This review of The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson is aimed at readers who have followed The Wheel of Time but who are by no means experts on the series, or theory junkies for that matter. In short, if you can quote line and verse and have endlessly debated the “who killed Asmodean” question, then I kindly direct you towards Dragonmount and Theoryland, where I am sure you will feel more at home. On the other hand, if you want an uncomplicated and honest take on the novel from someone who has been a silent fan of the Wheel of Time for a surprisingly long time, then you will want to continue reading. I should also mention two very articulate reviews of The Gathering Storm which just came out over at Nethspace and Grasping for the Wind, both of which are well worth your time.
My Take in Brief
As I finished the last page, bleary eyed and sleepy, the only thought that came to mind was “thank you, thank you”. I have been involved with Rand, Mat, and Perrin for longer than I care to think, and finally getting the ball rolling on the end of their epic adventure let me breath a great, and much needed sigh of relief – something akin to a junky finally getting a fix, but without all the negative connotations. In short, that is exactly what The Gathering Storm sought to achieve, to get the ball rolling, to get the story moving, to bring it towards a much-anticipated culmination, and most importantly, to give fans of the Wheel of Time much needed closure. Now ware readers, for the review that follows is steeped in spoilers.
There are two very strong impressions that you will have after finishing The Gathering Storm. The first of these is that Brandon is, admittedly, not Robert Jordan. I won’t argue grammar or syntax to make my point – the simple fact of the matter is that Robert Jordan gave us epic events while Brandon Sanderson gives us epically emotional events – anyone familiar with Brandon’s Mistborn trilogy will know exactly what I am referring to. The contrast is marked by the unprecedented access that we are granted to the thoughts of characters, especially Rand and The Daughter of the Nine Moons. Robert Jordan inferred and hinted, masterfully meshing physicality and dialogue to give his characters unprecedented depth and appeal. Brandon, on the other hand, cuts straight to the chase, removing, in my opinion, that amazing sense of uncertainty that was always characteristic of Jordan’s writing.
The second and slightly less obvious difference between pure Jordan and the Jordan Sanderson hybrid that is The Gathering Storm is the structure of the novel. The characteristic focus on a handful of characters carried on for a number of chapters is abandoned in favor of a panoply of perspectives, numbering somewhere around thirty two points of view, give or take a couple. Now, in my estimation, the last couple installments in the Wheel of Time were somewhat verbose and tended towards stretching out story arcs that would better have been wrapped up in a timelier manner. As such, I can’t imagine the structure of the novel being any different given the need to get the story up to pace and rolling along at a comfortable clip. As much as books are considered static and timeless, unless you have recently reread the whole series (as I am sure a number of you have), the different perspectives are just what the doctor ordered to reboot The Wheel of Time.
All in all, I could not have been more pleased with The Gathering Storm. It wasn’t Robert Jordan, but his hand and that of his team was clear throughout. Brandon dispatched his duty with remarkable skill and an almost reverent understanding of the series and its numerous characters. Those of you at all familiar with the massive pile of notes left by Robert Jordan and all the feedback Brandon was force fed during the writing process from Team Jordan will find the scene where Mat struggles with assigning fictitious roles to his soldiers quite hilarious - I know I did.
So, How Was it?! [SERIOUS SPOILERS BELOW]
It was… eventful. Rand goes to the edge of madness and beyond, which culminates in a long awaited and speculated upon confrontation/heart-to-heart with Tam. We discover the scary depths of the Seachan worldview and witness its brutal personification in a daring assault on the White Tower, followed by the quick and brutal extermination of the Black Ajah thanks to an unexpected yet hinted at traitor from within their ranks, and, finally, a unified White Tower under a single Amyrlin. Mat and Perrin, on the other hand, achieve little in their journey beyond struggling to define their roles as leaders, with maybe a tangential adventure or two thrown in to keep things interesting. That is by no means the extent of what happens in The Gathering Storm; in point of fact there is so much that takes places that any reviewer will find it a challenge to adequately sumarzie the action. To the fans who screamed at there being three books to conclude the series (Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light) instead of one, well, tell me what you think after finishing The Gathering Storm, because in my estimation there is not a chance in hell the series could have been finished in one book.
Brandon's epically emotional style, which I mentioned before, showcases his formidable use of introspection and brings to the novel a dark sense of foreboding. The physical confrontations which take place throughout take second stage to the battle within Rand himself - his struggle with both his sanity and his destiny. The most shocking scene, by far, is the one in which Rand is collared and forced to strangle Min to death -- paling even in comparison to Rand going off the depend of sanity and coming within a hairsbreadth of destroying the world. Anyone who has made it this far in The Wheel of Time cannot remain unemotional when faced with the events Brandon throws at us... and if you can, well then, my hat is off to you.
All in all, the action packed pace and relative lack of descriptive filler more than make up for, regrettably, loosing Jordan's artistic touch. Battle scenes, for instance, have lost much of their sucking-you-into-the-page luster, but one cannot expect miracles. Neverthless, theroller coaster ride of enjoyment, frustration, love, hate, surprise, and anger is much the same. I can only say "thank you" to everyone involved for continuing the series with the full measure of your devotion.... and if you don't have the next book out within a year, well, ware my wrath.
So, why do you love The Wheel of Time?
So, why do you love The Wheel of Time?