The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm
by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
(Wheel of Time Book 12)
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis

Shortly before his death in 2007, author Robert Jordan announced that he had begun work on the final volume of his Wheel of Time fantasy series, to be titled A Memory of Light. Sadly, he died before completing it, but he had the foresight to leave behind copious notes, files and recordings detailing exactly how the story would have ended.

Because of this, Jordan’s editors at Tor decided to carry on with the Wheel of Time, tapping fantasy author Brandon Sanderson to complete the long-running series. The result is The Gathering Storm, the first of three final volumes in the Wheel of Time that will posthumously realize Jordan’s grand vision for A Memory of Light, which is far too big for a single book.

Now if you’re one of the Robert Jordan fans who greeted the release of each Wheel of Time book as a cause for celebration, then I can gladly tell you to read The Gathering Storm. You’ll love it.

But if, like me, you’re a Robert Jordan fan that’s greeted the release of each new Wheel of Time book with growing skepticism and trepidation, I will even more gladly tell you to read The Gathering Storm. You won’t hate it.

There has long been growing discontent among Wheel of Time fans, frustrated with the series’ glacial pace and lack of development over the last several volumes. I myself was an early and rabid Jordan devotee, but I had just about written the series off after the dismal tenth book. And readers had good reason for reaching a breaking point.

Jordan’s story had degenerated to the point where each character was slogging toward some perfunctory, independent end that they would seemingly never reach, with no hint that their stories would ever again intersect and propel the main plot forward. Fantasy readers accustomed to multiple-book series have a high tolerance for this kind of thing; but when four or five entire volumes released over the course of more than a decade do nothing but chronicle multiple forced marches to nowhere, you say enough is enough.

Thankfully, so did author Brandon Sanderson, ending this cycle in The Gathering Storm and reinvigorating the Wheel of Time with a renewed sense of momentum.

The last battle between main character Rand al’Thor and the Dark One is finally imminent. Darkness covers the land and the final seals are breaking on the Dark One’s prison. Evil is becoming more manifest as spring blooms fail and food inexplicably spoils, throwing kingdoms into famine and chaos.

Unlike the last few Wheel of Time books, the majority of the story in The Gathering Storm centers solidly on Rand, who is becoming increasingly merciless and hardened as he struggles to marshal his resources and fulfill his destiny as the Dragon Reborn to defeat the Dark One in the last battle, and probably die in doing so.

Jordan had been milking this dark journey to death, but Sanderson finally allows it to reach a turning point. Gone is the melancholy Rand who has spent the last several books ruminating endlessly on his fate while doing seemingly little to prepare for it. Rand hasn’t been this directed since the kick-ass Battle of Dumai’s Wells at the end of the sixth book. On top of that, he has a clearly defined emotional arc that gives this volume a sense of completeness within itself while propelling the larger story forward—again, something that has long been missing from the Wheel of Time.

The Gathering Storm also gives equal plot prominence to the culmination of Egwene’s rebellion against the White Tower and her efforts to mend the schism between the Aes Sedai. Her character arc is just as satisfying as Rand’s, and scores bonus points for generating the best action sequences.

And, in another departure from recent volumes, The Gathering Storm contains substantial appearances from every major character but one. You want Perrin? You got Perrin. You want Mat? Just keep reading. They’re in there, and they’re doing they’re own bits to pull the plot out of its morass.

Still, readers will inevitably draw comparisons between Sanderson’s and Jordan’s writing. In my view, there’s no clear winner between the two. I couldn’t really tell the bits that Jordan wrote before he died from Sanderson’s original prose, which I guess is a testament to the editor.

Sanderson has an enjoyable if somewhat meandering writing style, with characters often reiterating the same points several times over the course of the narrative, sometimes to the point of distraction. I often found myself asking, haven’t we already established that? It took me out of the moment more than once.

But it’s a far cry from the orgy of repetitive skirt smoothing, braid pulling, and derivative character actions that had grown to co-opt Jordan’s every third sentence. Still, though, despite his flaws, Jordan’s love for his characters was obvious, and he had a flare for making them enjoyable, even in the mundane little corners into which he’d painted them. You can tell that Sanderson has the same love for the characters, but he doesn’t quite nail them the way Jordan did.

Gone as well is the endless parade of tertiary characters with serpentine plans and murky motives that were bogging the story down. There are still bad guys a-plenty, but many finally get dealt with definitively.

In taking up the mantle of the Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson had in many ways an unenviable task, clearing up the endless subplots and gazillion dangling story threads that had all but strangled the life out of the series. And there are times when his writing all but screams, “Make way! Clearing the decks!” But for all that, the passing of the torch is mostly seamless. The Gathering Storm feels like a Wheel of Time book, not just some post-mortem pretender.

And above all, Sanderson gives the Wheel of Time series something it has desperately needed for more than a decade: focus. That focus reminded me of everything I ever loved about Jordan’s sprawling fantasy epic. So the highest recommendation for The Gathering Storm that I can give to lapsed Jordan fanatics like me is this: For the first time in many years I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to the next volume in the Wheel of Time.

-30-