Highlights from ‘Towers of Midnight’

This is my penultimate Wheel of Time series highlights post, where I pull out my favourite lines and reflect on some of the themes or writing style that I observed.

I read through book 13 of the Wheel of Time with a near insatiable hunger. I normally read on my daily commute but also found myself reading in every spare minute I had (including, when I should have been doing other things). I read with great anticipation. It felt as though I had journeyed so long through the series, and the end of the journey was in sight. For twelve long books the story has been reaching slowly toward a climax and now I knew it was just around the corner. The prophecies would be fulfilled, the Last Battle would finally come. With anticipation (and a tinge of sadness) I looked forward to finishing the journey with the myriad of characters who I’ve spent the more than half a year with.

There were two other things I particularly liked about this book (especially now that I consider them in hindsight). I’ll be a little vague so as not to spoil it. The first is the treatment of the character of Noal Charin. This elderly – and yet surprisingly spritely and dangerous – senior citizen first appears in book 7. He pops in and out for a while, until he begins traveling with Matt. Noal is very suspicious and we’re used to seeing assassins and Darkfriends hiding in plain-sight, so it’s no surprise that the reader assumes he’s somehow nefarious. Not until Towers of Midnight do we understand who he really is. He has a secret, only it’s not the one we think it is. At least that’s how I felt.

The second is the fulfilment of the prophecy where Matt would have to trade “half the light of the world” to rescue Moiraine. I always wondered what that meant, and how it would be achieved. Now I know, and it was excellently plotted. And of course, finished off with some trademark-quality Matt irreverence:

Mat stepped back and tipped his hat to the creatures. ‘Looks like the game can be won after all,’ he said. ‘Tell the foxes I’m mighty pleased with this key they gave me. Also, you can all go rot in a flaming pit of fire and ashes, you unwashed lumps on a pig’s backside. Have a grand bloody day.’ (page 897).

Now onto my highlights:

Dull green moss hung from the branches, drooping like shreds of flesh from rotting corpses. (Page 22)

I love some good descriptive phrases; words that really paint a picture that flourishes in the imagination. What’s particularly great about this one is more than just the vivid description: the phrase reinforces the theme and setting. One wouldn’t use a description like this to describe trees at a wedding, but trees in a world that is literally ‘spoiling’ fit it perfectly.

Like an old friend. A dear, beloved old friend that you were going to stab through the eye, open up at the gut and consume by handfuls while drinking his blood. That was the property way to treat friends. (Page 36)

This block starts off one way, making you think about a friend; and then pivots 180 degrees to show that it’s actually the opposite. (It is a terrible block. For context: it’s an evil villain who has been entirely corrupted by darkness. The thought-process also reveals the character’s warped madness. At the time I didn’t really understand this passage. Only now with hindsight – having finished book 14 – do I understand it. I guess it was foreshadowing and my memory may be foggy – perhaps it does play a bigger part in book 14?)

Continuing the theme I’ve mentioned before about a character understanding and relating to what they are familiar with: Faile comes from a culture noted for their cavalry and adeptness with horse bows.

Faile was actually a perfect complement to Perrin. Where he was a blunt and leveled lance at charge, she was a subtle cavalry bow. (Page 123)

And, Androl a master craftsman who worked with leather:

Logain was a hard man, broken around the edges, like an old scabbard that hadn’t been properly lacquered. But that scabbard still held a deadly sword. Logain was honest. A good man, beneath the scuff marks. (Page 746)

Also, taking what is a cliche for us, and bending and twisting until it’s different enough so as not to be boring. ‘A face only a mother would love’ becomes “Berg had a face ugly enough to make his own mother wince.” (Page 149) and the ‘long arm of the law’ becomes

There were many who would think to exploit a lone wanderer at night, particularly outside the city walls, where the arm of the law was a little on the flabby side. (Page 377)

Some gender-based humour, where men and women looked askance at one another:

  • She was not there at the wagon, fortunately for Mat. She would complain at him again for not having gotten her a bellfounder. She seemed to think him her own personal messenger boy. An unruly one, who refused to do his job properly. Most women had moments like that. (Page 259)
  • there was nothing a woman liked better than finding men who were relaxing, then giving them orders. (Page 266)
  • Nothing was more dangerous for the sanity of men than a woman with too much time on her hands. (Page 266)

‘Nobody walks a difficult path without stumbling now and again. It didn’t break you when you fell. That’s the important part.’ (Page 208)

Besides, I can only fight in one place at a time. What is coming will be grander than that, grander and more terrible than any one man could hope to hold back. I will organize you, but I must leave you. The war will be yours.’ (Page 554)

This passage explains what we should expect in the final book. Rand will face the Dark One, but the cosmic battle between good and evil will not be the only battle. The forces of darkness are many, and the full cast of characters will be used to hold-back the enemy.

Truth, veiled in fiction:

  • But also because it was for the best. If two bards tried to play different songs at the same time, they both made noise. But if one stepped back to give harmony to the other’s melody, then the beauty could be greater than either made alone. (Page 626)
  • The men who don’t want titles should be the ones who get them, it seems. (Page 681)
  • Small things were important. Seconds were small things, and if you heaped enough of those on top of one another, they became a man’s life. (Page 746)

Some great repartee:

‘I don’t like this,’ Birgitte said.
‘You don’t like anything, lately,’ Elayne said.
‘I swear, you’re becoming more irritable by the day.’‘It’s because you’re becoming more foolhardy by the day.’
‘Oh, come now. This is hardly the most foolhardy thing I’ve done.’
‘Only because you’ve set a very high benchmark for yourself, Elayne.’ (Page 833)

And

Mat just shook his head. ‘Well, we’re out, one way or another. But Thom, next time I want to do the bloody negotiating, sneak up behind and hit me on the head with something large, heavy and blunt. Then take over.’

‘Your request is noted.’ (Page 907)

Just great phrases:

  • Eventually, the wind encountered another continent, this one quiet, like a man holding his breath before the headsman’s axe fell. (Page 46)
  • He was a young man, but the way he stood – relaxed, yet poised, hand on the pommel of his sword – indicated he was a practiced soldier. Too bad he had such a pretty face. A life in the military would probably end up wrecking that. (Page 303)
  • at night, the holes and scars on the White Tower were patched with a bandage of darkness. (Page 361)

Some interesting words that I’d either not heard before, or seldom:

  • whelp – A young offspring of a mammal, such as a dog or wolf. (Page 85)
  • succor – To give assistance to in time of want, difficulty, or distress (Page 95)
  • expurgations – purging, cleansing from anything noxious, offensive, sinful or erroneous (Page 316)
  • fecund – Capable of producing offspring or vegetation (Page 429)
  • bittern – a type of wading bird (Page 721)
  • superlatively – Of the highest order, quality, or degree; surpassing or superior to all others. (Page 784)
  • sonorous – Having or producing a full, deep, or rich sound (Page 895)

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