November 14, 2009

Book review: The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Tedium book 12)

I was very excited when I went to the bookstore last week and picked up a copy of The Gathering Storm. I hadn't even realized it was out yet - we were there buying the last of the Meg Langslow books that my wife (and I) have been reading. When I spotted the book I thought "this is it! Finally the last book in this series!". It turns out I was wrong - it was merely 'part 1' of the last book in the series. The author died a few years ago but he and his wife (who is also his editor) passed on his notes to another fantasy author to finish it up. After you've already written 11 huge books in a storyline you need some kind of closure.

I've got a long history with the Wheel of Time (aka Wheel of Tedium). It was one of the first mainstream fantasy series that I began reading back when I was 11 or 12 years old. The first three books of the series are very good - it's your usual epic tale of three youngsters in a fantasy world with Destinies and Magic and all the usual stuff you expect to find. Then Jordan was hit HARD by plot bloat. Too many storylines spiraled out from his main story, and at times you lost sight of the original three main characters that started off the piece. In later books, it was not unheard of for one of them to not appear (or at least not have a POV at all), and it was hard to keep track of many of the marginally important peripheral characters who kept popping up.

As far as the new book goes, it was a good read and grabbed me in a way the last few books did not - I read the last 300 pages or so pretty much in one sitting. I can pick out a few reasons why:

  1. Stuff actually happened in this book. Several of the recent books (most notably, Crossroads to Twilight) were very light on both action and plot points. You can only read so many impromptu planning sessions where everyone disagrees with each other and is always glaring and getting nothing done. Everyone in this universe is incredibly convinced that they are Right and everyone else is Wrong (and generally, idiot children for doing/thinking what they do) and never bends in their judgement. This time around people actually made decisions and confronted their enemies (or did stuff despite the objection of their allies). Of course the bigger thing was that people didn't spend as much time fuming over what everyone else has done. Basically the outline of the last few books has been:

    • First 600 pages - eveyone fumes and argues over the Major Event that happened at the end of the last book and tries to figure out how it works to their advantage

    • Next 50 pages - people start making plans

    • Next 50 pages - one of the POV characters does something

    It could just be that new the author is pressed for time/space now (since presumably he only has a book deal for these last three books, but whatever it is, thank goodness we're getting more plot points now.
  2. This book largely consisted of POVs that I actually gave a crap about (and in one case, changed my opinion of one of the other major POV characters). Honestly, I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book was the total lack of Elayne Trakand in it. I've never really liked her, but was okay with her when she was a secondary character in the B storyline of Egwene/Nynaeve/Elyane, even though that storyline wasn't really my favorite either. But Elayne has always had that whiny-princess-who-is-'actually tough' but is really just incredibly bitchy/catty vibe that drives me nuts.

    Of course, that's kind of a problem with all of Jordan's women from what I can tell. I don't know if he hates women or what his deal is. Almost all of the women in this series are incredibly bossy and opinionated, which is fine, since women absolutely should be assertive and have opinions. However, nearly all of them can be incredibly catty with other women and think that all men are idiot children who can never make a single decision for themselves and require the guidance of a woman just to tie their shoes, and are always seeking to manipulate everyone around them in any way possible. Some of that has to do with the Aes Sedai in these novels - there is a big large-scale power imbalance because for the past 2000 years women have been the only ones who can work magic in this world, and those who can live centuries-plus long lives and are experts in scheming. However, this is true of women even outside of that community as well (see, for example, Faile Bashere) and can be incredibly frustrating. The main character (the Dragon Reborn) is a kind of messaianic figure who's supposed to lead the forces of the world against the forces of darkness in an armageddon-ish battle, and all everyone (various Aes Sedai factions, other empires, all led by women) can think of is how best to get him under their control so they can be the ones in charge.

    Anyway, I did change my views on one of the POV characters in the series. In the last few books one of the main characters was raised to be the leader of the rebel faction of Aes Sedai, despite (or really because of) her youth and inexperience. They wanted a leader they could use as a puppet but found an actual leader who actually led them, which is a real rarity in these books. In this book she had been captured by their opponents and their batshit crazy leader and managed to undermine her entire regime by merely being the bigger person for once, instead of the usual route of skulking, scheming, and arguing with everyone about semantics for pages upon pages upon pages (there's a reason why the series is nicknamed the Wheel of Tedium).

Anyway, long story short (heh), I did really enjoy this book and I'm tempted to re-read all of them again. I sold all of my copies when I heard Jordan died a few years ago though. As I've got plenty of books yet to read (and my dissertation...) I guess it will just have to wait.