I just finished reading The Gathering Storm (TGS here on out) a few minutes ago, and I’ve literally been pacing back and forth in my house, trying to work off my excitement from finishing the book. In my mind, it was almost as though I was reading a masterclass on how to write epic fantasy.
I’ve been working my way through all the Wheel of Time books this year, and plan on finishing before the year is out. I’ve not made any secret about my feelings. I generally liked books 1-7, with my opinion of them ranging from “good” to “very good.” I really, really disliked books 8-10. But book 11 was fantastic, and I’m happy to report that I really loved TGS.
The hardcover version I was reading came in at about 750 pages, and I burned through them more quickly than I finish some 200 page stories. To keep a perfectly balanced tension for that long requires tremendous skill, and I am always impressed when I encounter such a work. TGS marks Brandon Sanderson’s first entry into the series, completing the vision that was ultimately Robert Jordan’s.
I love to see the continued development of the characters. After seeing periods of intense growth, followed by the slowing down in the story that happens through books 8-10, it is an absolute delight to see the characters truly come into their own. In TGS, this is represented perfectly by Egwene. I’ll freely confess that in the past books, I’ve forced myself to keep my eyes open through the Aes Sedai sections of the books. Here, though, Egwene finally shows the full depths of the woman she has become, and I cheered for her speeches and triumphs in this story as much as I have for any battle that’s been written thus far. The story of the White Tower is thrilling, and is one of the centerpieces of this classic.
However, as a fantasy writer, I can’t help but remark on Rand’s journey. For books now he has been sliding downward, his character becoming harder and harder and more unlikable. I’ve found the descent fascinating. All too often, us fantasy writers utilize the trope of “The Chosen One,” but rarely do we see the effects on a person’s character as realistically as we do in Wheel of Time. Personally, I feel like Sanderson handled this character masterfully. Rand al’Thor sits at the intersection of politics, magic, and prophecy, and I’m convinced that he is one of the most fascinating characters in modern fantasy. I cannot wait to see where this story goes.
Thankfully, book 13 is already sitting on my Kindle.