Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Review of The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Well. For those ignoramuses among you who don’t know, The Gathering Storm is book 12 of The Wheel of Time, the grand epic fantasy started by Robert Jordan about twenty years ago. A few years ago, Jordan was diagnosed with a serious illness similar to leukemia – and it killed him in 2007, with the promised final volume of TWoT no where near finished. Brandon Sanderson was chosen by Jordan’s wife and editor, Harriet McDougal, to finish the series. However, that promised final volume was so ambitious, he felt it needed to be three separate books – and The Gathering Storm is the first of those, released late last year.

I’ve been reading The Wheel of Time since not long after the first book came out in the early nineties; it was a key part of my growing love of the fantasy genre. The first three books are classic fantasy; the next three books built on their predecessors, adding greater breadth and depth to the world described, especially in terms of politics and intrigue. The three books after that were good, but the series showed signs of attenuating, being stretched too long and thin. Book ten was a travesty – a novel where nothing happened. Book eleven patched some of the damage done, but I didn’t enjoy reading it anywhere near as much as the first nine volumes.

And so book twelve has, simultaneously, a lot to live up to and little to lose … and I’m happy, almost emotionally happy, to report that TGS is a more than worthy continuation of the series.

It’s something of a whirlwind ride, in fact. A number of major sub-plots are developed and concluded. One of two overarching stories in this particular volume, however, is that of Rand’s madness. Rand al’Thor is the Dragon Reborn, the man who must lead the world into battle against the Dark One at the Last Battle, a man who has an insane remnant of the previous Dragon muttering nearly constantly in his mind, a man who was doomed to madness and rotting sickness because of the taint on the male half of the One Power, until he cleansed it in Winter’s Heart, a man who is pulled this way and that by friendships, love, hate, loyalty, need, factions, memories that aren’t his own.

There are a couple of scenes where Rand’s sanity is directly and dangerously challenged – and they are two of three highlights of the book (the first being a confrontation with an enemy, the second being a confrontation with someone who should be very much the opposite of an enemy). They are both chilling in the possibilities they raise, and one contains a major plot twist that will doubtless play out in the remaining two books.

The resolution of this particular story leads directly on from one of the confrontations I mentioned. But that final scene of Rand’s story in this book didn’t at all work for me – it’s a kind of one sided confrontation, which was evidently supposed to be the most disturbing of them all. However, I found it all a bit overwrought and ludicrous. The resolution, when it occurs, is exceedingly convenient and the way it is worded prevents any recurrence of that particular plot thread – which I find a shame, as it’s been one of the most interesting aspects of Rand’s character.

The other main story is that of Egwene and the two White Towers. There have been liberal hints earlier in the series about what was going to happen and in this book, it happens. There is one major surprise in Egwene’s story – revelations from a longstanding minor character – but that aside it plays out exactly as one would expect. And, it turns out, there’s nothing wrong with that. Egwene al’Vere, the innkeeper’s daughter from the same out of the way village as Rand (and Rand’s sweetheart from way back when), is portrayed as a woman wise beyond her years, the moral superior of women with decades more experience. It possibly should be ridiculous, but it works. The third highlight of the book for me was the spectacle of Egwene defending the White Tower from Seanchan attack. Although dosed with forkroot to dull her ability to channel, she links with a group of novices and wields the Tower’s most powerful sa’angreal – and kicks arse.

Many of the other main characters in the story are present in the narrative, but have a much lesser role to play than Rand and Egwene. Mat has a gruesome adventure that doesn’t appear to advance the plot any. Perrin broods – as he is wont to do. Nynaeve gets angry. Elayne plays no part at all in this book. There aren’t many point of view scenes involving those who are dedicated to the shadow – but, as the title implies, the storm is but gathering, and has yet to break.

For the most part, Sanderson has done an admirable job of adapting his style to The Wheel of Time – all the WoT clichés are there: women sniffing to show annoyance, Rand, Mat and Perrin each thinking the others must have a much better deal, Nynaeve tugging her braid, Siuan using lots of fishing-related sayings. The more important aspects are there too: there is a near perfect balance of dialogue and introspection, action and intrigue. The characters haven’t changed. (Perrin might have seemed a little off, but he is given so little page time it’s hard to be sure. Mat seemed a tiny bit more uncouth than I remember, but I would need to reread the whole series again to say for sure that he’d changed.)

There are a few flaws. The most annoying of these being some of Sanderson’s lexical choices. Specifically, he uses words like ‘homicidal’ and ‘mountaineer’, which are very modern words – mountaineering didn’t exist before the twentieth century, for instance, before then, people might have climbed mountains to explore, but they didn’t do it for sport. Such vocabulary doesn’t have a place in a quasi-medieval or -Renaissance setting. I also have an issue with the expression ‘I guess’, which also sounds to modern and, frankly, too American, and with saying ‘speak with’ (which really ought to mean ‘speak at the same time as’) instead of ‘speak to’ and ‘meet with’ instead of, simply, ‘meet’.

Another, much more minor nitpick is the amount of recapping. Having not read any of the other books since the previous one came out four years ago, and having not embarked on a reread for longer than that, it was actually helpful to have the author redescribe and the characters remember various aspects of what had gone before. But I think it also detracted from the narrative.

The amount of subplots tied up, done and dusted in this book also feels … strange. In a series that has become famous for its refusal to end – even with the death of its author – it actually doesn’t feel quite authentic to have so many parts of the story (seemingly) definitively concluded. On the plus side, this means that the story fairly trots along; Brandon Sanderson was not lying when he said that his task could be achieved in the confines of a single volume. Sadly, this also implies that Jordan himself might have written another six books in the main series, compared to the three that I’m reasonably certain Sanderson will stick to.

I couldn’t get enough of this book, and I’m really lucky to have had the chance to take time off work (to go to Japan to get a new visa for Korea) to dedicate myself to reading it. Although there are plenty of writers I would rate higher than Robert Jordan, the depth, complexity and vibrance of the world of The Wheel of Time are really second to none. Despite the fact that I like and respect other stories more than TWoT, it’s the series that I have most affection for (The Lord of the Rings might give it a run for it’s money, though).

I look forward eagerly to The Towers of Midnight and, beyond that, the series conclusion – A Memory of Light.

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