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
on October 28, 2009
I had my doubts. I doubted that Brandon Sanderson could write the characters convincingly. I doubted that the series itself could reclaim its earlier promise. I thought Book 11 was a step in the right direction, but I believed that it may have been too little, too late. I doubted that all of the plots and sub-plots could be dealt with.
However, this book has assuaged my doubts. The pacing was on par with "The Great Hunt," and made this a continuously engaging read. To my view, Sanderson got nearly all of the characters right (more on that later). Many important plot threads have reached their culmination. It was thoroughly satisfying.
The majority of the book is centered on Rand and Egwene, and the characters that are involved with their plot threads. These characters were portrayed by Mr. Sanderson in perfect accordance with Mr. Jordan's characerizations. Egwene's story is hopeful and inspiring. Truthfully, I had a mild dislike for Egwene until "Knife of Dreams," but, between that book and the end of this, she has become among my favorites. Rand's story arc is grim and gripping mixed with horrifying; it was beautiful. Furthermore, the battles were well written and intense.
On the downside, the portrayal of Matt didn't quite feel right in the first chapter in which he is featured. However, the portrayal of Matt improves with each of his featured chapters, and Mr. Sanderson did seem to have a gotten the characterization and pitch correct before Matt's last chapter in this book. Also, with so much of the book revolving around Rand and Egwene, it seems that many events relating to them are only mentioned in passing, and that events in Rand and Egwene's sotrylines are now a week or two ahead of Matt and Perrin.
Back to the good, many, many events that have long been anticipated occur. It seems that the days when only one or two major plot events happen per book are long gone, and there were at least a dozen "crowning moments of awesome," to steal a term from tvtropes.
Basically, if you've read this series, then this is the book you've been waiting for. Even if you have only read up to book 6 and couldn't make it through the later ones, just get a summary of books 7-10, then read book 11 and this one. This volume certainly lives up to promise of the early books.
on November 2, 2009
Going into "The Gathering Storm," I had one question in common with every other reader: would new "co"-author Brandon Sanderson be a passable replacement for Robert Jordan. Jordan passed away over a year ago, and with his death came a united shriek of woe from millions of his fans world-wide. How could the master have died without answering the questions that have kept us reading this series for almost 20 years and 10,000 pages?! It all seemed so unfair and tragic that we would be left at the brink of the Last Battle, with no conclusion to a story filled with characters we love and (a lot of the time) hate?
Then came the news; Jordan's wife would be hiring Sanderson, a young author of a little-known but well-received fantasy series, to complete the final novel in Jordan's stead. (Incidentally, the wife has stated the Jordan wanted this to happen. I don't believe that for a second. I have read multiple interview with Jordan and he made it very clear that if he died, the series was the die with him.) The book is combination of Jordan's chapters, sections based on Jordan's extensive notes and plans, and other parts that are pure Sanderson filling in the blanks, freestyle.
Here's the good news: Sanderson has drastically reduced the one hitch in Jordan's story-telling that drove everyone insane: the impossibly awful, man-hating female points of view. All readers of WoT know that Jordan's female characters are almost carbon copies of one another, each with a loathing for men and their bumbling stupidity. With the possible exception of Min, every woman in the story (point of view characters, ancillary Wise Women, Sea Folk, Aes Sedai) spent a great deal of their dialogue and inner thoughts simply hating men. I know many a reader who has given up on the series just because of the terrible women! Blessedly, Sanderson has reduced the sheer amount of words dedicated to this numbing misanthropy. The women are still often irked at men, but we're not bludgeoned over the head with it.
Unfortunately, Sanderson's stylistic changes aren't all as successful. He makes very obvious attempts to inject some laughs into a series which may be the least-humorous collection of words in modern literature. The only problem is that he's not that funny. The Mat chapters in particular were trying way too hard to be amusing, but instead it just comes out as tedious and - worse still - completely out of sync with the rest of the writing in the book and the series.
The worst example was Mat refers to someone as "a homicidal maniac." That type of modern language just leaps off the page as non-Jordanesque. It was so jarring that I had to put the book down for a bit.
Overall, Sanderson's writing is passable, but pretty immature. Mostly it just stands out against Jordan's superior prose from the earlier books. For example, here's a segement of internal dialogue from Gawyn: "But Egwene! There had to be something he could do!" Now, honestly, is that good writing? It's far to peppy, too adolescent sounding, compared to the super-serious way the characters usually think and act. For stark contrast, see the Prologue chapter from the point of view of a Borderlands farmer. Night and day.
The two main points of view are from the two main protagonists of the story: Egwene and Rand. We do get some resolution on some plot-lines that have dragging out for the 5 books, thank the Light. There are a couple of chapters each for Mat, Perrin, Nynaeve, Cadsuane, and various Forsaken. The Mat chapters in particular are awful, in particular the visit to a town with a strang secret. I'll let you read it, but I think you'll be asking the same question I was: "What the heck was the point of that?"
It's also clear that several key plotlines were simply left for the next books (there are two more planned). Mazrim Taim, Logain, Padan Fain, Slayer/Isam, Aran'gar, Osan'gar, Cyndane and Lan are ignored completely, as is the great "Who killed Asmodean?" question.
There is also a huge amount of print dedicated to a topic that absolutely mesmerizes every character in the book: making Rand laugh. As a reader, I have never understood why this is such a huge issue in the story; why do they care that he be so jolly about fighting the Dark One? However, Sanderson does a good job of staying faithful to that plot-line, although the climax is a little confusing.
Overall, the book is a worthy addition to the shelf-bending Wheel of Time series. There is a fair amount of action (thought there could have been more) and some of the key plot lines are either resolved or moved significantly forward. Sanderson has some glaring missteps, but overall I feel that his heart is the right place, and his 80% reduction in women-b*tching-about-men policy covers almost all of his short-comings as a novelist.
I will surely shell out more money to read the final two books.
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. ;)
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.
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.
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.
on October 29, 2009
I will admit that I am saddened by the loss of Robert Jordan.
But in a way, I almost wish that he might have considered - even without crediting them - bringing someone like Brandon Sanderson on board the Wheel of Time writing process earlier.
To be blunt, things get done in this book. It is entertaining. It is, I daresay, fun to read, in the way the 'Eye of the World' or 'The Great Hunt' were. I've never read Jordan for complex characterization or complex thought about people and the world. If you read the Wheel of Time for these things, shame on you for expecting philosophy from entertainment. Because that is what this is, entertainment. And I think, in the morass of books 7-10, Jordan lost sight of this. So many characters, so many plots, so wide (if not always deep) of a setting, it called for a dictionary of its own, and got it, and I can't imagine it was easy to navigate. Would Nynaeve of Book 11 behave in X fashion? What happened to her in the past 10 books? What happened to her friends and family? Jordan's notes must have been immense, as he clearly kept track of it all. Unfortunately, this led to a situation such as 'Crossroads of Twilight', where a whole book became nothing more than filler, necessary filler, moving pieces into place for later books, but really...a whole book??
Sanderson streamlines, he takes sandpaper to the plots, and grinds away or ignores extraneous details. He ignores outright some of the thousand and one minor characters that added detail to the previous books. His dialog is fast and often devoid of the 'little touches'. But guess what, plots get resolved, events move forward, and it finally feels like its the end of the world, and everybody's getting ready for it. No more dithering in the middle of nowhere, no more Aes Sedai wondering which color their hair should be today and how that might affect Aes Sedai X's impression of her Ajah or her chances of becoming a Sitter.
Everybody isn't going to like this book. But I think a lot of people who had given up on the Wheel of Time can start coming back now, with the very real promise that this story that many began reading in their youth, and are thus dedicated to, will at last be resolved with a proper grand finale. I have no doubt now that the next two books will finish out in fireworks and glamour, and bring a fitting end to a solid series. It won't please everyone - but then, Jordan himself didn't please everyone all the time.
The new blood, while brought in for reasons that we'd all probably wish hadn't existed, is welcome to me.
on November 2, 2009
If you're seriously looking at this book, chances are you've already read the previous 11 books. You know Robert Jordan passed away and some other dude is finishing the series. You're not here to decide if you are or are not going to buy the book. You've invested so much into the series, of COURSE you're going to buy the book. You're here to pump yourself up about it. To find out if this random dude did the series justice. And my answer to that question is, yes he did.
At this point in the series, we are approaching the end. Tarmon Gaidon is coming. You've been reading the series and know exactly how many plot lines there are, how many unanswered questions there are. You've read the fan theories. You have your own theories. And in this book, we start merging plot lines and getting answers. Not partial answers, not answers in the form of new questions, but real, bonified Answers. "My dress is green." And most of the answers will surprise you, even if you're an avid theorist up to date on all the latest. And the ones that won't surprise you aren't given all that much weight - almost as if Brandon is saying "we all know what's going on here, so I'm just going to come out and say it and close off this thread so we can all move on to more interesting puzzles." I don't think Robert Jordan would have closed certain threads as abruptly (almost bluntly) as Brandon Sanderson did, but at this stage in the series, I'm not sure that that's a bad thing.
Relatively speaking, the pace of the book is fast. Almost every chapter is exciting and clearly brings us closer and closer to The Last Battle. From a story telling point of view, there is A LOT that has to happen yet before Tarmon Gaidon, so there isn't really time to beat around the bush anymore. From here on out, every chapter has to be meat, and Brandon Sanderson delivers.
All in all, I have to say that this is probably my favorite book of the series, so stop reading reviews and start reading the book!
on November 24, 2009
I will do for you what many others did not. I will sum this book up succinctly:
It made me love the whole series again.
It filled holes. It moved just quickly enough. It had a sense of purpose. It made me read and re-read.
I don't care whose voice told this story, it was very simply magnificent.
on November 7, 2009
I admit, I picked this book up with some reluctance. Having made my way (at times struggled) through the first eleven books, I will say that Robert Jordan had some of the coolest ideas I've ever come across, but his writing... well, Tolkien he wasn't. A zillion characters, many of them virtually interchangeable, especially the Aes Sedai/Wise Ones/etc., and the young hotties Rand collected around him. I mean, how many times can a female character threaten to put someone (usually Rand) over her knee and "switch" him? How many female characters can accuse someone of being "wool-headed"? Do you get it yet, that older Aes Sedai have that "ageless" thing going on?
And do we really need to know how attractive a character is whenever they appear?
And the endless sequels... eesh.
But I kept reading. (Actually I got through a lot of them via audiobook, which forces you to keep up a certain pace.) And I kept thinking about the ideas, the characters, the conflicts, even when I wasn't reading. My favorite creation is Tel'aran'rhiod, but I love some of the cultures he invented, like the Aiel (desert ninjas) and the Seanchan. And Jordan could definitely handle a battle scene without being repetitive, boring, or confusing (most of the time); Dumai's Wells was truly awesome.
I worried that Sanderson would be a) not even as competent a writer as Jordan and b) lacking in Jordan's flashes of brilliance, but it turns out, he does a great job with a very difficult task. I didn't even have the problem with Mat's character that some others apparently did. (He was still good for comic relief, and his humor was always a bit forced, to my mind.) The real winner in this book was Egwene, whose struggles were well drawn and genuine. I think Sanderson handled it better than Jordan could've, though sadly, of course, we will never know. (The same cannot be said of Nynaeve, who continued to be an irritating braid-yanking caricature.) And even Rand's story, by the end, made sense to me for the first time in about ten books.
It's hefty, and we still have two years and ~2000 pages before the Last Battle is *finally* fought, but at least the story *will* end, and at least some of us will be satisfied.
Admit it, even if Jordan had lived to complete the series himself, there would still be plenty of disappointment and bad reviews. Sanderson was never going to please everyone - but neither was Jordan. I, for one, am totally satisfied - except that now I have to wait yet another year!
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.
on November 7, 2009
No long review here. Anyone would consider this book knows the plot, knows how it got bogged down in a thousand sub-plots that stopped going anywhere. So, is it worth the effort to get back on the Wheel? Yes. Emphatically yes. Brandon Sanderson has brought structure and movement to the plot. Progression. Dare I say it? Closure. At least to some things - don't want to rush it too much. Especially if it's good.
Not only that, but the story is exciting, fresh, and doesn't bog down in endless dicussions. I was especially pleased to see resolution with the major White Tower plot. And it was great!
Also, while Rand suffers, he finally does something about it, which leads to progression in his emotional state. Something that has lingered for far too long. And he (Rand) finally confronts the silliness of incredibly childish, manipulative, power-mad women. (Don't get me wrong, I love women, I'm referring to the characterizations in the book).
I had given up on the Wheel of Time. It started so grand, then devolved into mush for years (many will disagree with that, I'm sure). I bought the last two books on a clearance sale for less than ten dollars each. Now, however, having just finished the Gathering Storm, I am looking forward to the next installment. Isn't that fantastic?