Monday, December 7, 2015

The Gathering Storm Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time Book Twelve
Pages: 1,090

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(Spoilers for the previous eleven Wheel of Time books are below).

In 2007 a few years after the release of Knife of Dreams, author Robert Jordan passed away leaving the Wheel of Time series incomplete.  Jordan’s wife and long time editor Harriet McDougal chose Brandon Sanderson to complete the series shortly after his passing.  Robert Jordan left very detailed notes with his wife so that the Wheel of Time could be completely as accurately and as closely as possible to his original vision for the series.

In the forward to The Gathering Storm, Brandon Sanderson writes a very humble letter to fans of the Wheel of Time series, acknowledging Jordan’s abilities as a writer and concluding that no one could have written these final three books better than Jordan.  From the forward it is clear that Sanderson is a big fan of the series, and he promises to uphold Jordan’s artistic vision while writing the story in his own way.

With some big shoes to fill, Brandon Sanderson proves he is the next best possible person to finish the Wheel of Time series other than Robert Jordan.  In what includes the darkest scenes yet seen in this series, The Gathering Storm moves at an exciting pace, preparing the characters and readers for the Last Battle.

The Gathering Storm primarily focuses on two plotlines: Rand and Egwene’s.  Mat, Perrin, Tuon, Nynaeve and a few other characters make sporadic appearances, but the book is largely driven from Rand and Egwene’s stories.  Elayne Trakand and Lan Mandragoran don’t have any narrating chapters.  A brief synopsis of each of the main plot threads is bullet pointed below:
  • Rand begins to try to stabilize Arad Doman, while simultaneously setting up a meeting with The Daughter of Nine Moons.  Rand must also work on dealing with the voice inside of his head and his increasing state of emotional coldness.
  • Egwene intensifies her effort to bring Elaida down from the inside of the White Tower.  Siuan struggles to hold the rebel Aes Sedai together.
  • Tuon having returned to lead the Seanchan in Ebou Dar now has decide what to do with the Dragon Reborn and the White Tower.
  • Perrin begins to feel his Ta’veren strings being pulled and he prepares to move his forces to meet up with Rand’s.
  • Mat acquires another strange letter and decides to head to Camelyn to pick up supplies and to prepare to find Moiraine.
  • Cadsuane and Nynaeve focuses on their separate quests to help the Dragon Reborn and they focus on trying to extract information from Semirhage.
Overall, Brandon Sanderson remains faithful to the spirit of the previous Wheel of Time Books.  Rand still struggles with Lews Therin, Nynaeve still tugs her braid, and yes the first chapter of the book still begins with its famous introduction.  Brandon Sanderson does use a slightly different tone and different adjectives (Sanderson really seems to like the word tempest), but that is understandable given he is a different writer from Robert Jordan.

One thing that seems to be fairly different is the fact that Sanderson likes to predominately switch narrators every chapter.  With exception towards the end of the book, you won’t find five Rand chapters in a row, followed by five Perrin chapters in a row, and etc.  This way of structuring the story seems more in line with books like Game of Thrones.  I have to say this format works real well for this book as it adds a sense of urgency to the plot.

The sense of urgency in this book is one of its greatest assets.  The middle books of The Wheel of Time had a tendency to drag out their plot lines, but The Gathering Storm (especially the back half) moves at a much quicker pace.  This makes it a lot easier to fly through this book, despite the fact that it is over 1,000 pages (softcover). Another appreciated element is Brandon Sanderson’s efforts in resolving a number of plot lines in this book that have been lingering now for a long time.

Dark undertones and evil have been previously explored in the Wheel of Time, but The Gathering Storm begins to explore this dimension of the series on a personal level with Rand’s character.  His internal conflict with Lews Therin, or his sanity, takes central stage in this book.  Rand commits his most appalling actions to date in this book, and his struggle for control over his life is horrifying.

Why is Rand fighting the Dark One?  This becomes the primary question he must answer.  In many ways The Gathering Storm is a philosophical examination into questions of living, and why people do the things they do.  Rand is the character that primarily explores these ideas.  His character is also used to explore dark subject matter like the nature of insanity and the dangers of keeping yourself in an apathetic and emotionless state.  Rand in many ways is a cautionary figure, a warning to people about dangerous philosophical ideas that are detrimental to humanity.

Rand’s plot thread in The Gathering Storm is the bleakest plot thread introduced in the series up until this point.  At times you have to wonder if you are even  reading a Wheel of Time book due to how dark this book gets.  The Gathering Storm brings a lot more philosophy into the series, and despite it’s good vs. evil simplicity, it still offers a refreshing break from the book’s dark tone.

Brandon Sanderson delivers an excellent Wheel of Time book.  The ending, despite being a bit anti-climatic was very necessary to the telling of the story.  The Gathering Storm continues to build momentum for the conclusion to The Wheel of Time, while simultaneously ushering in a new author who continues to maintain the spirit of Robert Jordan and his series.

Score: 8.9

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