Likely no one was surprised when it was announced that A Memory Of Light, the planned final entry in Robert Jordan’s mega-bestselling Wheel Of Time fantasy series, was so large that it had be split into three volumes. Jordan died in 2007, leaving the then-11-book saga incomplete, but even before his death, the WOT had bogged down in needlessly complex plotting and a dearth of forward momentum. Brandon Sanderson, the fantasy writer Jordan’s wife selected to finish the tale of the Dragon Reborn and his battle against the Dark One, has an unenviable task; working from Jordan’s extensive notes, he has to somehow bring nearly 20 years worth of plotting and a cast of hundreds to a conclusion that won’t disappoint. But The Gathering Storm makes a solid start.
The plot details of a novel this buried in its own world won’t mean much to those who haven’t read the previous books, but it’s telling how little has changed. Rand al’Thor is still struggling against the various demands of fate, world politics, and the threat and seduction of his powerful gifts. Egwene al’Vere is still stuck inside the White Tower, trying to undermine the reigning Amyrlin while healing the divide between the Aes Sedai. Matrim Cauthon is still a gambler and leader of men, Perrin Aybara still fears his own wildness, and Nynaeve al’Meara Mandragoran still has a temper. It’s comforting, in a way, to find the same familiar carts running down the same familiar tracks.
But that comfort only goes so far. The Wheel series’ biggest liability has been Jordan’s reluctance to resolve subplots before adding new ones, and with the final battle against evil fast approaching, the series has to start closing a lot of doors in a hurry. Sanderson’s prose lacks some of the descriptive punch of Jordan’s, his dialogue doesn’t always stick the landing between melodramatic and florid, and the one-note gender politics remain largely intact. Fortunately, Storm compensates with a terrific sense of urgency—the book’s 700-plus pages go by in a flash—and a blessed willingness to tie up loose ends. Occasionally it feels like Sanderson is inserting FAQs into the text, but the added drama and weight of these resolutions is worth some clunkiness. It’s an undeniable tragedy that Jordan died before completing his life’s work, but at least that work has a chance of a happy ending.