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.
on 28 October 2009
I have read the Wheel of Time books avidly for 10 years and have being waiting for this volume for 4 years and it was worth the wait. When I heard that Brandon Sanderson would be replacing Robert Jordan I was sceptical about the final book as I did not feel it would flow narratively and I was further worried when they split the final volume into 3 separate books. However my fears were for nothing as the book flows well from start to finish and as a fan of the series I could not spot any obvious parts written by one of the other author.
The plot of the book is excellent with the plot lines for Egwene and Rand advancing a great deal. The plot for Egwene is especially good and gets the book feeling like the first few in the series. The main flaw with the book is the plots for Perrin and Mat are not advanced a great deal but that was to be expected with the split in publication so that there would be a resolution at the end of the this book instead of leaving it completely hanging. The book has some great scenes including a brilliantly orchestrated battle sequence. We also finally get to find out what side Verin is on and it still leaves you wondering about her.
My final conclusion about this book is that it is amongst my favourites for the series and that I can't wait for the Towers of Midnight to come out next year.
on 10 November 2009
I swallowed this book in 3 days, doing little else but reading.
At first I was somewhat wary often catching myself in critically waiting and watching for style breaking segments, whereupon I could go; Ahaha!!!! youre not worthy mister Sanderson!.
But to my surprise and gladness I found nothing to be critical about. I truely enjoyed reading The gathering storm, and although I dread the outcry from RJs devoted fans, I found Sandersons writing style more palatable and enjoyable to read.
I feel he has kept the spirit of all of the characters and remained true to their personalities, strengths and weaknesses. I also thought he made some of them even more relatable and because of that more engaging and interesting to read about.
I also want to thank Sanderson for finally giving Rand the freedom to do some serious butt-kicking when it comes to the selfrighteous annoying female characters he has been surrounded by for ages.
I certainly feel a lot happens in The Gathering Storm, a lot more of the plot unravels and a lot of loose ends are tied up in this book. And while it ends with some lose threads left in the balance, it ends on a highnote and with more optimism than I can recall from any of the other books.
It is well worth your money to buy this installment, and I cant wait for the next one. This was truely a positive surprise and Im glad Sanderson was picked to do this job, because right now I cant really think of anyone who could have been so unselfish in his writing and so dedicated to honoring another mans work. I think he shines through, but in the only way he can without ruining Jordans great saga. That in itself is a great feat indeed, and I am very glad he manages so well.
on 28 October 2009
'The Gathering Storm' is the latest instalment in Robert Jordan's epic 'The Wheel of Time' series and has been written by Brandon Sanderson based on notes and directives by the late Robert Jordan. As always, to new readers I would recommend that you start with the first book of a series which in this case is 'The Eye of the World'.
For existing readers... relax! Yes, like everybody else, I too was on tenterhooks, wondering if Brandon would be up to the job. My own opinion (judging by what I have read and heard shared by many other fans) is that yes, whilst not being the great man himself, Sanderson has acquitted himself with honour.
The book is fast paced, indeed positively racing compared to lets say 'Crossroads of Twilight' and a gripping read. For large parts of the book you will forget that this is not Robert Jordan writing as you re-acquaint yourself with characters and events. I am glad to say that whilst we are given some background information the author does not waste pages trying to re-hash everything that went on before(I recommend [...] for research).
We have two main story arcs one involving Rand and the other Egwene and both of them provide a lot of excitement. As a fan of Egwene's character, I was especially thrilled with the way her story developed. We do not see that much of Mat and Perrin, apparently they will be taking centre stage in the next book, and Elayne does not appear in person at all.
We get answers to some long running puzzles, Verin for example, and in fact, whereas Jordan seemed to add another two questions for every one answer given, this book is more the other way round. A lot of plot threads are cut, combined, resolved, dissolved etc. in other words, this book is a 'The Wheel of Time' de-clutter exercise.
My five star rating was not without reservations as unlike many others I enjoyed the slow, detailed writing style of Robert Jordan, some of the subtlety of which is lost to make way for faster story development. It is pretty obvious that had the series continued under RJ, it could easily have meant another five books and I kind of regret that we are seeing this gear change but accept that it is probably what the majority of readers were hoping for.
Some may find the frequent changes of PoV irritating though they contribute to the feel of a faster pace. Having a change of author after such a long time, minor inconsistencies were to be expected and Sanderson has done a good job keeping them within acceptable limits.
All in all, with this book, fans will at last feel confident that the series is indeed heading towards the finale. Given the choice, I would have much preferred to be heading that way under Robert Jordan, but I am glad that with Brandon Sanderson his legacy has ended up in capable hands.
on 14 November 2009
`The Gathering Storm' is without doubt the best book in the Wheel of Time series since `The Dragon Reborn'. It is the first instalment in a long time which could be called a real `page-turner', moving with the pace of a great suspense thriller. The story pulsates with life, and is driven forward by a powerful and compelling narrative, which draws the reader into the mind of this novel's two central protagonists.
I, like many fans of this incredible series, was saddened by the tragic death of Robert Jordan, a brilliant literary mind with an imagination and a passion for storytelling which rivalled that of the father of high fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien. Now, Brandon Sanderson has stepped up to carry Jordan's fallen banner, for the ride to Tarmon Gai'don and the final assault upon the Dark One.
The editorial decision to break up `A Memory of Light' into a trilogy of finale novels was a brave but wise decision. The split has allowed Sanderson to leave some minor plot threads aside for now, and channel Jordan's narrative into two largely independent stories, which capture the essence of the male-female dichotomy that has been so central to the series.
On one side we find Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, spiralling deeper into anger, insanity, and darkness as he purges himself of all love and emotion. Sanderson draws the reader closer to Rand than perhaps ever before, revealing the deep pains in his soul as he struggles desperately to hold the world together. Egwene al'Vere is the unwavering yin to Rand's raging yang, showing maturity and determination beyond her years as she tries to prevent White Tower fragmenting beyond repair, and making her stand against the despotic usurper Amyrlin Elaida.
Mat's mini-adventure in the middle of the book is something of a tangent from his main quest, providing some relief from the forward drive of Rand-Egwene narrative. Sanderson shows some personal flair with this self-contained horror story, though he slips into Mat's mannerisms and thinking less easily than with Rand.
Sadly, Siuan and Gawyn fail to shine in this instalment, and their narratives plod along somewhat predictably. Min and Avhienda certainly hold a presence, but they feel flat compared to Egwene, and Elayne is noticeably absent. By contrast Nynaeve's characterisation is wonderful, trapped between her fear of losing Lan and witnessing Rand descend into darkness.
Cadsuane Sedai is one of the real stars of this saga, and I cannot imagine Rand's narrative without her. The relationship between these two powerful personalities reaches breaking point in this instalment, with massively pivotal consequences.
A word on Sanderson's writing style. He is certainly not Robert Jordan! I have numerous gripes about his style. His constant usage of the word "gotten" makes me want to tug my metaphorical braid, and his use of contractions "he'd" "she'd" "didn't" "hadn't" etc within the narrative (as opposed to dialogue) is very irritating indeed. One can spot Jordan-written paragraphs by the absence of the word "gotten" or contractions in the narrative! The sections of Jordan's writing are like pure gold in a sea of good but unspectacular silver, and I hope one day Sanderson will disclose exactly what was Jordan and what was his own writing. Sanderson's feel for plot and narrative direction are truly remarkable, but his prose is far less accomplished than Jordan's, and it is very apparent.
Nonetheless, Sanderson has done a fabulous job in this book, and it feels more like a self-contained story than any Wheel of Time novel for a long time. The ending of the book is absolutely wonderful, and will not leave anyone disappointed about the two year wait until book fourteen.
This is a wonderful novel, and I eagerly anticipate the next instalment.
on 7 November 2009
The writing style is a familiar enough although not identical to robert jordans. After a short while it seems almost indishdinguishable.
The book does get right into the action and feels a little more concise thn recent books in the series, but I think that has more to do with the part of the story it is telling rather than because of the change in writer. Threads of the story are closing, characters are reuniting so there are less seperate stories going one within the whole. That we are approaching the end is very clear, and it adds pace to events.
I will not give anything away here save for that it does have a definite ending that is very significant.
I doubt that with the best will in the world this could have been the last book, too much was to happen and it would have been very unsatisfactory. The best book in the series for a while and answers are within.
on 2 November 2009
After Robert Jordan's death I think many of us expected the worst. Would the series ever be finished? Would it be finished properly?
I started reading this book with a certain amount of trepidation, not knowing what to expect having never read any of Brandon Sanderson's other work.
The style of this book is definitely different to earlier works in the series. It is darker, but also more adult, there is much less straightening of skirts and shawls. This may be in part due to where we are in the story. The pace is much faster than many of the previous episodes, however, the characters are still very much the same.
I believe this is one of the best, if not the best, of the 12 books so far.
on 22 November 2009
I was among the many Wheel of Time fans who despaired at the pace and lack of progress in the last few books from Robert Jordan. The complaints are so widely recorded that I don't need to repeat them here, but it seemed such a shame for a story which had started out with such panache and momentum to have crawled tediously to a standstill.
I suspect that anyone looking to buy the twelfth book in a series won't need a precis of the story to date. Anyone who is new to the series should start at Book One: The Eye of the World; and I'm envious of you because you will enjoy five or six absolutely brilliant books before the series slows down, but at least I can now tell you that, with The Gathering Storm there is light at the end of the tunnel!
To those of you who have all but given up on The Wheel of Time, and are debating whether or not to steer clear of this installment because they can't face another turgid tome along the lines of Crossroads of Twilight, you *must* take the chance. The Gathering Storm really is as good as the first few books in the series, and I found that it was an easy matter for me to pick up where I had left off without having to re-read the last few books in the series (phew!).
This is my first experience of Brandon Sanderson and I was surprised by how quickly I learned to ignore the difference in style he brings to the series. I think that is partly because the differences are slight; I may not even have noticed if I hadn't been told that a new author had been involved. The transition is very smooth. If I were to review the quality of Mr Sanderson's writing, independent of the series, I'd say that it errs on the basic - it is very straightforward and easy to read but perhaps lacks the complexity and quality of, say, George R R Martin - but at this point in the series I didn't care and was just glad that the story is at last moving on and with real momentum. He also has an extremely impressive grip on the detail which, given the length of the series is a massive achievement.
Ignoring a few rough edges, the book is a real page turner and a gripping read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was in fact pleased to hear that Brandon Sanderson wasn't able to finish the saga in one book because it means that I have another couple of volumes to look forward to. A return to the good old days!
on 7 November 2009
When R Jordan died a few years ago, all the fans were wondering what was going to happen to the WHeel of Time. Jordan had swore he would finish the series in one final book, no matter how big it had to be. Fortunately he left more than enough notes and instructions for someone else to carry the burden, and Sanderson was picked to finish the series. The book follows the same format, with a long introduction, and then chapter One has the familiar path of the wind flowing past various scenes. The very first scene of the book doesn't quite ring true, and I dreaded continuing, but once you get past that, the book settles into its own style. It is NOT the same as Jordan, but it is close enough to not be too jarring.
What has been lost is a lot of the subtleties. People spent hours going through the books finding little tidbits, piecing together clues and conspiracies as to what was happening in the background. There is none of that, the story is charging full speed ahead. Then again, at this late stage, even Jordan himself prob would not have time to lay down any more clues.
The book deals with 2 main plots: Rand's continuing descent into darkness, with Cadsuane, Nynaeve and Min doing their best to bring him back to the Light; and Egwene's struggle to heal the White Tower, before her prophecy of a Seanchan attack can come true. The two plotlines cross at a crucial step then diverge again. There are some momentous events, and quite a few plotlines are finally resolved satisfactorily. Verin's mutterings and obscured thoughts are finally laid bare. Perrin and Matt only get brief mentions, and there is no sign of Loial and the Ogier, nor of Logain nor Taim or other Asha'man, nor of Elayne.
Def looking forward to books 13 and 14 to finish the cycle off.
Like all fans of the series, learning of the death of Robert Jordan came as a blow, more so as he had maintained a blog through which he maintained contact with his fan base, and so there was some sense of having known a little something of Jim Rigney the man, as well as Robert Jordan the author. It was therefore something of a bitter-sweet moment to learn that the epically scaled saga that is the Wheel of Time series would be completed by another author using the copious notes and diction left by Robert Jordan before his death - sweet in that the Wheel of Time series would be completed, even if all the work wouldn't be done by Robert Jordan, bitter because the enterprise of one author finishing another's work rarely succeeds.
I have to admit that I had never of Brandon Sanderson before he was picked to conclude the Wheel of Time series and in some sense I was glad of this. I, along with every other fan, knew that Harriet, Jim Rigney's wife would make a wise decision regarding the choice of author to finish the series, and having not read any of Brandon Sanderson's works before hand meant that I could approach The Gathering Storm with as few pre-conceptions as possible, although there was a definite sense of trepidation. The first few pages of The Gathering Storm took care of those trepidations nicely.
Brandon Sanderson himself states in the forward that there is difference between his style of writing and Robert Jordan's, and yes, there is. But the difference isn't so great that it is constantly noticeable or distracting, and Brandon Sanderson's style of writing does a far more than adequate job in conveying the story that Robert Jordan laid out. Indeed, Brandon Sanderson's writing is excellent.
As for the story itself, the book follows the format of the previous few books in that it follows the story of some of the characters whilst touching on, but leaving the story of other characters to the next book in the series. In this case the book concentrates on the stories of Rand al'Thor and Egwene al'Vere, following the former's descent into insanity and the toll former abuses have taken on him, whilst the latter's story follows her ascent into, and the beginning of the healing, of the White Tower.
I have to admit I am looking forward to The Towers of Midnight, the next book in the Wheel of Time series and, now having some measure of Brandon Sanderson's writing talent, I think I'll be checking out his books as well.