NOTE: Re-posted here for curious eyes is Leigh Butler’s spoiler-full review of The Gathering Storm. We’re working on smoothing out the original post so everyone can read the 3000+ comments. The discussion continues here.
Happy drop date, WOT fans!
Today marks the official U.S. release of the long-awaited twelfth novel in the Wheel of Time series, The Gathering Storm—the finest merchandise this side of the river Jordan, on sale today! Come on down, heh heh.
But you probably knew that. About time, eh?
Consequently, as promised, I have here my second and infinitely more spoiler-laden review of the book. This will also, coincidentally, provide you with a place on Tor.com to discuss your own spoilery thoughts and reactions to The Gathering Storm, because we love you and we want you to be happy.
So have at, but remember: please confine all spoilers for the new book to this post. There are many readers out there who for whatever reason are not able to obtain and read the novel on the day of release, so out of courtesy to them, please keep the spoilers concentrated in one easily-avoidable spot, mmkay? Thanks, y’all are rockalicious.
Also, this is obvious, but just for the record: There are GIANT, MASSIVE, BOOK-DESTROYING SPOILERS for The Gathering Storm under the cut. And you can bet that whatever I don’t spoil in the post, will get spoiled in the comments. Read at your own risk.
For what it’s worth, I strongly advise WOT readers to avoid this post until they have read the book. I know some of y’all have low willpower on this score, but I’m seriously telling you that you will miss out if you ruin the ending (and the middle, and all the other parts) for yourself before reading the actual book. Also, since I’m not going to be explicating the details of every last event I bring up, if you haven’t read the book first, some of the things I’m going to say may not make sense to you anyway, which is yet another reason to wait.
As someone with a terminal allergy to spoilers before the fact, that’s just my opinion, of course, and I ain’t your mama, but presumably you’re here because you semi-care about my opinions, so there you have one.
So, there’s all that. For those of you looking for a totally spoiler-free and yet also somehow-massively-verbose review of The Gathering Storm, go here. Honor to serve and alla that.
And now, having gotten all warnings, caveats, and stern remonstrances out of the way, click though to get to the meat. IF YOU DARE.
Just so you know, this is not going to be an exhaustive dissection of the book. For one thing, that would take too damn long, and second, I’m going to eventually be doing a very detailed recap of The Gathering Storm (henceforth abbreviated TGS) anyway, just like all the other books, so I have to save some gems of wisdom here.
*deep breath* Hokay. So, I guess the best way to go about this is to basically expand upon my little “list of scenes that made me react in some way” from the non-spoilered review, right? Right. It should be noted that several scenes fit several categories, so there will be some repetition in here.
It should also be noted that I’ve actually only done one complete read-through of TGS thus far, and that at Ludicrous Speed, so some of my memories have of necessity gone to plaid. I’m working on a second (much slower) read-through as I write this, but time constraints being what they are, I may not get to everything before this has to go up. We Shall See.
Anyway! The scenes. In the order I deem most coherent(ish):
Scene of partial *headdesk*ing: Was actually more of a “*headde*- wait. DAMMIT”, because it was when Cadsuane had her Moment of Awesome in besting Semirhage – and she did it with spanking.
That was ON PURPOSE, WASN’T IT, TEAM JORDAN. It’s a plot, I tell you. A PLOT AGAINST ME. I’m going to go curl up with a blankie now.
(Over-inflated sense of importance? Moi?)
Scenes that made me go “Aww”: When Siuan (finally!) bonded Bryne, and later on when he asked her to marry him. Aww. Their interaction in general in TGS was just sweet, which is something I don’t get to say too often about romantic relationships in WOT. Plus, one long-hanging prophecy down, whoo!
(As a side note, those Seanchan Black Ops kamikaze guys (I forget what they were called) really didn’t live up to their hype, did they?)
Scene that managed to profoundly irritate me at the exact same time I was going “HELLS, YES”: The (second) dinner scene in the Tower. Even as I was cheering Egwene’s verbal excoriation of Elaida, for it was unquestionably a Smackdown of Eloquent Awesomeness, I found it extremely difficult to believe Elaida wouldn’t have shut her up before she got more than two sentences into it. Plus, I have issues with Elaida’s character derailment, which sort of precedes TGS but really goes nuts here. I mean, she was always an incompetent martinet with delusions of grandeur, but in TGS (and especially in this scene) she’s practically twirling her moustaches and tying damsels to railroad tracks. Enh.
“Wait, what?” scenes: a number of them, really, including the manner in which Elaida was disposed of – not so much how she went (which was only appropriate, all things considered), but that we didn’t get to see her in the battle up to that point, at all. I don’t know, it was just kind of abrupt and “Oh, hey, we forgot all about her! Whoops, bye!” I just felt that as such a major antagonist, she sort of deserved a more detailed exit.
That being said, I devoutly hope that we will never ever see her again. If any part of Book 13 is concerned with mounting a rescue for her I may have to throw a tantrum.
Another “wait, what?” scene was the death of Sheriam. Though the scene in which she was exposed as Black Ajah was beyond awesome, I was like “That’s how Min’s viewing is fulfilled? Really?” I can’t decide if the viewing thing was clever or cheap, actually; it could really go either way. Of course, I may be a bit personally biased, as that whole thing torpedoed one of my favorite pet theories, that Sheriam was going to go down in a blaze of glory taking out Halima. Crap, I really liked that theory. Oh, well.
(Also, what, no thirteen on thirteen trick? Is that EVER going to come up? And Sheriam would have been so appropriate thematically for it! Man…)
And the big “wait, WHAT?” thing (but in a good way) was Rand channeling the True Power to escape Semirhage. Holy jumping Jehoshaphat, but I sure as hell never saw that coming. Not to mention, I believe the applicable category here is Very, Very Bad Things. Ai yi yi. Nothing Good Can Come Of This, y’all.
That scene is also the one that upset me so much I had to walk away for a while. This is my schizophrenic scene reaction, because while it was probably one of the most tension-filled and dramatic (i.e., well-done) scenes in the book, possibly in the series (certainly in the latter half of the series), I can’t say that I loved it. In fact I hated it, because it was so frickin’ terrible for Rand and Min. But you see the distinction: I didn’t hate it because it was awfully written, I hated it because it was as exactly as awful as it was supposed to be. So it was a great scene, but I hated it. Does that make any sense?
Speaking of which, Rand’s entire plot arc in TGS contains something of that schizoid reaction for me. I believe I am on record somewhere stating that I thought TPOD (Book 8, The Path of Daggers) marked Rand’s low point (both emotionally and in terms of my liking for the character); well, I was so, so very wrong, you guys. THIS was Rand’s low point, on both counts, and I was frankly shocked at what a terribly low low it was.
I’m not saying that it wasn’t necessary to have happened, storywise; if you view Rand as being the equivalent of an alcoholic (or anyone locked into a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior) who has to hit bottom before he can begin to climb back up again, it was totally necessary. And I’m not saying Rand didn’t have valid excuses either, like, oh, I dunno, the Head Evil Dude In Charge LEAKING INTO HIS BRAIN, but knowing all that did not make it any easier to read. I honestly kind of loathed Rand through 95% of his screen time, which, yeah, I’m really not happy to be made to dislike a protagonist so strongly. (In case you can’t tell, in general I am not a fan of antiheroes.)
Especially a character I had previously liked so much; Rand may not ever have been my absolute favorite character in WOT, but TPOD aside he was nearly always in the top five, and usually the top three. So while I’m sure his arc was probably very well done in a technical sense, I have a difficult time gaining enough objective space from my own extremely negative reaction in order to admit that.
This is what I was referring to as possible risks on Brandon’s part. Though obviously I know that Jordan outlined what was to happen in more than just a general sense, somehow the extremity of the depths to which Rand is sunk in TGS rings more to me of Sanderson’s demonstrated willingness to push the fantasy trope envelope (i.e. how horrible can we make the protagonist/hero/Messiah figure before he is riiight on the edge of irredeemable?) than Jordan’s more traditional adherence to, er, tradition.
Of course, I don’t know this is true for sure; I’m just guessing. Maybe this is exactly what Jordan planned all along and I have no idea what I’m talking about. But that’s the feeling I get, so there you have it.
(Aaand I now have a mental picture of Brandon chanting “How low! Can you go!” My brain, ladies and gentlemen.)
Whichever the case, Rand is the cause of both times I wanted to hurl the book across the room: once when he was reunited with Hurin, and when he finally reunited with (and then almost killed) his father Tam. (And a near third, when he offhandedly commented to Nynaeve that Lan’s death would “serve him well” or some such UTTER MORIDIN-LEAKING BULLSHIT. Gah.) Oh my God but I wanted to beat Rand senseless during these two scenes – actually more over the Hurin thing than Tam. Tam at least was sort of trying to provoke a reaction from Rand (if not remotely the one he got), and plus Rand was actually doing pretty okay with Tam – right up to where it all went to shit of course – but all poor adorable Hurin wanted was a kind word from “Lord Rand”. He was all so excited! And instead he got treated like dirt. Two, count ‘em TWO of the reunions I had been wishing and hoping for, and that’s how they go? GRRRRRR LEIGH SMASH.
Again, this is not me disparaging the scenes on their merits, so much as me expressing my feelings about what actually happened. Rand had better apologize to Hurin in the next book, is all I’m saying. Fortunately it looks like he might actually be in a headspace to do so, thanks to the ending.
And speaking of headspace: HAHAHAHAHA Lews Therin is gone. And in a way that STILL doesn’t definitively settle the “real or not real” question!!
Heh. Hah. HAH. HEE HOO HAH HAHAHA HAAAAAAH. I cannot figure out how I feel about that whole scene in general, but I tell you I chortled for like five minutes over the Lews Therin thing. I win again, Lews Therin! Except you don’t care, because you’re not here! HAH hee hee. You may all feel free to hate me now. Heh.
As to the end at large: I… really don’t know, you guys. I have to read it again. If I get to it before this goes up I may expand upon this, but otherwise I’ll let you guys argue about it, because I am well and truly divided. On the one hand I was like “THANK YOU JESUS, maybe Rand can stop being an asshole and I can like him again”, and on the other I was… feeling a bit anticlimactic about it all. I know it’s kind of insane to call a scene where basically Rand talks himself off the ledge of destroying the frickin’ world “anticlimactic”, but I think the operative word there is “talk”. I don’t know if this is unfair of me or not. Like I said, I’ll have to read it again.
Speaking of scenes that left me divided (not to mention stunned speechless): WHAT THE HELL, RAND, with the balefiring of an entire city. Or city-like compound, whatever. My reaction was seriously just, “Uh. So… wow, that… happened.” By all rights this should have infuriated me far more than the Hurin thing or the Tam thing, but I was just so shocked by it, I couldn’t even summon up any book-throwingness. Jeez.
Watch, I bet Graendal wasn’t even there, you guys. Yes, I know, the Compulsion on Whatshisname was gone, but you know the rules: we didn’t see a body! And on the one hand, if she wasn’t there, that makes what Rand did just that much worse; but on the other, if she was there, well, damn, because that means Graendal got an even lamer exit than Elaida did. We didn’t even get to see her! My reaction, she is torn!
Um, what else. Oh, right, the big one: my duly appointed Awesomely Awesome Scene of Awesomeness.
Which would be – Dah dah-dah DAH! – Verin’s Last Hour.
I’m sorry, I meant Verin’s Last Hour OF AWESOME.
I mean, come ON. That was frickin’ gorgeous, y’all. Seal, clapping like a. Oh, yeah.
I am so freaking vindicated in my love for Verin, you guys. For Indeed she did show herself to be the veritable Zen Master of Sneakiness to the very end, with the culmination of her Seventy-Year Project of Tying Up Like Fifty Plotlines In Twenty Pages. I ask you, what other WOT character has done so much for one fandom? NONE, that’s who, thank you, goodbye. Not to mention, she fooled EVERYONE – and that includes the readership at large!
Sure sure, there have always been those who believed she was Black, and I’m sure there were even a few out there who hit upon the exact Sidney Bristow Double Agent formula here (though now I’m picturing Verin in an electric blue rubber minidress, which is all kinds of wrong, and now you are too. You’re welcome), but I’m in a fair ex-WOTFAQ-editing position to say that the vast majority of the fandom never hit upon it. For we were most skillfully misled, you guys.
Most readers (including me) were of the opinion that she was not Black, but had removed the First Oath so that she could lie, with various iterations of Purple Ajah/Second Foundation Ajah/Very Old Verin Theory curlicues tacked on for effect. Read the FAQ article if you don’t believe me; the very fact that her article isn’t even in the “Black or not?” section speaks volumes.
We were so close to being right, but we weren’t, y’all. Not exactly. Because Verin (and Jordan) were just that sneaky. Too. Frickin. Brilliant. I sigh contentedly in their general direction!
So, yeah, I think it’s safe to say I hearted that scene. I will love it and hug it and squeeze it and call it George, oh yes. And I’ll fight any one of youse wiseguys what says different, see? Putemup, putemup!
(Okay, not really, because that means I would have to fight Jason Denzel, who I already know disagrees with me over which TGS Scene is Top Most Awesome. And, he’s a pretty nice guy, who also owns a fair amount of medieval weaponry, so I’ll let it go. JUST THIS ONCE.)
Incidentally, this is also one of the two scenes that made me choke up. Verin’s death was about as awesome a WOT character death as can well be imagined (certainly one of the most useful in, like, ever), but that made it even more upsetting that she had to go. I won’t lie, I had to get a tissue.
The other scene that made me tear up was, shockingly, the little vigil Faile and Co. held for their erstwhile protectors/propositioners while being held by the Shaido. Considering my virulent hatred for that entire plotline, getting mushy over Rolan et al was about the last damn thing I would have expected, and yet there I was. I don’t know, maybe it’s just that I’m more sensitized to expressions of grief than I used to be. Growing up sucks, sometimes.
Oh, yeah, which reminds me: Mat and Perrin were in this book.
And I can’t let a spoilerriffic review of TGS end without bringing up the Plot Arc of Total Awesomeness, only slightly eclipsed by Verin’s Hour of Awesome (which was really part of the arc anyway, so), which is of course the entire Battle for the White Tower.
Not just the actual battle part with the Seanchan, though that of course was beautifully done (excepting the lack of Elaida, natch), but the entire campaign Egwene wages from within to reunite the Tower, bring Elaida down, and finally at long-goddamn-last effect a Black Ajah Purge. Or, to put it another way, the awesomeness is encompassed by every single second Egwene is on screen. Basically, she rocked from start to finish, and as of this moment is in firm first place as my favorite (living) WOT character.
Our Ooh! Ooh! Girl is all grown up, y’all. I’m so proud! *sniffle*
And thank God she was there, y’all, because if the whole of TGS had been Mat and Perrin being irrelevant and Gawyn being an idiot and Rand being a giant city-balefiring jerk, I really would have thrown the book through the wall. On its merits, even.
But fortunately Team Jordan is savvy enough to figure out that we must leaven the sourness of bottom-hitting-avec-vague-promise-of-future triumph with the sweetness of actual triumph, and thus I am sated. At least until Book 13! In which Rand had better gain back his awesome, zallumsane.
Aaaand I’m spent. I know there’s tons I didn’t even get to, and I ended on kind of a weird note, but the madness must stop somewhere, and I’m sure you guys will be more than happy to lambaste my wrongness fill in the gaps in the comments.
(That’s how “lambaste” is spelled? Really? Huh.)
Anyway, we presume you have enjoyed your ride on TGS Spoiler Mountain, as we see you have managed to refrain from blowing up the planet theme park planet at the summit. Good on ya, Guvnor! Remain seated, please (Permanecer sentados, por favor) until the ride comes to a full stop. Then go forth, laugh, be fruitful, and multiply the comments! Peace out, G!
Leigh Butler is a writer and blogger for Tor.com, where she *headdesks* frequently for the amusement and edification of others, and also conducts a Re-read of the Wheel of Time series, which is currently completed through Book Six, Lord of Chaos. She currently lives in New York City, which is only appropriate.