Book Review: The Gathering Storm (WoT #12) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

The end is drawing near. As the characters are preparing for the impending Last Battle, the narrative grows more intense and the stakes grow higher. The Gathering Storm focuses primarily on Rand al’Thor and Egwene al’Vere as they try to rally their people towards peace and unity; chaos and bloodshed will only provide the Dark One better chances at victory. Yet Perrin Aybara and Matrim Cauthon both have their own roles to play in the narrative.

It’s important to note that due to the untimely passing of Robert Jordan, fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Sanderson (best known perhaps for his Mistborn series) was chosen to finish the narrative. Noticeable differences in style, format, and character work will be discussed below. But first, a warning: spoilers abound.

Mass paperback cover

Shaido Aftermath

Perrin plays a very small role in The Gathering Storm, and if you’ve been keeping up with my reviews, you know I’ve been less than impressed with his own narrative, so I was not bothered in the slightest. That said, it’s not without its merit or its uses. Perrin’s rescue storyline had more than a few faults to it, but one of the more aggravating elements was his single-mindedness. In the handful of scenes we get with Perrin and Faile, it’s interesting to see him come to terms with that particular fault.

The other pitfall of this particular subplot was that Faile’s capture came at such a strange and chaotic, with Perrin dealing with Masema, that there was just too much going on. Worse, the rescue plotline seemed to hold no real function to the overall story, and neither did Masema as a character. I’m glad that Faile, at least, killed off Masema, and I doubt his death will really affect the narrative in the slightest.

I do want to note that I don’t find Perrin’s character redundant or useless, just that I think Robert Jordan had an idea for what to do with Mat and Rand, but was at a loss with what to do with Perrin, so sent him on this quest. I’m curious to see where his character arc ends, to know if or how much of an effect this subplot has on the entire narrative. But at this point, I will say it’s interesting to see how he reacts to the refugees that he suddenly has to deal with, especially when one thinks about how he reacted to being shoved into the role of Lord of the Two Rivers. It’s also a relief to see he’s finally getting back into the wolf dreams because it’s such a distinct part of his character. It’ll be interesting to see what else he has to learn about the abilities.

Rand Slips Into Darkness Before Finding Some Light

People give Rand a lot of hate for growing harsh and “angsty” as he tries to conquer the world and prepare it for the Last Battle, but in all honesty, it makes sense. Rand is a shepherd from a small, isolated village, told that he’s going to be the one who saves the world from personified evil, an entity that is unimaginably more powerful than even the strongest, smartest, and wisest of people that have ever lived. Naturally, he makes mistakes and tries to learn from them, and the conflict he faces in this book, I think, provided the climax to that particular subplot.

The set-up to it, obviously, was pretty dark and frightening. Rand’s been growing less human, almost, as the books have progressed, especially after Dumai’s Wells. He reacted to the loss of his hand with barely a passing comment. But it was the use of the male a’dam that really broke him. I wish he could have left behind his refusal to put women in danger without going near-insane, because that suggests his humanity is linked to his desire to protect. Jordan does not agree with Rand’s assessment, of course, because the Maidens alone make it quite clear how offensive that line of thought can be, but it’s still one of the more annoying aspects of his character. I’m worried that this particular character trait will return again, though I’m hoping that it won’t.

I’ll also say that it’s interesting that his madness almost seems to come from the insane amount of pressure he’s under, rather than from using saidin. His actions are made because he must, as the Dragon Reborn, but he never before got the chance to question why. Tam’s arrival from Perrin’s camp, the first meeting between the two since Rand left the Two Rivers, was absolutely brilliant in the way that it brought Rand’s internal conflict to a head. He thinks, at first, that the meeting made him harder, but his inability to retaliate against the Seanchan for their failed diplomacy earlier shows just how deep Tam’s words have taken root.

This leads me to Dragonmount and the Choedan Kal. Rand’s reliance on the powerful sa’angreal would have made sense even without connecting Callendor’s limitations to the male a’dam and the Dumai’s Wells box. Still, that kind of power in the hands of a man who has essentially lost his soul is downright terrifying. That paired with his inability to destroy the Seanchan in Ebou Dar, leaves for an impressive conflict of character that we haven’t really gotten to see beforehand. (I’ll remind readers that in The Dragon Reborn, book 3, Rand barely got any PoV time, probably because it would have been difficult to portray Rand coming to terms with being who he was.)

I’m a little disappointed, honestly, that the answer to Rand’s question was that of love and happiness, etc. It’s cliche, and in some ways, it’s a cop-out. The only reason that it works in any capacity is that Wheel of Time canon says rebirth is an actual phenomena. He must defeat the Dark One so that the Pattern can remain intact, allowing people within it to blunder on, finding love and joy where they can in one life even if they fail at it in the next.

Aviendha Wisens Up

Aviendha as a character is so intense and honorable and growing on wise that it was truly exciting for her to head to Rhuidean to take the title of Wise One. I had a pretty good idea, early on, that these “punishments” were just the Wise Ones’ way of getting her to stand up for herself.

Her conversation with Min was enlightening when it came to the Aiel culture both as a tradition and as a measure of the effect that Rand has had. Aviendha has kept her distance from Rand for awhile now, and it’s unclear how much she knows about what’s going on in his head beyond what she senses in their warder bond. I think if she knew the extent, she would have been more worried about him, yet as an Aiel, what she told Min would still hold true. In her mind, Rand does have a lot of honor, preparing the world as he is to face the Dark One. That she is keeping her distance because she wants to pay her toh to the Wise Ones, to go to Rand as a woman full of honor, makes me like her character all the more.

It’s also worth mentioning that Aviendha will still go to Rhuidean, despite the fact that what she goes there to learn is technically already common knowledge. It is just part of the Aiel culture, and to live it for herself will teach her something about what it means to be a Wise One. It separates them from the Shaido, and holds them to their honor. I await her return.

Mat’s Journey to Caemlyn

It’s almost poetic that he is going back practically to the start of it all. Rand got to see his father again. Egwene’s gone back to novice white for the time being. And Mat gets to go back to Caemlyn, the first big city he got to see after leaving the Two Rivers. But it takes him and the Band awhile to find their way out of the mountains.

His experience with Hinderstap was a bit haunting, in a way, although I’ve seen the town’s name floating on the internet and I was expecting it to be a whole lot worse. In truth, I think the town raised more questions than answers for me, and the glib remarks made in the middle of the fight, however humorous, felt like they killed what terror I might have felt at the animalistic behavior of the villagers at nighttime. I guess I just found it hard to swallow, that the villagers truly didn’t know what was happening to them and yet were still able to have the foresight to make the rules and know to stick to them. Can a person die of old age in the town, or will they just be brought back to life? Are they still able to provide for themselves? The day is still theirs, but it must hurt their economy in some capacity, and it wasn’t made clear whether or not spoilage was affecting their food stores. If they run out of food and starve to death, do they still wake up the next day in their beds, condemned to endless days of hunger?

Regardless, it still brings their attention to a woman searching for Mat and Perrin. What I found circumspect about Verin’s explanations is that we already knew the Forsaken were looking for the two boys with instructions to kill. I didn’t quite buy her “ta’veren pull” explanation, though I suppose it could always be true in some capacity. Unless it’s in her letter, we may never actually know. But after Egwene gets to see Verin again, it’s clear that Mat is one of those things that Verin set into motion before meeting with Egwene, and it’s clear too that Verin’s caveat was set in place because she wasn’t entirely certain she would survive her travels to the White Tower.

Verin the Black, the Brown, the White

Her appearance in Egwene’s subplot isn’t until a little later, but considering how it ties in with Mat’s narrative, I think I’ll go into it now. It was revealed that Verin was, for all intents and purposes, now a part of the Black Ajah. The work that she did as a member of the Black was as impressive as it was thorough, especially when one considers that the Black Ajah is specifically organized to prevent people from being able to easily identify other members.

Egwene’s visit with her was rather well-done. Betrayals can be difficult to write, especially when the scene must end in trust again, but the nature of Verin’s research and Egwene’s character allowed the narrative to quite easily flow in that direction. And honestly, Verin had a point. To infiltrate Darkfriend ranks wouldn’t be easy, because it requires swearing oaths and committing to deeds that no person who walks in the Light would ever even think of doing. But she was put in a position where she would have to become a Darkfriend anyway if she wanted to live, and she used that to her advantage.

I loved Verin’s line, which I’m paraphrasing, but went something along the lines of, “My name may be stained as Black, but in my heart, I’m still a Brown.” We don’t know what she did for the Black Ajah, but we can assume there were unspeakable deeds. Still, I love her character all the more for this particular sacrifice. That the book ends with the Black Ajah all but purged from the White Tower is just another major step in the right direction.

Egwene Gains the Tower

Egwene is literally one of the smartest characters in the entire series. She is brave and cunning and one of the few characters whose morals I never feel the need to question. Her fight to be respected as Amyrlin has nothing to do with being power-hungry and everything to do with Elaida’s incompetent and mercurial nature. And what’s interesting is that although she’s constantly plotting what actions would serve her cause best, some of the deeds that grew out of her control ended up being just as efficient, or perhaps more so. Her argument with Elaida in front of the Sitters proved to the Sitters just how crazed and dangerous Elaida was. And Siuan’s later rescue, in a way, put Egwene in the perfect position to mediate between the rebels and the White Tower Aes Sedai.

And, wow, the raid against the White Tower was intense. I’m not sure how many Aes Sedai got captured by the Seanchan, or even how many Aes Sedai were in the White Tower at the time, so it’s not quite clear if the Seanchan left to avoid heavy casualties or if they left because they got what they wanted. But Egwene’s power was impressive, and the way she organized the novices against them was absolute perfection.

The best part was, after the raid, as Egwene tries to figure out how not to lose all of the progress she made in the Tower, she was called to become Amyrlin. Everything she said and did after that moment helped heal the Tower completely, from redoing the ceremony so that the Tower Sitters could stand for or against her, to wearing red to the ceremony to insist she will not cut out an Ajah like Elaida did, to making Silviana her Keeper, to making the rebels apologize for their rebellion however justified it was… Each act proved her to be competent and deft, of all Ajahs and none.

The Last Battle Approaches

As in Knife of Dreams, the Dark One’s touch on the world continues to grow stronger. Hinderstap is one relatively haunting example. Reports of Trollocs gathering in the Blight is another. I don’t think that there are any major events that happened in this book that said “wow, it’s getting even closer,” but the pull that Mat and Perrin mention feeling suggests that they’ll be needed soon, and Rand’s and Egwene’s victories suggest that the fight draws near, if only because the protagonists are being put into position for the (hopeful) victory over the Dark One.

Sanderson and the Wheel of Time

I know that Brandon Sanderson had Robert Jordan’s notes to go off of as he wrote the rest of the series, but I don’t know how detailed those notes were or if Sanderson was able to make any adjustments to the plot as he wrote. What I will say is this: overall, this story still very much feels like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. The stakes are the same, the story is the same, the characters are, for the most part, the same. Had I not known Sanderson helped write this book, I might have found the differences to be a little odd, but the writing isn’t so different that it feels like it’s definitely not Robert Jordan.

Truly, there are only a few minor indications that someone else took over writing the series. For one, there was a lot of call-backs to the first few books, and more in-depth reminders of what had happened then. The chapters were shorter, and scenes that Jordan might have written in one of the main PoVs did, on more than a few occasions, get written instead by a minor one. A few characters’ internal monologues–Nynaeve and Mat, primarily–didn’t feel quite the same. Nynaeve was more focused on her years as a Wisdom in The Gathering Storm than she’s been in the previous few books, and Mat was more comedic than I remember him being (although I have no problem with it; his witty remarks made me laugh on several occasions). Still, these differences are really only noticeable because I was intentionally looking, curious to see how Sanderson’s writing compared to Jordan’s.

I’m eager to jump into Towers of Midnight so I can learn the aftermath of The Gathering Storm. Two books is all I have left. It’s kind of hard to believe we’re coming to the end, but I can’t wait to see how it all pans out in the end.


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