Sunday, December 13, 2009

Books: The Gathering Storm

When "Wheel of Time" author Robert Jordan died in 2007, most fans of the series were pretty disappointed. After all, Jordan had penned an epic fantasy sequence spanning nearly 3.5 million words over 11 books, forming a detailed world with minutiae to spare:

That kind of overwhelming detail, though, increased the wait between books, and presaged what would happen - before Jordan could complete the final novel, he fell ill with cardiac amyloidosis and passed away. WoT fans were understandably skeptical when it was announced little-known fantasy author Brandon Sanderson would finish the final book, and that the final book would be split into three volumes.

I've always had a soft spot for the WoT series, even though I know intellectually that the books are, in many cases, poorly written and overly long. That's why I liked "The Gathering Storm," I guess; in a lot of ways, it reads like the ultimate WoT fanfic. It's impossible to be sure which words were written by Jordan and which were not, of course, but my guess is that the more tangential parts of the story were filled in by Sanderson.

Mat's travels, for instance, are pretty far removed from the main plot. In Mat's sections, Sanderson sneaks in some thinly-veiled references to a D&D gaming session and even pens the WoT's first zombie horde attack. These sidetrips are pretty entertaining (exasperated Mat-as-DM is darn near hilarious), but they're comic relief that doesn't really fit in with the dark tone of the rest of the book.

On the plus side, the change of authors brings a welcome change of pace. Where Jordan may have once plodded through several minor characters and endless descriptions of people's clothing, Sanderson keeps the focus on Rand, the shepherder-turned-messiah, and Egwene, the innkeeper's daughter-turned-ubermage.

Needless to say, unless you've at least read the first seven or eight books of the series, "The Gathering Storm" will be pretty much incomprehensible. I actually found it enjoyable even though I skipped books 9, 10, and 11 (not much happened in those, anyway). For lapsed WoT fans like me who started reading the series in elementary and middle school, it might be time to return for one final battle.


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