The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

There may be an embargo on reviews of The Gathering Storm, the 12th volume of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, but that hasn’t stopped a few approved (read: glowingly positive, written by people close to Tor/Jordan) reviews and general impressions from popping up around the web.

Though I haven’t read far enough in the series to read The Gathering Storm, nor does it seem like I’ll receive a review copy (I guess I’m not part of the ‘hip’ crowd?), I’m still closely following the release with a fair bit of anticipation. Hey, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype! To that end, I thought it would be fun to gather together some of those early impressions here, for you guys to whet your appetite with!

Of course, I’ll stay far away from spoilers, though those are floating around the web as well, if you’re google-savvy enough.

The first reviews to break came from camps closely associated with Tor, and also holding a clear bias towards the novel succeeding. Still, these guys are mega-fans of the series, so while it’s always prudent to take what they say with a grain of salt (one of them is known for fellating Crossroads of Twilight, almost unanimously known to be the worst volume of the series, in an early review several years ago), it’s still worth seeing the novel through the eyes of the average fanboy, rather than the jaded eyes of Internet pundits.

Jason, from Dragonmount was the first on the scene:

The Gathering Storm is, in my opinion, quite easily one of the most intense and exciting books in the entire Wheel of Time series. Yes, you read that right. I avoided writing this review right after I finished reading. Instead, I purposely waited some time to let the initial rush and enjoyment wear off. It certainly has cooled a great deal, but I can still say with grounded and sober confidence that the book is outstanding. I would rank it up there in the top 4 in the series along with The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven, and The Great Hunt. Pacing-wise, I would agree with Brandon Sanderson’s statement that it’s similar to books 4-6 in the series.

So now the other burning question: does this feel like a Robert Jordan novel? Does it have his “voice”? Well, truthfully, I thought the prose stayed very true to previous novels. … it seems like Brandon put himself into the heart of the saga and allowed himself to be its vessel and storyteller. The result is that this book is clearly and undeniably a novel which belongs in the WoT series. There were only a few times where I suspected the scene I was reading was entirely from Brandon’s imagination.

There’s no doubt that The Gathering Storm deserves an equal place on your top shelf next to the previous eleven volumes. Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson have crafted a remarkable novel fraught with dark, foreboding themes that will remind you why you first fell in love with the series to begin with. Even though we know it’s Brandon who pulled the actual words together, this is undeniably Robert Jordan’s work, and perhaps one of his best.

Jason’s words are strong, especially when he compares it to the first four volumes of the series (which are some of the best Epic Fantasy released, ever), but his enthusiasm is endearing. Obviously his review is going to be far from objective (he’s got an agenda, just like anyone), and was only released early because Tor wanted to build positive buzz… but it was a nice way to kick things off, as long as you approached it with a bit of weary apprehension and your fanboy hat firmly in place.

Not to be outdone, had their own review, even more saccarhine than Dragonmount’s:


It is one of my top three favorites; and I am not the only one who feels this way.

Brandon Sanderson’s voice seemed most obvious to me in the prologue, though this may be because I heard the tape where Robert Jordan describes the prologue in his own words. I’m sure it colored it for me. However, by the end of Chapter 3, I was completely lost in the story. I no longer heard one voice or another. I heard the characters. The characters came across consistently, honestly, and believably. I am frankly amazed at how smoothly this transition happened. Sanderson is clearly not only an exceptional writer, he is a dedicated fan who has taken the time to learn these characters and this world as much as any of us could hope for. And the journey we go on is exhilarating.

I dropped my jaw, I cheered aloud, I got up and danced, and I had the HARDEST time not telling my husband what I’d just learned because I was so excited. I’m being quite literal; I did all of these things.

When I was first introduced to this series, I was overtaken by it. Reading “The Gathering Storm” took me right back to my enthusiasm level of ten years ago. This book made me desperately excited about the series again. I felt compelled to talk about it again.

The story moved quickly. The information I read was full, rich and dense. It became obvious very quickly that extending the ending over three books is the right decision. You will find no filler here. To wrap up all the loose ends that need to be wrapped, and to do it right, will take many more pages. The story will be as long as it needs to be, and I am glad it was not cut down in order to finish it in only one final installment. [sic]

Theory folk are going to have the best time they’ve had since book five.

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Had enough of reviews so sweet they’ll rot your teeth? Me too. Pat, from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist comes to the rescue, with much cooler words for the novel. His only official word on the blog was

All I can tell you is that The Gathering Storm falls in the same category as The Path of Daggers, Winter’s Heart, and Crossroads of Twilight.

which, for anyone who knows anything about the series, are damning words. In the comments of the post, Adam from The Wertzone calls Pat to task for his vague comment:

Spoilers about the books have crept out and I can’t see how that, if they are accurate, the book can be said to be on the same level as CoT or PoD. Maybe WH, which had a huge ending and a fair amount of incident (most of it unfortunately unrelated to furthering the core storylines of the series), but it does sound like KNIFE OF DREAMS is the better comparison point. Whilst KoD’s faster pace is sometimes overstated (it’s still nowhere near as well-paced as the first four or five books in the series), I’d say that’s a much more encouraging comparison point.

However, off-the-record, Pat went a bit deeper with his opinions on the Westeros boards:

Tarmon Gai’don is looming, and we only have three more books to go. Technically, the rhythm should have quickened, and we should feel that we are heading for the Last Battle. The proverbial shit should have hit the fan by now.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of great stuff in TGS. Especially when things get moving around page 500. And yes, a major plot arc is advanced, though it won’t be to everyone’s satisfaction, and yes to a certain extent it feels contrived and rushed a bit. But as I mentioned, it’s a bit like the cleansing of saidin in Winter’s Heart. A very cool scene and one of the most important one in the series. But the rest of the book wasn’t all that spectacular. It’s the same in TGS. You have to sift through a lot of extraneous plotlines and POVs to get to the good stuff. . .

Nearly 2/3 of the novel is devoted to such secondary storylines. Yes, they are tied to other, more important plotlines. But there is too much focus on these often extraneous storylines, to the detriment of the principal story arcs. You don’t really feel that much closer to the Last Battle at the end of TGS than we were at the end of KoD.

Pat, who doesn’t seem to totally grove on Brandon Sanderson’s style (as evidenced by his reviews of The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages), was equally lukewarm towards Sanderson’s prose and ability to capture the characters:

One thing about Brandon Sanderson: Tor knew what he brought to the dance when they selected him. Though I think that Sanderson is a good author, in terms of style I didn’t think he was a great match for the WoT. Having said that, and now with only about 40 pages to go, I can tell you that Brandon Sanderson has given everything he has for TGS. He cares too much about the series, and this is nothing short of his best effort.

Whereas Frank Hebert must be turning in his grave when he sees what was done with Dune, I have a feeling that RJ would give Sanderson the thumbs up.

Still, Sanderson’s different narrative voice doesn’t always work well, and his ability to create more black or white characters means that he can’t pull it off with certain characters that have more depth or are more ambiguous. No worries, Rand are Perrin are well-portrayed. But one is going mad and the other has never been the sharpest tool in the shed. He does Cadsuane and Nynaeve rather well, too. But Mat, he simply doesn’t have it in him. I figure it will be the same with Lan, and a few others. . .

Unimpressed Pat? Sounds like a solid 7.5/10 will be forthcoming from the blogger who gave Knife of Dreams a perfect score. Most concerning are Pat’s words about the lack of emotional impact in some major scenes that fans have been waiting for for volumes. Sanderson usually does a pretty good job of creating big, rockin’ endings to major events (a notable strong point of his Mistborn trilogy), so it’s unusual to hear that he may falter in Jordan’s world.

Another blogger with early access to the book, and a more literary/even-handed approach to blogging is Larry Nolen, from OF Blog of the Fallen, and he had some interesting comments to follow-up Pat’s lukewarm impressions:

I will note that my general impressions differ in several regards from those seen over here at Pat’s blog, for example. Pat, it seems (based on general impressions of having read several dozen of his reviews over the past four years) prefers more plot-based development. I, on the other hand, prefer to focus on thematic development and prose. Therefore, there have been several times that he and I have differed quite a bit in our interpretations of stories. Figures that this would be the case here.

I will note that there is more of an emphasis on the development of the characters than there is on overt action, although several important plot “prophecies,” are fulfilled, some in surprising ways. There are those who will argue that certain ones of those were not developed fully and in a few cases, I could see that point of view, although I’d suspect it’s more a matter of the reader having built up one’s own imagination to the point of making most anything that was designed to occur to be a letdown.

It probably helps that I have not been all that huge of a “fan” of the WoT series since the 9th instalment. I thought then (and still do, to an extent) that the writing was a bit laborious in places, the pacing was glacial, certain character arcs were not developed well, and so forth. So when reading over the course of nearly 800 pages not just plots developing in a decent pace, but character traits being developed more concisely and with a greater emphasis (perhaps too great, some might argue) on thematic parallels between various characters.

The Gathering Storm is in many ways, a “dark” novel. The main characters featured are tested; some prove to be brittle. I am reminded of the late Robert Jordan’s blog entry from several years ago, talking about his experiences in Vietnam and a choice made there. There are certain parallels between that and what takes place in this novel. What that situation/choice is will have to be a matter of conjecture until the next week.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. It was better, for the reasons I hinted at above, than several of the more recent entries in the novel.

Larry also showed up on the Westeros boards, with some more nitty-gritty details:

#12 is far from perfect, with several of the same quirks in the storytelling (however, the sniffing is mostly absent, the clothing descriptions are there but briefer, and there aren’t quite as many repetitive comments about X gender not understanding Y gender and vice versa)

Larry’s comments strike me as the most interesting of the bunch, though they’re brief. He’s easily the most wide-read of anyone who has commented on the novel, and also the one with the fairest, most analytical voice when it comes to reviews. Frankly, his semi-positive words are a lot more important and reassuring that the rainbow-coloured vomit being spewed by Dragonmount and Rather than approaching the series as a slavering fanboy or a jaded hater looking to elicit strong reactions, Larry seems to be approaching the novel with an even keel, giving it a chance based on its own merits rather than holding it up to the previous novels in the series. Though Pat’s thoughts are clear and I feel like I know exactly what his (spoiler-filled, lightly-analytical (if his Knife of Dreams is anything to go by) review will read like, I much more interested in getting a deeper look at Larry’s thoughts on the novel when [i]his[/i] review finally hits early next week.

If anything’s clear, The Gathering Storm is set to be one of the most divisive volumes to date. With the death of Robert Jordan, it will never be clear how much of the final three volumes were his, and how much Sanderson’s. Hell, we probably won’t be able to get a good, proper read on Sanderson’s success until well after the final volume is released, two years from now. In any case, with the official release just days away, the Storm is gathering full force and, no doubt, about to unload a bucketload of praise and shit-slinging from every corner of the Internet.

I can’t wait.

  • The Dude October 23, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Those Dragonmount and Tar Valon reviews just pissed me off!

    Your jaw dropped,you cheered and danced?! Not to be a party-pooper, but I think you were having a seizure. Who can trust crap like that?

    I gave on WoT after Crossroads of Twilight and don’t plan on reading the final books, but I have to say I’m surprised at how hardent the fanbase has remained despite the crap they had to put up with all these years (culminating with the final book being divided into 3 volumes, which is as close to a “fuck you,you’ll buy it regardless of what we do” as you can get)

  • CYoda October 23, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Don’t understand the anger on Dragonmount or Tar Valon, before the review they clearly state they’re coming from a huge “fan” stand point and unless the book is complete crap its going to get high marks. In truth the book is probably “pretty good” and rabid fans like them will go nuts while casual readers might be divided between “meh” and “wow”.

  • Mike October 23, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    There is a spoiler-free review from Leigh Butler up on today. While still on the positive side it is a bit more even-handed then either DM or Tar Valon.

  • Adam Whitehead October 23, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    The WoT fanbase was pretty divided after three crap books in a row (8-10). What won a lot of the doubters back was 11, which was pretty good, although it didn’t magically solve all of the problems the series had up to that point. It did give a feeling that Jordan was taking the reigns of the runaway horse and dragging it reluctantly back on course. Without KoD being as good as it was, the excitement for Book 12 would be considerably less than it is.

  • Tyson October 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    I prefer Sanderson’s writing style to Jordan’s, so I’m excited for this book. But I’m not expecting miracles. He’s not going to be able to tie together the ridiculous number of plot threads that Jordan introduced and keep it exciting and the pace moving as he’d like, and he shouldn’t be blamed for that. He’s just playing the hand he was dealt. But if he can make it even semi-compelling at this point, it will be an accomplishment. I’m going to read it because I have too much time and energy invested in the series not to. I’m sure it will be entertaining and worth my few bucks. Anyone who expects more than that deserves to be disappointed.

  • John Ottinger October 24, 2009 at 11:33 am

    I have read a review copy. Because of the embargo, there only a little I can say, but all readers should be aware that Sanderson’s writing is not the same as Jordan’s and he does not quite handle all the disparate elements as deftly. However, he most assuredly speeds up the glacial pace of the previous books (save Knife of Dreams perhaps) and does incorporate some of the idiosyncrasies of Jordan’s writing without catering to them. I love it, devouring it in the space of two days, eager to read it again in the context of the whole series.

  • Gabriele October 25, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I admit I’m a bit miffed about Tor’s politics here. Stick to the release date and have a no review politcs, fine. It will increase the hype and prevent spoilers. But allowing pre-release reviews they KNOW will be positive, if not downright fanboy drool, and NOT allow reviews which may be more balanced smells sorta rotten. Maybe it’s marketing, but there’s still an old fish or two in that chest. ;)