Finally I’ve read book twelve of the Wheel of Time series. I was waiting for it to come out in paperback since it is HUGE in hardcover.
Before I get into this book, written by Sanderson because Jordan died before he could write the final book (which has now been divided into three books), I want to talk about the series as a whole first. (I’ve read all but the prequel, which for some reason I’ve decided to save until after Sanderson writes the last two books.) My father was the one who recommended this series to me, though he said he stopped reading it after a few books. I can understand why.
This series has an enormous scope. Jordan went to great pains to create an in depth, complex world. He succeeded, but perhaps he went a little too far. There are so many characters (often with extremely similar names) and nations, that it’s hard to remember from book to book (and even chapter to chapter) who everyone is. Within the main land there’s Andor, Amadicia, Cairhein, Tear, Arad Doman, Shienar, Kandor, Illian, Murandy, Tarabon, and Arafel. Then there’s also the Aiel, the Sea Folk, the Seanchan, the Traveling Folk, and the Aes Sedai. All of these people have specific characteristics and details. I can only tell a few of them apart because there are just too many to keep track of. Forgetting this detail, it annoys me how “distinct” in look and behavior, people are from places that are so close to each other. It’s like saying that the people of North and South Carolina all look and act so distinctly that they are immediately distinguishable. This is a flaw in fantasy in general, but it felt particularly pronounced here.
In addition to the obsessive distinction between peoples, there is the even bigger obsession with distinguishing guys and girls. How often does a woman say/think “fool man!” in the books? We get it, guys and girls are different, but the degree to which this distinction was made (especially considering the fact that their heroes of legend were both male and female) became too much. I appreciate there being strong female characters who can take care of themselves and don’t appreciate being talked down to or “babied” by boys. I don’t appreciate them all thinking that every guy has zero common sense even when they’ve demonstrated otherwise. (And same goes for the reverse!) It felt like Jordan just doesn’t understand women, do the point where he over exaggerated their personalities.
It also has the flaw of having a character who just happens to always have the power to defeat whatever enemy he faces. Rand, meant to be the focus, ends up being the least interesting character. If I didn’t know that he was so crucial to the plot, I likely would have skipped the sections focused on him.
I also disliked Jordan’s tendency to write 100 pages about a character and then jump to a second character for a hundred pages and never come back to the first person. For one thing, if there is a character you don’t enjoy spending much time with (Rand…) you are stuck with them for a long time. And for another, if there are characters you really like, you are stuck unable to look at them for possibly hundreds of pages.
With all my complaints, you might wonder why I’ve continued reading the series. (They certainly aren’t short books after all.) But it definitely has its upsides. While Rand is a particularly dull character, some of the others–Mat, Thom, Egwene, Elayne, Birgitte, Aviendha, Siuan, Morainne–were quite interesting. Whereas it felt like Rand just luckily obtained his various abilities, you really felt like you watched characters like Elayne, Egwene, and Aviendha grow and learn how to use their powers. Mat, though he was just given his powers rather than developed them, did grow up over the course of the series. Birgitte was particularly interesting, a woman of legend pulled into the world before her time. Mostly, I kept reading for those characters that I enjoyed and sort of put up with the rest.
Now onto the Gathering Storm. As I picked up this book, I wondered how I would feel about it. A new author could be a good or bad thing. In the opening of the book, Sanderson left a note saying that he used Jordan’s notes to write it but he did not try to imitate Jordan’s writing style. I’m thrilled about this decision because it actually really raised the book, in my opinion. Gone were the long, unending segments about characters we didn’t care about. Instead we changed every chapter (or sooner!), allowing us to enjoy the plot’s movement and the following of our favorites. The writing itself felt smoother and less stiff. Until I read it, I didn’t realize that one of the things bothering me about Jordan’s work was how much it felt like he was trying to get the tone down. It shouldn’t feel like he’s trying, it should just BE right.
I love the number of twists brought into this story and while some surprises weren’t as surprising as perhaps they were meant to be (I have a friend who was particularly upset at Aviendha’s inability to figure out what the Wise Ones wanted), it didn’t bother me that much.
Egwene’s storyline in particular was masterfully handled and I am grateful that the final battle of the book revolved around her rather than Rand (we can only see Rand magically overcome the odds so many times–I mean, he beat the Dark One in book one, do we really think he’s going to lose to the Forsaken?). At the same time, the moments we did get of Rand at the end of the book were probably some of the best we’ve ever gotten with him. It was one of the first times that I felt like I could connect to his character in some way. (I kept wondering why no one ever said to him something like “what’s the point of stopping the dark one if you destroy the world and all that’s worth living for in the process?” or something along the lines of “if you become like him, what makes you different from him?”)
I would have liked to see Mat get closer to Morainne. I would have also liked to actually see Elayne (not just hear about her) and Birgitte (she’s one of my favorite characters and I don’t think her name was said a single time in the entire book). I’d also like Min to actually be interesting.
Ultimately, I think this book was one of the best, perhaps the best in the series so far and I am anxious to read book thirteen.