1. Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
If you asked me to describe what happened in this latest doorstop of a novel in three words, I would tell you, “Everyone grows up.” While the main characters in the series have certainly showed signs of maturing over the course of the previous novels, this is where they are forced to trot out that newfound peace/maturity/sense of purpose and use it under extreme duress.
Though Perrin and Mat have always both been reluctant heroes, Perrin was the more hesitant to assume the leadership position the Pattern thrust him into. Towers of Midnight is where that stops. Seeing Perrin’s transformation in this novel was… amazing. The lessons he takes from the Wolf Dream about self-mastery and the balance of control and exhilaration were so powerful. And it’s about time… Perrin has to face the Whitecloaks (who have hounded him since very early in the series), his own fear of losing himself to the Wolf, and his discomfort with making weapons (the axe/hammer dichotomy…). I think that all of these things get resolved beautifully… the scene where he made the hammer (the first Power-wrought weapon in years…!) was especially cool, as was his fight with Slayer (another old enemy finally faced). I think, though, that the parts that touched me most were Hopper’s death (final, this time…) and Perrin’s meeting with Boundless, who turns out to be the Wolf-manifestation of the man who Perrin always feared becoming. Meeting him again with new understanding after all this time was immensely satisfying and right.
From the first time we see him in this book, Rand is different. He’s not the hard, angry, anguished kid who was on the verge of destroying the world because he could and because it would make things easier and get rid of all the pain in the world. Rae and I joked a bit that he was “Jesus Rand,” but upon reflection, I think that “Jedi Master Rand Kenobi” is more appropriate. He’s even got a brown robe with a hood. *snerk*
In all seriousness, I like the new, improved, fully integrated Rand/Lews Therin. The scene where he made the apple trees blossom made me shiver in a good way, the scene where he formally introduced Min and Tam even though they’d met each other before was adorable, and the scene where he singlehandedly destroys and entire Trolloc army laying siege to a Saldean city was so frickin’ badass it was terrifying. I like that his anger was righteous, though… and that it grew out of anger at the Dark One for killing the people who had sworn to him.
Rand is calm, sure of himself, able to admit and feel his old mistakes without breaking, and much more able to handle the powerful people who surround him without either getting walked all over or coming off like an impudent country boy. (Every interaction he has with Cadsuane made me grin…) I think that this newfound balance is especially evident in his meeting with Egwene near the beginning and his meeting with the Borderland monarchs at the very end. (By the way… way to be super-sneaky, Pattern… keeping Rand away from the Borderlanders until he’s in a place where he can answer the test-question using Lews Therin’s memories…)
Elayne may have gotten the crown officially in a previous book, but this is the book where she has to be Queen and make hard decisions. And make them she does… with a lot of political brilliance, if I do say so myself. She makes a deal with the Kin to make Caemlyn their new base of operations, she gets some of Mat’s Dragons for herself and a temporary arrangement with the Band, she figures out how to let Perrin be in charge of Two Rivers without looking weak, and most impressively, she deals with her political rivals and creates ties between Andor and Cairhein at the same time. (Much like Scotland and England when they became a single, mostly unified Kingdom, if I remember my history correctly…) Anyway, I think that Elayne has managed to stay fresh and sweet and optimistic while at the same time being incredibly politically savvy. Hard to do, but she pulls it off well, I think. And… she’s not as reckless as she used to be. The moment where she realizes that an assassin would have to kill someone she cares about before they got to her showed a lot of maturity and seriousness, I thought.
And can I just say that I am so glad that Elayne and the rest of Morgase’s children know that she’s alive now?
Egwene (and Gawyn)
Gathering Storm saw Egwene’s time as Amyrlin begin with a bang (literally), and we got hints about the type of Amyrlin she is going to be – strong, unifying, and slightly unconventional. I’m particularly impressed that she got the Hall to change some of their rules to prevent some of the secrecy and backstabbing that led to Siuan getting deposed and the Hall and the Amyrlin working at cross purposes instead of together… they’re changes that make sense, and I think the White Tower will be stronger for them.
Then, there’s the whole matter of Mesaana being in the Tower and Egwene trying to draw her out. Bold move on her part, and the fact that she’s right about one of the Forsaken trying to kill her does blind her slightly to the fact that the murders in the Tower aren’t the work of left over Black Ajah or Mesaana, but the Seanchan assassins left behind… good thing that Gawyn was there to protect her.
That brings me to another “finally” moment of the book… Gawyn needed to be Egwene’s Warder. I’m so glad that happened. They took forever to get there, but it’s good that Gawyn got to sort things out in his own mind and talk to his sister and figure out what his place in the world was. There were times that I was really frustrated with both of them… Gawyn for acting like a lost puppy and Egwene for not listening to his completely valid worries about her safety… but when he finally manages to bring down three Bloodknives at once and is all wounded and in need of the Warder Bond… well, I grinned. (And Egwene may be one of the most powerful women in the world, but she still needs her mother at her wedding and insists that Gawyn have a separate bed until then… it’s adorable.)
As for Egwene’s meeting with Rand… that was… intense. I understand her misgivings about him breaking the seals, but I understand why Rand feels he has to do it. It’s going to be interesting when all of the leaders she’s gathered to try and dissuade him meet with all of the people ready to do what he says… how that all plays out is going to have serious repercussions far beyond the last battle, I think.
I don’t even know how to start this section in such a way that it will not soon degenerate into incoherent flailing. I love Mat so much, and my recent re-read of the series only increased my affection for him. Mat is wonderfully, perfectly himself here… a Trickster and a brave leader who does what needs doing.
I love that Mat got to see Birgette again in this book. Their friendship has always delighted me no end… something about a hero out of legend treating Mat like an old drinking buddy, I think (because he is one… in this life and possibly in others…) We also get some very interesting information about Birgette’s past lives and the Tower of Ghenjei that come in useful when Mat goes in… but before we get to that, can I just say that I love that Mat is still slippery and tricky? I love that he sneaks into Caemlyn when he doesn’t have to, gets arrested for it, and ends up dicing with the guards, much to Birgette’s (hopefully mild…) annoyance. And I think I almost died laughing when he meets Perrin for the first time with a badger in a sack for old time’s sake. (Continuity for the win.)
We finally get some closure about the gholam that has been following Mat and killing his people since… what, Crown of Swords? Not before it kills one of Mat’s servants and several of his men, which really upsets him. That’s part of what makes Mat a good leader, I think… he isn’t afraid to send his men into battle knowing they might die, but he really does care for them, and doesn’t like them dying without a good reason. I’ve got to say… the plan that Birgette and Elayne came up with for getting rid of it was genius. How do you get rid of a thing that can’t be killed? Well, you open a skimming gateway and drop it off the edge into a darkness that doesn’t end. Perfectly reasonable. And Mat’s awesome, righteous, Old-Tongue-Battle-Cry inducing anger as he finally got the thing was wonderful.
(And that Mat, somewhere in the middle of this, momentarily considers changing to a pink scarf in honor of a certain one of his fallen had me cracking up so hard I could barely breathe.)
And then… near the bloody end of the book… Mat, Thom, and Noal finally get to the Tower of Ghenjei to free Moiraine. And… it’s intense and weird and dreamlike, just like any story where mortals wander into the realms of faery should be… And, for the record, I’d just like to say thatk the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn are more scary than most versions of the fae I’ve ever run across… at least Irish faeries, from what I’ve read, can be good, helpful neighbors at times as long as one leaves their sacred places alone… the snakes and foxes don’t seem to have that redeeming quality. Mostly, they just want to eat you. (Or your emotions, that it…)
Lots of things come into play here… Mat’s Luck, the “rules” about iron, fire, and music, and the ashandarei he’s had since getting hanged from it in The Shadow Rising. But there are two moments that really stand out to me. One of them is the moment where Mat realizes what the price of bringing Moiraine out is going to be. I love that the foxes don’t even have to tell him what it is. Mat knows, and he’s willing to pay the price. And that is why I love him. He’s a loveable, slippery rogue most of the time, but when it’s important… he’s so damn heroic I’m almost weepy-eyed with pride sitting here writing about it. And he doesn’t even think he’s heroic. And that brings me to my second moment… we finally (that word is appearing a lot as I write about this book, isn’t it…) get canon confirmation of what the fandom has long since figured out – Noal is Jain Farstrider. And it’s because he volunteers to be the one left behind as they try to escape. Mat’s reaction to this is telling on two levels. First of all, his “I’m no hero – he is” is classic “Mat is cocky, but weirdly humble about the big stuff” syndrome, and his recognition of the importance of dying honor was a small thing, but a big one… the Mat Cauthon who stumbled onto a disorganized group of soldiers and agreed to lead them only because he had no other choice would have stuck by the argument “honor doesn’t matter if you’re dead.” He’s grown, and he’s better for it.
Oh yeah… and Moiraine is back. YAY! I missed her so! The scenes with her and Thom were sweet without being too much. I particularly like that she offered to throw the angreal that lets her have strength in the Power away… and that Thom tells her to keep it. Such willingness to sacrifice on both of their parts. On a lighter note, Mat’s confusion echoes what a lot of readers I know think about the pairing, which makes sense considering that most of the early books are written mostly from the Two Rivers kids’ point of view, and they practically see Moiraine as something akin to a minor deity. No wonder they missed little, subtle, human cues about her relationship with Thom.
Things I can’t wait to see: 1.) Moiraine and Rand. 2.) Moiraine and Siuan. (With a side of Thom and Gareth.) Now that is a fun “family” dinner party, if I do say so myself. *grin*
And finally, when it comes to Mat, I find it ironic that Verin’s trust that Mat’s curious nature will get the better of him is going to have some very bad consequences. Good thing Olver doesn’t have any compunctions about reading other people’s mail. (And how about that kid beating Snakes and Foxes? Epic.)
I was worried that we weren’t going to get much of Lan in this book… and while he there’s never enough of him, I loved what we did get. I loved how he tried to worm his way through loopholes in the oath he gave to Nynaeve… (“I said I’d not refuse people who wanted to ride with me… you don’t have a horse… you can’t come…”) and how he tries to hide who he is and where he’s going. But Nynaeve is clever. She’s gone ahead to a place where he has to pass through, and she told everyone to look for Mandarb, who is a super distinctive horse, and Lan would never abandon him. (Why do I think Mandarb and Maximus from Tangled would either be best friends or amazing rivals?) Anyway… I also love the snarky Malkieri Lan picks up along the way. When he orders them to go away and stop following him, one of them points out that since he’s certainly not king or anything, he has no right to tell them what to do at all, and if they happen to be traveling down the same road he is… well, he can just deal with that, can’t he? Heh. Poor Lan. Outwitted by his own overdeveloped sense of honor.
And the first time Lan allowed them to raise the Golden Crane and agreed to actually lead them? I cried. Openly. Did it again at the very end, when Lan has finally accepted who he is and that people want to fight with him, and that he is king even though Malkier doesn’t exist physically any more, and they’re charging forward toward a force of Trollocs that vastly outnumbers his army… I’m tearing up with pride (and mind-numbing fear for Lan’s life) just thinking about it. I swear. That last scene is very possibly the worst cliffhanger in the history of all WoT. I blame Brandon Sanderson for this. RJ didn’t do cliffhangers in the “Oh Light, what an awful place to end that…” sense. (Unless you count dropping a wall on Mat and then leaving him out of the next book entirely.)
Oh… and did I mention that Nynaeve finally has Lan’s Warder Bond? FINALLY. After an extremely rough raising to Aes Sedai (probably one of the most intensely upsetting things I’ve ever read…) Nynaeve goes to Myrelle and pretty much demands the bond. She does manage to thank Myrelle for saving his life, which shows how much she’s grown, but then, she reminds Myrelle that she’s still free of the Oaths… *snerk* Never change, Nynaeve. The Aes Sedai need a little of your fire now and again. (As I think she herself proved with her testing… that was a rough scene, but an awesome one. Again, I am mightily impressed with the continuity here.)
Other cool stuff:
The question of “What are the Aiel going to do once the Tarmon Gaidon comes and goes?” has been looming for a while now. Aviendha has been asking herself some pretty heavy questions about her people’s purpose and what they need to do to find honor, and what she sees when she goes to Rhuidean for the second time is… extremely unsettling. The future she sees there is not a good one, and I, for one, choose to believe that the column ter’angreal showed her one possible (and even probable) future because it was what she needed to see, and because seeing it would give her the knowledge and the insight to keep it from happening. (At least I hope that’s what it is, because if what Aviendha sees is the true future of the Aiel and the rest of the world, I am mightily depressed.)
The division in the Black Tower is coming to a head. Both Rae and I are more and more convinced that Mazrim Taim is one of the Forsaken, probably Demandred, no matter that RJ insisted that he wasn’t. (The man could twist words like and Aes Sedai when he wanted to… he made them up.) We also think that we’re getting to see the effects of turning someone to the Dark for the first time. There’s the case of the Asha’man who was one of Logain’s followers suddenly switching sides and not acting like himself… also, there’s the fact that he looked vacant and soulless. (Now… that this is what’s happening is only a guess at this point, but if it’s anything else, I’ll be surprised.) Some of the Aes Sedai sent by the Red before the Seanchan attack on the Tower are also looking pretty vacant and zombie-like these days… Now, it looks like Pevara (who I’ve always liked), Androl, and the few remaining Asah’man who aren’t in Taim’s group are going to have to work together to figure out why Traveling isn’t working, get word to Logain, and keep more people from getting turned to the Dark. (I really like Androl, by the way! Way to introduce a newish character and make me care for him, B.S.!) This is leading up to a schism in the Black Tower and a Logain vs. Taim smackdown that is going to be EPIC. (I have become the biggest Logain fangirl lately… this certainly has nothing to do with my fantasy casting for him…)
Berelain and Galad, who have finally met each other and both appear to be absolutely besotted, are going to have the prettiest babies the world has ever seen. They just might blind people with how beautiful they are.
At the very end of the novel, there’s a scene where a Kandori (I think) soldier runs across a creepy red-veiled pseudo-Aiel with pointed teeth. It’s a short little scene, but it’s super creepy. So of course, my brain tried to come up with a rational explanation for it. And what it came up with did not help me sleep well at night. What do Aiel men who can channel do? Go North to the Blight to die fighting the Dark One. What can the Dark One do? Turn people who can channel to the Dark using Fades and a circle of thirteen. This led me to the disturbing possibility that the Dark One has a decent number of male channelers with Aiel battle training and survival skills. This might also explain the male channelers that accompanied the Trollocs who attacked Maradon. (The Asha’man with Ituralde sensed them, so they must have been men…)
All that being said, this was me at the end of the book:
BLOOD AND BLODDY ASHES! CAEMLYN IS ON FIRE, LAN IS RIDING AGINST THE TROLLOCS AT TARWIN’S GAP, THERE ARE CREEPY NOT-AIEL IN FALLEN BORDERLAND COUNTRIES, AND RAND IS ABOUT TO BREAK THE SEALS ON THE DARK ONE’S PRISON WHETHER ANYONE LIKES IT OR NOT. WHERE IS THE NEXT BOOK?