Review - The Gathering Storm
In 2009, Dragonmount was proud to present the first review for The Gathering Storm....
It would be an understatement to say that a lot has happened since Knife of Dreams. It's been nearly four years since the release of what Robert Jordan believed was going to be his penultimate novel in The Wheel of Time series, and nearly two years since he passed away. Two very long years. But the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. The story is not yet done, and there is more to be told. Much of Robert Jordan's life was tied to these books, and it was important to him, I believe, to see them done.
I'm not going to recap the news that has led to the publication of this novel. Most likely you already know the story. But in case you haven't, check out our Gathering Storm info page, which has a summary of how this book was written, why it's not the last in the series, and why it's not titled A Memory of Light. Once you're educated on all that, come on back here and we'll talk about what happens next.
Over the years I've seen, as many of you have, a huge amount of hype surrounding the release of new WoT novels. Nothing in all these years has come close to the attention that the newest novel, The Gathering Storm, is going to receive. Like the title suggests, there is already a restless calm in the air as fans hold their breaths, waiting. Fans who have not read the books in years are now re-emerging to see how things will play out. Long time, die-hard fans sit and debate over the news articles that come and go. Despite remarkable efforts by RJ's family to keep fans informed throughout the entire writing process, the question still remains: will this new novel be a worthy installment to the series? Is Brandon Sanderson, the young author who was tapped to finish it, up to par? Will this book feel like a Robert Jordan novel?
I have these answers.
I have read The Gathering Storm. And I will share.
But first things first.
Before you read my review, I need to give you full disclosure. It's important to remember my point of view. I'm running a large fan site for a book series that is very near and dear to my heart. Over the years I came to know Robert Jordan, and am proud to have had him call me friend. I am close to Harriet, his widow, as well as to other members of his family and staff. I consider Brandon Sanderson to be my friend (as long as he lets me win a few MAGIC: The Gathering games anyway). I am affiliated with Tor Books (Robert Jordan's U.S. publisher) via personal relationships, small business deals, and as of recently, their website, Tor.com, for which I occasionally blog. That said, I have not ever accepted money or other payment from them to promote, endorse, or write nice things about their Wheel of Time products.
So, with all that in mind, I tell you truthfully: My review below is for you, the reader who wants the truth, and not the hype. I am not here to sell you the book. I am here to tell you, as one fan to another, what you can expect from this new installment in the WoT series. While the facts of my disclosure above will never make me completely neutral, I promise you that my primary responsibility and obligation remains, as always, to give it to you straight. Like you, I am a fan first and foremost.
Okay? Are we good? All set? Then here we go.
The Gathering Storm is, in my opinion, quite easily one of the most intense and exciting books in the entire Wheel of Time series. Yes, you read that right. I avoided writing this review right after I finished reading. Instead, I purposely waited some time to let the initial rush and enjoyment wear off. It certainly has cooled a great deal, but I can still say with grounded and sober confidence that the book is outstanding. I would rank it up there in the top 4 in the series along with The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven, and The Great Hunt. Pacing-wise, I would agree with Brandon Sanderson's statement that it's similar to books 4-6 in the series.
(Warning! Minor spoilers ahead. Skip down a bit if you don't want to read them)
Start of Spoilers
The story brings focus back to the characters that need it, most notably Rand. Last we had seen the poor guy, he had built up a thick stone wall against his emotions, had his hand blown off, and was nearly blinded by one of the Forsaken. On his blog, Robert Jordan described Rand and his situation like this:
The world and the forces of the Light are in bad shape. At this point, boys and girls, the Shadow is winning. There are glimmers of hope, but only glimmers, and they MUST pay off for the Light to win. All the Shadow needs for victory is for matters to keep on as they have been going thus far and one or two of those glimmers to fade or be extinguished. The forces of the Light are on the ropes, and they don't even know everything the Dark One has up his sleeve.
Think of it this way. The bell is about to ring for the fifteenth round, and the Light is so far behind on points the only way to win is a knockout. Our boy is game, but he's wobbly on his legs and bleeding from cuts over his eyes. Now he has three minutes to pull out his best stuff and deliver the punch of his life. The Dark One has taken a few shots, but nothing that has really damaged him. He's still dancing on his toes and talking trash. His head shots can fracture a skull, and his body punches can break ribs. And now he's ready to unveil his surprises. You didn't think all it would take is for Rand to show up at the Last Battle, did you? According to the Prophecies, the Light has no chance without him, but his presence doesn't ensure victory, just that the Light has a chance. Gotta stiffen your legs and blink the blood out of your eyes. Gotta suck it up and find that punch. Three minutes to go, and you gotta find that knockout. That's your only chance.
If you thought Rand was hard before, you haven't seen anything yet. As I read this new book, my heart just went out to him. I was completely engaged as I witnessed him go deeper and deeper into depression and insanity. We've all known that Rand has been going the wrong way emotionally for a long time. But in this new novel, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson took him to a place I never thought he would go. There is a scene towards the middle of the book that was so dramatic and intense, that I ... I don't even know to say it. As a long time fan of the novels, it rocked me to read it. I had to set the book down and let it soak in. Remember the intensity of Dumai's Wells at the end of Lord of Chaos? This is like that, minus the armies. I am certain that in the years ahead, we'll run polls on DM for the "Best Scenes in the Series", and this will be one of the popular choices. Trust me. You'll know it when you read it.
It's not just about one exciting scene though. Every single chapter is well written, and most of them are totally engaging. (Though to be fair, the chapters I'm thinking of which weren't usually featured Gawyn. And I was more annoyed with him than anything else. I suppose you could argue that I was engaged in wanting to smack that character. But then again... there was that one chapter where he... well, did some cool sword stuff. That was certainly engaging). The point is that this isn't a book where you slug through pages for a dozen chapters, read an exciting part, and then have to dig through another ten. This is far more evened out, with carefully crafted arcs that begin and end within the confines of this single volume. There are dozens of intense or exciting scenes scattered throughout. By the end of the prologue, fans will be chattering away. By the time you get to Mat's adventures to a certain location (I'm not saying A THING about where that might be!!!), the theory forums and theoryland.com will be bursting at the seams.
Whereas I loved every chapter devoted to Rand (easily half of the book, if not more), it was Egwene who stole the show for me. To describe what she goes through, what's revealed to her, and what she chooses to do in the end, would be far too spoilerish to get into, but suffice to say that it was dynamic and highly enjoyable. I confess that I had a lot of fun going through all the online theories related to her and the White Tower, reading them and being able to separate the ones that turned out to be accurate from the ones that weren't. There weren't very many wholly accurate ones. In fact, none.
Most of the main characters are present in this novel and have at least one or two chapters from their point of view. At least one is completely absent, but I'll let you debate who it is. Just like I'll let you try and interpret who the "main characters" are.
Oh, and regarding Asmodean....
(Heh. I've always wanted to do that.)
And finally, as Harriet told us at JordanCon, I can confirm that there are not one, but TWO climaxes at the end of this book. Big ones. Both are events we've been waiting for for a long time.
So now the other burning question: does this feel like a Robert Jordan novel? Does it have his "voice"? Well, truthfully, I thought the prose stayed very true to previous novels. But ultimately you're going to be the judge on that. Brandon Sanderson has gone on record several times saying that he is not trying to mimic Robert Jordan's voice. That doing so would just be parody. What he set out to do, and what I think he accomplished, was to tap into that font of story and events in the universe that previously had been experienced and documented by Robert Jordan. Rather than trying to make himself and his style like RJ, it seems like Brandon put himself into the heart of the saga and allowed himself to be its vessel and storyteller. The result is that this book is clearly and undeniably a novel which belongs in the WoT series. There were only a few times where I suspected the scene I was reading was entirely from Brandon's imagination. We may never learn which specific sequences he had to invent entirely, but in the end, you probably won't notice or even care. It's pretty seamless in that regard. If you have read Brandon's other novels, you'll probably pick out pieces of text that phrase things in a way that "sound" more like his writing. Some character names sound like they might be from the Mistborn world rather than Randland. And some characters, for me, were not exactly as I pictured them. The strange thing about that though, was that another person closely tied to the project said that they thought a certain character "was off" and I thought that character was perfectly represented. On the other hand, characters I felt were different seemed spot on to that person. So no matter what I say about it, you are going to bring your own experience and vision of each character with you, and whether or not you agree with their interpretation in Gathering Storm is up in the air.
The most obvious fact in all of this is that Brandon put his heart into this book. Even though it's a thick tome, none of it feels padded or rushed. Before he was the writer tasked with finishing this series, he was a fan like you and me. He clearly knows what fans like and dislike, and has crafted a novel that primarily follows in the footsteps of its predecessor while also delivering in a way that he knows will go over well with the crowds. (And to be fair, a lot of that insight was probably shared by Robert Jordan as well. Knife of Dreams was a great book that had a lot of steam behind it.)
I am saddened by the thought that this part of the series will inevitably play out differently than if Robert Jordan were still with us. It's a loss that fans will always feel and wonder about; maybe it could loosely be described as a "wound that cannot heal." I suspect that Brandon himself feels that more keenly than most. However, after literally just a few chapters, I was reassured. Guided by a strong plot outline, familiar characters, and a knowledge of the franchise that was honed to a razor sharp edge by lots of research, it became quickly apparent to me (or "intuitively obvious to the most casual observer") that Brandon was the best person in the world to take this gig, and that he did as fine as a job as was even possible. For that, I am his biggest fan.... until November 3rd at least, at which point you will be.
In the end though, I suspect that all thought of voice and different styles will fade away as you follow that familiar opening wind in chapter one. You'll reunite with these characters we've been following and once again become completely immersed in the struggles and adventures of this great saga. There's no doubt that The Gathering Storm deserves an equal place on your top shelf next to the previous eleven volumes. Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson have crafted a remarkable novel fraught with dark, foreboding themes that will remind you why you first fell in love with the series to begin with. Even though we know it's Brandon who pulled the actual words together, this is undeniably Robert Jordan's work, and perhaps one of his best.
- Jason Denzel (firstname.lastname@example.org)