Guess what Iiiii have…
That’s right, guys and gals, I have here beneath THIS VERY CUT an advance review of The Gathering Storm, the about-to-be-released twelfth novel in this little fantasy series one or two people may have heard about. You know me, I like to traffic in obscure works of litrachoor.
Or, er, whatever. Anyway! The rumors, they are true: I have indeed read the latest installment of the world-renowned Wheel of Time series, and I’m about to tell you what I thunk about it.
Rest assured that this review contains absolutely no spoilers of any kind – it’s in bold, so you know it’s true! – because I am a firm believer in the ancient Klingon proverb, that highly anticipated novels you will actually shell out to read in hardcover are a dish best served cold.
Corollararily, all youse mugs reading this review are asked, nay, exhorted to similarly refrain from spoiling people in the comments, once you have the wherewithal to do so. I would even ask that you continue to refrain from posting spoilers regarding the Prologue, Chapter 1, or Chapter 2, despite their public availability; remember, there are still people waiting to read the whole thing in one blow.
Yet fear not! For there will be another, infinitely more spoilerriffic TGS post going up (I hope) the day of release, in which you may yammer about TGS specifics to your heart’s content. But that is the entrée; this is the appetizer, so keep your spoilery little elbows off the table, sit up straight, and hold on to your drool until the main dish is soived, lest I rap yer knuckles with the Ladle of WOT Blogger Rage.
Look, I don’t know, I’m a little giddy here. I can’t imagine why!
So, if you dare, roll up your sleeves, grab a shrimp fork, shake off the weevils, and dig in!
I don’t mind telling you, I agonized a little bit – or maybe a lot of bit – over writing this review, even though this will probably be by necessity far shorter than the spoiler-laden review I plan to put up later. (Well. For Leigh values of “shorter”, anyway.) But that was actually part of the problem; accurately detailing my feelings about this book, which is something we as fans have been waiting for and anticipating and (in some cases) sort of dreading for four years, without being able to discuss the specifics of why I felt that way, has actually proven much more difficult to figure out how to write. But I did my best.
The main problem is that I have a lot of feelings about this book, in a way that’s very difficult to encapsulate with any kind of coherency. However, if I were absolutely forced to come up with one succinct phrase that sums up my reaction to The Gathering Storm, it would have to be this:
I know, a New York Times review this is not. Come on, it’s not like you’re surprised. But, well, there you have it. Never let it be said I ain’t honest, though. Vulgar, but honest!
I really tried to come up with another way to express it, but I just couldn’t. The flabbergasted connotation of the profanity serves my purpose too well to be denied, since the sheer amount of emotional rollercoastering this thing put me through has principally left me rather dazed. The fact that I read all 300,000+ words of this absolute cinderblock of a novel in about six hours flat probably didn’t help, of course.
(As a side note on that, I don’t know if there are any folks left still complaining about splitting the last volume into three novels, but if there are, they can stuff it. This monstrosity practically gave me tennis elbow, and it’s just one-third of the story!)
So, what do I mean by “emotional rollercoastering”? Well, let’s see. In no particular order, and without naming names or places or, well, anything, TGS contained: at least two scenes that made me cry, several scenes that caused at least partial *headdesk*ing (I know, you’re shocked), a scene that managed to profoundly irritate me at the exact same time I was going “HELLS, YES”, a couple of scenes that made me go “wait, what?”, more than one scene that made me go “wait, WHAT?”, at least one scene that made me go “Awww”, a scene that upset me so much I had to put the book down and walk away for a while, a scene that left me with nothing but a kind of stunned feeling of “Uh. So... that happened”, one scene (and possibly two) that almost made me throw the book across the room, except that the book probably would have punched through the wall and killed someone in the next apartment, an extremely pivotal scene that I still can’t make up my mind on how I feel about it, except for giggling in diabolical glee anticipating the fan reaction, and at least two and probably three scenes (or hell, probably the entire plot arc, but definitely one scene in particular) that just may be the most awesomely awesome thing that ever awesomed in this series.
I’m serious on that last, I almost started clapping like a seal. And we are now declaring a moratorium on the word “scene” for the rest of this review, because it doesn’t even look like a word anymore.
So, yeah. “Emotional rollercoaster” is not even in it, you guys.
At least one criticism that can absolutely never be leveled at TGS is that nothing happened, because, um, no. The sheer amount of crap that happened in this book has kind of set my head a-whirl, actually. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t realize until after I’d finished it just how much stuff it never even got to – really important stuff, too!
And how was the writing, you ask?
Well, it was not the same. Not entirely. Much of it seemed to be the same vintage Jordan style we all know and love, of course, but there were definitely differences: a word or phrase here, a simile there, lines of dialogue or even entire internal monologues that were, not enough to take me out of the story, but enough to make me blink a bit. Little things, but things that definitely struck me as things Jordan would not have written.
Now mind you, however, “different” is not the same thing as “bad”, and it’s not like anyone should be surprised by this; Brandon and Harriet told us that Brandon was not going to try to slavishly imitate Jordan’s voice, and indeed we were made well aware that Brandon was going to bring his own voice into the story. I agree now, as I did then, that that was the right direction to go; if nothing else, the simple honesty of the decision makes me applaud it. Plus, it’s worth pointing out that for all the words and phrases I did note, there are likely ten times as many I didn’t. And frankly, I don’t know that the things that jumped out at me would even be noticed by someone who hasn’t been analyzing WOT literally almost line by line for the last ten months. In some ways I think I am really not the best person to judge on this score, simply because of how ridiculously close I am to the material.
That being said, I am hardly the only fan of which that is true, and I can predict with a fair degree of confidence that the difference is going to be something some readers won’t be able to get past. However, I will also say that I think they will be doing the book, and the series, a disservice by dismissing it on those grounds.
Obviously, we would all have preferred to have the Wheel of Time finished exactly as Robert Jordan would have finished it. But alas, fate was not so kind, and so we must instead be appreciative of the extremely apparent enormous amount of care and effort Mr. Sanderson (along with the rest of Team Jordan, to whom the novel is tellingly dedicated) poured into upholding Jordan’s legacy. And at the same time, I must admire Brandon’s bravery (I can’t think of another word to use for it) not only in taking on a task which to call “daunting” is to not even understand the scope of it, but in risking putting his own stamp on such a widely-known and fiercely beloved saga as the Wheel of Time.
And he does do so, in ways that are sometimes frankly rather shocking. (At least, I think they are his; the above notwithstanding, while I could pick out individual words here and there, it’s not usually obvious which scenes (oops) are Jordan’s and which are Sanderson’s, and which are both.) This is something I’ll have to discuss more later, when we get to the spoilers, but my point is TGS was not by any means a Mad Libs exercise where Brandon just filled in some nouns and dress descriptions; he is there in it too, and he makes some moves (again, I think; I’m just guessing here) which are – well, they are risky. Whether the risk pays off may have to be a decision personal to the individual reader.
For my part, even aside from scenes (agh!) of awesome awesomeing (*clapclap*), I may not be entirely sure how I feel about some of what happened in The Gathering Storm, whether it was Jordan’s work or Sanderson’s – one thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a doozy of a recap – but there is no doubt that I’m damn glad they wrote it.
And I’m damn glad I got to read it.
And here endeth the review! Comment in peace, and without spoilers, please, and I’ll see you guys next week for The Post of Infinite Spoilers. This is gonna be fun.
Leigh Butler is a writer, blogger, and dilettante provocateur, who enjoys reading and writing fantasy, mangling the English language for fun and profit, and infuriating people with her opinions. She currently lives in New York City.