I did not anticipate, at any point, having three separate reviews from this series in the span of a week. My brief vacation from posting allowed me to read and review books 10 and 11, but I figured it might be a little bit before I finished the twelfth volume, The Gathering Storm. In fact, when I wrote the review for book 11, I had not yet even started reading book 12 — yet here I am, finished already, after only six days of reading (it looks like less on the calendar due to having delayed the posting date of 11’s review). I believe this is the fastest I’ve read any of the books in The Wheel of Time.
Part of this may be because this is the first book that isn’t a re-read, so all of it is completely new to me without even the barest scrap of memory spoiling things. But part of it, I suspect, is due to its place in the series. The Gathering Storm is the first of the three novels meant to wrap up the series — Robert Jordan had intended there to be only one more, but his usual inability to account for scope meant that Brandon Sanderson had to expand Jordan’s outline into three full novels. But being part of the endgame of the series means that there isn’t as much time spent dithering and setting things up — rather, things finally start to get resolved.
The Gathering Storm focuses almost exclusively on two of the main characters, only visiting the other protagonists briefly. While in some books this felt more like the other characters were simply forgotten or not meant to be doing anything, here it feels a little more clear that those characters are active, but the characters focused on have their plot lines at critical junctures. The story of Egwene trying to reunite the White Tower is finally resolved, and the story of Rand establishing control over more of the world, and dealing with his growing insanity is progressed significantly. Importantly, while there are some aspects of this that were predictable, there were quite a few scenes that came as complete surprises — while not feeling like they were written simply on a spur of the moment, these twists played out in ways that were unexpected.
Another nice thing is that there weren’t a lot of “idiot decisions” in this book. You know the type — situations where a plot is dragged out or goes wrong simply because one or more characters show a complete lack of common sense. Most of the characters keep their heads on their shoulders in this book, and if they make mistakes, they’re at least honest, human mistakes. The one notable exception is Cadsuane, who apparently doesn’t comprehend the purpose of delegation, but this is an established part of her character.
This is the first book in the series that was written by Brandon Sanderson, following Robert Jordan’s outline. In the foreword, Sanderson says that he didn’t try to emulate Jordan’s style. Truthfully, I think his style has more in common with Jordan’s than it has differences, but this is a positive thing when trying to finish another man’s series. However, Sanderson does have a more natural voice than Jordan — at least, when not directly aping some of Jordan’s themes, such as the “The Wheel of Time turns” intro to every novel — and I think this contributed greatly to how quickly I read the novel. Still, it would be a disservice to attribute the merits of this book entirely to Sanderson; he is, after all, following Jordan’s notes, and Jordan intended this to be part of the conclusion to the series. It is only to be expected that the pace pick up and things start getting resolved.
Something which might be attributable to Sanderson, however, is the return of a degree of humor to the series. While most of the book is still dealing with very dark themes involving madness, war, and global annihilation, the characters felt a bit more human with the occasional light remark mixed in with their worry. Adding significantly to this was a scene in which Mat, sending some of his men in to do some recon, creates elaborate backstories for the personae they are adopting — which the men promptly begin arguing about. It serves as a moment of comic relief, which is important as the series has been moving into darker territory for some time. More importantly, it also makes Mat feel like Mat again. After several books of his story being serious and somewhat dark, it was good to see his nature as a rascal come out again.
I don’t know if the last two books in the series will hold up to the same quality as the twelfth, but The Gathering Storm finally starts doing right what the series needed to have been doing at every step. It’s dark, yes, but the characters feel like believable human beings again, and the plot lines are finally starting to resolve instead of being extended — and are being resolved in interesting and surprising ways.