Have you ever sat down and eaten an entire pint of Haagen-daz? Not really on purpose, but you just keep finding excused to keep eating, and pretty soon the entire pint is just... gone.
I did that with Towers of Midnight. I kept meaning to go to bed. Just a few more pages and I'll put it down. It's getting late... better stop. But I didn't stop.
I read this book until 2:30 in the morning, then got up and read for another hour to finish it. It was mental. I had to drive 8 hours the next day, and I was exhausted because I literally could not put this book down - that's something hasn't happened to me with a Wheel of Time book for a looong time. So - that's a good thing.
But what was it, exactly, that kept me so engaged?
Some if it is definitely the feeling that a marathon is almost over. I read the first Wheel of Time book when I was in junior high - 20 years ago or so. After a run like this, it's hard not to try and sprint across the finish line.
Towers of Midnight was also a pretty compelling read, even though it had all the problems of the middle book in a trilogy. There was a definite "Empire Strikes Back" vibe to it - lots of cool things happening, but you know that you won't get the real payoff until the next installment. Still and all, this book accelerates the final race towards the conclusion of the series - wrapping up plot lines, bringing things together as much as possible.
In a fast-paced book like this, where the action comes quickly and time is at a premium, Sanderson's talents are really valuable. He's better at straight action scenes, things like swordfights and mage battles, than Jordan was, which makes for some great scenes, like Perrin's battles with Slayer, and Egwene's fight against the Black Ajah in Tel'aran'rhiod.
There are some things that Sanderson doesn't do as well Jordan, though. And Sanderson's voice is becoming a louder part of the book. He's working off of Jordan's notes and partially-written manuscript, so it's inevitable that he has to fill in more gaps as time goes on. In those gaps, we see more and more of Sanderson, which isn't always a bad thing, but the feeling of reading a book by a different author is getting stronger.
You really start to see the differences in this book when we read war scenes. The big battles in the book are good, but I felt like they lacked something that Jordan brought to them. Which isn't that surprising, as Jordan was a Vietnam veteran with combat experience.
The other real crack that shows here is Sanderson's take on Matt Cauthon. Matt is a character that I always got the feeling Jordan really liked and identified with. He was a more light-hearted, slightly comic character - a counterpoint to the damaged Rand and self-involved Perrin. Unfortunately, Sanderson doesn't really do Matt justice.
Sanderson's Matt has all the essentials of the character. He ogles women, swears a bit too much, and trusts his luck, but - like the war scenes, something's missing. It doesn't feel like Sanderson really loves the character, so Matt's comes across a bit flat. His Rand is much, much better, though - and his Perrin is pretty much the same as Jordan's.
Ultimately, the book is a great success. It finishes off a lot of loose threads and sets the stage nicely for the last book in the series. There is a bit more Sanderson here than in The Gathering Storm, but that doesn't detract from the book, so much as it changes it a little. It's still a ripping story that moves at a great pace, has all your favorite characters and really sets up the coming finale. If you like the Wheel of Time, you'll probably have a few quibbles with this book - but it's a great read. Of course, if you've been reading these freaking books for the last 20 years, you don't have any choice but to read the damn thing.