The Gathering Storm is the most intense book of The Wheel of Time so far, profiling the meteoric rise of Egwene and the chronicle of Rand’s disastrous shunning of emotion and love. As one rises, the other falls. Both live through memorable scenes of triumph even as they follow opposing trajectories.
Rand is subjected to the most personal and traumatic of tortures. He overcomes them by turning his back on the Light and his friends, coming to see everyone as a thing to be used to advance his quest, failing to see them as people at all. In this distant emotional state, he has the power to do anything, but lacks the imperative to do anything at all. He follows the prophecies as though it were a script, playing his part with no care for how he interacts with the other players.
Egwene’s subtle resistance to Elaida’s physical and personal humiliation of her wins allies of ever-increasing rank. Novices, Aes Sedai, and Sitters all come to respect her, culminating in Verin entrusting her with her life’s work. The support she has built allows her to take on power during a Seanchan raid in which she singlehandedly hands the raiders a defeat. Egwene has demonstrated she embodies the best traits of all Ajahs, and reunites the factions of the White Tower under her rule.
These two heroes stand at counterpoint to each other, Egwene demonstrating how to gain followers, and Rand demonstrating how to lose them. Egwene unites feuding factions while Rand can’t reach simple temporary agreement with the Seanchan nipping at him. Many dueling forces stand between Rand and victory: the Seanchan against the mainland nations, the male channelers against female channelers, Lews Therin against his own soul, Moridin’s nihilistic philosophy against the hopes espoused by Cadsuane and Nynaeve. All of these opposing forces must be reconciled, demanding sacrifice in the form of discomfort, concession, and acceptance.
Since the book is co-authored by Brandon Sanderson, the question of who wrote individual scenes in The Gathering Storm is inevitable. In the early part of the book, the difference in writing style from Robert Jordan’s earlier work is jarring, yet before long, the story takes hold of the reader, and the fate of Rand, Egwene, Verin, and other favourite characters overrides any apparent dissonance. By the time Rand finds himself in Semirhage’s clutches, the pace of the story carries the reader forward.
If Brandon has committed any sin in his handling of the story, it is one he could never overcome: he is not Robert Jordan.
Robert Jordan was facing his own mortality as he wrote this book, and must have found himself uncomfortably in the shoes of several of his characters. In the legend of Manetheren, in Seanchan imperial culture, in the Malkieri vows, in the historical truth shown in the glass columns of Rhuidean, there have been trans-generational commitments; tasks so vast, so important, that each generation must pick up the duty from their forefathers, and carry the burden onward. Best summarized in this passage from The Shadow Rising:
“I mean to save something here, and that something is you.”
“As you say,” he said reluctantly. “We will care for what you have given into our charge until you want them again.”
“Of course. The things we gave you.” She smiled at him and loosened her grip, smoothing his hair once more before folding her hands.
Like Verin in this book, Robert Jordan entrusted his work to loved ones who understood and could finish what he set out to accomplish. The words of the story and the order they appear in are merely things, unimportant compared to the messages they contain, the resolution of the characters’ quests, or the battle against the Shadow which permeates the story. Fighting the Shadow is more than one man can do alone. Rand tried that in this very story, and failed. Working together, the keepers of Robert Jordan’s legacy forged ahead with the story as he wished, knowing the criticisms that would be leveled, cognizant of the difficulties in living up to the level of his work, understanding that hesitation might cost the opportunity to ever complete it.
“So many decisions you must make, for one so young.” She yawned, then grimaced as a pain stabbed her.
Egwene rose, walking to Verin’s side. “Thank you, Verin. Thank you for choosing me to carry this burden.”
My thanks also.
You are a writer. Never quit, never give up.