The Gathering Storm (2003) was originally supposed to be the penultimate volume of the series, but the final book was split in half due to its size. As such, the reader may be taken aback that the major climax of the series comes two volumes before its conclusion. The purpose of this novel is to take all of the developments of the past two volumes (and some from before that) and tie them all together into a massive convergence of plotlines, characters and events. This works very well, and the purposes of secondary storylines and characters who previously didn't seem to be contributing much to the overriding narrative is made clearer, sometimes surprisingly so. Again, the Eika storyline (now revealed to be much more closely tied to the central narrative than previously thought) is very strong in this novel, although some of the key characters do get a little lost in the middle of the book (Sanglant in particular, who has major roles in the opening and closing chapters but is otherwise off-stage for a significant chunk of the novel). There's also some curious and slightly baffling plot decisions which at first glance don't seem to make much sense, particularly a number of coincidences and happenstances in Alain's storyline that verge on the ludicrous. That said, it's certainly a relief that the major events foreseen and talked about (at times interminably) for the last several volumes finally come to pass in an explosive and apocalyptic finale.
The Gathering Storm (***½) is a highly significant step forward in the series and Elliott handles the major sweeping events of the book quite well, although a number of weaknesses in the plotting detract from the enjoyment of the book. As the novel concludes the reader is left feeling slightly dazed and asking, "Now what?"