The Gathering Storm

I mentioned far too many times to count that The Wheel of Time is one of my favorite series, after finishing my re-read of The Gathering Storm, I’m very tempted to say that this is my favorite book in the series.  There’s so much going on in this book, after 11 books of building the story up more and more, this book really starts to bring all of those storylines towards their conclusions as we prepare for the ending of the series.

The biggest question here is where to start, I’m not breaking this book up into separate posts, so expect this to go on for a while.

Aviendha plays a smaller role in this book, but it’s still interesting to watch, so I’ll start with her.  Towards the end of the last book, the Aiel that Rand had gathered around Caemlyn were sent to Arad Doman.  Immediately once this book starts, she is constantly punished by the Wise Ones under whom she is studying.  I have to say that I think their punishments are extremely creative, she is constantly given worthless things to do until she finally snaps, which of course is exactly what they wanted her to do.  I’ve talked before about the differences in the cultures in this world, and this is one of the most blatant examples, Amys even says it in this scene.  The Aes Sedai rank their hierarchy by their relative strength in the one power.  This obviously leads to trouble among the Aes Sedai, whereas the Wise Ones are far more stable even as the Shaido split apart from the rest of the Aiel.  It’s a wonderful conclusion to the storyline of Aviendha’s training, even if there is just a bit more to it in the next book.

Mat isn’t in this book very much, the way that they decided to split the final book that Jordan had planned for was to have this book focuse mostly on Rand and Egwene while the next book focused more on Mat and Perrin, but even with only occasionally chapters from Mat, he was still entertaining in the book.  One of my first thoughts when I read this book the first time was that Sanderson didn’t quite get Mat’s ‘voice’ to be the same as it was when Jordan wrote the books, but this time through I didn’t have a problem with it.  I’ll get to my overall thoughts about the transition from Jordan’s writing to Sanderson’s writing in the series.

I’ll talk really quickly about Perrin, because he was also in very few chapters when compared to Rand and Egwene.  Perrin is still dealing with the aftermath of having rescued Faile, and readjusting to not having a single goal driving everything about his life.  It’s interesting that he decides that his next step is going to be learning more about the Wolf Dream.  I say that mostly because I thought he was already well versed in surviving in the Dream, but he does make the point that he wasn’t using it very much as he was trying to rescue Faile.  He still has to make peace with his wolf side, and once again that’s something that will wait for the next book.

So now we come to one of my favorite parts of the entire series, let alone this book: Egwene back in the White Tower.  Yes I know she was there for large parts of the last book as well, but this is where she really shows just how much she has grown as a character.  One of the strangest parts about her time as a captive of Elaida is the mixture of subtlety and manipulation with being completely honest.  She has said that she is trying to live by the Three Oaths even though she hasn’t taken them, and she works through the entire book always telling the truth.  It’s remarkably effective, I think in large because they don’t expect it from her.

Another one of the interesting juxtapositions in this book is between Egwene and Semhirage.  Rand captured Semhirage, and he left the Aes Sedai with orders to interrogate her, but not to torture her.  Cadsuane ultimately comes up with a great solution (with Sorilea’s help of course), don’t stand in awe of her, act as though you are superior to her.  The easiest way to do this for Cadsuane is to simply bend Semhirage over your knee and beat her like an unruly child, or a novice.  Egwene is going through the exact same punishment that Semhirage is, but while Egwene quietly endures because the punishment doesn’t matter in the long run, Semhirage immediately becomes furious being degraded.

Egwene of course ultimately succeeds in reuniting the White Tower, after working to save as much of the Tower as possible from the attack by the Seanchan.  But in the midst of this comes one of my favorite scenes in any series ever.  Egwene’s visit from Verin Sedai.  I’ve wanted to talk about Verin several times throughout the different books, but I’ve always pushed it aside because there were other things to talk about.  But there’s no better time than the present to talk about her, especially since she gave her life to help Egwene solve the Tower’s problems with the Black Ajah.  The firs time I read that scene I was surprised, but looking back through the series knowing what Verin was, there were plenty of hints throughout the books that something was just a bit off with Verin.  But even without knowing the truth about Verin, she was always one of my favorite side characters to read about.  She was always a little too knowing, and while she always supported Rand and company, she did it in very odd ways.  I liked Verin as a character, and it was sad to see her go this way, but at least she got a fantastic final scene out of it.

And now we finally come to Rand.  In one of the videos posted online by Tor talking about A Memory of Light, Robert Jordan said that the series as a whole centered around the idea that one man would find out that he was going to save the world, but then be told that he was going to go insane in the process of doing so.  Watching Rand’s slow descent into madness is largely what this book is about, and then towards the end he reaches rock bottom.  It’s impossible to imagine what having the pressure that has been put on Rand would do to you over time, but I have to say that the way it’s handled in this book is probably pretty accurate.  I also love the way that he finally breaks out of it, and the biggest part of the reason is that reading it reminded me of The Shawshank Redemption.  Rand asks himself the same question that Tam had asked him: why do you fight?  And I love the answer, because maybe this time I won’t fail, maybe this time I’ll get it right.  You could put the exact words from the end of Shawshank into that scene and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.

“Hope, is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I love this book, and I love the way it ends.  I have one more book to go through and then I’ll have be at A Memory of Light.

And now I come to one of the bigger parts of the overall series, the fact that Brandon Sanderson is finishing the books as opposed to Jordan due to his untimely death.  If you’ve followed my blog at all or even looked through my Total Score page, you know that I’m a huge fan of Sanderson’s work.  But however much of a fan of his own stories I am, the question is how well did he do adapting his writing to Jordan’s world, and my thoughts after reading this book, very well.  All of the characters sounded like themselves, and the story worked wonderfully.  The biggest change that I noticed came in the earlier chapters of the book.  Sanderson constantly switches from one character to the next after each chapter.  Jordan tended to stay with one character for several chapters at a time rather than bouncing back and forth quickly.  It’s a very subtle difference, and it works well because it shows you where all of the characters are despite the fact that many of them aren’t a big part of this book.  I loved this book, and I look forward to re-reading Towers of Midnight and then making my way through A Memory of Light.

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