature of the series adds to the sense of character growth, but it also adds to the sense of the change in societies. One by one, different groups of people learn other ways of handling themselves and dealing with others and these ways make them more able to deal with crises that come from outside their experience. Given the whole novel is about the advent of stuff that is most certainly outside everyone’s experience, this is a sensible decision on other levels than a “I wish he didn’t hate his characters so much” one.
The big thing is that we are now able to see that the End is Nigh and also to get a sense of what shape it will take. I’m looking forward to the final volume.