In this entry, I officially start the penultimate novel in The Wheel of Time, Towers of Midnight, in which Lan rides for Tarwin's Gap, Perrin confronts his internal conflicts, Graendal manages to narrowly survive Rand's balefire attack, Galad and his Whitecloaks fall into a trap, Padan Fain prepares to kill Rand at Shayol Ghul, and some courageous Borderlanders fight to the death against Trolloc invasion.
Lan rides through northern Saldaea by the Blight. A man suddenly approaches him from around a hill, leading a pack horse. The man, Bulen, was alerted of Lan’s ride by Nynaeve, and seeks to provide supplies. Lan initially refuses to permit Bulen to follow, but he relents when the man reveals his father was Malkieri. The two travel together.
Perrin hammers hot iron in a normal dream, Hopper lying in a corner. He cannot create anything of use. He is frightened of losing himself when running as a wolf. Perrin suddenly appears in Malden, with his axe instead of his hammer. He kills the two Shaido, but refuses to slay Aram. An image of Perrin splits away, turning into a wolf and killing Aram. Perrin returns to the forge and withdraws countless statues of Two Rivers denizens from a barrel. The statues start reaching for him, and Perrin awakens in his tent with Faile.
Graendal ignores Aran’gar’s complaints about inactivity in Natrin’s Barrow. While Aran’gar turns her attentions to Delana, Graendal is alerted of the approach of Ramshalan, who offers to reward her if she helps him become King. She has Aran’gar and Delana Compel Ramshalan to confuse Rand. She observes Ramshalan’s return through a dove using weaves of the True Power. Noticing the access key, Graendal apprehends Aran’gar and Delana to disguise her escape, then flees through a gateway. The fortress is then balefired, releasing a balescream.
Galad leads seven thousand Whitecloaks through a swamp, hoping to evade Asunawa. His men reluctantly accept cooperating with Aes Sedai in order to battle Shadowspawn. The soldiers cross a river infested with bloated corpses. Upon leaving the swamp, Galad’s soldiers are surrounded by ten thousand of Asunawa’s. Galad, Bornhald, and Byar negotiate with Asunawa and his Lords Captain. Galad manages to outwit Asunawa theologically. He offers to surrender so long as Asunawa doesn’t Question his men. Asunawa consents, and has Galad arrested, unarmed, and beaten into unconsciousness.
Fain walks through the Blight with his dagger, consumed with hatred for Rand and the Dark One. He contemplates a new name, as he is neither Fain nor Mordeth anymore. He killed a Worm, attracting a group of Trollocs and their Myrddraal. Fain summons a mist that kill the Fade and turns the Trollocs into zombies. Fain intends to kill Rand at Shayol Ghul.
Malenarin Rai, commander of Heeth Tower in Kandor, reviews reports. His sergant reports a signal flash from the tower to the northwest, within the Blight. There is no response from it, or any of the surrounding towers. Malenarin has messengers dispatched to warn the south. He prepares the tower for assault. To his surprise, his young son, Keemlin, appears, hoping to participate in the battle. Malenarin presents to his son a sword, officially making him a man. A horde of Trollocs approach.
Thus begins Towers of Midnight! At this point, I’ve had a whole book to become accustomed to Sanderson’s style of writing, and his handling of Jordan’s world and its characters. So this prologue wasn’t quite the surprise or the interesting experience that TGS’ was, but it was still very intriguing. I’m certainly eager to return the focus to the Shadow (as I’ve found for quite some time they’ve been underrepresented as an antagonistic force outside of Forsaken cameos) and combatting them in the Borderlands, and while I’ve never been the hugest fan of Perrin’s storyline, I’m nonetheless very eager to see where his goes in this book, especially considering the upcoming confrontation with the Whitecloaks.
Lan’s POV was awesome, primarily because it’s the first (that I can recall)! Lan is one of the series’ first characters, stretching back to the very first chapters, and we’ve certainly seen a lot of him (although not as much in the second half of the series), but we’ve never gotten a glimpse into his head. This was only a teaser, I presume, of Lan’s personal war against the Shadow igniting in this novel, and the idea is as awesome now as it was when proposed in KoD. Better still, Rand’s hopefully in a state of mind that will discourage him from leaving Lan to die. Thank god for Nynaeve, forcing Lan to accept the soldiers she rallies to his command, otherwise he would try to turn this into a suicide mission.
Not too much to comment on Perrin’s portion, as it was mainly just character development and symbolism that I enjoyed. In the earlier books, I wasn’t as interested in Perrin’s character (regarding the wolves and all that) as Mat’s and especially Rand’s, but my aversion to his storyline in later books instead rooted from how generally tedious it could get (although nothing compared to Elayne’s…). But I think I have a newfound respect for Perrin’s character, thinking about the old books. He’s definitely an interesting character, and I’m curious to see how his many internal conflicts (regarding his relationship with Faile, his old tensions with the Whitecloaks, his aversion to responsibility, the axe-hammer juxtaposition, and most importantly the wolves) develop and resolve in this book, which I hear has a large and awesome focus on Perrin. And I would certainly love for him to emerge from the depressive state of mind he’s been in for countless books now.
Graendal’s portion was…very revealing! One of the somewhat disappointing parts of TGS was her general absence. I expected a considerable conflict between her and Rand from the moment Arad Doman entered the narrative foreground, and Moridin’s commands for Graendal to cause Rand suffering only made me more eager for confrontation. But the majority of Rand’s excellent storyline in TGS involved Semirhage, the Seanchan, Domani politics, or his internal conflict, with very little direct presence from Graendal. I was eager to see the manipulator emerge from the shadows and make a stand against Rand, but alas… However, the scene at Natrin’s Barrow was quite awesome, even though it implied the possibility of a great villain like Graendal dying before her time (narratively speaking, of course). Thankfully, this prologue confirms she is very much alive. But it was a close thing. It was interesting to see Graendal almost outwitted, and I imagine she’ll suffer the same demoralization that Semirhage did when she confronts Rand again. I really hope Graendal does have an increased presence in this novel, though…
But also of note is Aran’gar’s death, which is rather disappointing, is it makes her a completely useless villain. I was very excited when Aginor and Balthamel were resurrected and dispersed to infiltrate Randland’s forces and wreak havoc, as it definitely stirred up the battlefield. And while Osan’gar definitely satisfied on that count, I waited books and books for Aran’gar to…do something, to no avail. I was confident that her presence amongst the rebels, so very close to Egwene, would amount to disaster. As busy as Egwene’s storyline was, I still hoped, even in TGS, that Aran’gar would have her day to wreak havoc. But it seems the only justification for her existence was causing Egwene some headaches, which really didn’t have huge ramifications. So Aran’gar turned out to be as useless as Balthamel…
I really liked Galad’s portion, merely for a chance to get back to the Whitecloaks. Aside from that significant part of the prologue in KoD, the Whitecloaks (and Galad as a character specifically) haven’t really been relevant since the very early books. I enjoyed the bits of internal conflict amongst the Whitecloaks in the middle books, but they never amounted to anything. Eamon Valda was killed before he could accomplish anything, and there were whole books when the Whitecloaks didn’t show their faces. Galad himself wasn’t present at all between TFoH and KoD. I suppose the narrative had bigger fish to fry than the comparatively insignificant Whitecloaks, but I enjoyed them heavily in the earlier books, simply because I love religious zealots in fantasy stories. So the chance for the Whitecloaks to return to the narrative in ToM, and impact the story at large through a confrontation with Perrin definitely appeals to me. It’s apparent that Galad’s arc may very well serve as a redemption one for the Whitecloaks. As there isn’t exactly time for anybody to go to war with them, that makes a lot of sense. I have nothing against Galad’s character as I do with Gawyn. Galad has always been swept up in this religious, moralistic fervor, but I find that interesting, for the most part, rather than irritating. He seems moderate compared to Asunawa, who I imagine will serve as the new antagonist to this subplot. How will Galad contend with him, given his precarious position?
Padan Fain’s portion was short and inconsequential, but I delighted in the opportunity to return to yet another element of the narrative I’ve enjoyed heavily, but has appeared far too little recently. Fain’s disappeared since his cameo in WH, and it seems like he won’t show up again to the climax, which is somewhat disappointing, but I suppose that since this book doesn’t focus much on Rand, Fain has little to do anyway. I’ve always enjoyed him as a villain because he’s so unpredictable, menacing, and has actually caused significant harm to Rand in the past. And he’s completely insane and bent on vengeance! I cannot wait for the final confrontation at Shayol Ghul… And it seems he’s exuding some Mashadar influence or something (regarding that nasty mist)?
The final part of the prologue was pretty good. It’s another sign that the narrative is finally heading to the Borderlands to mount a defense against the Blight. The plight of these brave soldiers was touching. It obviously requires an incredible amount of strength to fight onward in the face of inevitable death. And that manhood ceremony with the soldier’s son… The whole section reminded me of the opening to TGS, a symbolic and thematic opener to the book at large, but this time more interesting. Definitely a strong prologue overall.