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Customer Review

372 of 376 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive, 28 Oct. 2009
This review is from: The Gathering Storm (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 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Nov 2009 19:48:53 GMT
Dave says:
Very good review! I'm only reading this series a couple of months and I'm on book 2 'the great hunt'! Long way to go yet! I'm really enjoying it so far, just need to decide whether or not to buy the hard back. I hear a few books in this series are hard going. Have the first book of malzan book of the fallen to read too, looking forward to it.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Nov 2009 15:16:50 GMT
A. J. Davies says:
Books 7-11 are crap. Go straight to book 12, you won't miss anything.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Nov 2009 16:28:11 GMT
A. Whitehead says:
Books 7 and 11 are actually pretty decent (7 is actually better than 5-6, although 6 has a much stronger ending). It's only really 8-10 that are really bad, and three rough books out of twelve (so far) is not bad going.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Nov 2009 15:14:55 GMT
Chris Chalk says:
Firstly, I have to say this is an excellent review. I just can't agree though! I have now read all 12 books and have felt jaded with the series since about book four or five but I have persevered so please take my comments in that regard. I thought book 12 is self-indulgent, far too slow and carried on reinforcing the irritating stereotypes the book portrays. I felt the comment around splitting the last book into three to be ridiculous, just lump out the middle 400 pages or so, do the same for the other two books (which I feel will have the same over long feel to them) and we have one book!

I can't help feeling that someone is far too focused on the book's own self-importance and has frankly forgotten about the fans, that said looking at all the five star reviews I am clearly in the minority!

Again though, great review!

Posted on 8 Dec 2009 16:18:30 GMT
F. Webb says:
I agree with the majority of this review, but am not sure that Mat is so different - I accepted a lot of changes given what has happened to him. Rand's increasing distrust of everyone is part of the fact that they have ALL changed. Well, also it has been a long time since I read the previous books! A difficult job well done indeed - this is Robert Jordan's story if not his language and I look forward very much to the next two.

Posted on 14 Jan 2010 01:28:05 GMT
James Power says:
That's a great review, you almost read my mind regarding Mat. There were times when he was having conversations with people he wouldn't have had. He would have kept the thoughts to himself, but then there were times I thought he was acting totally out of character and that turned out to be deliberate on the part of Sanderson, so if you're reading it don't second guess the intent too much. On the other hand one early scene between Egwene and Elida sticks out like a sore thumb of inappropriate and out of character behaviour. That said though, I read the entire book in less than a week. There were days I read for 20 hours straight. I can't wait for the next one now and I thought I was getting sick of the series dragging out. Clearly not!

Posted on 25 Jan 2010 15:15:05 GMT
K. James says:
Thank you A.Whitehead for your review. Criticism is often levelled with little thought or supported evidence, so I found your review very forthright, given the massive burden Brandon Sanderson has undertaken.
I have not yet read The Gathering Storm - I am more than three parts through my fifth reading of the complete series though (so I have the storyline in my head for each new installment) and almost ready to buy the book, I shall do so.
I will also read it more than once, it is amazing what I have found, recalled and revised opinions over, in the past few months.

Posted on 9 Feb 2010 11:52:49 GMT
K. Beerahee says:
Fantastic review, my copy's arriving today.
"With the worst cover in the history of modern publishing." was a personal favorite line of mine.

Posted on 23 Jul 2010 11:50:19 BDT
Kevin Roche says:
"worst cover in the history of modern publishing"

I've just seen the US cover and you're absolutely right.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Nov 2010 00:09:36 GMT
Lelle71 says:
I say that u should buy the hardback version of the books as they hold up better for a second or even third read of the series... i think i have read the first 9 at least 3 times... but then again i do have a very s****y memory... but the series is the only one since the Belgarion saga by David Eddings that have made me feel something for the characters...
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Review Details

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A. Whitehead
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Colchester, Essex United Kingdom

Top Reviewer Ranking: 442