Book Review: The Gathering Storm
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The Gathering Storm
Written by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Books
Released: October 27, 2009

It’s time for fans of Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series to stand up and celebrate. The release of a new book is upon us. Even more than just a new book, this is the beginning of the end; the final book in the series. Okay, so there’s actually three books remaining, but they were meant by Jordan to be one book. Unfortunately (or perhaps, very fortunately depending on your point of view), the story became too large to release as one volume, so the editors decided to break the final book into three parts, the first of which, titled The Gathering Storm, saw release on October 27th, 2009, with the other two seeing release at a later date, hopefully in 2010 and 2011.

Unfortunately, the book split isn’t the big story about this release. No, the big story concerning this book was the untimely passing of original author Robert Jordan on September 16, 2007. With Jordan’s passing, many feared that we would never see the end to his sprawling series. Fortunately, Jordan had written a large portion of the book before his passing, and left detailed notes on the rest and writer Brandon Sanderson was quickly chosen by Jordan’s editor and wife to finish the series, putting fans’ minds at ease.

This is a book I have been looking forward to for years. In a way, I’ve been waiting four years for it to come out, four years being the time since the previous book, Knife of Dreams, was released. In a different way, I’ve been waiting more than a decade for this book, ever since I read through the series for the first time (through book seven, A Crown of Swords, at that time.) Fans of the series have been waiting a long time to see how the story was going to end, and while this isn’t the end, we can certainly see the light at the end of the tunnel.

If you’ve never read a Wheel of Time book before, I’ll give you the brief synopsis: Rand Al’Thor is a common sheepherder and farmer, until the time a mysterious wizard comes to town to inform him that he is a prophesied savior. Now he has magic powers, but they are powers that will eventually drive him crazy. If the prophesies and crazy powers weren’t enough, he’s also got a very powerful dark god chasing him down trying to kill him, as well as all the dark god’s flunkies.

Since there are 11 previous books in the series a lot has happened since the series’ humble beginnings. In this book, Rand tries to unify all his armies and reach agreements with many different nations, all with the goal of building an army strong enough to fight the Dark One at the Last Battle. Meanwhile, Rand’s childhood friend Egwene al’Vere, who is now the leader of a large group of female wizards, tries to bring unity to her world by continuing her efforts to reunite the White Tower before an invasion that she has seen coming. Longtime fans of the series will be happy to know that Egwene’s plot-thread regarding the Aes Sedai comes to a satisfactory conclusion in this novel, and that story is largely the bulk of the actual plot. Egwene gets a lot of great moments in this book, and it almost makes up for the fact that it has taken about 8 books to resolve the whole White Tower storyline (if you go all the way back to the Tower breaking in Book 4, The Fires of Heaven).

Being a big fan of the series, I’m of course going to try to rank this with the rest of the series, and I will say that it falls very near the top. It’s not quite as good as the series’ high point (which for me is The Dragon Reborn) but it comes close, and is a very satisfying read in its own right. There are a number of very powerful scenes and at least three chapters that will certainly be remembered as stand-outs of the entire series.

The ending? Magnifique! The only criticism I have are minor fan-related things (I didn’t get enough of character-x, they didn’t reveal mystery-y, event-z didn’t happen the way I thought it would), although I will say I wasn’t really enjoying Rand’s character progression, but the end brought his whole story thread together, and I expect I’ll enjoy his part of the story more with another read. The things that were resolved were totally satisfying, the shocking (SHOCKING I say) reveal towards the ¾ mark of the book was totally unexpected, and I can’t wait to read it again. The biggest problem? Now I have to wait another year for the next book. Curse me and my need for instant gratification!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the fact of the ghost writing aspect of the series. I have to say that having read it, I think Brandon Sanderson has done a masterful job of making this book feel like it was written entirely by Robert Jordan. If I had more experience reviewing literature or if I was more of a scholar of literature, I may be able to tell the difference between this book and the ones written solely by Jordan, but to my eyes, I can’t really tell the difference, or can’t tell enough where it spoils my enjoyment of the book. There was a bit at the end where I felt I could notice it more, but again, there was never a moment where I could absolutely say “This was written by Sanderson.” Sanderson may not be totally noticeable in this book, but may show his hand more in the next two, since (I’m assuming) Jordan had already written chunks of the opening, but may not have been able to write a lot of the middle section. This is all assumption on my part, and I’ll just have to wait to see how the next books turn out.

The style of the book does change slightly from previous books. The earlier books would tend to stick with one of the major characters for a few chapters before switching to a side character, and then moving on to a few chapters of a different major character. This one switches at a more rapid pace, with each character getting a chapter, and then quickly shifting to another character. I think it helps to give the book a sense of urgency, which puts the reader in the mindset of the characters, as they race to secure their position before the big battle to end all battles. The only problem I have with it is that there are times when a certain characters story got very interesting, but the story would quickly cut away, and I felt like I wanted to spend more time on that person. Fortunately, or perhaps oddly, this style changes at about the 2/3 point, as the story focuses on Egwene and her big event, and then Rand for the last few chapters. This is kind of jarring after reading the majority of the book in one kind of style, and then switching to the more traditional style of the series for the climax of the book. It also causes two of the side characters to have unresolved stories in this book. Mat and Perrin get a few chapters throughout the book, and have some strong moments (particularly Mat, who has a very exciting section in the middle of the book), but they are just kind of forgotten about, and are left hanging in the wind. I’m guessing that the next book will focus very heavily on these two characters, but it just felt weird that they were forgotten about in this book.

So is this book everything I was hoping it would be? Yeah, pretty much. I have no major complaints about it and it gives me a lot of hope that I will see the series wrapped up in the spectacular fashion that it deserves. If you’ve grown tired of the series (and I know there are some who have), I would really suggest giving this book a shot. It brings back the feeling I had reading those first few Wheel of Time books for the first time, and I had an absolute blast reading it. Who knew a 700-page book could fly by so quickly?

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