on October 28, 2009
The Gathering Storm is the twelfth volume in The Wheel of Time series and the first released since Robert Jordan's unfortunate death in 2007. Jordan spent his final months amassing and dictating a significant amount of notes, outlines and chapter summaries for another writer to use to finish the series. Previously, Jordan had indicated he'd wipe his hard drive to stop someone else completing his work, but with him being so close to the end of the story he changed his mind, trusting his wife and editor, Harriet, and his publisher Tom Doherty to find a writer capable of finishing the series well. In theory, it should have led to disaster: typically one writer finishing a series begun by another is an atrocious idea that only leads to very bad books (note the vomit-inducing new Dune novels and the ill-advised Amber continuations). The only example I can think of this working was when Stella Gemmell completed her late husband David's final novel in fine form, but the amount of work required to bring Wheel of Time to a conclusion required an altogether different level of commitment and effort from Brandon Sanderson.
Almost unbelievably, Sanderson has pulled it off. In his introduction he hopes the differences between his style and Jordan, whilst unavoidably noticeable, will be comparable to a different (but still good) director taking over your favourite movie series but all the actors remaining the same. This isn't a bad analogy at all, and whilst there are a few moments in The Gathering Storm where you think, "I don't think Robert Jordan would have done things quite like that," there's never a moment where you think, "He definitely wouldn't have done that at all!" which is vital.
Another concern was that originally these last three books were supposed to be one volume, A Memory of Light, and Sanderson actually wrote the bulk of the text under the impression it was going to be probably split in two. The decision to split the book in three instead resulted in much recrimination, although at 800 pages in hardcover (and assuming the second and third come in at a similar size) and well over 300,000 words, tying it with Knife of Dreams as the longest book in the series since Lord of Chaos, it's clear this could never have been done in just two books either. One problem with this split was that since Sanderson hadn't been writing with three books in mind, The Gathering Storm would feel incomplete or unsatisfying on its own. This is not the case at all. In fact, The Gathering Storm has the most cohesive through-line in story, character and theme of any book in the series since The Shadow Rising, and possibly out of all of them.
The structure of the book focuses on two primary storylines: Rand's deteriorating mental state as he struggles to bring Arad Doman into the confederation of kingdoms sworn to him, and Egwene's efforts to unite the White Tower and end the civil war within the Aes Sedai that has raged for the past seven and a half volumes. Other characters and stories appear briefly, such as Perrin and Tuon, and Mat has a slightly bigger role, but other major characters and storylines do not appear at all. The recently-quelled civil war in Andor and the Mazrim Taim/Asha'man plotlines are notable by their absences. Instead, this part of the story focuses on two of the central protagonists, Rand and Egwene, and the experiences they go through to achieve their goals. The novel could almost be called The Long Night of Rand al'Thor as the series' central figure is dragged through the wringer, going to very dark places indeed as he struggles to understand his own role in events and how he is to achieve the things he must do to save the world. On the other hand, Egwene is shown to have already passed through her moments of doubt and misjudgement in previous volumes, and in this book her story focuses on her battle of wills with Elaida to restore unity to the Aes Sedai.
This contrast of darkness and light and putting two central characters squarely back in the limelight (previous volumes have sometimes devoted way too much time to tertiary characters of limited importance) is a highly successful move, allowing some interesting thematic elements to be touched upon. Whilst the reader may have guessed that Rand is severely traumatised from everything that has happened to him in the previous books, it isn't until this volume that we realise just how badly things have affected him and we see just how hard and how determined he has become. An interesting analogy that is not touched upon is what happened to Aridhol to defeat the Shadow in the Trolloc Wars, where it became harder and more ruthless than the enemy and eventually consumed itself in insanity and rage.
This is a powerful and intense story, something that has been building for the entire latter half of the series, and it's a demanding tale that you probably wouldn't want to dump on a new author in ideal circumstances. But Sanderson picks up the ball and runs with it. Rand's characterisation is completely spot-on and consistent with earlier appearances, and Sanderson does a monumental job with this storyline. He also does superbly with Egwene's story, which culminates in one of the most spectacular action set-pieces in the series to date (and I suspect something that could dislodge Dumai's Wells or the Battle of Cairhien as many reader's favourite action sequence in the whole series). A whole myriad of lesser characters is also well-handled, such as Siuan, Tuon and the various Aes Sedai, but Gawyn becomes a bit of a fifth wheel with not much to do, which is odd given he has a much bigger presence here than he has in some considerable time.
Other reviewers have suggested that Sanderson struggles with Mat, and unfortunately this is true. Not fatally so, but for everything Mat does that is 'right' to his character, he'll typically do something incongruous and uncharacteristic a few pages later. Sanderson also never really gets into the swing of his speech pattern or sense of humour either. He's readable, but it's the only part of the book where the change in authors feels jarring. Luckily, it's not a large part of the book and hopefully Sanderson will be able to work more on this area for the next book, Towers of Midnight, where Mat is expected to play a much bigger role in events.
The Gathering Storm (****½) is a very fine book, one of the strongest instalments of the whole series and easily the best book published in The Wheel of Time for fifteen years. Whilst some of that achievement must go to Brandon Sanderson for his sterling and jaw-dropping work on the book, it is clear that Robert Jordan had planned these events with a watchmaker's precision, setting them up through lines of dialogue and minor twists of characterisation stretching right back to the second volume of the series, and the overwhelming feeling upon reaching the end of the novel is that he was an extraordinarily clever writer and plotter, for all of the flaws that have cropped up along the way. The book is available now in the UK and, with the worst cover in the history of modern publishing, in the USA. Towers of Midnight will follow in one year's time, with A Memory of Light to follow a year after that.
This book is a genuinely great contribution; if you like any other book in the Wheel of Time series, you'll like this one. It's the 12th book in the ongoing saga; Jordan unfortunately and sadly died in 2007, before completing the last chunk of the series, and Brandon Sanderson (author of several excellent but less-well-known fantasy novels) was hired to finish it up based on Jordan's notes, outlines, and completed sections.
Those kinds of handovers seldom go well, and to add to that uncertainty, the quality of the series has been somewhat of a sine wave, with definite peaks and definite valleys. So, despite a marked increase in quality in the book immediately prior to this one (Knife of Dreams, which came out in 2005), Jordan's death and the series' checkered history gave real reason to fear that the handover of this series would not go well.
So far as this volume goes, at least, the handover has succeeded. There's a real spark and fire here; if you're a fan of the earlier books, and you haven't gotten completely jaded to the entire Wheel of Time series by now, you *will* love this one as well. Promise.
Because of the nature of the coauthorship (Jordan wrote some sections of this book before he died, and the rest was completed from outlines and notes), it's hard to know precisely how much we're seeing here of Brandon Sanderson's work and how much of Jordan's, and there were one or two moments where I as a reader wondered whose voice I was reading, and one or two points where I felt Sanderson had stumbled slightly in his presentation of a character or handling of internal monologue. (After several re-reads, the issue seems to be that a few of Sanderon's turns of phrase seem more stylistically "modern" than what Jordan had used to date). But I could count those problem points on the fingers of one hand, and this is an 800-page book. The riveting action and powerfully compelling characters that made the series great are all still here, and overall Sanderson's work is excellent, especially considering how badly some similar series handovers have failed in the past.
Perhaps most impressive (and necessarily similarly controversial), Sanderson manages to show these characters continuing to develop and change as individuals -- something absolutely necessary if continuing the series was going to be at all worthwhile, but also inevitably controversial, as it's impossible to do anything more than guess at how closely Sanderson's character changes parallel or follow what Jordan's would have been. Still, apart from one or two hiccups, I think most readers will feel they're reading about the same characters as before (and different readers may well pick different hiccups; some readers may prefer Sanderson's hiccups to Jordan's -- even where the differences are noticeable, Sanderson hasn't made *bad* choices, just *different* ones). Sanderson states in a brief introduction that he'd like for readers to think of these novels as film scenes shot by a secondary director, but part of the same film and with the same cast of characters, and I think most readers will find he achieves that.
I'll avoid detailed plot summaries for fear of spoilers, apart from noting that the book focuses primarily on Rand and Egwene's storylines (though we do get appearances from most of the other major characters). I will say that it's probably the most grim of any book in the series to date, both in terms of characterization and of plot; the pacing throughout is torrential. Many major plot lines and open questions are finally resolved, and Jordan's prior tendency to spring fifteen new puzzles for every one answered is turned on its head here, with about fifteen new answers for every new puzzle: this is a book of answers and solutions (some of them very dramatic and even poignant). If you've ever wondered "Why doesn't [character] just do [x]", there's a good chance this is the book where they finally go there and do that, or where you find out why they haven't.
Anyway, if you like any prior books in the Wheel of Time series, you'll like this one, and if you've read any prior books in the Wheel of Time series, this one will answer a lot of your questions. Apart from a few relatively minor hiccups, it has all the strengths of the best prior books in the series. Very much worth reading.
Edit: now that the book's been out for a bit, I can tell things are back on track because I find myself buying copies of "Eye of the World" to give to friends again. That's something I hadn't done in a long while.
As I sat down and opened the book to the map page, I was surprised at the well of emotions I felt. I gazed upon the map of the world where I have spent so many enjoyable, frustrating, mind boggled hours and tears filled my eyes. I felt like I was reacquainting myself with an old, much loved friend.
Like so many others, I began reading the Wheel of Time series almost 2 decades ago. And, again, like so many others, my heart broke upon hearing the news of Robert Jordan's passing. He created such a vivid, real world, unlike anything I had encountered before or since. When I heard the torch had been passed to Mr. Sanderson, I was elated the story would be brought to conclusion, if a bit worried at how well the vision would be upheld.
I would be dishonest if I said the transition between authors was seamless, but I did seriously love the book, largely because of some of the differences in style. I like the way the characters seem to have matured. There is added depth to the characterizations, a deeper PoV, that I really enjoyed, especially with Rand, Egwene and Nynaeve. As was mentioned in another review, the women are portrayed a little more realistically, with less hair pulling and sniffing. I liked it. I also had no problem with Mat, unlike others. He has always been my favorite character and I look forward to his story. It seems the next installment will focus on the Tower of Ghenjei and Moraine, in which Mat should figure prominently.
I purposely did not reread the series prior to The Gathering Storm, which I think made the transition to Mr. Sanderson less jarring than it may have been had I recently been immersed in RJ's vision. Nonetheless, there were a few moments where the story let up enough for me to realize a different bard had taken up the song. The detail was not as prominent in this book, and when there were descriptions, they were not as rich. As one who has traveled this world for years, though, my memories took over and were able to interject the appropriate detail.
WOW, did this book move the story along. It's as if the first 10 books were the slow ascent, filled with anticipation and anxiety, clicking and clacking the car to the top of the coaster. Knife of Dreams was the turn as you approach the 1st hill, just barely able to see what lies ahead. The Gathering Storm is the beginning of the rapid race to the end. The end is near and the story has been entrusted to a capable hand. I plan to enjoy the ride...
That the twelfth book in a series is entitled the "gathering" storm probably points to a fundamental problem with the series. I mean, we're eleven books (long, long books by the way) down and the storm is only just "gathering"? And anyone who has stuck this far in the Wheel of Time (which I'm assuming is pretty much everyone reading this because otherwise why the heck are you reading this?), knows that pacing has been a big problem in Jordan's work, especially after the first few books. I wonder, in fact, if part of the reason for the title was a special publisher's plea to wavering fans: "the end is coming! No, really! It's almost here!" Though in that case, perhaps announcing that the final book was going to be split into three wasn't such a smart idea.
Well, I can say whether intentional or not, The Gathering Storm does mostly deliver on its seeming promise of a quickening end. Sanderson, in place of Jordan, has offered up a book that moves more quickly than its 800 pages would seem to indicate. It doesn't match the compelling, joyful pace of the first few books, but it does mostly zip along, resolving plot events from earlier books, opening up new paths, clearing away some of the narrative and character underbrush. I'd say it's a somewhat stronger version of Knife of Dreams in that regard (though I consider KoD a pale version of the first 3 or 4). While The Gathering Storm does still have some side-plots that dilute the potential impact of major storylines, new narrative lines seem a bit more focused on getting us where we need to get to. And some of the more repetitive aspects of previous plots have been dropped, though a big one--Rand's hardening of himself--has been wearing a bit thin and continues to do so here. Not that it isn't a good arc; it's just been too stretched out.
That said, while lots of separate things happen here, and while I'd say most of them need to happen in order for us to reach the end, it feels like the narrative moves along more speedily on the micro rather than the macro level. What I mean by that is you feel the whoosh of singular events, but I can't say by the end you feel any closer to the final confrontation, despite the crossed Ts and dotted I's of prophecy and the unshackling of certain characters.
Beyond pacing, the plot is mostly serviceable, another similarity to KoD. I can't say there are any particularly stirring scenes, nor any particularly emotional ones save one nicely quiet one. There are a few pleasant surprises which I obviously won't mention that feel well set-up and fully necessary to the plot as opposed to a twist for a twist's sake. We don't spend much time with Perrin, for which I'm quite thankful, as I've found his subplots to be by far the weakest. Matt's storyline is semi-interesting but feels quite detached, more as if he's simply being kept busy to remind us he's around rather than being an integral part of the story. Egwene's story was for me the least plausible, though I won't go into specifics to avoid spoilers. I'll just say I had a hard time accepting the premise of her situation, the length of it, and its resolution. Actually, I take that back--the single most implausible scene involved a Forsaken: painfully, laughably implausible and an example of one of the infuriating ways these books can be so inconsistent and so bad at points (a later scene involving that same Forsaken was better, though it could have been mined a bit more for impact I think). The ending--no spoilers, don't worry--is a big jump forward in many ways and makes sense in terms of plot and character, but I found it far too abrupt and a bit too easy. I'm assuming/hoping it turns out not as easy as it appears here.
There is mostly slight movement in characters (one welcome change but a major spoiler): some are humbled, some strengthened, some finally choose a side or change sides, most of them grow a little wiser which is good to see. Development, as mentioned, is slight and self-awareness only burgeoning in some, but believably so. And there is a lot less inconsistency in characterization, much less leaping from adamantine to simpering in a single bound.
Power has always been a major thematic element in the series and that continues here. What is power, where does it lie, who should wield it, what is the impact on those who do so, what lines (if any) are drawn, when do the ends justify the means, what are the responsibilities of those who wield it or give it up, etc. are explored through character and sometimes through interior monologue. This has always been I think one of Jordan's strongest and most subtle (usually) aspects and it remains a strength here as characters and readers alike wrestle with these and other such questions.
The prose, like the plot, is adequate. There aren't any truly memorable or beautiful lines, but overall I'd say the prose is an improvement on Jordan. Unfortunately, we still get some of those same ticks and I'm guessing these are from Jordan's own passages. Thus we get the "hands folded beneath her breasts", some braid-pulling, "flimsy" and "diaphanous" gowns, various busts and bosoms. Spanking still rears its ugly head. It feels like there's less of all this, but it still stands out. I think in general Sanderson has kept the flavor of Jordan's prose, for all its good and bad points, while streamlining it and thus improving it.
Overall, The Gathering Storm is better than many books in the series, though nowhere near as good as the best ones. It lacks the major flaws of earlier books and has reduced the minor niggling ones to only a few occasions. And it leaves us ready, it appears, to move (let's hope) more quickly toward the end. There's no reason for a recommendation as let's face it, if you're reading this review you're going to be reading The Gathering Storm (if not, you really need to find a better way of entertaining yourself), but I do think TGS will leave most readers of the series feeling that it's in good hands and has pulled itself out a bit from the hole it dug itself.
on October 27, 2009
We fans of the WoT, who have been reading this series for nearly 20 years, have been waiting, and waiting and waiting for The Gathering Storm. Robert Jordan created an epic tapestry of characters and plotlines; so many of us felt that this tapestry was unwinding over the last couple of books and perhaps even the remarkable Mr. Jordan would find it impossible to weave them back together.
But Brandon Sanderson (and I'll admit I've been a big fan since Elantris) has done a truly amazing job in The Gathering Storm. Mr. Sanderson has, in many ways, adopted the language, prose and style of Mr. Jordan, while simultaneously improving areas where the characters, dialogue and prose felt stilted and unclear. Flesh was added to core characters like Rand, Nynaeve, Suian, Egwene and others, taking them off the page in a way that has been lacking for many WoT novels. It's too early in the reviews to give away spoilers, but take heart -- all those disparate plotlines are starting to make their way to Tarmon Gaidon where all questions will be undoubtedly, and satisfactorily, answered.
The WoT is not only in good hands, it is in the right hands.
on November 1, 2009
Brandon Sanderson has accomplished the impossible. He took over a good series that used to be great and brought it back to its prior greatness. The action is fast paced, the storyline is constantly moving and building, the subplots get resolved, and the main characters develop and grow. The decisions reached are logical and reasonable. There is not a single page in the entire book that did not contribute to the story. Other reviewers have explained the central plot lines so I won't repeat them. What I will say to all those who had become frustrated with the later WOT books...give this book a chance and you will not be disappointed.
on October 29, 2009
As hard as it is to believe, it was WORTH the four year wait. I, as all WOT fans were, was devastated upon hearing of Robert Jordan's passing. And as much as it shames me to admit it, a PART of that grief was the thought that this marvelous series may never be finished, or that it would be finished imperfectly.
Boy was I wrong. I agree with some other reviewers about Brandon Sanderson's writing. It is noticeably different from Jordan's, but only occasionally was it different enough to distract me. Some dialogue here, some exposition there that just didn't have Jordan's VOICE. I also agree that he seemed to struggle the most with Matt, but I felt he had a little trouble grasping Jordan's treatment of the women in the story also.
So, those are the critiques... and the ONLY critiques. This is quite possibly my favorite book in the series. I know many loyal readers felt that after book 5 or 6, the story grew too slow and cumbersome. I tend to disagree; while books 7-10 in particular may not have been action-packed, I enjoyed all of them, and felt they all added something significant to the story. Sure, it got slow at times, and sure, he probably could have trimmed it down. But the hours of reading pleasure they gave me, I wouldn't trade. But I'm rambling now.
If the series had been slowing, then "Gathering Storm" was a sledgehammer between the eyes telling you to WAKE up. I think the most impressive part of the novel for me was the sense of MENACE that I felt through most of it. It was almost a palpable feeling... an "air of darkness" if you will. Jordan and Sanderson seem to have lulled us into a false sense of security, only to remind us (violently) that the Last Battle is just around the corner, and just how TENUOUS the victory of the Light is.
And although it lowers my eyes to admit it, I found myself crying at one particular point. The emotions were so powerful. A moment I have been waiting for (and worrying about) since The Eye of the World.
In closing; for those who have never read the WoT series... start at the beginning. By the time you've caught up, the series will probably be well and truly finished. For those who have loved every book, you will CERTAINLY love this one. And for those who gave up on the series, I think you will want to pick up where you left off, and get yourselves ready to be DRAGGED back in to Robert Jordan's world.
We all know that, as masterfully as Brandon Sanderson has done, the series just won't be the same without Jordan's hand to complete it. But Harriet chose wisely, and I believe Robert Jordan would agree. I am sure he is busily reading The Gathering Storm wherever he is, and enjoying it as much as we all are.
on October 30, 2009
I pre-ordered this book "knowing" that I was going to get another Wheel of Time book that was too long, too slow plot-wise, and too verbose with minutiae. Even though I have been reading this series from the very beginning, I "knew" my lemming purchase was going to be a waste of money.
I was wrong. Seriously wrong. 100% wrong.
Is Brandon Sanderson writing like Robert Jordan? No, and I'm thoroughly glad Sanderson isn't emulating Jordan's writing style of the later books. The Gathering Storm truly is a "different director, same characters" type of sequencing. While Sanderson isn't spot on with Aviendha's and Mat's characterization, these are quibbles because he's 90% there.
Sanderson however is 100% inline with Rand and Egwene's characterizations. Egwene used to be in my bottom five of favorite characters, but Sanderson's plotting of Egwene in this book has significantly moved her up in my personal ranking. In a nutshell, Egwene needs to stencil on her Serpent Ring the words BAD A**. Her most admirable scene in the book is when she is defending the novices from the invaders while doped up on forkroot and only having a sa'angreal for a tool. Just too awesome.
I truly enjoyed the continuing Suian Sanche / Gareth Bryne plotline, especially because I think Sanderson wrote it better than Jordan would have. My jaw dropped at the Verin plotline, but I don't think Jordan could have made me tear up the way Sanderson did with his writing of the scene.
Overall, I highly recommend this book.
on October 30, 2009
Where to start? This is a book many of us have been waiting for, for years. The last five years have been extremely hard. After all, I've been "emotionally" involved with this series for almost 20 years. I've got a library of over 5,000 books and at almost 40 years of age, I've never found any other work that has so emotionally involved me as the WOT series. This is the best book series I've ever read, and will probably ever read. I brooded for months after the passing of Jordan. Would I never know peace? So many questions, would I never get any answers?
Thank you, thank you, thank you Brandon. For all the people who complain about Brandon missing a beat here or there, are you kidding me? Brandon isn't RJ, he never claimed to be. But, he's developing and resolving this series for us. I will forever be grateful to Mr Sanderson for completing this work for us. He was the right man for the job.
First off, my favorite book has always been Shadow Rising, and my favorite moment in all the books has to be Dumai's Wells. Just an awe inspiring moment that has stuck with me for 15 years. But, I think perhaps this book will end up being one of my favorite. Now, understand it's probably one of my favorite because things are finally starting to resolve. Questions are getting answered, plot lines are resolving themselves, and the plot is becoming more simple ending up pointing straight as an arrow to the finale, which should rival the battle for Hogwarts, or the destruction of the ring of power as the best finale of all time.
This book is extremely fast paced, but not too fast paced. Things are resolved with the depth and breadth of a typical WOT book. But, there is very little fluff in the book, it just moves from crisis to crisis. One of the most action packed books since probably Shadow Rising.
Spoiler alert, don't read below if you haven't read the book.
I like Perrin's turn. I was extremely frustrated with his character in the past books, acting incredibly selfish, his willingness to sacrifice everything for the rescue of his wife. And finally he grows up and see it.
I love the resolution of Verin, she was such an enigma, the way she is resolved is brilliant, didn't see that one coming.
I love Egwene's story. He doesn't miss a beat in this resolution. The battle at the tower is Egwene's Dumai's Wells. Incredible.
Rand's incredible darkness was tough to watch, but I was literally brought to tears by it's resolution. Awesome, incredible stuff.
Look forward to shaking Mr Sanderson's hand in person here in Atlanta, Nov 13th.
I guess my point is I feel an incredible sense of relief and happiness, this series will be resolved, and capably so. I can't wait to read the next two books, should be a fantastic ending. There is light, and there will be resolution.
on October 31, 2009
First off, I really enjoyed this book, for a number of reasons. I really think that Sanderson was the correct choice to complete the series.
1. Faster pacing: The story feels much leaner and streamlined then in any of the previous books. It practically races forward in comparison to Knife of Dreams (The Wheel of Time, Book 11), which itself was considered to be the fastest paced Wheel of Time book in years. Sanderson cuts out much of the internal monologues that showed characters thinking. They are still present, of course, especially with Rand for his discussions with Lews Therin, but there are VERY few instances of the "I'll never understand women" type of monologues that would pepper previous books.
For example, Faile's "prickly, sharp" smell, and her jealously are finally dealt with. Sanderson displays it a single time, then he does what Jordan should have done ages ago and resolves Perrin's confusion with Faile's jealousy through dialogue, and it isn't mentioned again, so we don't have to deal with any more of Perrin's "Why is Faile smelling so sharp/prickly/angry/jealous?" thoughts. This is a prime example of how Sanderson streamlines the plot.
2. The Plot Advances: Sanderson not only resolves several major plot points, he closes one of them in the PROLOGUE. Throughout the course of the series we see the resolution of several major and significant plot lines that have been running for several books now. Sanderson doesn't skimp on their resolution, but it is very satisfying to see things FINALLY wrapped up. He doesn't twist the plot in order to tie things up, but things are definitely coming to a head in the world, and that serves to expedite the sequence of events. The Storm is coming, Tarmon Gai'don is near, and Sanderson uses the increased desperation of the characters and the build-up that we have had to slog through in the past several books in order to finally, triumphantly, finish a number of major plot lines. You will find yourself wearing a grin when it happens, I guarantee you.
3. Plot twists: Sanderson, probably per Jordan's dictations, reveals several very major plot twists, and does so masterfully. He does so quickly, much faster then Jordan probably would have done, but it is still reasonable and he doesn't skimp on detail, but isn't needlessly verbose, which could be Jordan's weakness at times. Anyways, the plot twists are amazing, one of them is something that fans have speculated over for years, have made conspiracy theories of, and was hinted at back in The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time, Book 2)! It was amazing. I had heard the speculation on this particular theory, but I had considered it to be totally wrong, I was completely caught by surprise and awed when suddenly something would happen that would cause disparate events over the course of 5 books, ranging back to the beginning of the series, would suddenly click into place!
Of course, there definitely was one plot twist that wasn't forecast at ALL, and was absolutely shocking/horrifying to read.
4. Sanderson's writing style: There is no doubt about it, Sanderson isn't Jordan. He remains faithful to the literary tics of Jordan's series (The repetition about the wind in Chapter 1, Matt's complaining about dice, Nynaeve's braid etc) but he doesn't attempt to ghostwrite the book. There is definitely a change of tone with this book, and while some may dislike it, or find it jarring (It took me a while to get used to) it is definitely the proper tone for the final books.
5. Sanderson's writing is darker: This is especially fitting, and Harriet herself mentioned it in the interview video posted above by Amazon. This book is definitely more intended for mature audiences then the previous books. Sanderson tends to be somewhat more explicit with the violence in this books. This especially serves a purpose in Rand's point-of-view chapters, in which Sanderson paints an absolutely brutal image of how Rand thinks.
All said, I very much enjoyed the book. In contrast to all the positive points I've listed above, I have only a few problems with the book:
1. During the first few chapters, Sanderson's style is a bit jarring.
2. A lot of the character's internal monologues have been removed. It is a bit odd, after 11 books to read a discussion between Talmanes and Matt in which Matt's thoughts aren't detailed. While I generally like that, I miss the immersive detail and the history we would get from it.
3. He makes up some... unusual things. In one instance, Matt uses the word "Saidar-ed" as a verb to an Aes Sedai. I honestly cannot decide whether this was all Sanderson, or something Matt would have said. Either way, it was weird.
4. Graendal. I don't know why Sanderson decided to do it this way, but the whole Graendal subplot came to what I'd term a grossly abrupt conclusion. I think this is probably the weakest point in the book. I really liked Graendal's character, and thought that there was a big drive to making her a very powerful character among the Forsaken, a sort of dark horse candidate for Nae'blis, or what not. She didn't get anything approaching the time in the lime-light I thought she deserved, given her clearly superior intellect, developed character, and the number of POV scenes we've had from her in the past.
Finally, Matt was clearly the hardest one for Sanderson to write. A lot of people have complained about that, but I think the changes in his character are definite, but reasonable considering his new marriage and the responsibilities he has assumed. Despite what people wish, Matt isn't just a simple rogue any longer, although Matt clearly wishes he were, and whenever he is reminded of that fact, he becomes rather upset. I still liked Sanderson's Matt, and I have faith his characterization will become more natural in the next books.
So finally, there are a few things I didn't like, but they were insignificant enough that I still loved the book, and consider it significantly stronger then the previous entries in the series. I wish, given these few flaws, I could give it a 4.5 star rating, but all in all, I feel giving it a 5 is definitely deserved.