I finished The Gathering Storm on Thursday and after a few days of reflection I wanted to express my feelings and thoughts on the book. First off, there are going to be spoilers. If you haven’t finished, stop reading this and go finish first. Second, I liked it. Truly there is no replacement for RJ, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think someone, specifically Brandon Sanderson, can do it well.
I dove into the book with enthusiasm and excitement. I am willing to admit this may have colored my view, but I can honestly say the opening scene brought tears to my eyes. It didn’t have anything to do with the main characters. It didn’t have anything to do with minor characters, but it was poignant. These common people had every reason to ignore the events, or even run away from them. But instead they turned and faced the fight that was coming. This is the theme of Book 12 that echoes in every chapter and every character. They all stop running. They all stop scheming. They feel the weight of the Last Battle baring down on them. They turn and face their destiny and do what they must.
For the first time in several books the story spends a majority of its time on Rand. Many have complained that Rand was “too dark” in this book. I must disagree. This is the first book I have felt Rand was finally beginning to show the true strain and stress that he feels, both in his heart and on his soul. For the first time in this series I felt like the Dark One might win. Not through outright battle, but because Rand was crossing the point where his “the ends justifies the means” would lead to his fall from grace. Ishmael was not called the Betrayer of Hope for a reason. And in this book Rand has lost hope. Why does his tavern power no longer balance the bad with good? Because Rand himself no longer balances his belief that the battle is good with the evil that chases him. He no longer sees the good in the world. I have a strong suspicion in the next book we will see Rand capitulating more. Bowing to Tuon, Egwene, Cadsuane, Elyane… He has finally come to the same conclusion Egwene did while she was being punished by Silviana. Her own pain and suffering is laughable when compared to the pain and suffering of the world. Who cares is she is beaten three times a day? Everyone should be far more concerned that the Last Battle is coming and taking time out to quibble over punishments or who is higher rank than who is just absurd. If it took the Lews Therin side of him realizing that Ilyena might not be dead yet in this age and he needs to protect her, then I say it is about time. It seems so obvious to us that Min, Elayne, and Aviendha are the “three who are one” of Ilyena.
A goodly portion of the rest of the book revolves around Egwene and the White Tower. Talk about exciting! With each page Egwene strips power away from Elaida and convinces the Ajahs to support her. One of my favorite, mildly over looked points, was the fact that each Ajah attempts to convince Egwene to join them (excepting Red and Blue, for obvious reasons), once she is raised to Aes Sedai. What a stroke of genius! The Amyrlin should be of all Ajahs and yet none. Egwene was never a part of an Ajah, and yet, they all view her as one of them. Add this to the other events, including her Dream being so shocking proven true, and the use of Verin Sedai’s work. I will never forget that chapter beginning with Egwene considering the stilling and execution of the Black Sisters in the Rebel Camp. What a blow to deal the shadow at this late hour! What an event! With so few words, Sanderson slams home the truth that no darkfriends will be allowed to survive. Suddenly the Rebel Aes Sedai are sure of two things. They can at least trust all of them are not dark friends and that there are yet dark friends in the tower. This gives them power and strength. They are all on the same side and have removed the worms eating at their core.
The deaths of two Forsaken are handled almost carelessly. The use of the True Source during one of these all but ensures that the Dark One really doesn’t care if his Chosen are lost. He can get new Chosen, perhaps ones that aren’t as arrogant or foolish. The strength of the writing for the scene where Semirhage is broken… I could *feel* the shame and embarrassment Semirhage felt. Mother’s warned their children using her name for thousands of years and here, an upstart nobody with a tenth of the power, turned her over a knee and spanked her like a child, in front of a child! In an instant Semirhage lost all her power to Cadsuane. Imagine being known as the Aes Sedai who punished one of the Forsaken! As if her legend needed more ammunition.
While reading the book, I had several moments where a character would say or do something (usually say something) and I would laugh aloud. The snarky response or odd comment bringing the humor to the fore. In these moments I truly felt the difference between RJ and BS. RJ always kept a sense of decorum for his characters. They were never snarky or sarcastic, even when they had right to be, or should be. His dialog always came off as strong or angry. I was jarred from the story by this uncharacteristic depth to our beloved characters, but oddly, it wasn’t followed by the feeling that they *shouldn’t* be this way, but rather that they hadn’t before!
My second complaint is the omission of several characters. I realize that this is directly contradictory to my happiness with focus on Rand and Egwene, but to omit Lan, Elayne, and Birgitte entirely, not to mention secondary characters like Taim, Loial, Galad, and the other Forsaken? I can only hope this means they have stronger parts in the next book. I will wait until then to truely decide if this was a negative for this book.
Finally, and this is truly my complaint, some things were too “neat.” I know, I shouldn’t complain too loudly. We were given answers to so many questions. Is Verin Black or Brown? What is with the “too young” Sitters? What will happen with Siuan and Gaerth? What about Gawyn? Literally dozens of conspiracy theories and sub plots were resolved in this book. But many of them were neat, clean, concise and practically tied with a bow. As if the author frequented theory boards and thus knew exactly every point that needed to be addressed to resolve them without quibble or qualm. Which is likely. And while I am pleased to be right on all accounts that I argued… I sometimes wonder… is this the “truth” as RJ saw it?
At the end of the day, I do not care. Having an answer printed in black and white is good enough to let me sleep at night, not always wondering what could have been. Minor issues aside, I am pleased with the book, and with Brandon Sanderson’s writing as a whole. Long Live the Dragon.