On The Gathering Storm

Yesterday, I finished reading The Gathering Storm, the twelfth book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy series and the first published since his death.  Before reading it, I had heard many positive things about it from friends, some even suggesting that it might be the best book in the series thus far.

As far as I know, I am the only one in my circle of friends who went back and reread the entire series before reading this new book, and I think that had an effect on how I viewed this text.  While I agree that the book is quite good, I certainly can’t say that it’s the best, but I can understand why it would be received so positively.

Closure.

In Western Culture, we’re big fans of closure.  We love to have our stories nicely wrapped up at the end, and fans of the fantasy genre are no different.  The Gathering Storm is beginning to give us what we, as Western readers, want.  It’s tying together all those loose ends that have been dangling for years.

(Spoilers after the cut)

Essentially, The Gathering Storm ties up two of the longest running loose ends: the division of the White Tower and Rand’s ongoing battle with insanity.  It’s fascinating that the final few chapters of this book do not feature any running battles with Forsaken or large armies of trollocs getting devastated.  The conclusion of this book, for the first time in the series, is almost entirely about an internal conflict, whether or not Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, will destroy himself and the world.  What’s impressive is that Jordan (& Sanderson, more on him in a minute) makes us care and worry about what Rand will do in these chapters.  We wonder what choice Rand will make even though we, as readers, also know that there are many chapters to come, and there’s no way Rand can make the insane choice here.

It’s an interesting risk Sanderson takes, choosing to end his first WoT novel this way.  He could have taken the safe path, ending with Egwene’s victory at the tower and leaving this conflict to early in the next book. He kind of hedges his bets by having the Egwene epilogue after Rand’s madness, but there is no conflict following Rand’s laughter.  It’s risky in that the event could have fallen flat.  We, the readers, could have remembered that he suggested splitting the final book in three.  We could have remembered that those other two books are coming, but we don’t choose to.  By prefacing Rand’s internal conflict with his reunion with his father, we are drawn into the tension, and there’s nothing to say that Rand cannot kill his father.  Once that particular threat is averted, we are tied to the narrative; we believe it and are drawn into this struggle we’ve been watching unfold since before Rand was locked in the Aes Sedai’s chest.  Whether this section was written by Jordan or merely plotted by him, it was Sanderson who chose to end the book at the place, and after nearly twenty years, it feels earned.

(In a way, I almost wish he had waited for the next book since I want to read about a few of the events from Perrin’s narrative that Tam mentions in passing: the meeting with Galad, the introduction of the Berelain-Galad love story, the reunion of Galad and M0rgase, and the revelation that the former queen of Andor isn’t dead. Three of these events are mentioned, but we aren’t shown them happening.  I can only assume and hope that these events will be fully described in the next book.  Sanderson does something that I don’t think Jordan ever did, he tells us about events that we have yet to read about (and I, for one, will be annoyed if these events are only ever shown in this way, as comments made in passing by Tam).  I assume that these events will be described in the next book as we know that Sanderson had already written a fair bit of what will be the next book by the time they decided to split them.)

The loose threads tied together at the end of this book date back to The Eye of the World and  The Great Hunt.  The prologue of The Eye of the World shows us the results of Lews Therin’s madness, and the revelation at the end of that book makes us connect his madness to Rand.  At the beginning of The Dragon Reborn, we are shown the first events that make us think that Rand may not be all there.  Throughout that book, the only book in the series in which Rand makes minimal appearances, it is suggested that Rand is fighting insanity.  His decisions turn out to be saner than the others think, but we are left to wonder.  When the voice of Lews Therin appears in The Fires of Heaven, we truly have to wonder how firm Rand’s grasp on sanity is.  Jordan skillfully wove the ongoing question of Rand’s sanity throughout the series, and we are given the final pieces to the puzzle with Semirhage’s comments in Knife of Dreams.  Thus, Rand nearly murdering his father and destroying the world become the logical concluding points to this important narrative.  Closure.

The other major thread tied off was first referenced in The Great Hunt.  During Egwene’s test for Accepted, she sees herself as the Amyrlin Seat.  In The Shadow Rising, Siuan Sanche is deposed as Amyrlin, and the White Tower is broken. We read of Egwene’s changes while studying to become Aes Sedai, while hunting the Black Ajah, while studying with the Wise Ones, and while acting as the Amyrlin of the rebels.  We’ve seen her grow as a character, and we’ve followed the conflict between the Aes Sedai.  Thus, with her finally being raised the Amyrlin Seat of all Aes Sedai and unifying the White Tower, we are given closure with another of the most important threads in the series.

It is interesting to note that the two major plotlines concluded at the end of The Gathering Storm feel more resonant than the three major plotlines concluded at the end of Knife of Dreams.  Perhaps this is because the events concluding Knife of Dreams do not go as far back as those of the more recent book; perhaps the events of The Gathering Storm resonate more because they feel more world-altering.  In Knife of Dreams, Perrin ends the Shaido threat and frees Faile (narrative threads dating to The Shadow Rising and The Path of Daggers), Mat marries the Daughter of the Nine Moons (a narrative thread that began in The Shadow Rising), and Elayne is proclaimed the queen of Andor (a narrative thread that goes all the way back to  The Eye of the World). I suspect that  Perrin, Mat, and Elayne were relatively silent in The Gathering Storm because major events happened in each of their narratives in the previous book.  I also suspect that we will see more of them, Perrin and Mat in particular, in the next book.

Overall, I certainly enjoyed The Gathering Storm, but it only works in context.  The Wheel of Time, despite being released as a series of books over 20+ years, is a single narrative.  On this most recent read-through, I found that the books which had initially disappointed me were more enjoyable.  Jordan used these books to plant seeds for events that would happen later.  He uses them to develop his characters and further a plot that was destined to take thousands more pages to conclude.  If this latest book is any indication, he knew how he would end things, and that ending will be satisfying.

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~ by truth9 on February 28, 2010.

3 Responses to “On The Gathering Storm”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly Jon.
    I went back and reread them all as well so I have an idea as to where you’re coming from and I agree that each book is just a fragments of the whole story. Some of them work well as individual stories, others, Path of Daggers for instance, only really work in the context of the greater narrative.

  2. How about Sanderson’s voice? Did you find that he adopted Jordan well, or did you think he was quite a bit different?

    I found that the first scene in the prologue was a noticeably different voice from Jordan’s, but after that, it seemed that Sanderson just melded in with Jordan’s style, except for the odd scene here and there.

    I definitely enjoyed TPoD and ACoS much more on second (third, fourth, fifth) reading.

  3. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do
    it for you? Plz respond as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. many thanks

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