Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book review: "The Gathering Storm" by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

As I said, I started reading "The Gathering Storm" immediately after finishing "Crossroads of Twilight" and "Knife of Dreams". This was my second reading, first being immediately after publishing a year ago. Unfortunately, almost two weeks has passed since reading it and writing this blog. I feel like I will never be able to catch up... Nevertheless, this shouldn't hinder me too much, because I know my opinion of this book very well. I plan to avoid any kind of spoilers, but on the other hand I will presume some familiarity with the characters and concepts of Wheel of Time.

First, a bit of history. Robert Jordan, the author of Wheel of Time serial, died of illness in 2007. Sad as this was by itself, it was also unfortunate because he wasn't able to finish the last book. While it was announced even before, that in the case of his death someone else will finish it, it was all very uncertain; Who will it be? Will he/she be able to do it right? And not just right, but great? Then, at the end of 2007 it was revealed that Brandon Sanderson, a relatively unknown fantasy author, was chosen (by Jordan's widow Harriet) as the one to write the last book. Most WoT fans didn't know anything about Sanderson, including me. But, while reading his books (the "Mistborn" trilogy) and following his blog, I got a nice impression of him. It looked that he is a fine author, one dedicated to details (he got often referred as "the magic-system" guy, because of his strict and detailed, almost SF, magic systems in his books), although without experience in long, epic fantasies (he fantasy opus at that time was one stand-alone novel and already mentioned trilogy). He was also very funny guy, judging from his blog. And most important, he was a genuine WoT fan. Even though he wasn't able to finish the book, Robert Jordan was able to leave a large collection of notes about character and future events, even some already written scenes. After rereading of whole WoT series (with comments on his blog) and these notes (without the comments), Sanderson was able to finish first part of three of the last book. Although Jordan announced that the last book ("A Memory of Light") will be lengthy, but nevertheless published in one volume, TOR and Sanderson decided to split it in three volumes. While I presume that possibility for greater profit was part of that decision, I also believe that it was a good decision. Two already published volumes have together some 1600 pages, and I don't believe that they could have been written shorter and maintain the quality. So, at the end of October 2009, "The Gathering Storm", first volume of last part of Wheel of Time was published! I received it only few weeks later.

After reading it for second time now, my opinion is that this is a good book. Unfortunately, this is not one of the best WoT books. But let's go step by step. After several book where he didn't have much coverage (up from "Crown of Swords", I think), this book finally deals mostly with Rand. Because of great number of characters and plots, Rand wasn't getting many pages, even though he had very important moments on those pages (trivia: even though Rand is a central character, third book in series, "The Dragon Reborn", (almost) didn't even feature Rand directly). In TGS, he gets the deserved attention. Which is why many fans (including me) will be biased toward this book. Rand's parts are great: you can really dig into him, understand him... Sanderson didn't do any mistakes regarding Rand. So, the problem is not in the quality of these parts, but in the content. Meaning, Rand gets very unlikeable as character. In first few books (definitely till "The Shadow Rising", I think in "The Fires of Heaven" too) he is probably most interesting and very likable characters. You have to cheer for the guy with country background fighting against bad guys, good guys with different ideas and plans, and the world. In later books, he grows more mature, has greater responsibilities, which make him harder, but you still cheer for him: he is a good guy in though position. Even though he is getting crazy (literally, but he can't help it) and ill-tempered, you understand him; who wouldn't get crazy carrying the world and all Creation on your shoulders. But in this book, his problems get him. He is not anymore good guy with problems - he almost becomes a bad guy. A very bad guy! It is disputable whether or not he crosses the Moral Event Horizon, but he gets very close to it.

Second central character of this book (and one of central characters of series) is Egwene. Her parts are also marvelously done. She has similar background as Rand (they come from the same village): a young girl without experience, but with cool head and quick wits gets thrown in the world on political machinations and deadly traps. But unlike Rand, her responsibilities grow slower and are never as big as his. So I don't like how sometimes she has too big an opinion about herself: she is not the savior of the world nor she is responsible for it; just one part of it. But she has great sequences in this book: political maneuvering and manipulations at the beginning and superb action scenes at the end. I liked how her fear and anger toward Senchan (installed in her ten books ago!) show that she is still human, not just a manipulating machine.

Other characters don't get lot a attention. Nyneve gets some, but her parts revolve mostly around Rand, so that can't really count. Aviendha has few partial chapters, as does Min, but both of them are with Rand, too. Elayne and Perrin, I think they have no more that few mentions and short POV's.

Now, there is one part of the book that I (and number of people, judging from comments on various blogs) consider bad: Mat's POVs. While the Rand thing is not likable, I can appreciate the way it is done. Mat has few chapters in this book, but they amount to nothing, really. There is no importance in them, and book wouldn't be any less good without them. More so, I would be better, because Sanderson completely failed with Mat. Rand he got perfect, Egwene and the rest almost perfect, but Mat is way off. He looked childish and arrogant, which is not how Mat usually is (even though other characters see him as such). I don't know where things went wrong and why Sanderson did it, but I wouldn't miss that few dozens of pages not a single second.

I don't know how to end this review, really, without going to spoilers, so I am just going to cut it trough. Even though "The Gathering Storm" will never be a favorite WOT book of many fans, I think it is a worthy addition to the series. Even if some fans will not the book in general, most will agree ending itself is good enough reason to read the book.

My next post, due in few days (I hope), will be about "Towers of Midnight".

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