And here it is, four years after the eleventh book Knife of Dreams and two years after Robert Jordan passed away, a new Wheel of Time novel has found it's way to the book stores. The Gathering Storm is without a doubt one of the most anticipated book this year. I've avoided reviews until I finished reading it but as far as I can tell the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Picking this series up so close to completion and trying to meet the expectations of Jordan's massive fan base must have been an enormous challenge for Brandon Sanderson. I think we can all lay our fears that he would not be up to the task to rest. Sanderson succeeds admirably. I would go so far as to say this is the best Wheel of Time book since Lord of Chaos.
Before I really get going, I refuse to discusses the monstrosity Tor put on the cover of this book. Darrell K. Sweet's Wheel of Time artwork has ranged from atrocious to decent throughout the series, I think it is quite clear where on this scale this particular cover belongs.
A plot summary is always a bit of a problem for these books. I won't discusses it in too much detail to avoid spoilers. Most of the main characters make an appearance with the notable exception of Elayne but the story is for a large part focussed on Rand and Egwene. Rand is trying to tie all loose ends in preparation for Tarmon Gai'don. His chief aims are to reach an agreement with the Seanchan and pacify the war torn nation of Arad Doman. Egwene is still in the hands of the Aes Sedai faction in control of Tar Valon, busily undermining what remains of Elaida's authority. A slow and painful process. Mat and Perrin also make appearances but their stories do not progress as much those of Rand and Egwene.
Robert Jordan believed he could wrap this story up in one more book. I think he was the only one on the planet who actually believed this could be done. I am not convinced in needs to be three books, but one was obviously not feasible, especially given the almost glacial plotting in the later books in the series. The series picks up some speed in Knife of Dreams, Jordan and Sanderson pick up even more in this The Gathering Storm, mostly in the final part of the novel. Don't get me wrong, this is a massive book, it does contain some slow chapters and with so many story lines there is still an awful lot left unresolved, but by Wheel of Time standards the authors are getting things done.
One of the questions I had before reading the book is how much of it was actually written by Robert Jordan. It's hard to tell but I suspect quite a lot of it is actually Sanderson's work. Sanderson doesn't attempt to copy Jordan's style, the book has a slightly different feel that the previous books. That being said, the writing appears pretty consistent throughout the novel. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to pinpoint the difference. A slight difference in vocabulary? I am pretty sure Sanderson introduces the word aristocracy in the Wheel of Time. There's less emphasis on dresses and braid tugging. That's one for sure. Maybe Sanderson is a bit more willing to clearly reveal motivations and long running mysteries than Jordan was. He certainly does provide more insight into who is serving the shadow in this book.
There are some differences and it would have been foolish to expect otherwise. I am going to need a reread to really pin them down so they can't be that obvious. What's more important, they didn't bother me in the least. Yes , you can tell another author than Jordan had a hand in this book, despite that it is still very much Wheel of Time. Sanderson, or perhaps I should say Team Jordan, managed to create a novel that is true to the spirit of the series without forcing Sanderson's skill and enthusiasm into too narrow a channel. Given the pressure resting on this project that is a real achievement and testament to their dedication to bringing the series to worthy final chapter.
The novel is something of a turning point for the characters of Rand and Egwene. In previous books they struggle with their tasks and often triumph but are frequently reminded of their humanity and faults by the people around them. Both Rand and Egwene set themselves up as larger than life in the quite dramatic climax of this book. An extremely dangerous course of action for both of them, with Rand slipping further into madness and Egwene on the brink of being blinded from obvious dangers outside the Tower by her determination to overthrow Elaida. I very much liked the way this process was handled. All this attention to Rand and Egwene obviously goes at the expense of some of the other characters and if your favourite character is not one of those two, that may be a bit of a disappointment. I think the choice to put the emphasis on these two was a good one.
Although the decision to split the book seemed inevitable, I must admit I was a bit disappointed when I found out it would be split in three books. Almost twenty years after the first book appeared, the series very much needs an end and splitting it in three put the final part two years in the future at least. That being said, The Gathering Storm succeeds in what it most needed to do, convince fans the end really is in sight and that Brandon Sanderson is the right choice for finishing this series. Sanderson took on the difficult task of finishing someone else's project, I don't think it the result could have turned out much better. Robert Jordan's legacy is treated with the respect it deserves. For the fans of the series The Gathering Storm is required reading, a much needed Wheel of Time fix. I have not enjoyed reading a new Wheel of Time novel so much since my first read of Lord of Chaos almost ten years ago.
Title: The Gathering Storm
Author: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
First published: 2009