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This review is from: The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, Book 12) (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-10 of 42 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 28, 2009 10:51:32 PM PDT
Amazon Customer says:
I agree with your review very well done. I am only about 500 pages into this book but I am loving it so far. Would love to chat with you about some points that I really like but unfortunately that would be spoilers to anyone who would read this. Good review pretty spot on.
Posted on Oct 29, 2009 1:18:22 AM PDT
Kreem E. Horrer says:
Thanks for that very comprehensive, informative and heartening review.
Posted on Oct 29, 2009 8:53:52 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 29, 2009 8:57:04 AM PDT
Jay D. N. Raynor says:
I feel that this book is a masterpiece. Not only because of it's quality (which i would also rate higher than the average RJ book) but because of the immeasurable amount of work it takes to begin writing someone else's book, with complexities 2,200,000 words deep.
For all those WoT fans who are not celebrating, but whining over some nebulous reasons - please accept reality, and realize you have one of the hardest working authors on your side, striving to help build a fullbodied conclusion to arguably one of the most complex, yet frazzled series over the last decade.
i liked your review :) however, if you thought the book was 4.5 (i felt it was 18 stars!) then you really should round it up to 5 stars lol, especially in scenarios like these where negative dispositions are already ingrained in fanbase, caused by a false sense of intrusion.
Posted on Oct 29, 2009 2:34:30 PM PDT
Peter Stanton says:
I love your review, and especially how you realize that author's finishing each other's work is bad. Nice to know that I wasn't the only one who considered Frank Herbert's mauling of the Dune series a travesty.
Argh, I can't wait to go buy this book!!
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2009 9:33:52 AM PDT
Patrick J. Sullivan says:
I think AMOL is one of the rare cases where the inevitable offcial story about the dying author leaving behind detailed notes decribing his future vision of the series (not to mention an editor wife who knew it and him inside out!) is actually true.
The Dune thing OTOH was laughable. 15 years after Frank Herbert died his son Brian suddenly "discovered" some notes in an old shoebox in the garage laying out the resolution of the cliffhangar from Chapterhouse? Only before just writing it, Brian had to first write a bunch of revisionist prequel$? Yeah, sure Brian.
Posted on Nov 1, 2009 6:58:31 PM PST
if it isn't available yet, how were some of you able to read it already?
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 2, 2009 8:50:07 AM PST
Gordon McGregor says:
It was available on October 27th.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 2, 2009 6:29:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 2, 2009 6:29:56 PM PST
Amazon Customer says:
Jay D.N. Raynor
I don't believe it is whining to point out that Sanderson's characterizations of Mat are not accurate where his voice and personality are concerned. I believe this was a 5 star book as well, but Sanderson has two more books to write and I believe knowing that many fans did not enjoy his portrayal of that particular character can help in the development of the next two novels. Mat comes off far too much like a character from the Mistborn series rather than fitting in with the earlier works.
All that said, I agree with you where you state that people have heightened expectations and ingrained biases where these books are concerned. I would just simply ask that Sanderson take a bit more time truly thinking about Mat's character before he becomes a central focus for an entire novel (word on the street is that this is supposed to be the case in the next book).
Posted on Nov 4, 2009 12:53:15 PM PST
Andrea S says:
Thank you for your informative, well-written review. Truth be told, I've found Robert Jordan a chore to read--I've excused myself from reading page-long descriptions of the haircolor and idiosyncrasies of every minor character in a room or on a battlefield--but I feel that I'm so invested in the series that I have to see how it ends.
Another truth: Brandon Sanderson is a MUCH more enjoyable author to read. I was delighted to hear he was carrying the torch! I'm very pleased to hear that his effort is by and large successful.
Thanks again for your summary and critique.
Posted on Nov 4, 2009 9:51:21 PM PST
Jacob Diefenbach says:
I did feel Mat's voice was a little "different" in this volume, but mostly true to Jordan's vision. Truth be told, I actually found Mat's character, and his interaction with the players around him, much more humorous than in any of the previous installments. I actually had some "laugh out loud" moments, particularly when Mat was preparing the "cover stories" for his comrades (before the arrival of Verin Sedai).