Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review | The Gathering Storm By: Brandon Sanderson

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As borrowed from TOR:

Tarmon Gai'don, the Last Battle, looms. And mankind is not ready
The final volume of the Wheel of Time, "A Memory of Light, " was partially written by Robert Jordan before his untimely passing in 2007. Brandon Sanderson, "New York Times" bestselling author of the Mistborn books, was chosen by Jordan's editor---his wife, Harriet McDougal---to complete the final book. The scope and size of the volume was such that it could not be contained in a single book, and so Tor proudly presents "The Gathering Storm" as the first of three novels that will make up "A Memory of Light." This short sequence will complete the struggle against the Shadow, bringing to a close a journey begun almost twenty years ago and marking the conclusion of the Wheel of Time, the preeminent fantasy epic of our era
In this epic novel, Robert Jordan's international bestselling series begins its dramatic conclusion. Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, struggles to unite a fractured network of kingdoms and alliances in preparation for the Last Battle. As he attempts to halt the Seanchan encroachment northward---wishing he could form at least a temporary truce with the invaders---his allies watch in terror the shadow that seems to be growing within the heart of the Dragon Reborn himself
Egwene al'Vere, the Amyrlin Seat of the rebel Aes Sedai, is a captive of the White Tower and subject to the whims of their tyrannical leader. As days tick toward the Seanchan attack she knows is imminent, Egwene works to hold together the disparate factions of Aes Sedai while providing leadership in the face of increasing uncertainty and despair. Her fight will prove the mettle of the Aes Sedai, and her conflict will decide the future of the White Tower---and possibly the world itself
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.
It’s been awhile since I have read any Robert Jordan. Probably since the last book was released, Knife of Dreams. This summer I had fully intended on starting a complete re-read so that I was caught up on all the loose threads and to re-familiarize myself with the characters. That didn’t happen. I did however set up an audible account so that I could listen my way through the books again. But to be honest that kind of got sidetracked too.

The fact still remains that Robert Jordan, while not my first fantasy, was my first epic fantasy. Actually he was my graduation into adult fiction. He introduced me to a world where great things could happen. I fell in love to say the least. When I read a book, especially fantasy, especially epic fantasy, there is a part of me that is always comparing it to The Wheel of Time. He has also been a key inspiration for my writing career.

Needless to say I hold a lot of love for the book series, and while going in blind reading The Gathering Storm, I still held pockets of doubt. Not that the book wouldn’t be amazing but if Brandon has the skills necessary. I tried to tell myself else wise, that Brandon was capable, but I needed to know for myself. Of course there was also no way I was skipping any installments in the series no matter who wrote it.

Sitting at the beginning of the book, I wondered who wrote the prologue? Who wrote the first couple of chapters? Was that Brandon’s voice or was that Jordan’s voice? Who blathered on in regards to cloud detail? And as the pages started turning and I slipped back into that familiar world with my old friends, it didn’t matter any longer. It was about the story being told, not who wrote it.

I liked it a lot. I felt satisfied by the loose threads that have been tied up. And yet am left with many questions.

I found the book to be in traditional Jordan style – meet a new character have a character description. Lots of details for world building. Except now I have learnt to appreciate that a bit more. When they describe the architecture I really find myself believing it and picturing myself in that situation. The most memorable visualization was when they are sneaking back into TarValon to rescue Egwene and they are coming in by a river gateway. I love how they described the stone and how you normally wouldn’t see the slit in the rock to get in.

I am particularly happy with Egwene's thread climax, yet I know there is much work to be done before her story arc is complete. I am glad that it did not come down to a direct assault of Aes Sedai against Aes Sedai but am saddened that it took the Sanchean as the last straw for the fractions to come together. Egwene did a remarkable job of showing how to be Amyrlin in a difficult situation and I admire her tenacity and doing what needed to be done. How she was willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good, knowing that unity was more important than any one person. Her speech after becoming Amyrlin recognized by both fractions and a re-united White Tower was particularly good. She did not let either side off the hook, and let them know that it would not be easy sailing, that there is a great deal of rebuilding that needs to be done. I am really looking forward to playing witness to this, and also seeing how she deals with Gawyn.

Rands arc was downright frightening, yet necessary. I found myself siding with Min. It isn’t about controlling him, but about helping him. I see great things for the White Tower being able to help Rand in the last battle particularly with Egwene’s new understanding of how Rand feels towards the tower after her imprisonment under similar circumstances that he had experienced. I am of course pissed off at Cadsuane because Tam is right, she is a bully, and someone needs to put her in her place. Rand has a right to be mad at her. If she wants to genuinely prepare him for the Last Battle then she should be helping him. Holding things back and being a control freak will not earn her his trust.

Avianda. I can’t wait to see her arc with Rand. I have a very funny feeling that it will be her and Eleyne that will help him to use Calandhor. The three who will become one. He needs two women who can channel to help him, and who more can he trust than the loves of his life. However, he may try and hold them back due to his love for them and try and protect them.

I was glad that Rand learned to smile at the end, but I am also interested in seeing how he moves forward in the future with this new understanding. Does he apologize to Tam? How does he treat Min, Avianda, and Eleyne in the future? How will his relationships to the Aes Sedai be moving forward? Will he be more open to trusting them or not? Will he continue to use balefire? I am not opposed to the balefire because I understand he needs to stop this wheel rotation and put the spindle on positive tracks that will no longer involve the dark one. By burning out the forsaken from the pattern he is offering that new future.

This was a great installment. It of course left many open ended questions regarding the segments that have been resolved. It’s like throwing a rock in a pond; I am interested to see where the ripples land. There is much more to do before the last battle, and I will be a faithful follower until the end. One of these days I will get around to re-reading them all, but for now it is about moving forward for me.

Brandon did a wonderful job. Since I hadn’t re-read I wasn’t questioning voice too much. It was more questioning my recollection of things. I have questions and I had positive and negative reactions to this book and those are all good things. It means he made me think and made me feel towards this piece. I can’t wait to see how he completes this and to also explore his other worlds too.

I would be very interested in annotations from Brandon in regards to what material he had to work from and what he had to come up with on his own? What where just a few sentences and what where more complete thoughts? This is not to tear him apart but to see the process and understand what he had to work with and how he worked with it. I am very interested in the process of finishing this epic piece of work that has shaped so many in regards to the fantasy genre.