Review: The Gathering Storm
THE GATHERING STORM. We know that you have all been waiting for us to write this review. You know what this book is, and you likely had some sort of strong feeling when you found out that Brandon Sanderson would be completing the late Robert Jordan’s epic series. Some of you felt as though demon’s had taken over Tor and killed Santa, and some of you felt a profound sense of relief just knowing the series would be finished.
Truthfully, we weren’t in either camp. Oh we were glad when we heard our buddy Brandon was finishing the series–we tend to consider him a great writer–but we wondered if anyone stood a chance at making this series enjoyable again.
Before you get your panties all twisted up, let us explain. This IS going to be a rather long review, so go to the bathroom before continuing.
For us, part of the difficulty in reviewing THE GATHERING STORM was treating it as a separate novel, and not letting our feelings for the prior eleven novels (and a novella) get in the way. It shouldn’t be much of a secret that we don’t care for The Wheel of Time–specifically, anything past LORD OF CHAOS. Yeah, that’s half the series ago. We both grew up in the fantasy genre reading Jordan’s series–Steve started the WoT back in 1993, and considers it the series that really got him into fantasy. Nick started even earlier. But with book seven began a long list of problems–most of which consist of “Nothing Happens.” So when we read THE GATHERING STORM (TGS), we had to wonder if our feelings were real and geared towards TGS, or if they were nothing more than a reaction to the series itself.
In some ways, we can’t–and won’t–keep them separate. So, we are going to endeavor to give you our honest PoV. We liked some of the novel. We disliked some of it. You want details? Of course you do…especially if you are a “Jordan Fan.”
TGS mainly follows Rand and Egwene, and honestly, their portions feel pretty spot-on. We don’t know which parts of the story Brandon wrote as opposed to the sections Jordan wrote/dictated. Frankly we don’t care.
What we will say is that Egwene was easily one of our least favorite characters from the very VERY beginning of the series. However, her sections in TGS were the highlight of the novel, and we found ourselves coming to the realization that Egwene was no longer a carbon-copy of all the other female characters. She grew into someone stronger. In the scope of this one novel, Egwene goes from being one of the worst characters in the series (In our opinions, mind you. All you Egwene lovers keep your pitchforks stowed away.) to one of the best.
As for Rand? He actually manages to interest us. Rand, out of necessity, has been a fairly flat character over the last few novels. We see him falling further into madness, and for the most part it is well done. Not to mention, Rand actually LEARNS stuff in this book. No more “Yay! I solved it on accident!” Thank-freaking-goodness. The main issue we had with Rand deals with a certain part of the novel where you think Jordan and Sanderson are going to change the “danger” aspect of the series…and then they don’t. In what should have been a heart-wrenching scene with Rand and Min that turned our stomach, instead we ended up feeling cheated. If you’ve read the book, you know the scene. If not, you’ll know it when you get there.
Let’s talk about Mat. It’s pretty safe to say that he is most people’s favorite character–we include ourselves in this group. We are going to be blunt here. Mat’s sections are poor. It’s not that they are just “off,” which they are, it’s that they feel like filler. Remember when you used to skim other sections just to get back to Mat? Why did we find ourselves skimming the Mat sections to get to other PoVs–namely Egwene’s. In fact, the one section of Mat’s–where he is coming up with fake back-stories–feels a lot like he was getting ready for an RPG session. It just feels pointless. It really is disappointing. Seriously, just leave him out of the book. It’s been done before. It would have been better than the meaningless sections included in TGS. Perrin managed to stay off screen just fine, why not Mat? Don’t include him if there is no cause to. It just ends up serving as needless filler and taints our view on the character…and really, Mat was the only reason Nick was even still reading the series.
Other characters? Well, this is really a mixed bag. For many of them, the tone is off. We’ll include Elaida here–who went from being slightly unstable to almost laughably bonkers (laughably in a bad way). Cadsuane seems like a waste of a character, and we wish Rand would have executed her. Sheriam? It’s no secret that she is losing it due to the strain of being Black Ajah. And yet she goes completely out of character at the end of the novel–it felt rushed. Siuan’s sections are painful to read at the beginning due to the insistence that she throw in random sailing/fishing references EVERY SENTENCE. At the end, it isn’t as strong, and her character begins to “feel” right. Gawyn is terrible. His dialogue is so forced, and we really don’t get to see the full potential of his conflicted loyalties as we should. Really every other character felt solid (from Nynaeve, to Min, to Perrin, to Silviana), and the problems with the other characters can mostly be overlooked since their sections are relatively short. There was only one character (besides Mat) that was beyond infuriating.
Seriously? WTF (What The…err Frak)? Her character is turned into a magic bullet so we could get the plot moving? How convenient. Gee, it’s a good thing she came along to reveal herself (Not THAT way. Get your heads out of the gutter). Now, the WoT has made a career of using coincidence and convenience to solve issues and further the plot. Generally, you could over-look it and say, “It’s the Pattern!” The section with Verin is beyond that. There may as well have been an annotation saying, “This section was included for the sole purpose of redirecting a meandering plot and forcing the story towards the end without having to get into much detail.” If this was the intention of the character all along, then it should have been a big deal early on in the series.
All in all, the main differences here from prior novels are the characters being extremely introspective. In addition, the conversations they have are extremely blunt and to the point. Was this an addition of Brandon’s? The introspection very strongly suggests him, but we hesitate to point a finger. And you know what, maybe it was a good thing. It certainly freshened up the series for us.
The Story Itself:
It’s pretty good, especially the last 150 pages. The beginning was typically slow with a ton of set-up. In this case, it isn’t a problem. Remember, this is essentially the first third of a huge novel. We need a little set-up that doesn’t go all CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT on us. TGS does the set-up well, while introducing plot elements (or furthering previously introduced elements) that will be crucial to ‘The End’, but won’t take too long to wrap up.
We can’t really say a lot here–the whole non-spoiler thing–but we will say that epiphanies come like crazy throughout the story. Most of them are good. The final “battle” scene came up a bit short…but maybe that just has to do with us expecting Steven Erikson-like battles at the end of a book. Brandon had to end this novel somewhere, and TGS ending was aptly picked. There should be some serious and immediate consequences–something that has lacked in prior novels of the series.
One thing we did notice: TGS gave us the first REAL feeling that the series was coming to an end, and if felt GOOD. In any other series, this could have been the final book. It really feels like Jordan and Sanderson are seriously wrapping up plot threads. Once again, this is a good thing. A really good thing. We have the movement that we have been lacking for five novels, and a goal in sight. This is what made the novel for us.
There is one thing that bothers us, and it has been a problem for the entire series. At one point in TGS, an Aes Sedai says, “What does it matter, we are going to win anyway right?” This is the same impression that we have had for a while. There is no danger. We don’t worry about any of the main characters. We know the good guys are going to win, and at this point we figure it will be all neatly tied with a pink (maybe yellow) bow. We don’t even really care who gets killed during the last battle, since no one stays dead in this series. We are praying that this doesn’t happen. Please, let it end messily.
This was the big concern most people had. Could Brandon fill in the spaces Jordan left open and tell a WoT story? Not only that, but could he tell wrap up the story WELL?
When this whole scenario was first announced after Jordan passed away, Steve had a nice, long chat with Brandon. Brandon was understandably nervous. He worried that he wouldn’t be able to do the series justice. Steve told him, “Look, it’s not like you can do any worse than what happened with the new Dune novels. I’d say you are in good shape.” Yeah. That was Steve’s idea of a motivational speech. There were no “Huzzahs!” to be found. But really, the principle was sound. We know Brandon, and we knew how serious he was taking this opportunity. He is a great writer, and we knew that if anyone could take a series that was–excuse the WoT reference–floundering like a silverpike on land, and use Jordan’s outline to get it back on track, it was Brandon. He is a professional.
And really, all the drama and doubts amounted to nothing in the end. Brandon did fine. In some cases there were word usages that were distinctly un-Jordan. The WoT swearing was off for the entire novel. Oh well. There are worse things that could have happened (once again, see the new Dune novels for a reference on how to destroy a series). We’ve been reading some other reviews around the internets, and some claim that TGS reads like fan fiction, and that Brandon’s writing is terrible. They are idiots. The writing is just fine (not that they really know for sure which parts Brandon wrote and which parts were Jordan’s). In fact, some of the subtle (and not so subtle) changes that we did notice were welcome. It pulls WoT a little into the modern style of fantasy.
One last thing: We liked how the annoying “all men are idiots” mentality was all but removed. It was old, repetitive, and added nothing to the plot. In addition, we liked the toned-down description of meaningless objects. There was a lot of repetition in description and dialogue, but nothing too major.
The small writing problems we did see can easily be fixed. We have faith in Brandon, and so should you. These small problems will resolve themselves over the last two books.
We thought the book was pretty decent. Not great, but not bad. We’d put it on par with book 5 (coincidentally our 5th favorite–book 2 is our #1), and a far cry better than books 7 through 11.
We didn’t just feel book was decent because “stuff happens,” because really not a ton does happen(or what does happen is wrapped up in a few pages). Dumai’s Wells, the ending wasn’t. The book was decent because we have movement. Because actual plot-lines were somewhat wrapped up.
We both had the same two thoughts after finishing the book:
1) Yeah, this makes me look forward to the next novel–especially since it is only a year away.
2) It was a quick read, and now I’m ready to move right on to something else. This wasn’t the book that makes me want to read it again as soon as I’ve finished it.
In short, it seriously felt like the series has taken (or was given) a major course correction. Some of the plot-lines were delicately guided back on course and back into focus, while others were yanked and forced. The end goal is the same in all cases–getting the meandering story back on track, and ready for the final two novels of the series. If this was indeed the preparatory goal of the novel, then it succeeded.
We aren’t even going to bother putting our rating systems on this review. Novels in the WoT don’t need it. It is one of the cleanest fantasy series in the market, and can be read by all ages.
What we are going to mention, however, is how thoroughly pissed off we are at the UK edition of the novel.
While the UK edition may have the superior cover, it is counter-acted by extremely poor binding – thinly glued instead of stitched. Orbit UK dropped the ball here. By the end of Steve’s reading (a very GENTLE reading), he could already see where pages were looser. Nicks US version didn’t have this problem in the least–it just had the worst cover in the history of fantasy novels (who knew that Rand looked like Freddie Mercury, and had Celene Dion as a backup singer?).
This feels like Orbit UK trying to squeeze every penny out of TGS rather than making something of quality.
The solution for you serious fans? Import the UK edition, buy the US version, then put the UK dust-jacket on the US novel.
The last thing we want to reiterate is that we feel Brandon did an excellent job. He didn’t try to be Jordan, which would have been a disaster. Consider what he accomplished. Not only did Brandon finish up this WoT novel, but he also wrote his own HUGE novel, THE WAY OF KINGS in the same year. Having read THE WAY OF KINGS already (yes, it is awesome), we feel like Brandon grew up a lot while writing TGS. This has really become a win-win situation for readers. WoT readers get to see their fav. series finished up in a competent–if different–way, and Brandon’s own writing ability has grown tremendously.