Hello again! After a hiatus well spent reading, we're back today with our first post-release content.
We're already at work updating articles, preparing new ones, and researching and studying the book for our full The Gathering Storm Read-through to begin later this fall. As I write this, the book is now on several best-sellers' lists, having even dethroned Dan Brown's number one position (yeah!) on the New York Times's list. We take this opportunity to congratulate Brandon Sanderson, Harriet and the rest of Team Jordan and Tor Books for this accomplishement! It's a well deserved success.
Here are the Thirteenth Depository's two "official reviews" of the new book, Linda's and Dominic's. Beware of spoilers if you haven't finished the book.
Linda's review of The Gathering Storm
Few fantasy series have inspired such devotion from fans as The Wheel of Time. Few have encompassed such a complexity of plot and symbolism, a depth of allusion and world-building either. Of course its detractors have pointed to those very things as getting in the way of the story. The fans counter that they make the story. For a series about balance, The Wheel of Time has certainly polarised readers.
Since RJ’s tragic untimely death from amyloidosis, Brandon Sanderson has been able to pick up the various strands of RJ’s work and produce this book in less than two years. That’s quite an achievement. So much of the story remains to be told that it could not fit into even two books. The subthreads of what would have been the second last book were carefully separated into The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight. In The Gathering Storm Rand and Egwene shine. In the next book they will be less prominent and it will be the turn of Mat, Perrin and other sub-threads to come to the fore. Some have suggested that Perrin’s and Mat’s few chapters in The Gathering Storm are superfluous, but we needed to see Mat’s meeting with Verin, to finish with Masema and Malden and to keep Tam al’Thor in our minds. Moreover Perrin’s issues with love and duty also mirror Rand’s and rightly occurred in the same book.
The Gathering Storm is darker and more menacing than the previous books. Chickens come home to roost: the characters can’t escape the consequences of past actions or inactions. The darkness comes not just from past sins or from the Dark One’s now considerable tainting of the Pattern, but also from the dilemma of how to fight the Shadow effectively without becoming either incapacitated with trauma or corrupted. Perrin accepts that he strayed from his duty and makes resolutions about this. Rand literally duels with demons both within and without, while Egwene emerges triumphant. However it is Verin who steals the show.
The characterisation in The Gathering Storm is mostly excellent, although that of Mat and his entourage is arguably the weakest, and minor characters could be given more attention. The pace of the book starts at the same tempo of Knife of Dreams and accelerates. Thankfully all the themes of the series are continued and expanded and the symbolism is as extensive and well done as in the earlier books. However, there are some inconsistencies in details (for instance, the fifteen house hamlet of Dorlan increases in size and moves across the river, Sulin is now with Rand and not Perrin, and Harine forgot she attended the cleansing of saidin) and also ‘anachronisms’ in dialogue when characters stray from their culture (Aviendha referring to Aiel warriors as ‘soldiers’, the Tower Aes Sedai being considered ‘loyalists’), or from RJ’s 17th century mode of speech into later eras (‘medical aid’). A little more editing time would have tidied these distractions.
I am convinced that my decision not to read any of Brandon Sanderson’s books before The Gathering Storm’s publication was the right one for me: I didn’t have any preconceived ideas, nor was I diverted from reading into comparing the writing style of The Gathering Storm with that of Sanderson’s own books, but was able to take the prose on its own merits. On the whole Sanderson (and his editors) meshed his writing very well with RJ’s. The main differences are his lesser use of secondary characters and that his description and dialogue is a little less economic and evocative.
Plot threads are satisfyingly resolved in The Gathering Storm yet new mysteries beckon. What does Mat get up to in Caemlyn? What has happened at the Black Tower to delay the Reds and the Rebel group? Where did Mesaana and her coterie of Black Ajah go to, if they went with her? Did they even stay as a group, or just flee individually like panicked hens? Which of the Wise Ones are Darkfriends? Did Aran’gar meet up with Graendal? What did Graendal do between her meeting with Moridin and Rand’s strike at her palace?
All things considered, The Gathering Storm is a fairly complete and enthralling episode in this complex series. I look forward to the approach of the Towers of Midnight. Hmmm...this sounds like a fitting warping of reality!
The Day of Return:
Dominic's review of The Gathering Storm
Dominic's review of The Gathering Storm
Writing a review of The Gathering Storm proved far more difficult (and longer) than I expected. I've rarely had to face the task of criticizing a novel or movie from a series for which I have developed such a tangle of emotional and intellectual ties, made even more complex by the untimely death of Jim Rigney.
The Thirteenth Depository is all about passion for The Wheel of Time and the legacy of Jim Rigney, from me and Linda, and for those who read us. I realised after a few false starts how pointless it would be for me to even attempt to criticize this book within the larger perspective of its genre or of literature, or to pretend at any sort of objectivity, the way someone who isn't an hardcore fan of this work might be able to. This review could only be from the heart and mind of The Wheel of Time fan that I am.
From the day he took on the challenge of finishing The Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson has shown respect and love for the work and for its fans, an humility in front of its creator but also in front of the task itself – his willingness to store his ego as a writer away to put his craft fully at the service of Robert Jordan's work that rapidly gained my personal support and respect for this man and in turn set high hopes for the success of this venture, compounded by my faith in Jim Rigney's widow and editor Harriet. However, despite how likeable Brandon have turned out to be, despite how purely enjoyable Harriet, Team Jordan, Brandon and Tor Books have made this long journey to the book's release, in the end the day has come when their efforts have to be judged on the final result.
The Gathering Storm has left me with very mixed feelings the first time around. Despite how much I wanted to relax and simply enjoy it as the new and long anticipated chapter in The Wheel of Time, the mix of excitement at seeing the plot unfold some more at last, at watching as theories discussed for (too) many years fell apart or were coming true, of anxiety over Brandon's success or failure with characters and plot - increase by a little glitch here - dampened pages later by a purely magnificent moment, and the lingering sadness that Jim Rigney himself couldn't complete the book have all stayed with me from the first to the last page, with a final note of almost… relief as I finished the book. Considering my emotional involvement with the series, perhaps there was no escape from that rollercoaster ride the first time around, for the first installment of the final "trilogy" anyway.
I'm happy to say that my second reading of the book brought back all the fun and the great reading experience I was hoping for all along.
Working from an outline, disjointed completed or drafted parts, tons of notes, dictated dialogue and scenes, Brandon Sanderson has woven together this opening act of the finale of the series.
My expectations of what would be Brandon's strength and weaknesses in this venture after reading his books have been quite challenged and turned around reading the final result.
Brandon has made massive improvements as a writer over the years – each of his new book being more achieved and enjoyable than the previous one (and his new series sounds most promising), but I still had lingering worries about the compatibility in style, about the great differences in the way Brandon develops his story arcs and structures his scenes – and the way he likes to use dialogue and secondary cast, for instance. Most of this turned out to be unfounded worries. There are some notable differences in the pacing and structure of The Gathering Storm when compared with the earlier novels of the series, but in the end this had very little impact on the success of the novel. While Brandon did not always manage to accomplish within a single chapter or scene all Jim Rigney would have – he was quite a master at this - by and large Brandon has succeeded at preserving the integrity of a Wheel of Time novel, down to scene and chapter structure. Brandon can be forgiven a few extra chapters (Jordan would have managed to use at least one if not two less for Gawyn's story line, in my opinion) for getting all the story elements in. At this point, what's an extra chapter or two in the series anyway?
Brandon has also done a wonderful job respecting the great lines and and much of the essence of Robert Jordan's style, adapting his approach to fiction to Jim Rigney's own. The prose of Robert Jordan was always a matter of controversy among his readers, ranging from people who admired it to others who love the series despite it. Brandon himself is a great fan of it, as I am – and of course regrets over this loss couldn't help but be there with me while reading the novel, but Brandon (who wisely made the choice not to attempt mimicry that could turn easily into parody, and wisely forewarned the fans about this) has succeeded at making his own writing hand as unobtrusive as possible, grafting to his style his own version of Jordan's evocative descriptions and attention to details, in most places with success. It is not Robert Jordan's prose or style, but it works, and it feels right. It would have been even closer to a feeling of seamlessness if an even greater attention had been given to respecting Jim Rigney's vocabulary, though I imagine time constraints have forced the writer and his editors to focus most of their efforts on getting the story right and sorting out the minutia. This was perhaps irritating mostly in the dialogue - from curious variations on established swearing to abuse of them in places (Siuan is not Uno!) or discrepancies in the way honorifics are used (too many Lords lost their 'My' - giving a Seanchan twist to everyone). Jordan's national flavours resided on very subtle things, and this has been lost a bit in The Gathering Storm (Aludra's Taraboner accent fluctuates, for instance).
Brandon's handling of the characters is also satisfying for the most part. As far as I'm concerned he has "killed" nobody, to reprise the expression of other reviewers. His success with the main cast is even impressive, and is a testimony to Harriet's intuition to have chosen a long time Wheel of Time fan for this project, over a writer from Jordan's generation or closer to his background, but having nowhere the familiarity of Sanderson with the story.
Robert Jordan revelled in ambiguity and the multiplicity of perceptions - incorporating a great deal of subtleties that rivalled his Aes Sedai's word plays - the author himself and his opinions, and the factual truths, almost always disappearing behind his characters' POV and worldviews – a style Jordan has come to master as the series progressed and that I believe to be a main factor in its success, and the main reason why The Wheel of Time has become such an enduring smash hit on the internet discussion boards, where taking sides and arguing about the vision of each characters, the different perceptions of ongoing events and plot points have become a central element of the community. Brandon in The Gathering Storm comes close to full success at this style, but he gives more the feeling there's a hand on the helm, a director in the chair, not always achieving Jordan's level of neutrality and his subtlety and games with the relativity of truths and perceptions, especially in the first third of the book. He's getting there by the second part of the book, however.
His work with Mat has sparked many debates since October 27, though I disagree with those who see it as a complete disaster. A lot of it felt right to me, the problems with him being related to a departure from the way Jordan used humour for this character. Mat rarely tries to be funny, he doesn't know he's hilarious. He simply is, quite despite him, from his prejudices and cutting comments, from all his blind spots – much like Nynaeve. Humour has always been one of the most difficult and personal forms of writing, and Robert Jordan's humour has always been very much his own. Brandon finds himself in the invidious position of a new script-writer trying to write for an established and beloved stand-up comedian who lost the long time writer who made him a success. Sanderson's Mat is funny, but not the way we're used to Mat being funny. I have high hopes that the more he advances in this story line, the more successful Brandon will get at writing Mat.
His handling of the series' massive secondary cast is somewhat spottier than his success with the main players, which was to be expected. It was a massive challenge, to begin with, and handling a large secondary cast is an art at which Brandon is vastly improving in his own novels but that he hasn't fully mastered – his characterization of his Mistborn players like Elend, Vin or Kelsier and Sazed is great and engaging, the minor players in Mistborn are often less interesting, and tend to simply fade out when he doesn't have something specific for them to do in the main plot. Jim Rigney himself was a master at making even the bit players feel real and distinctive and important in two sentences here and two more five novels later, a master at keeping the minor players around or have them return after a whole lot of untold adventures have happened to them, while making us believe their lives did go on and they have not been put in a stasis box until needed again. He was a master at moving things in the background constantly through all sort of writing devices (spy reports and allusions and so on), at creating the illusion that all the other players went on with their issues and self-interests in the background, without resorting to full scenes with them. Some of that Brandon achieved, and in other places he failed. The Gathering Storm made a great deal of secondary players fade away a little too much, only to appear in their moments of interaction with the main cast, or when concerned with episodes from the main plot. And some simply faded away. Two concrete examples of this are the return of Harine, never to be mentioned again after her arrival scene, or the way Brandon didn't find ways to use the sitters with the rebels who have plotted with their Tower Ajah Heads, to build up a bit more to the revelation of the conspiracy at the end. Much of the Aes Sedai political currents faded to leave place only to Lelaine and Romanda. The background of Arad Doman also became too much just that, a background on which Rand's story line was set, lacking the usual intricacies of Robert Jordan, focussed on very few players and issues. Rodel Ituralde's story line felt a bit flat after the build up in previous books. Brandon also made almost no use of the whole web of conflicting allegiances among Ituralde's Domani allies – carefully set up by Jordan in previous books, while Graendal's almost complete lack of involvement in the story line, after a promising prologue scene, was a disappointment (however fitting her end is). I have some hopes there's a a few more "behind the scenes" moments with secondary characters coming when Towers of Midnight returns to complete the events during this timeline, however. Those scenes could set everything right.
The focus on Egwene and Rand as motors to drive the book forward was both a good and a bad thing for me. Bad, because it felt in places the series had lost a bit of its scope and the background players their usual relevance to the full tapestry, and good because in the very short time Brandon was given to write this novel, it feels like a very wise choice to have focussed mainly his efforts on the main characters, with whom he became very successful after a few hits and misses very early in the novel. A plot centered a lot on the main players is writing style that is also natural to him. What we lost with the secondary players, we gained with the often stellar characterization of Rand and Egwene, who both shone in this book and this contributes massively to the book's success.
Whereas the use of the likes of Talmanes or Lelaine disappointed me, there were lot of moments of pure bliss with the secondary characters, however – like the return of Tam al'Thor and the resolution of the "Verin mystery" that was both very well executed and emotionally gripping, and turned out to be the most satisfying "mystery" Robert Jordan has set up so far (dare I call it a "long con"?), after a few disappointing ones like the resolution of Adeleas's murder in the last book, notably. Sheriam was also well used, and if the resolution was a bit disappointing, that is Jordan's choice and the execution of these scenes was still well done.
"Team Jordan's mastery of The Wheel of Time minutia proved also impressive overall, despite a few glitches. The novel has many minor errors, but most of those can easily disappear in later editions (as Robert Jordan had the habit of doing with his own occasional errors) and more importantly, virtually none of these errors had any serious repercussion on the plot or my enjoyment of seeing it unfold. Little continuity errors here and there (Perrin mean to leave Malden on the hour at the end of KOD and his decision to take a day to set out isn't explained, Harine was at the Cleansing and didn't learn of it from Logain's visit; Graendal dislikes nature and avoided rooms with windows, Davram Bashere isn't cousin but uncle of Tenobia, little errors with the geography, Sulin having switched story line and so on). But spotting these minor mistakes, inescapable as it is for fans deeply immersed in Jordan's universe, mustn't overshadow how much Team Jordan has gotten right about continuity, back story material and minutia - an impressive feat.
Where Brandon has impressed me the most, however, is with the "greater picture". Through the novel he displays at every turn his great sensibility to Jordan's themes, a much greater and much deeper mastery of them I ever hoped he could achieve (and reading the advanced material had made my hopes rose quite high). Thematic depth and cohesion is one of his strengths as a writer, one of the most interesting aspects of his own fiction, but I'm terribly impressed with how he was able to just sink into another writer's themes and carry them through the book so efficiently, with such flair and respect for Jordan's intentions.
This is where I had the greatest doubts about Harriet's choice of a writer so young and from such a different background, despite knowing of Brandon's skills with themes. We were heading for a part of the story that obviously owes so much to Jim Rigney's personal experiences, as a war veteran notably – experiences quite foreign to Brandon Sanderson, of his own admission. This is where I had my biggest worries that no one but Robert Jordan himself could get it right, where I thought we might lose the most from his untimely demise. But Brandon has done an amazing job there. He is less subtle at it than Robert Jordan used to be, from the way he explains his metaphors too much, or turned elements that used to be symbolic in the background into open metaphors, to his more transparent use of allegory. But through and through, everything feels right, every piece of the thematic puzzle fell into place and flows with the plot's progression, adding surprising depth in many places. I had hoped Robert Jordan had integrated enough of them simply by outlining the story and by Brandon integrating these elements with or without noticing them, but the final result goes way beyond just that. There, Brandon really showed not only his craftsmanship but just how far he intimately possessed and understood Jordan's writing and the prevalent themes of The Wheel of Time. Brandon was even more successful at it because of his choice of combining Rand's and Egwene's story lines in this first installment to what has become a trilogy. A very wise choice. The resulting novel is thematically very cohesive, with a surprising success at mirroring and parallels given the short time Brandon had to re structure the novel(that was originally to have the five main story lines running in parallel until a reunion at the 2/3 mark, when Tarmon Gai'don begins) after the decision to split it not in two but three volumes. Brandon's success here is only mitigated a little by what I felt was a too great use of POV switches. It added much dynamism to the plot progression, at a level we hadn't seen in a long time in the series, but diluted a bit the thematic progression. This was too much a return to books two and three, too abrupt a departure from the mood set by Winter's Heart, Crossroads of Twilight and Knife of Dreams, undermining a little with the depth of what was going on in each of the two main story lines. A better balance, like going back to The Shadow Rising or Lord of Chaos, would in my opinion have better served this book, the two main story lines that in many ways were about spiritual and personal progression more than fast paced suspense and action. The full depth of this book emerges well on re reads, however.
But what of Robert Jordan's story in all of this? The story was mostly wonderful and satisfying as promised, full of those long awaited moments coming true balanced out by a series of rather unexpected twists and turns. Last August at a signing I attended, Brandon spoke of A Memory of Light (ie: as the whole trilogy) as holding more deep satisfaction with the resolutions offered than big surprises for fans involved in messages boards and immersed in theories for years. Actually, so far it holds both. Perhaps Brandon has missed how deeply divided the fan base is over what's going to happen – that one's expectations is another's big surprises.
As promised by the latest installments, this was a fairly dark book, with the victories long in coming and only through dark paths full of pitfalls, with both main characters in a downward spiral before they sprang back, and both of them doing it magnificently, at the very end. Both Rand and Egwene finally reach emotional and spiritual adulthood in a deeply satisfying way, worth all the build up since their departure from the Two Rivers. How far these two have come!
I wouldn't say it was a darker book than I expected, but it was so in surprising ways sometimes, and sooner and more abruptly than I expected in Rand's case, his mental state deteriorating at a sudden pace after Semirhage's revelation, as the world spirals fast toward Tarmon Gai'don. I was surprised, and deeply happy, by own personal and even spiritual the challenges faced by the characters turned out to be. It was a book about pitfalls and enlightenment, and a very satisfying one at that. Jim Rigney was at the same time a sharp observer of human nature and accepting, often forgiving, of foibles and weaknesses as an inherent part of it, someone with few illusions about self-interest, but who also believed they could sometimes be transcended. Whatever Robert Jordan left him to work from, Brandon has done masterfully at continuing and preserving this aspect of the book, especially with Rand. It was a very daring move to bring a hero so far into darkness, walking the fine line between making the reader disgusted with Rand or being too apologetic for his errors and actions. For many books now, many readers have been blind to the growing darkness in Rand, too ready to envision things the way he did, too certain Rand had it right. This book made that impossible, brought Rand to places where the readers could still sympathize for him or empathize with his suffering, but where it was no longer possible anymore to deny the insanity, the wrongness of the path Rand was following and that might bring him and the whole world to the final doom. What a magnificent chapter is Veins of Gold, one of the best in the whole series. This story line was masterfully set up by Robert Jordan, and masterfully executed by Jordan/Sanderson in this book, from the downfall to the epiphany, it was emotionally wrenching, disturbing and finally elating. What a ride, what a story line fulfilling all its promises, and not shying from the heart of darkness.
The rest of the novel is also rollercoaster of action and emotional moments, achieving a good balance between the major action sequences and as interesting intimate and social scenes. Great character development for Nynaeve and Aviendha, notably - more unexpected but equally interesting for Cadsuane. The political developments lacked the intricacies Robert Jordan used us to, but despite the need for suspension of disbelief in some episodes, Egwene's story line had such an abundance of deeply satisfying personal and spiritual progresses on her part, and they were so well executed by Sanderson/Jordan that it didn't suffer much from the missing details.
The inclusion of Mat and Perrin in this novel was hit and miss for me. Mat's story line was actually quite fun, with its mix of classic American witchcraft/supernatural folklore (from Salem to Lovecraft) and horror B-movies – the one perfectly right for the character. It was also a very intriguing teaser for the rest of this story line. I had my doubts that Mat would go immediately to Ghenjei after Knife of Dreams, but it happened in a rather unexpected way. With this and the mysterious letter left to Mat by Verin and the use of the colours swirls moments, Brandon has managed to turn the fact the first part of A Memory of Light is now divided into two novels which timelines will overlap to his advantage. It's going to be terribly exciting now to discover why Mat remains in Caemlyn and what happens there. It is not a form of foreshadowing Jordan has used us much to, but in the context of the two first books, it sounds very promising and an excellent device to make the split work. I, for one, hope Brandon has also kept a few aces up his sleeve about events that happened with secondary characters and the villains in Rand's and Egwene's story lines.- what Alviarin had been up to during Egwene's rise, and Mesaana, how the Black Ajah managed to escape, what came out of Aran'gar's plans for Graendal and to use her network of followers?
This is far less satisfying with Perrin, however. While Mat's chapters felt right for this book and Brandon even managed to make a mini-arc out of them, Perrin's - though it's a good start - seemed to have simply landed by mistake in the wrong book and to cater above all to those readers who would have protested at his complete absence. Again, the fact he's still stuck on the Jehannah road weeks (if not more) after Malden is very intriguing, and it was very clever of Brandon to have given us the most obvious and expected development (Morgase and Galad) while keeping us totally in the dark about what else was going on. This could have been done just as effectively without the few Perrin's chapters, and revealing that Masema was killed early, a surprise to most readers, now feels a bit like handing a sucker to a wailing baby than something that could be best used in this book instead of opening Perrin's Towers of Midnight story line with a bang.
In conclusion, The Gathering Storm is not a perfect book, but it is very far from a disappointment either, and it's a book with plenty of depths to explore in further re reads. The plot developments alone make it one of the better The Wheel of Time books, and the execution, occasionally a bit choppy because of the constant POV switches, a bit relying too much on the central protagonists to drive the action at the cost of sending the (often beloved) minor players too much to the background, depriving very secondary arcs of the proper build up to their resolution, is still overall masterful enough, respectful enough of the spirit of Jim Rigney's storytelling to call this book a resounding success. I cannot go as far as saying this books in all its aspects stands above Jordan's masterpieces in this series (those including The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven and Lord of Chaos for me, in case you wonder. I am also biased in favour of the later series over the opening trilogy), as for me this would be doing Jordan an injustice. However, the novel in Sanderson's hands is the next best thing to that. The skills of the people involved, their love of Jim Rigney's work, the heart and soul they very obviously put wholly into meeting this challenge of completing Jordan's story and the deep respect they've shown at every turn to his legacy have largely paid off. The result is not perfect, and even on second read I've wondered if it Team Jordan has given itself really all the time they required to work on the book, what could giving Brandon a few more months to research and analyze the series before he started writing, what postponing the release by a few months to leave writer and editor more time to step back and polish the new structure and the plot details when the decision was made to split the book in three would have lead to, given that their efforts are already very impressive, and their skills are more than up to the task. Now that the fans have had their "WOT fix", it might be worth considering taking a little longer for Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light if necessary (a personal opinion I think most fans won't share with me, however!).
With the success of The Gathering Storm, there is no more doubt in my mind that The Wheel of Time will be brought to a conclusion that makes it justice, that honours Mr. Rigney's memory and has secured the series' legacy and success with new generations of readers for many years to come. And for this, I'm deeply grateful to all those involved and how much they have invested in this book.
Thanks to the skills of Brandon Sanderson, Harriet McDougal and "Team Jordan", October 27 marked for me the Day of Return for Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time, a day of return completely unlike the one the Dark One would bring. The challenge has been met, the worries put to rest. This is the real deal and the ending we've been waiting for. The Wheel turns, the Pattern goes on. Not only this first installment satisfies, but its quality holds all the promises that the wait for book thirteen and fourteen won't be in vain. Brandon and Harriet already had my support; with what they've delivered with The Gathering Storm they also have my full trust for the rest of this project.