It wasn’t without trepidation that I picked up book 12 of The Wheel of Time, The Gathering Storm. Written by Brandon Sanderson, from notes and other work left by Robert Jordan, would I be able to deal with the different style? Would it still be the Wheel of Time? Would there be any progress? Was it finally time for the effort it took to read the middle Jordan books to pay off? Or would I be left adrift, unable to cope with Sanderson’s interpretation, and so unable to finally discover how the story plays out?
Jordan promised he would finish the series in the 12th book, even if it had to be 2000 pages long. Not long after taking up the duty of completing the book, Sanderson said it couldn’t be done. Given how much happens in The Gathering Storm, its length, and the amount of things still unresolved, I have to agree with him. Even a massive single tome would have felt rushed if it had concluded the story.
Yet despite the decision to make it three volumes or three books, Sanderson doesn’t shy away from making significant progress in the story. To be fair, I think Jordan finally realised he’d spent too long laying the ground work and book eleven was pretty good at tying things up, but it pales next to the progress in book twelve.
However, let’s get the other aspects out of the way first.
Brandon Sanderson is not Robert Jordan and had he tried to write like him, it would have been a monumental failure. Luckily, he’s no idiot and hence he writes in his own style, tempered he admits, to match that of the world, but he makes no apology for that. Brandon writes that he tried to keep the soul of the characters intact. At first, that style difference is grating. Sanderson’s characters have much longer sections of internal dialogue, explaining their own actions and feelings in a detail that Jordan didn’t seem to try and achieve. That took some getting used to, and I was worried early on that it wouldn’t work for me, but trust me, by the end, it’s a godsend. I feel closer to all of the characters we’ve seen in The Gathering Storm than I have at any point in the series.
Secondly, and more blessedly, Sanderson isn’t afflicted by any adjective based diseases. Yes, he still tells us about the odd piece of clothing, he still has people gritting their teeth, and there’s braid pulling. However, if something is described once, it’s not described again, and the paragraphs and chapters are full, chocked full, of dialogue, internal monologues, action and plot. There’s little fat here, instead there’s lean active writing, delivering lean active action.
It would have been easy to lose the emotional connection with that approach perhaps, but it doesn’t happen. I cried several times throughout The Gathering Storm, for good, bad, joyous and sad moments, and like any author good at the craft, Brandon lets the story live in our hearts through his words.
The Gathering Storm progresses two of the major plot lines of the world, focussing heavily on Rand and Egwene. Most of the other major characters make an appearance, and often they make some progress too (including Mat and Perrin), but this book is about Rand and Egwene.
Rand continues to prosecute his war, and Egwene continues to prosecute her attempts to unify the White Tower.
Those two sentences have been true for so many books that you might be forgiven for just skipping over them, but in book 12, they both take massive leaps forward. The story of Rand is crushingly bleak, and he suffers again and again at the hands of his enemies and his own mind. Will he survive to even reach the final battle?
Sanderson handles the story of Egwene with superb deftness, using all of the ground work laid by Jordan and bringing them together in a way that befits the complexity of the world. Within that, many other threads are dragged out and progressed, some characters get fitting ends (no more said), and there are many truly moving scenes.
The final battle is fast approaching, the world is falling apart, darkness seeps out of every crack, is there no one who can help the Dragon Reborn, is there no one who can stand next to him in the face of the Shadow?
The Gathering Shadow is a monumental return to form for the series as a whole, and possibly one of the best books in it. It succeeds in part due to the ground work laid in the previous books, but it flourishes because it’s been given new life by Sanderson. He may claim the story is Jordan’s for the most part, and he may claim he was continuing Jordan’s work, but he will have to accept that his approach saved the series.
If book eleven was the pay off you deserved for reading the previous ten, then book twelve is the whole reason you read fantasy in the first place. Epic battles, physical, mental and political. Intrigue, death, glory, love, magic and prophecy. Stick with the changes in style, push through the first few chapters where it feels like Sanderson is finding his footing, give it the due it deserves and book twelve will not let you down.
I said it in the review, but this book has saved the series. If 13 and 14 are anywhere near this good, I’ll be happy. I think Jordan may have pulled the story out of the bag if 11 is anything to go by, but I think his desire to finish it in 12 was either flawed and would have changed under pressure, or it would have killed the series. There were too many threads that needed closure, too many people that needed a story, too many characters that need space to finish too quickly in a rushed panic.
I’m glad it’s three books, and I think it was the right decision.
Jordan built this world, he shaped these events, and it’s only right he takes most of the credit for the creation, but in his absence Sanderson brought a freshness to the prose and story telling that was largely missing. It lifted it back above the miasma of the previous books and has returned the fantasy crown to it’s rightful position.
The Angry Spoilers
Hilariously, I struggled in places because the pace was quick. From previous books, I was used to having pages and pages of nonsense to get used to things which had happened. Here however, each chapter was key, something happens in each one, something important, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflection. By the end of course, I was loving it, and it’s only a niggle because I’d done nothing but read Jordan for weeks, and weeks. There’s nothing really annoying about this book, and there’s nothing I’m going to spoil and give away. It’s not perfect of course, but what is? But it’s solid platinum compared to the rusted iron of so many previous books.