The Gathering Storm: Book Twelve of the Wheel of Time
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942 of 966 people found the following review helpful
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.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2011
Imagine you have a favorite band, and for one reason or another - accident, death, Yoko Ono - they break up. There will be no more music from them.

But it is decided that, regardless of what fate wants for the band, their music is too well-loved and too important to be allowed to stop. So a new band is formed, and they spend years poring over the original music. They get every recording, every bootleg, every interview about how and why these musical giants did what they did. They collect the original instruments and reproduce how the songs were recorded. They do everything in their power to understand that music as best they can. And then they start to make new music.

When you hear it, you can tell that it's not the original group - maybe there's a lyrical choice that the old band wouldn't have used, or perhaps a certain favoring of chords that's different - but if you sit back and relax, and let yourself just enjoy the music, you can almost believe that it's your favorite band, come back together to make new and wonderful music again.

That's kind of what it was like to read this book.

In his introduction, Sanderson says that he's not trying to replace Robert Jordan - he's not going to try and copy Jordan's style or techniques. "Instead, I've adapted my style to be appropriate to the Wheel of Time. My main goal was to stay true to the souls of the characters." This is certainly evident as you read the book - there are techniques that Sanderson uses that Jordan never did - especially in terms of narrative style, dialogue and thematic unity.

Sanderson is a generation younger than Robert Jordan, and this difference in age is reflected in the style of the book. While he certainly does his best to make it look as much like its predecessors as possible, for Sanderson to simply try to ape Jordan's style would have been a disaster. The narration seems to have a lot more rhetorical commentary than in previous books - the introductory paragraphs of chapter one are a good example, where the narration itself is commenting on the fallen state of Tar Valon, asking "Where was the White Tower, the law?" This technique of the narrative asking questions of the characters is peppered throughout the book.

The narration seems a little tighter, more concise than Jordan's style, which was long criticized for being somewhat superfluous in its verbosity. Again, this is probably a reflection of the generational difference between writers - Jordan probably grew up reading Tolkien, and Sanderson grew up reading Jordan. Each generation seeks to take the good from the previous one, while simultaneously trying to improve upon it. So by and large, the storytelling itself feels more contemporary than other books.

This is also true for the dialogue. There are more rapid-fire exchanges than usual, a sure sign of a younger author, and most of the time this works very well - he actually uses it in a few places to drop significant revelations about characters, so it seems he's aware of what the quick back-and-forth can do. Each character has retained his or her original voice - with the possible exception of Mat Cauthon.

It became pretty clear as I read this book that Mat must be Sanderson's favorite character, because he gets all the best lines. One thing that Jordan never did (and I don't think he really cared to try) was make me laugh. On the other hand, nearly every chapter with Mat in it elicited at the very least an audible chuckle if not an outright laugh. Of all the characters in the book, Mat's dialogue has become the most unique and, at the same time, the most contemporary, including, but not limited to, verbing a noun:

[Verin] reached into a pocket of her dress, pulling out several pieces of paper. One was the picture of Mat. "You didn't ask where I got this."
You're Aes Sedai," Mat said, shrugging. "I figured you... you know, saidared it."
"Saidared it?" she asked flatly.
He shrugged.Now for some readers, I have no doubt that this will be an intolerable change in a character's voice. They're going to go into paroxysms of rage that their favorite character has been turned into a Buffy guest star. And that's a valid criticism, I suppose. I loved the change. Mat has always been the most rogueish of the characters, dicing and drinking and flirting, and you would expect that kind of person to be of a sharper form of wit. Sanderson's decided to let Mat meet that potential, and I applaud him for it.

By and large, though, the characters mostly sound like themselves. In some cases, more so, if that makes any sense. Rand, for example, is a lot more thoughtful than we've seen him before. For a long time, Rand was really a difficult character to get into. We were not often presented with those moments of sympathy that allow you to imagine yourself in that character's skin, and perhaps that was a conscious choice of Jordan's. Sanderson's done a good job at letting us see what being the Dragon Reborn has done to Rand since he left Emond's Field, and the path to disaster that he's on. Rand has decided to become hard, as hard as he has to be so that he can live until the Last Battle, and we finally get a good look at why he thinks this is necessary. What's more, we fear for him - there was one moment near the end of the book where, reading what Rand was about to do, I found myself saying, out loud, "No. No! Nonononono!" You'll know it when you see it.

One other aspect of the work that Sanderson has focused on is thematic unity. Different characters experience similar situations that serve to reflect a certain theme of the work. Egwene's trials, refusing to submit to the will of Elaida, are reflected in Aviendha's increasingly ridiculous "punishments" by the Wise Ones, and bolstered by the appearance of Shemerin, an Aes Sedai who was, against all tradition, demoted to Accepted. They all serve to support the theme that you are who you say you are, and once you submit to another's opinion of you, you lose. Egwene already knows it, Aviendha has to learn it, and Shemerin learned it too late.

The difference between being hard and being strong is another theme, this time balanced between Rand and Egwene. Rand, who has to unify the world under him before he fights the Dark One, has chosen to become hard. Not just steel-hard or rock-hard, but cuendillar-hard (a substance from the Age of Legends that is unbreakable by any known means). It is only by crushing his emotions, severing himself from others, and by doing whatever has to be done - up to and including mass murder - that he believes he can prepare for the inevitable confrontation.

Egwene, on the other hand, has to unify the White Tower before it's too late. To do so, she must endure immense physical and emotional punishment at the hands of the very people she's trying to save. She knows she's right, of course, and the refusal of others to take her seriously would make it easy for her to just give up on the White Tower Aes Sedai. Leave them to their inevitable doom and build a new society of Aes Sedai loyal to her. But she doesn't do that. She endures the pain, she controls her anger and her impulses, and constantly reminds herself why she is doing what she's doing. In the end, this makes Egwene stronger, whereas Rand nearly shatters.

Overall, I was very happy with this book. Like many Wheel of Time fans, Jordan's death worried me greatly. I worried that the whole story would just never be finished, that Rand would never find peace, the Tower would never be united, that Perrin would never have a quiet place just to be himself or that Mat would never be able to live a life with the responsibilities that he chooses. When Sanderson was announced as the author who would finish the series, I worried again, having never read his work. Would he be able to handle the task of finishing this series? Would he be able to pull together all the plot threads that were flying around and bring us to the conclusion that Jordan had known from the start? Would I, in other words, be utterly heartbroken?

I am very happy to say that I'm not worried anymore.

Sanderson has done an excellent job with this book, and I look forward to the final two.

----------------------------------------------------
"We can't go back, Mat. The Wheel has turned, for better or worse. And it will keep turning, as lights die and forests dim, storms call and skies break. Turn it will. The Wheel is not hope, and the Wheel does not care, the Wheel simply is. But so long as it turns, folk may hope, folk may care. For with light that fades, another will eventually grow, and each storm that rages must eventually die. As long as the Wheel turns. As long is it turns...."
- Thom Merrilin, The Gathering Storm
----------------------------------------------------
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2009
After years of loyally sticking by the Wheel of Time in the face of eyestrain, endless Aes Sedai plots, and ridicule from family and friends... and a fair amount of speculation about whether anyone could finish it to Jordan's standards... I'm thrilled. I stayed up most of the night reading it and it was 100% worth my miserable sleepy workday today! Since so many have already reviewed the book, I'll just add some specific comments, hopefully vague enough, but be warned that if you haven't read it you might consider them SPOILERS. I figure if you're reading reviews you take your chances, but you were warned. ;)

I LOVED:

Rand gets an internal voice! So much of Rand in the past few books has been "I'm steel, I'm steel, mmm Min is hot, SHUTUPSHUTUPLEWSTHERIN." Not to give too much away, but Sanderson fiiiiiinally gives Rand something to say and actually depicts the immense emotional trauma, basically PTSD, that Rand has experienced and is suffering the repercussions of, makes it genuinely heart-wrenching and logical, and helps the frankly idiotic and almost inexcusable behavior we've seen from Rand make a lot more sense. Rand prior to this book was in no emotional state to even begin to approach Tarmon Gaidon, and here he is finally making some progress. For this alone I'm incredibly grateful. You also see more of WHY Cadsuane & co. are driving Rand soooo crazy and why Moiraine's epiphany way back in Book 5 (I think) was so important. While overall I feel like Sanderson was guilty of a bit too much "tell," with Rand at least we finally get a really good "show." We also get some actual clues about what went wrong with sealing the Dark One away the first time around... very intriguing.

Tuon also gets a more complex internal voice! She thinks so differently from the other characters, and while I find her outlook alien and frustrating to read just from a plot perspective, I thought Sanderson did an excellent job staying in character from Jordan's version and adding some new detail. One thing that comes home is how young she is, both in terms of actual years and in life experience compared to characters of a similar age like Egwene.

Speaking of Egwene, she's amazing. She's always been my favorite character, so it's no wonder I loved this book, because it's almost all her story. The Egwene characterization is nearly perfect and the White Tower mess is FINALLY, FINALLY dealt with. After book after book of endless plotting, it was such a relief to me when Egwene literally sends heads rolling.

Gawyn. I kind of loathe Gawyn and his incredibly stupid/blind attitude and moves in the past few books, and I was so grateful to Sanderson for staying true to Egwene's character and being clear that Gawyn has some major growing up/getting his head straight to do compared to her. Can't wait to see how Sanderson deals with Galad.

Siuan. Just character, plot resolution, and a fair amount of comeuppance, all handled very nicely here. She does something really stupid in this book, and she's not let off the hook for it, which I appreciated immensely. In general, Sanderson holds a lot of characters accountable for their dumb or immature actions in this or previous novels, and again it's just such a relief after Jordan's endless "Big Mis" plots (as we call it in romance)-- where the characters just don't TALK to each other and that provides 90% of the drama.

Bubbles of Evil. These are getting *really* creepy. I also very much enjoyed the prologue, because it's finally starting to feel like people get it that the Last Battle is upon them.

Didn't love:

Mat. As others pointed out, the most clumsily written character, his chapters are missing a lot of secondary character development (um, what even happened to Olver?), and there was a lot of space spent on essentially a (very creepy) ghost story that will *hopefully* relate to the larger plot somehow... but right now I just don't see it. And we lost the really interesting internal stuff going on with him and Tuon-- just a lot of cliche ranting about marriage here-- and Mat's "memories" didn't ring true the way they did with Jordan's version. At one point I actually rolled my eyes at one because the name was so silly... not hitting the right note.

Perrin. Again, just sort of clumsily written. He came off as whiny, confused, and this is hard to describe, but not very "wolfy." I haven't liked where Perrin is going the past few books (Rand angst-land, basically) and Sanderson did him no favors here. For once, I actually liked Faile much better. Sigh...

Aviendha. I would say overall, Sanderson actually handles female characters more naturally and more respectfully than Jordan did, with less sniffing and hmphing and general coy absurdity. Aviendha, alas, could have used a little coyness- she was wooden and utterly uninteresting. She regressed from someone who was becoming increasingly complex to an obsessive internal monologue on toh. Booooring.

Nynaeve. Not awful, but just a letdown from her shining moment rallying Malkier. She is sad about Lan, worried about Rand, loathes Cadsuane, doubts herself, etc., etc. We are back to the same place with her. Min was also a little off in terms of voice and didn't have much to do or say.

Disaster:

Graendal. Um, why even bother? The plotline around her is basically filler. I feel like a confrontation with a Forsaken deserved a little more... confrontation. Especially Graendal, who was really built up as a worthy opponent. I did think that the way Rand handled her made perfect sense and finally shows an appropriate level of caution, but I was disappointed that there was essentially no attack or challenge from her.

The little touches... long passages of landscape description, history, stories, prophecies, poems... just gone. Sad, but I think this is what made Jordan Jordan. As talented as Sanderson is, there's nothing like the real thing. It might even come off as fake if he tried, so I'm willing to live without.

Robert Jordan, you're sadly missed. But endless thanks to Mr. Sanderson for taking up the torch, I'm so excited to see what's next for the WoT! This is a solid, solid 4.5 stars.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2010
I kind of can't believe I'm writing this, but The Gathering Storm is pretty good.

I have a long history with the Wheel of Time. I started reading them when I was 15 (13 years ago) and they kind of....well they kind of changed my life. I mean, I devoured the first 7 books. I think I read a few of them in 2 days or less, which is saying something because they're each roughly 15 million pages long. Between the Wheel of Time, the Chronicles of Prydain, and of course Tolkien, I developed a fantasy habit that I still can't seem to get rid of. I don't want to get rid of it, but you know, if I wanted to, I probably couldn't.

So I kind of loved books 1-7. Then book 8 was a huge letdown. So was 9. And 10. And 11. I had kind of given up hope for the series. I was gonna finish it regardless because at this point, I've invested an insane amount of time in it, but I didn't expect it to ever be good again.

But this book was good. And you know why? Stuff happens. Lots of stuff. If there's a big criticism to be made of books 8-11 it's that almost nothing happens. The first 7 books are chock full of action, romance, and big huge kick-butt events, and 8-11 average out to approximately .45 important things happening in each.

But stuff happens in this one. And Rand is in it. Remember when Rand used to be in these books all of the time? Remember Rand? The main character of the series. Yeah he's back, and he's all over this book, and he does all kinds of crazy stuff, and it's awesome.

Well, now I'm actually excited for the next book again. Thanks Mr. Sanderson. I haven't been this excited to go back to Rand Land for a loooooong time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2009
Wow. I was skeptical about this book, as many of us were after recent installments, but this has to be the best since, oh, #5 or so. A vast improvement.

Much has been made over the split into three books, but this didn't feel like 1/3 of a book at all--in fact, it felt more complete perhaps than any other book in the series after the first. Plot-wise, things are happening again! Some of the old tension and excitement is back (I don't think this book quite captures the wonder of the early installments, but then it may be that the changed nature of the story makes such comparisons frivolous), and for the last 150 pages or so it's hard to put down. Really, this is good stuff. Progress is being made throughout, secrets are revealed, events of major import finally occur (not all of them expected).... this is what we've been waiting for.

This is possible because the focus has finally, finally returned to the main characters. Most of the book is devoted to Rand's and Egwene's storylines, although Mat, Nynaeve, Siuan, Gawyn and Aviendha get screen time as well, and Perrin and Tuon a chapter or so each. (As for Galina and her ilk... gone! No time for lengthy tertiary-character rantings now things are moving again.) Which brings me to.... the characters! They've improved. Everybody seems much more human now--they don't obsess over status to the exclusion of all else, they've stopped keeping everything secret for the sake of keeping secrets and arguing for the sake of arguing. The women are showing more individuality and, frankly, realism than they have in a long time, maybe ever. Better yet, the human interactions and relationships portrayed suddenly resemble real human interactions and relationships. So if the character development.... the characters, period.... have disappointed you in the later books of this series, this is quite encouraging. I think I'll actually care about the Last Battle when it comes. Heck, if this author can make me sympathize with Cadsuane (of all people!) when he uses her point-of-view, he can do just about anything, right?

Which brings me to my comments on Sanderson's handling of Jordan's work. I was pleasantly surprised. I read the first two Mistborn books, and while they were entertaining, I think anyone reading The Gathering Storm will be struck by how much Sanderson's writing style has matured since that point. It's not quite Jordan--which, in a lot of places, is good; the conversations are snappier, the characters' thoughts more coherent--but the descriptions aren't as vivid or evocative as they were when Jordan did the writing. On a purely technical level, I'd say Jordan was a better writer, but this book isn't poorly written at all. If I weren't so exacting with ratings, and if some of the early chapters hadn't been rather tedious (Aviendha's POVs are especially dull this time), this book might have gotten 5 stars. (Well, there are a couple other minor issues, such as time moving at a radically different pace in each storyline, such that weeks might pass in Egwene's world only for us to return to Perrin a day after the Shaido battle. And nothing that I tried to look up was in the glossary.) As is, I wholeheartedly recommend it not only to anyone who's stuck with the series so far (you'll read it no matter what anyone says), but to anyone who's read the first few before getting discouraged by the pace and quitting. Skip over the middle books and start back here.

Oh, and the best part? No Elayne, and no skirt-smoothing at all!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2009
Sanderson is good. And he's clearly getting better as he writes his way through the Robert Jordan universe.

Now, I'm a long time Wheel of Time fan, but I've never considered Jordan-the-writer among the best in sci-fi and fantasy. He's a campaigner, a steely, grimly funny general and a skilled gleeman of a story-juggler, but not a brilliant writer. His male characters fall just a little bit short (except for Mat and Thom-young and old versions of Robert Jordan?), and the women never matured (Nynaeve pulling her hair out).

Those things said, in a series of this scale the campaign or siege mentality is what gives the action and the pacing such immediacy and such formidable realness and accuracy. As in a lengthy campaign or a game of chess, detail and tempo count. You have to keep supply lines moving fast but your front lines patient for action, and Robert Jordan was brilliant at advancing just fast enough to preserve the central motivations that fuel his plot. Plus, Robert Jordan planted enough crucial, half-obscured details to require some really deep readings for fans to anticipate future events, and he had to keep track of all of them to make sure they'd come back appropriately-never an easy task.

Full disclosure: I've never read Sanderson before. But so far I'm impressed. His descriptions of places and events don't have the vivid physical detail of Robert Jordan, but they also shed the staleness of repetition-some details are important to a scene and some just aren't. Also, Sanderson's updated characterizations of the women are something this series needed badly for balance, given hints at how important the women might be at series end.

Many reviewers are critical that Sanderson has accelerated the pace and isn't giving some characters and events enough weight or enough of their familiarity (again Mat seems to take the worst of it here), but these readers should be reminded that Sanderson, unlike Robert Jordan, is a closer. His job is to tie things up and bring about unlikely conclusions to the storylines that Robert Jordan has never stopped adding to the fray. Sanderson must untie Robert Jordan's Gordian Knot of plot twists and alliances. If some of those shifts seem abrupt? Well, Robert Jordan wrote himself into some dead ends, and the only way out (for Gawyn, Rand, and even Mat) is to undergo some dramatic shifts in personality in a very short time to put them on track to do what they must.

There are some hiccups in the telling, and some scenes seem added-on in order to clarify background and backstory that we perhaps didn't know before-and perhaps didn't need to know, either. But then, Robert Jordan's skill was not in resolving events, but in extending them. Otherwise, perhaps we'd have seen more of these seemingly extraneous bits in previous books.

Are characters changing relatively fast compared to how they had been? Do Siuan, Gawyn, Egwene, the Sitters, and Rand make some rash moves that we'd never have expected so soon? Sure.

Sanderson compared his efforts in taking over the series to that of a fill-in director taking over a segment or an episode. No matte what the previous one was like, he has to make his players to hit their marks before for the big concluding events and scenes will make sense. And because Robert Jordan left so much unresolved, Sanderson has to march everyone double-time to see everything out. All without missing anything crucial.

In short, this book isn't perfect, but at least the series is taking on a sense of intensity again. Long-time fans love to linger in Robert Jordan's world, so much so that obvious criticisms about the seeming indirectness of the overall narrative have surfaced only infrequently. "Why be eager for a good thing to end?" they might ask. And Jordan was kind enough to indulge us for 3 books too many (at least) already, long before Sanderson was handed the reins.

But now it's time to wrap things up. It's good for fans who want to finally know what happens at the end (especially since Jordan evidently wrote the ending long long ago) and it's good for a publisher that likely will spin many franchises out of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time world. Some fans will fear these spinoffs and prequels (think: JarJar Binks or the countless bad novels in the Star Trek and Star Wars universes). Others will look forward to new books that elaborate on the world that Jordan so lovingly and determinedly crafted.

No matter what, Sanderson has picked up an admittedly awesome, unpopular, difficult, well-paying, and monumentally complicated task, and I doubt Jordan would begrudge him the effort he's given so far. And so far, I'm pleased to see new life breathed into characters and events I've been reading for 16 years, since I was in high school. Returning to these well-loved characters is worth the worry, and I'm happy to know that the hero Rand might have a chance to do what he was born to do.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2010
At the End of Time,

when many become one,

the last storm shall gather its angry winds

to destroy a dying land...

Sounds somewhat prophetic doesn't it? By any means, the latest novel by Robert Jordan (since deceased), and Wheel of Time newcomer author Brandon Sanderson, fits the claim. (Warning: the following review does contain some spoilers, especially if you have NOT read the previous titles) Whereas previous Wheel of Time novels have been long, drawn out affairs where absolutely nothing happens (See Evidence: Book Ten - Crossroads of Twilight), Sanderson has managed to continue the best of Robert Jordan's writing in The Gathering Storm.

Granted, Sanderson had a lot of help, from the copious notes, timelines, pre-written components and discussions with the late Jordan and his wife/editor Harriet McDougal. As you read it (if you are a Jordan fanatic) small things definitely pop out at you as you continue reading the massive 765 page novel. My personal favorite? Gone are the endless descriptions of people's clothing. Seriously! It's the best thing to go! No more reading through page after page of how pretty the color on the dress of the fourth lady in waiting was... Thank you Sanderson, Thank YOU.

To continue, The Gathering Storm picks up immediately after the previous book, Knife of Dreams stopped. Rand and party have survived the ambush, but Rand is left with serious mental and physical problems. The story continues at a moderate pace, tracing multiple story arcs as they finally begin to lean back together. Perrin, having rescued his wife, returns to the Wolf Dream and begins to feel the pull of the power that is Rand the Ta'varen.

Mat, having left the company of his wife, Tuon, Daughter of the Nine Moons and now Empress of the (dissolved, fractured, collapsing) Seanchan Empire, works to bring his band of the Red Hand (IE His own personal army) back into civilization and out of a war zone. Mat's story always interests me the most, as it is by far the most amusing and contains the most interesting situations. An expedition to the Tower of Genji to possibly rescue past heroine Morraine, a visit to a town where everyone goes berserk after nightfall, and an encounter with an old friend keeps the arc going even without the dry humor of Tuon.

The Gathering Storm also sees an end to the Aes Sedai civil war (finally, 5 books or so later). Egwene, Rebel Aes Sedai Leader Extraordinaire, final sees progress inside the tower as she begins gathering a core group of supports won over from the loyalists. The grand reveal of a completely unexpected member of the Black Ajah was an unexpected twist for most readers. This one had me going "WHAT!?" and then quickly wishing to read back through the rest of the books to try to find previous evidence. The story arc comes to a fantastic conclusion, bringing in previous fortellings by Egwene and leading to vicious, all out battle in the halls of the White Tower. An extremely satisfying series of chapters follows, along with an ending for a favorite bad guy that I believe all will appreciate.

Finally, back to Rand. This was quite possibly the hardest of characters to deal with as a new author for Sanderson. I must say, he did a marvelous job. Rand's descent into madness continues, with him pushing away or alienating some of his closest allies. The actions of a forsaken trying to hunt down Rand really loose the insanity, as Rand is forced to do unspeakable things to someone he loves. In retrospect (by the end of the book) this is probably the best thing! Rand essentially sets up a battle between his conscience and ego/brain. The battle for the Soul of Rand (one side working for love, the other to be hard as steel, as ice, to survive) culminates in the final chapter. The result is some of the most powerful writing I've read. The Gathering Storm is not just an overlying feature of the entire book's setting, but also an important part of Rand's battle against his own inner demons.

For those of you lacking the knowledge of the Robert Jordan Fantasy Series, The Wheel of Time, I heartily suggest reading the story from start to finish. That being said, do not start without a serious amount of time that you are willing to put in. Books 1-4 start slow and only gradually pick up speed, focusing on character development and exploring the large world of Jordan's.

Overall, a rating of 4/5 stars. A great read, but not as a stand alone book, as one really must read the background story to get a clue as to the intricate relationships between characters, situations, powers, and history. Etc. etc. etc. And thus, I leave you with a quote.

Why Rand, Why do you go into battle? What is the point?
Why?
Why? Rand thought with wonder. Because each time we live, we get to love again. If I live again, then she might as well. I fight because last time, I failed. I fight because I want to fix what I did wrong. I want to do it right this time.

Happy Reading - Double Alias
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2010
Much like many fans of dear old RJ, I began this series when in my early teens, and have waited for each installment with baited breath and cash in hand (BTW, too much cash, ahem, TOR) at their respective releases. Well, to be honest, over the years I have shelved the WOT series not on my much-coveted IKEA living room bookshelf, but in my dusty old broom closet.

Contained in this dim and still space are my skateboard, nun-chucks, my LA-Gear light-up high tops, and several boxes with everything from Star wars toys (I promised my wife they'll be worth something one day!) to college Geology textbooks. Many things I have loved but grown out of are there. Occasionally when sweepers is necessary I challenge myself to clean it out and I get to see my favorite stuff.

And there sits the entire WOT series, until today. Today Brian Sanderson, like a 7 foot tall, head-butting, mead-swagging, Viking conquerer has smashed a hole through my broom closet, reinvigorating and exposing the series to fun, adventure, action, and, um, air circulation! He also scared my cat so I can't find him. "Here Mittons, here..."

There is more character insight, action, and plot movement in the 1st hundred pages of "The Gathering Storm" than the last 2 books. Jordan was great, he crafted a world of glittering imaginative heights and gritty boots-on-deck realism in WOT that stands out in fantasy/fiction (which is saying something given all the crap that gets printed). But his work stagnated; he digressed, devolved, and dove too deeply into his world (Hey! It took 5000 pages to reunite 2 sideline characters, with no significant reasons).

Thankfully his long-standing promises to incinerate all materials should he die before he finished weren't his last word. Thankfully we can get a well-deserved end to his epic.

As RJ was oft fond of saying: RAFO. As my flight school instructor always says: RTFQ, and if I could offer a last word of advice: Read and ENJOY!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2009
First, as a WoT fan, I would like to express my thanks to Brandon Sanderson for stepping into a monumental task. WoT is an immensely complicated (and somewhat over complicated) series and so the task of writing the concluding books is monumental. I am very glad the conclusion of the saga will be written.

On to the review...

THE GOOD

--> THE STORY GETS MOVING!!! The action is well written and some plot lines are closed. As much as I have enjoyed the series, Robert Jordan seemed to have lost the capacity to head torward a conclusion. Somewhere in the series Jordan got lost in details and subplots. He wanted book 12 to complete the series but was still opening new plot lines in book 11! For those who blame TOR or Sanderson for dividing book 12 into 3 books, you have missed the source. After reading book 11 it was quite apparent to me that the conclusion would not be one book. Jordan left WAY too many open items, and even if he had authored book 12, he could not have fit all of the resolutions into one book.

--> Traits and dialogue for many of the characters (e.g., Rand, Egwene, etc.) are consistent with portrails in the prior books. Sanderson does an admirable job with most of the characters (but not all -- see below).

--> By and large the book is a good read that keeps your attention. Some of the more recent Jordan works were a bit of a challenge plow through without skimming the text.

THE BAD

--> The characters Sanderson does not get right he gets REALLY wrong. The most egregious is Matt. Sanderson has a great deal of trouble with Matt's speech idioms and deals with his inability by throwing in the phrase "Blood and bloody ashes" so often that it becomes nauseating. Sanderson turns Matt's fiercely independent persona and sarcastic comedic overtones into annoying, juvenile behavior. Thom is also poorly portrayed, becoming a whiner and feeling useless. I understand that characters develop and change through stories, but these changes were abrupt and felt unnatural.

--> While other dialogue is much better for the other characters, Sanderson tends to make characters a bit too frank and direct. The subtlety that Jordan carefully crafted is lost in spots.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Some have dismissed The Gathering Storm as "fan fiction". I think that is ridiculous. Any fan that can produce fiction like this should become an author. Sanderson has taken on a truly monumental task of finishing someone else's magnum opus, and he has produced a very enjoyable and satisfying book (other than the Matt chapters). I give him 5 stars for action and 3 stars for dialogue for an average of 4 stars.

My only concern is that Matt and Thom will have a larger part in the next book. I sincerely hope Sanderson spends some time understanding both of them better; otherwise the next book will be a train wreck.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2009
There is one question every WoT fan must ask themselves in order to truly appreciate this book: Do you want to know how it ends? If you are like me, there is a certain joy and satisfaction in finding out what happens, irregardless of whether it is the same author, the same writing, the same quality.

The other thing to recall, and I've heard this from many other fans as well, is that the last half of the series really does require the reader to read through the series at least twice. For myself, I often read slower, and with less interest; partly due to pacing, partly due to the many diverging plots. In the early books, the characters remained largely together, and increasingly as the series progressed separated. I found this the be the biggest hinderance in previous novels and Gathering Storm. I would skip ahead to continue with the character I'd been caught by. I cannot give a definite rating for Gathering Storm yet...not until I am able to read it again. Re-reading adds so much to this series, closing many holes, and reveals the intricacy and intention in Jordan's writing.

We as fans need to accept that Jordan is gone. But he cared so much for his fans, that he spent the last years of his life compiling all the necessary materials to complete his work. It was his express wish that it be completed. And whether it is his writing or Sanderson's, his intent shines through. Sanderson's forword puts it quite aptly: He is a different writer, but in the same world, observing the same characters. I like to think of it as telephone. They both heard the same story, but each will, of course, report it differently. This is to be expected. I have read all of Sanderson's work, and thuroughly enjoy his writing. Whether this is true for you doesn't matter; what matters is that he has taken on an exceedingly impossible task: to work within someone else's imagination. I have to say I think he did an excellent job, considering.

The Gathering Storm focuses on more central characters: Rand & Egwene. For me, Brandon Sanderson hit Egwene spot on; I was also impressed with Siuan (who has become a favorite character in recent books). Rand's story dragged for the first half, often feeling a bit off, but gained momentum and clarity by the last half of the book.

It is true that many plot lines and characters are completely absent. But it is also true that many are concluded brilliantly. As stated by some others, Egwene's action sequence is amazing. I also found her section of the book to be the most captivating and addicting.

For me, I couldn't really tell when it was Jordan, or when it was Sanderson. And to a certain extent I didn't care. The fact that it isn't very obvious, most of the time, is a great acheivement in and of itself. In the end, I want to know what happens. And though it may not be perfect, this does the trick.
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