I’m skipping over the backlog to talk about The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, while it’s still being discussed.
Long-time readers of this booklog will have noticed that this is the first time a new Wheel of Time book appears here. I stopped reading the series after Winter’s Heart, but had Chad tell me the plots during long car drives. The only thing that sounded interesting about Crossroads of Twilight, Perrin’s thread, also sounded painful, and while Knife of Dreams sounded like an improvement, by that point I had decided to wait until the series was finished.
Sadly, of course, Robert Jordan died before then, but left a great deal of material from which Brandon Sanderson is completing the series (in three volumes, projected to be out at year intervals). In preparation, I skimmed summaries and read selected chapters out of Knife, the prior book. While I have no desire to read the entire thing, I could tell that the pace had improved and was pleased that there were some very good bits: I would hate to be looking forward to the last volumes only because Sanderson was writing them, you know?
Thus, The Gathering Storm. Is it a Wheel of Time book? Yes, definitely; there are a few wobbles here and there, but the events very much feel part of the series to date. Is it a good Wheel of Time book? Yes, definitely. Exciting things happen, there’s strong character and plot movement, and it ends satisfyingly.
It’s easier to say (in this non-spoiler post) what didn’t work. I didn’t buy the couple of chapters Mat was in, and I’m not convinced that Sanderson has a handle on him yet. His dialogue was the only place where I was consistently jarred by the prose; as Chad pointed out in a spoiler post, the rhythm is all off. And both his behavior and the events he was facing seemed out-of-place to me. (Otherwise there were only a handful of times where the prose intruded on me, and I might be overreacting; after all, it has been a while since I really immersed myself in these books.) Some themes that I disliked in prior books are still here (“go away, Robert Jordan’s id! You are scary!”). And characters who were annoying before have not magically gotten clues between books. Alas.
But there is very satisfying fantasy-of-political-agency material; some genuine surprises—yes, it’s still possible to surprise readers, even after eleven books that have been very closely analyzed indeed; and tangible progress toward the Last Battle. Some of it was tough going emotionally, but not logistically, that is, I didn’t have any trouble following the plot (I’m not sure how much of that was Sanderson carefully sprinkingly in helpful reminders and how much was the relatively streamlined nature of the book, which principally focuses on Rand and Egwene). And in the second half particularly, I had a heck of a time putting it down for things like sleep. If you liked the series up to, say, Lord of Chaos, I think you’d like this.
A spoiler post follows.