Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

This month for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm discussing The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

I lived in a town with an independent bookstore.  If you needed to own a book, The Book Bag was happy to order it for you.  I hadn't yet become accustomed to the destination bookstore experience and I well knew the importance of supporting small local businesses over national chain stores.  So I'd never visited the new threat in the next town.

But my boyfriend's mother did.

One day she brought home a paperback with a silly cover and dropped it on my lap.  "They were giving this away for free as some kind of promotion over at that new Barnes & Noble.  I don't read this crap, I told the cashier, but my son's girlfriend reads everything."

More true than untrue.  I immediate dove in.  "Feh. Blatant Tolkien knock-off," I thought after reading the first few chapters.  Well, I liked Tolkien, so I kept reading.  And, suddenly, it wasn't a Tolkien knock-off after all.  It was something quite new and different and compelling.  The giveaway was the first half of Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World and I bought the full book so that I could finish it.

I also bought, borrowed, or begged each of the next books in Jordan's Wheel of Time series until I caught up to the author - then on his sixth series novel - and began anxiously awaiting new titles as they were published.  The series has its ups and downs - there are some sagging books in the middle where I feel Jordan has introduced too many characters, has too many balls in the air, and concentrates too hard on keeping them all up and spinning to actually move the plot forward or resolve any of the loose ends.

Then he died.

I was saddened by the author's death, of course.  And I also was concerned about the rest of the series.  I'd been reading it for more than a decade, since I was in college.  Many thousands of pages, some reread several times.  I wanted to know how everything turned out.

Several weeks later, I read an announcement: the series would be completed by a young author named Brandon Sanderson.  I immediately looked him up, read what he had to say about taking on the challenge of finishing a series started by another author.  An author with particularly enthusiastic and demanding fan base.  Then I picked up a few of Sanderson's books and started reading.

I enjoyed the books, but Sanderson has a strong style of his own, and it's different from Jordan's.

When the newest Wheel of Time book came out this fall, I immediately bought it in hardback.  Then I left it sitting on my nightstand for a couple of months.  I was scared to read it, or to read anything about it.  I cared too much for the series.  "Maybe I should just wait until it's all done (two more books after this one) and read the summary online," I thought.  "That way I'll know what happened in the end - Jordan summarized the ending and closed the character arcs before he died - without having someone else's voice change the characters for me."

Then I was chatting with a friend who has very strong opinions and shares them freely.  (A little like me, no?)  He's also a big Wheel of Time fan.  "Have you read the new book?" I asked.

"I got it from the library and I stayed up until 6:00 the next morning reading," he said.  "Stuff really happens in this book."

"Really?  It's good?"

"It's good," he assured me.

I stopped waited for Christmas vacation and started reading immediately.  He was right.  The book is good.  Stuff happens.  The plot advances.  Character and story arcs close.  Tension builds.  Best of all, the style, the characters, the world itself, all of the important stuff still "feels" like Robert Jordan to me.

Very occasionally I could hear Sanderson's voice (he is fond of opening sentences with a "However," construction).  But those moments just served to remind me of what a great job he was doing with Jordan's story, telling it as the creator himself might have done.

I've read lots of fan fiction online, and none of it has ever satisfied me.  It feels . . . forced when a fan manipulates someone else's characters to do what the fan would like them to do, and the imitation of style is never convincing to me.  I have no idea how Sanderson managed to take on this huge challenge and succeed so mightily.

But he did it, and I can't wait for the last two books.

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Jenn Jilks said...

Great review. Nice to see a changed ending, so to speak.

flatflo said...

My hubby had the series up to 7 or 8 when we started cohabiting. I eventually read them all, even through the saggy ones. Hubby was a casualty of the saggy period and has not kept up. Lately I've been getting them through the library, though the queue is in the hundreds at times.

I enjoyed seeing the threads of the saga starting to come together in this last book. It made me glad that the last "book" is a trilogy, so that the authors can take their time and not rush what has taken so long to build.

Krupskaya said...

"Stuff really happens in this book" made me go "hee!"

Scott Parker said...

I just finished re-watching The Lord of the Rings and am still in a fantasy mood. While I've hesitated about starting Wheel (there's SO many books and their so long), I might give book one a try via audiobook.

Beth Yarnall said...

I guess there's a reason publishers like series- reader loyalty. It would have been a shame to leave the series unfinished. Great review!

Keri Mikulski said...

Thanks for the review! Interesting story.

Barrie said...

I cannot believe this is what you reviewed BECAUSE I bought the first 3 Wheel of Time books for Child #1 girlfriend for Christmas. She's a huge Terry Goodkind fan. I was in Mysterious Galaxy (one of my local indies) where an employee recommended Robert Jordan. Then we had this discussion about the auhor's death and Brandon Sanderson taking over. And we talked some of Brandon Sanderson's own work and how incredibly prolific he is. Given your great review and my Mysterious Galaxy experience, I'm OBVIOUSLY meant to jump into the Wheel of Time series!!! The world is a weird place. Ack. Didn't mean to babble on and on... :)

Staci said...

I have bought a book and kept it on the nightstand for over a year...my hubby couldn't understand why...but you get it!!!

I just may have to pick this series back up again!

Sarah Laurence said...

Ha – your boyfriend’s mother should write jacket blurbs! It was fun to travel through time with you and this series. Jordan must have been a hard act to follow. Fun review!

Sarahlynn said...

Jenn, I think Sanderson is really doing credit to Jordan's original vision.

Flatflo, I agree!

Krupskaya, and it's so true! How can a book go on for hundreds and hundreds of pages without anything happening? I don't know, but it happened repeatedly. And yet I read them all, the same way I read Christmas letters from family and friends, I guess.

Scott, my husband "read" them all via audiobook and loved them, though we occasionally squabble about pronunciation (my glossary vs. his audiobook reader).

Beth, it sure works on me!

Thanks, Keri. :)

Barrie, I hope I haven't led you astray! Have you read Moonrat's review at Editorial Ass? She's read them all this year.

Staci, I absolutely get it!

Sarah, that she should not! And, thanks. :-)

John Anealio said...

What other Sanderson books did you read? I really enjoyed Elantris but I haven't gotten around to reading Warbreaker or Mistborn yet.

Linda McLaughlin said...

I haven't followed this series since the size of the books is so daunting, but I read Jordan years ago when he wrote historical fiction under a pseudonym. (Can't remember now what it was.) It's good to know that Sanderson did such a great job of finishing the book. So sad that Jordan passed away before completing his series.

Sarahlynn said...

Linda, the books are long! But I also read Diana Gabaldon and am in the middle of THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett, so . . . I guess I must like verbosity. :-)

I remember reading that Jordan used to write Conan the Barbarian books. I was surprised to learn some years ago that Robert Jordan is a pseudonym of James Oliver Rigney's. It must feel strange to have millions of people know you by a different name than what you call yourself around town.

John, I started with ELANTRIS, just to get a feel for Sanderson's writing. Then I read a few short stories (free on his website). Then I read the Misborn trilogy since apparently Jordan's widow read the first of those novels before deciding to ask Sanderson to complete The Wheel of Time. Did you like ELANTRIS? Every time I stub my toe I think of the Elantrians.

John Anealio said...

I did like Elantris, particularly the magic system. I actually wrote a song based on Elantris called "Sarene". It's included on an album that I just released. If you look around on my site you can find the lyrics and the MP3.