The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (2009)

Book review: The Wheel of Time #12: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Orbit, 2009)

Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle, looms. And mankind is not ready. Rand al’Thor struggles to unite a fractured network of kingdoms and alliances in preparation for the Last Battle, as his allies watch in terror the shadow that seems to be growing within the heart of the Dragon Reborn himself.

Egwene al’Vere is a captive of the White Tower and subject to the whims of their tyrannical leader. She works to hold together the disparate factions of Aes Sedai, as the days tick toward the Seanchan attack she knows is imminent. Her fight will prove the mettle of the Aes Sedai, and her conflict will decide the future of the White Tower – and possibly the world itself.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow . . .

When Robert Jordan passed away in September 2007, I, like a lot of Wheel of Time fans, was very sad for his family and friends, but also left feeling disappointed. One of my favourite series of books, so close to the end, and now we’d never find out the ending! Some time later, Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn trilogy, was approached by Jordan’s wife Harriet and asked if he wanted to finish the fantasy epic, based on notes and recordings made by Jordan before his death. Sanderson, a WoT fan himself, agreed – this is the result.

I bought it as soon as it came out, but the Squeeze read it first, and for a long time it was left untouched. Then I started reading, maybe the first four chapters, and then left it for the better part of a year before I decided it was time to get crackin’ over Christmas and New Year’s. And then I couldn’t put the bloody thing down!

No, really.

As far as the story goes, we’re used to the books going something like “nothing really major happens” for about 80% of the book, and then WHAMM! The last 20% is explosive. Well, not so! Stuff happens in this one, and it happens a lot. I won’t go into detail much, because that would be too full of exciting spoilers, but surmise it to say that shit goes off with Rand in a big way, Mat … okay, he’s still heading toward the Tower of Genji, Perrin … saved Faile in the previous book, now he’s just brooding about being a leader, Aviendha is still being punished by the Wise Ones, Elayne doesn’t feature at all, Gawyn pops up and Galad doesn’t, Egwene tries to sort the White Tower out from the inside still (stuff really happens to progress this plot, though; don’t worry), and Tuon is a bitch. Oh, you knew that already? Well, she gets worse, considerably worse. And what “Tuon” is short for made me giggle, it’s so silly. (It’s “Fortuona” … I mean, really?)

I’ve heard people are generally satisfied with Sanderson’s portrayals of the characters, although Mat seems to get the harshest criticism. I can understand this. He’s always been a whiny git, but somehow, it’s different now. Lovable Rogue is what he’s normally like, and here, he’s just … I don’t know, less lovable? He’s still on the road with Thom and the others, and he starts by moaning about women a lot, and they don’t really get to where they’re going.

The biggest disappointment for me were the Perrin chapters. I love Perrin as a character, he’s my kinda guy. It’s just that his chapters don’t really go anywhere. One could definitely be summed up as him brooding over having saved Faile, “and now what?” with lots of angst about being a leader of a bunch of people when all he really wants is to hide away in a smithy like a good Two Rivers lad. I know you’re prone to brooding, Perrin, but come on! Faile gets one little chapter as well, which I suppose is meant as closure or something about her time as a Shaido captive, but other than that, nothing really happens. Oh well.

Nyneave, Min and Cadsuane are still trying to figure Rand out, and what happens to him … may we live in interesting times, shall we say? Just … wow. It has some interesting implications to how the Final Battle might have to be fought, at least if my theories are anything to go by. If only I didn’t have course books to try keeping up with every week until June, or I’d be all over book #13 like a rash!

Everyone who reads the Wheel of Time books will have their own favourite parts, and I don’t mean favourite characters to read about, but favourite … settings. I like Aviendha, for instance, but I also like anything else about the Aiel, even if the chapter doesn’t focus on her. For me, it’s anything about the White Tower, and we get both sides – Egwene inside the actual Tower, and Siuan with the rebel Aes Sedai. So many interesting things happened that every time a chapter ended and it switched to focus on another character, I felt like saying, “heeey! I was reading that!” only to approach the next Aes Sedai-based chapter with an excited, “oh yay, we’re back!”

What about Sanderson writing instead of Jordan? Most of the time, I didn’t really notice. In the beginning, which is probably why I struggled getting into it, I was too aware that the book had not been written by Jordan’s hand only, but once I got going, that faded away and I got sucked into the story instead. Well done, Sanderson! You made me forget everything except what was happening to the characters. 😀

It was meant to be just the one book to finish everything off, but the story couldn’t be contained in just one novel, so instead, it’s been split into three. I believe a lot of people went, “oh FFS!” when they heard that, but I think it’s brilliant. Yes, it might mean that we get Perrin brooding and doing sod all else for three or four chapters, but it also means that things aren’t rushed. There’s no “let’s just get this over with!” feeling, but one of “let’s finish this properly and in style, the way Jordan would have wanted”, and I like that. Also, this book is massive, the next one’s just as big, and the final one is meant to be even bigger. This is good. The whole attraction with this world is that it’s so incredibly detailed and immersive, and to shorten it to “and then Rand saves the world, like the prophecies said he would” wouldn’t be right, and it wouldn’t be half as much fun to read.

Anyway, I loved The Gathering Storm, I’m itching to start Towers of Midnight and can’t wait for A Memory of Light – due out later this year at some point – even though the Squeeze might get to read it before I do (he read #13 pretty much as soon as it arrived in November 2010). This is epic fantasy at its very best. While I know some people are reading the books now just out of a sense of obligation (“well, I’ve read all the others, so I might as well”) and nostalgia (“these books meant so much to me ten years ago”), I’m not one of them. I still genuinely love this world and its inhabitants, and I’m both waiting for and dreading Tarmon Gai’don and what will happen on the final stretch before we get there.

Meanwhile, I might just decide to read the two roleplaying books the Squeeze once got me (signed by Robert Jordan – squeee!!) and see if I can convince my roleplaying group we should run it in the future.

4.9 out of 5 Oath Rods, and if you spoil Towers of Midnight in the comments, I’m-a balefire yo ass, are we clear?

P.S. Isn’t it just “burn me”, not “burn me, but”? That annoyed the crap out of me throughout.

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