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The Gathering Storm: The Wheel of Time    by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson order for
Gathering Storm
by Robert Jordan
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

My late father was very disappointed to have missed two major fantasy milestones before his life ended - the release of the third Lord of the Rings movie and the final volumes in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time.

Sadly, Jordan was unable to complete A Memory of Light himself. But fans are very fortunate that the fallen banner has been raised by another master fantasist, Brandon Sanderson. The author of the Mistborn series was chosen for the challenging task by Jordan's editor and wife, Harriet McDougal. Now Jordan's planned A Memory of Light will be released (with all the fanfare that fans anticipate) as three books, the first (and twelfth in the series) being The Gathering Storm (which is incidentally the title of the first of Winston Churchill's World War II chronicles).

In his Foreword, Sanderson speaks of his own love for The Wheel of Time series, whose 'characters feel like old, dear friends from my childhood.' He tells us that no-one could complete the epic as well as Robert Jordan could have, but that Jordan 'left many notes, outlines, completed scenes, and dictated explanations with his wife and assistants.' He also wrote the ending. Sanderson pledges to readers to see this three book completion 'of the greatest fantasy epic of our time' done right.

As in previous volumes, readers drop in on key characters in succession for brief updates on their intertwined stories (aside from Elayne, who is very much absent this time). Tantalising tidbits are tossed out as the wheel steadily turns. Two major story arcs (following Rand and Egwene) form The Gathering Storm. A myriad of minor ones involve the Forsaken (who obtain a tar'agreal to control male channelers); Perrin Aybara and his wife Faile (reunited after her capture by the Shaido); Mat Cauthon who gives his word to Verin; and Tuon, Daughter of the Nine Moons, who declares herself the Seanchan Empress Fortuona after a meeting with Rand.

Rand al'Thor - who feels boxed in by fate and the demands of all who continually try to manipulate him, his freedom an illusion - faces a major crisis of faith and conscience, yet shines a light of hope for his world as the book ends. He also comes to terms with Lews Therin, the madman who constantly mutters in the back of his mind. Min and Nynaeve remain by Rand for most of this episode, with Cadsuane a thorn in his side. Min considers it 'her job to get him to the Last Battle alive and sane, with his soul in one piece.' Nynaeve frets over Lan's's safety on his way to fight Trollocs with the Malkieri.

But though it was good to see Rand center stage once more, The Gathering Storm is largely Egwene al'Vere's story as she watches the White Tower fall apart around her, all the while working to shore up its spiritual foundations and be ready to rebuild when she has the chance. Egwene was captured by Elaida in Knife of Dreams, treated as a novice and beaten on a daily basis. But she is more hurt by the dissension she sees all around her in Tar Valon than by the physical abuse. As Egwene's past vision materialises, she finally comes into her own in this episode - and Egwene's a fighter.

Having read everything both authors have written over the years (and been a Wheel of Time fan from the beginning) I was sure there'd be cracks and crevasses visible in the changeover, but was surprised and delighted by a seamless transition of authors, a remarkable editing and writing feat! Fans who have been anxiously awaiting this book for what seems like eons - and worrying that their high expectations might not be met - can relax (as much as the story allows), settle down for a highly satisfying read, and look forward with great anticipation to the final two books, Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light.

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