Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Ex Libris: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass.

The Gathering Storm, book 12 of The Wheel of Time saga and the first book in the concluding finale of the series, is a significant book for two reasons.

The first is that this is the first WoT book written since the death of Robert Jordan in 2007. The reverse side of this is that this is the first WoT book not written by Jordan but rather by upcoming fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson who was hired to finish the series. Obviously, this raises the issue of whether it's right that someone else is finishing Jordan's story. Is it really a case of publishing firms trying to milk the WoT money cow even with the death of its creator?

The answer, I think, centers on the second reason. This book is supposedly the lead-up to the end of the series, where all questions shall be finally answered and The Dragon Reborn Rand al-Thor will battle The Dark One at Tarmon Gaidon. Think of books 1-11 as the climb of an arrow shot to the sky, all the way to its apex. The Gathering Storm is the downward arc of the arrow and boy, is it going to be a fast ride.

Yes, you heard me correctly: Sanderson has taken the reins of Jordan's story and has proceeded to take it to the end. In the process, he's also answered-- as much as possible-- all the questions that have been raised during the storyline and making all roads lead towards the final showdown at Shayol Gul. Ironically, that's where you can read the difference between Sanderson's and Jordan's storytelling. Sanderson has nipped and cut away all the 'sniffing of noses' and 'yanking of braids' story delays that hampered Jordan's story in the latter part of the series. Because of this, The Gathering Storm is an easier, faster read than the previous books.

You can also see that Sanderson is finally targeting the big bulls-eye at the end: some supporting characters have been getting their final act and there's a feeling that this is just building up to the major characters. Who will die and who will live? Sanderson isn't telling though thankfully, it feels like he's pruned away a lot of messy storylines that clog the WoT.

Prose-wise, there's only a slight difference between Jordan and Sanderson though it's there, like a teensy-weensy mismatch in word usage and style. But thankfully-- and here's where I get to my point about the first reason-- it doesn't matter as Sanderson has managed to write a ripping story. Though he spends a lot of time moving the characters around, The Gathering Storm has its own share of exciting set-pieces to match previous books, i.e. Egwene's battle to save Tar Valon both from its divisions and invaders is one of my favorite chapters.

(Likewise, he's peppered the book with depth to some of the characters, i.e. Egwene discovers the strength of being the Amyrlin and Rand struggles with reasons for meeting his destiny. It's not much but at least we finally see their motivation on why they'll be showing up at the end of the world.)

And that, I think, is the reason why Sanderson-- who has done his job of trying to tell Jordan's story-- should be lauded for The Gathering Storm (and the concluding next books). It's because Jordan-- for all of his writing faults-- had a very good story to tell but wasn't able to with his untimely death. From Sanderson to Jordan's wife and editor Harriet to Tor the publishing house-- the people behind The Gathering Storm knew that it would be a shame to let this story be left unfinished and so they did what they had to do. Even if that meant letting some other writer finish the tale.

And so, I say with some relief: good job, everyone. Robert Jordan would be proud of you for getting the story told. (Rating: Four paws out of four.)

*This book is currently available locally in Powerbooks and Fully Booked.

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