In this entry, I officially conclude Towers of Midnight, the penultimate entry in The Wheel of Time, in which Elayne successfully claims the throne of Cairhien, trouble brews in the Black Tower, armies convene on the Field of Merrilor, Perrin accepts the wolf in him, Rand encounters somebody unexpected in his dreams, Lan reaches Tarwin's Gap, and Mat, Thom, and Noal make a daring infiltration of the Tower of Ghenjei to rescue Moiraine from the wicked Eelfinn and Aelfinn.
Chapter 52: Boots
Elayne, Birgitte, and a hundred guards Travel to Cairhien, and are accompanied to the Sun Palace by the nobles. Birgitte discovers a poisoned needle on the Sun Throne, outraging Lorstrum and Bertome. Elayne sits upon the throne, announcing the prosperity of the alliance of Andor and Cairhien. She postpones the coronation feast to gather their forces for the Field of Merrilor and the Last Battle.
Mat looks through countless papers and reports. He learns Tuon is now empress. The last page reports wolves congregating. He resists opening Verin’s letter. Setalle approaches him with a letter from Joline, revealing they all arrived at the White Tower safely. Mat explains his distate of nobles with a metaphor of boots. He is secretly concerned about Birgitte’s advice on the Tower. He hopes his luck is sufficient to survive.
So Elayne’s Queen of Cairhien. Glad we got that out of the way, and that she’s spending no time getting ready for Tarmon Gai’don. Nothing more to comment on there, outside of the poison needle, and I don’t think it really matters who planted it. It’s Cairhienin politics as usual. Elayne and Birgitte’s banter over the throne was a little silly.
As for Mat, nothing really significant there, just more build-up to the Tower. His whole boots metaphor was articulated rather unevenly, Sanderson still doesn’t have a complete grasp over Mat’s kind of humor.
Chapter 53: Gateways
Pevara walks through the Black Tower with Javindhra. Guard posts on the walls surrounding the grounds have been manned. Taim still refuses to allow full Asha’man to be bonded. He intends to invite the other Aes Sedai camped outside soon. Pevara must now request permission before she can leave the grounds. She intends to leave before matters worsen, but Javindhra stubbornly wishes to study more. A strange-acting Tarna is also intent on remaining. Pevara decides to try Traveling, but somehow cannot.
Perrin bids farewell to Mat, Thom, and Noal. He then leads his armies through a gateway to the Field of Merrilor. Most of the armies are present, save the Borderlanders. Perrin trusts Rand in breaking the seals, and doesn’t agree with Elayne in stopping him.
Mat, Thom, and Noal approach the Tower of Ghenjei. Thom draws the symbol in the side of the tower, making a large opening. They enter a room with four openings. As they move through the corridors, Mat finds the chambers keep changing, and starts relying on his dice. An Eelfinn confronts them, attempting to fool them, yet Thom lulls it to sleep with music. They eventually proceed to a familiar large room with black columns.
Now things are ramping up! This glimpse into the Black Tower was much more interesting. Pevara’s an established character and one of the few Reds I actually like, and I’ve been waiting to check in on the embassy to the Asha’man. Taim’s becoming less and less inconspicuous with his villainy (although, crafty as he is, he’s never been all that subtle), probably because he’s recognized that Rand is pretty much completely ignoring this volatile institution he created. So now Taim’s imprisoning Aes Sedai…and doing something sinister with them, as Tarna indicates. Is Taim converting Asha’man and Aes Sedai to his control? If so, that’s…bad news. He would have an entire army of powerful channelers directly loyal to him. And it seems the second dreamspike’s in place here, as I can’t think of anything else specifically restricting channeling.
As for Perrin’s portion, I’m glad he’s siding with Rand, but it could lead to a potential conflict when Egwene finally confronts him.
And the infiltration of the Tower of Ghenjei begins! Sanderson’s almost as talented as Jordan with describing the surreal and magic, so it’s little wonder he’s excelling with the fantastical Tower setting. Damn, that place is creepy and weird. I have only vague memories of Mat’s journeys into the lands of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn in TSR, but I recall being completely puzzled. And to be honest, the Aelfinn and Eelfinn are still pretty mysterious at this point. Well, this adventure’s off to a good start.
Chapter 54: The Light of the World
The melted remnants of the twisted red doorway are in the center of the room. Eelfinn suddenly surround them. When they start attacking, Mat explodes one of Aludra’s nightflowers, and flees with Thom and Noal in a random direction. They eventually enter a chamber with Moiraine floating in the center. Thom reaches for her, pulling her free from the mist despite the pain. Eelfinn suddenly appear on the pedestals, ready for a bargain. Mat demands a clear path out without Eelfinn interference. He realizes what price the Eelfinn will demand in return, and allows them to rip out his left eye. After Mat recovers from the agony, the three flee. As they proceed through the hallways, Mat realizes he didn’t mention the Aelfinn when he demanded none interfere in their escape. Aelfinn suddenly materialize.
Damn, this is exciting. To those who claim The Wheel of Time is a very derivative Tolkien-esque fantasy world, I counter with the Tower of Ghenjei. This is a bizarre, fascinating, and ominous environment, and Sanderson handles it seamlessly. Navigating a labyrinth that defies the laws of physics would be challenging enough without the Eelfinn attacking! They didn’t do that when Mat came here first, right? And Moiraine! She’s returned after eight books! Well, she’s not conscious, but she’s been recovered surprisingly quickly. I enjoyed Mat’s deft bargaining with the Finns. He’s clearly learned from his previous experience in the Tower, and is intent on escaping alive. But, of course, getting out is the complicated part, as the ending of this chapter attests. Just when I thought they were almost out, I remembered we’d yet to see the Aelfinn in this little adventure, and lo and behold, the Aelfinn attack.
Well, this chapter is pretty self-explanatory. Lots of action, which I always enjoy.
Chapter 55: The One Left Behind
Mat, Thom, and Noal run through the labyrinth carrying Moiraine, chased by the Aelfinn. The nightflowers manage to dispose of some, but the Aelfinn are too enraged to be seduced with music. Mat doesn’t have time to use his luck effectively. Noal decides to stay behind and hold the Aelfinn off. He requests that Mat tell the Malkieri that Jain Farstrider died clean. Mat and Thom escape, eventually coming to another large room with columns. However, the twisted red doorway there is destroyed. As the Aelfinn start surrounding them, Mat reflects on his original deal and recalls that he never asked for the ashandarei. Realizing it actually fulfilled his request to escape, Mat cuts the symbol into the wall with the weapon, and they manage to escape.
Noal’s dead. Hmm. Again, with so many characters and so few deaths in The Wheel of Time, the moments in which relatively major characters perish are pretty significant. But as with many, Noal’s death is somewhat diminished because, although he’s been a pretty important part of Mat’s storyline for a while now, the reader hasn’t had enough time with him. I mean, it seems as if Jordan created him for the direct purpose of dying in the Tower of Ghenjei. Other than that, he really hasn’t done much. I like Noal, he’s not a boring character by any means, but he’s just not quite important enough to evoke too strong of a reaction in his death. Nonetheless, it was a great scene, cinematic and well-written. I haven’t really been following the whole Jain Farstrider mystery, it seemed relatively obvious for a while now, and it’s not all that important anyway.
What moved me more was the sense of hopelessness when Mat and Thom were cornered by the Aelfinn, after all they’d suffered to rescue Moiraine. Mat’s panic and Thom’s despair was very palpable, and I commend Sanderson for evoking that kind of mood. I was scared for the heroes, even though I really knew they were gonna make it out somehow. The Aelfinn (and the Eelfinn, for that matter) are nasty. Compared to the more archetypal villains in this series (like pretty much everyone serving the Shadow) or ones that actually piss me off quite a bit (i.e. the Seanchan), the Finns present a different sort of threat. They’re so otherworldly and mysterious, they can’t be compared to imperialist slavers or omnicidal doombringers. They’re more inhumane than the Forsaken, that’s for sure, and contributed to the whole sense of danger in this scene.
Unfortunately, Sanderson almost ruined the epicness and intensity of this scene with the very ending. Just as I was cheering for the cleverness of their escape, it was tarnished by cheesy uncharacteristic dialogue on Mat’s part, just like when he defeated the gholam. Urgh. But otherwise, the Tower of Ghenjei was a riveting climax to this book, which is impressive, considering how much of Mat’s storyline led up to this. There was so much build-up, it could easily have been underwhelming.
Chapter 56: Something Wrong
Gawyn is suspicious of Perrin’s allegiance, considering the Whitecloak army in his stead. Egwene is thankful for Gawyn’s submission. They prepare to meet Elayne. A small force of farmers recently arrived. King Roedran has not responded to Egwene’s request. As they approach Elayne, Gawyn recognizes Morgase and they embrace. There is a sudden break in the clouds, marking Rand’s arrival.
Androl and his supporters futilely attempt to open a gateway. They notice bizarre changes among certain Asha’man, including those who once supported Logain. Androl decides to finally approach the Red sisters. He knocks on Pevara’s door, and she reluctantly agrees to collaborate.
This was really a cliffhanger chapter, with the finale of this book obviously being Mat’s little adventure just now. Gawyn’s reunion with Morgase was somewhat overshadowed by Rand’s last-minute return. To be honest, while I expected, considering all the anticipation throughout this book, that this confrontation on the Field of Merrilor would occur by now, it seems it’s happening in AMoL. While that’s slightly disappointing, it makes sense. It would be a fitting start to the Last Battle.
As for the Asha’man, I’m a little more irritated that the only story we’ve really had relating to the intrigue in the Black Tower in some time was so brief and superfluous in this book. The machinations of Mazrim Taim (and his conflict with Logain) really received very little attention throughout the series, despite all the intrigue and hints. It’s all been suspense, and I expected more action and plot development by now. I suppose it’ll all be addressed in AMoL, I suppose. Nonetheless, it’s exciting to see Pevara and Androl unite in the face of calamity. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Taim is brainwashing the members of the Black Tower or something.
Chapter 57: A Rabbit for Supper
Mat, Thom, and Moiraine emerge from the Tower of Ghenjei. Moiraine details her imprisonment, explaining that the Aelfinn and Eelfinn leech off emotion and the One Power. She is now very weak at channeling without an ivory bracelet angreal, one of her three demands. A man once approached her during her imprisonment, but she wasn’t his quarry. Moiraine offers to Heal Mat’s pain, but he refuses, still wary of channeling. He in turn explains some of the recent events to Moiraine. She intends to locate Rand, and then asks Thom to marry her. He agrees, also deciding to be her Warder. Mat is stunned by their romance.
Moiraine’s return is as weird for me as it is for Mat. One of the most important and memorable characters of the earlier books, she’s disappeared from the narrative for eight books now, and so much has occurred and changed in the series since then. I can only imagine how it felt for those who followed the series since the beginning. The Fires of Heaven was published in 1993, right? That meant some readers spent 17 years with this series before Moiraine returned. DAMN. It was only 9 months for me. Anyway, I’m very excited for Moiraine’s return (although I’ve secretly always been a little dismayed that the only really shocking death in WoT was reverted) and Sanderson seems to have a solid grasp for the character so far, which is reassuring, because she was always very distinctive. As for the romance with Thom, I think that’s been foreshadowed for ages, so no surprises there. I didn’t expect Thom to become her Warder, though. He never seemed to be the Warder type.
Something that stood out for me in this chapter was Moiraine recounting her imprisonment in the Tower. It’s very surprising that Moiraine is now very weak after the Finns leeched her of the One Power, but that she has an angreal to mitigate that. That’ll definitely come into play in the next book. It also explains an observation in a previous book that stated Cyndane was weaker than Lanfear was. I never doubted they were one and the same, but I was curious regarding the inconsistency. It makes sense now, though. The Finns clearly leeched off her before Moridin arrived.
After failing to kill Perrin, Graendal decides to flee from her manor near Ebou Dar. Before she can escape, however, Shaidar Haran approaches. He faults her for the death of three Chosen, including Mesaana (because of the dreamspike). The opportunity to hunt Rand has been given to another. Graendal’s punishment is to begin.
Perrin seeks Boundless in the wolf dream as Hopper instructed. Boundless flees, but Perrin eventually manages to track him down. Boundless reveals that he is Noam, and did not accidentally lose himself to the wolf, but did so purposively, because his human life was too painful. Perrin realizes he has control over his balance.
Olver plays snakes and foxes with a bored Talmanes. He intends to approach the Tower of Ghenjei himself to learn which Shaido killed his father. He suddenly wins the unwinnable game. Olver then discovers Mat’s letter, and decides to open it. Talmanes reads it, and then suddenly flees. Olver takes a glimpse and finds that the letter urges Mat to have the Queen destroy the Waygate near Caemlyn, as an army of Shadowspawn is approaching. Olver rushes out of the tent to see fires over Caemlyn. Talmanes rouses the Band to come to the city’s defense. Olver decides to fetch his knife.
Barriga flees from Kandor into the Blight, the rest of his merchant caravan dead. He approaches a band of men ahead, dressed as Aiel. On further glimpse, however, the ‘Aiel’ have teeth filed to points. The creature withdraws his knife.
Rand dreams an ordinary dream to find solitude. He intends to break the seals regardless of Egwene’s resistance. He hears a scream and enters a dark corridor, running into a lightless room. He recognizes a woman huddling inside: Lanfear. She begs for an end to the torture but she tumbles into darkness.
Lan’s army, grown to twelve thousand, approaches Tarwin’s Gap. He claims his rightful title as Lord of the Seven Towers and charges forward to face a horde of 150k Shadowspawn, ready to meet his death.
This was an excellent epilogue, functioning as WoT epilogues should: with tantalizing teasers and cliffhangers leading towards the next (in this case, final) entry. I wasn’t certain what plot development aside from the Last Battle would consume the rather sizable AMoL. There’s the confrontation on the Field of Merrilor, the Black Tower, and obviously the Seanchan, but what else? This epilogue answered some of that.
The only section that seemed out of place was Perrin’s, as it would’ve better fit in one of his earlier chapters. Epilogues usually aren’t for something as significant as character resolution. Nonetheless, I liked the scene very much. So Boundless is Noam. I remember Noam, despite it being ages since I read TDR, as it had a considerable impact on Perrin and his relationship with the wolves. I’m so glad that Perrin has accepted being a wolfbrother as much as being a leader.
Graendal? I thought she was toast when Shaidar Haran appeared, which would’ve been disappointing, as she really didn’t do much in this book (technically she was ordering Slayer around, but Slayer clearly was more of a direct antagonist for Perrin) and I’ve been looking forward to a confrontation between her and Rand. Their conflict in TGS never felt really completed. But it seems as thought the Dark One has something else in mind for Graendal. She’ll probably become yet another slave of Moridin’s for her failure. I wonder who replaced her in her task to hunt down Rand. On a sidenote, this chapter subtly confirms that Graendal killed Asmodean, now that I look at it, but I’ve been spoiled for this for some time because of the damn glossary. When I first purchased ToM ahead of time, I glimpsed through the glossary (for some reason) and it revealed that Graendal killed Asmodean. I have no idea why such a long-running mystery was so off-handedly revealed in the glossary, but it teaches me not to expect glossaries to skirt spoilers.
It was interesting having an Olver POV for once. His character has always seemed a little pointless, but it appears as if he’ll have some action here soon, if he really does participate in the defense of Caemlyn. I’m certain if Mat arrives on time, he’ll get Olver the hell outta there. So Elayne’s chapters already confirmed that there would be an invasion of Caemlyn soon, but I didn’t expect that to be in the contents of Verin’s letter. Hmm, seems as if she made a rare miscalculation in assuming Mat would disregard her requests. Although, to be honest, it was a logical assumption, considering Mat. I definitely didn’t expect Caemlyn to be attacked, though! I assumed Talmanes would warn Elayne in time, but no, Caemlyn is burning! Damn, what’s going on in the Royal Palace? This looks to be an epic way to start AMoL: an epic defense of Caemlyn from the forces of the Shadow.
Nothing to comment on the Shadow-Aiel (or whatever they are) except that I’m intrigued. I assume these new sorts of Shadowspawn will have an important role in the next book, otherwise their placement in the epilogue would be odd.
And we finally have a Rand POV! He seems pretty peaceful, I was almost expecting it all to be a front. I have a feeling he won’t be completely serene in AMoL (or at least I hope he won’t, that’d be boring), but it seems his epiphany on Dragonmount really did remove most of the madness, aside from what Nynaeve glimpsed. So…Lanfear. I call bullshit. I’ll be damned if there’s a redemption story at play here for one of the most obsessive and dangerous Forsaken. It seems as if Cyndane has replaced Graendal in the hunt for Rand, and this is an obvious ploy. I have no doubt that Cyndane has actually been tortured by Moridin for her failures, but she’s clearly bait for a trap to get Rand.
So that’s Towers of Midnight. My thoughts on the book? Hmm, difficult to say. On the one hand, this book was simply packed with plot development. So many things were resolved and moved forward, it’s staggering. But on the other hand…I felt there was a surprising amount of filler. Furthermore, the book felt a little too disjointed. In many ways, it was focused too much on Perrin’s protracted storyline and stuffed many of the different plot threads in randomly. Compared to the brilliant focus of TGS, in which neither Rand nor Egwene’s excellent storylines felt ignored or rushed, ToM falls short in terms of organization. The writing wasn’t up to par all the time either. Maybe it’s because more of this book was Sanderson in comparison to TGS, but some of the writing definitely could’ve benefited from Jordan’s hand.
I’ll run through the major storylines. Perrin’s obviously dominated the majority of this book, which was one of my criticisms. As much as I enjoyed most of his thread, I felt like it dominated the book too much. While TGS put surprising weight on Rand and Egwene’s storylines, that didn’t really affect the other threads in the book. In contrast, there seemed to be too much Perrin in ToM and while Sanderson struggled to include everybody else, it ended up feeling rushed and hasty. While Perrin’s storyline received a lot of praise in this book (and I understand why), it wasn’t flawless. Too many extra, superfluous chapters were thrown in when Mat, Rand, or Elayne could’ve used more focus. Sanderson had a lot to accomplish with Perrin in this book, but he protracted it a little too much. Nonetheless, I’m impressed with the storyline nonetheless. The battle with Slayer was surreal, and the confrontations with the Whitecloaks lived up to my expectations. I definitely enjoyed the closure Perrin’s character finally received, having suffered far too much of his angst in the protracted Shaido storyline. Morgase’s little thread seemed a little pointless in comparison, as the major moments of characterization were just rushed through. Berelain and Galad’s romance was a bit clumsy too.
Mat’s storyline, initially promising, disappeared halfway through the book before finally returning for the ending. I think Sanderson did improve on Mat’s character, but not to the extent that some claim. Whereas nearly every character he picked up seamlessly, Sanderson’s sense of humor still jarringly clashes with the Mat we all know and love. That was most apparent in the letter fiasco and some of the cheesier dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of the old Mat in this book and I commend Sanderson for his successes, but it was far from perfect. Thankfully, the climax was excellent. The Tower of Ghenjei was one of the more exciting moments in recent books, and Sanderson did brilliantly, save a few slip-ups with Mat’s characterization.
Rand’s absence from this book was a little disappointing, though. I know Sanderson had a lot to accomplish with the other characters, in addition to aligning everything chronologically, but having had Rand already sit out CoT, another book in which he largely kept to the sidelines didn’t seem wise, especially since there was plenty of filler in ToM. Sanderson’s characterization of Rand in TGS made it one of the better WoT books, but that was largely absent in ToM in favor of Jesus Rand. In large part, this is me just missing the brilliant tension Rand’s madness brought to the narrative in previous books, but Sanderson could’ve handled the transition a little better. Rand’s few moments were great, though, especially the Battle of Maradon, which was one of the more exciting parts of the book and an excellent moment for Rodel Ituralde.
Egwene’s storyline could’ve used work, though. After TGS, it made sense she had a lessened presence, but the chapters she did appear in were largely superfluous and focused on Gawyn’s characterization. Gawyn’s arc in TGS and ToM is way too protracted and just serves to irritate the reader in displaying his obstinate stubbornness. I’m glad he finally received resolution, but it took much too long, and detracted from Egwene’s narrative, which was just buildup for a confrontation with Mesaana. The confrontation itself was good, but was overshadowed by Perrin’s thrilling battle with Slayer. I suppose it makes sense that Sanderson was more aimless with Egwene this book, because her brilliant storyline in TGS was supposedly more Jordan than anything. Nynaeve didn’t factor much into this book (and she really hasn’t in most recent books), but I did enjoy her testing. It felt much like a classic WoT scene.
Elayne’s storyline wasn’t bad, considering how irritating she was in previous books. After her absence in TGS, this was Sanderson’s first experience with Elayne, and he handled her relatively well. Most of the problems remained from how Jordan wrote the storyline: way too much tedious politicking and bickering about her pregnancy. The confrontation with the Black Ajah prisoners was very exciting, but that was pretty much the only thing of note in Elayne’s storyline, and it could’ve definitely used some more depth.
ToM had numerous other old plot threads to address (and some it didn’t even get to), and while most were handled rather disorderedly, some were quite successful. One of my favorite parts of the book was Aviendha’s journey into Rhuidean, which was visceral, ominous, and emotional. Sanderson displayed the same talent there that he did in much of TGS. As mentioned earlier, I definitely enjoyed Rodel Ituralde’s chapters. However, the Black Tower and Lan’s storylines were a little underwhelming. I was eager to return to these long-ignored arcs, but most of their few chapters was just more suspense, which we really don’t need at this point. Lan only did anything at the very end, and his repetitive arc reminded me of Aviendha’s in TGS. The Black Tower chapters seemed a little wasteful after such a dearth of plot development in that field recently.
So how did I feel about ToM? I liked it, that’s for sure. Plenty of very memorable, exciting scenes. But I don’t think it was quite as good as TGS, which was compact, organized, and well-paced. ToM was much too inconsistent and hectic. Perhaps part of the problem is I just wasn’t quite as enthusiastic when I was reading this book, primarily because of real life issues, which obviously had an impact on how much I enjoyed ToM. Another issue is that so much of TGS was consumed by the Seanchan. As much as I loathe them, they’re easily one of the most entertaining and interesting aspects of the plot, and Sanderson handled them excellently. The Seanchan were largely absent from ToM, and after the cliffhangers in TGS, that was a little irritating.
But after the tediousness of CoT, I can’t really complain too much about the pace of Sanderson’s books. ToM was rather uneven, and there was some filler in arcs like Perrin’s, but it was definitely one of the more exciting books in WoT.
On a final note, what about the cover art? Not bad, to be honest. Definitely one of the better in the series, compared to the rather silly TGS art preceding it. The artist has always excelled in environments, and the forest is really quite beautiful. The characters are surprisingly adequate. My only real criticism is that the Tower of Ghenjei is rocky when it’s constantly described as incredibly smooth. But whatever, not a bad piece of art to go out on, considering this was the artist’s last contribution to the series.
So thus ends ToM, the penultimate entry in The Wheel of Time! Wow. Off to A Memory of Light!