I just finished The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, and I gotta say: I have never nearly fainted from sheer awesome before.
I am beginning to think Robert Jordan is perhaps the single greatest developer of characters in the history of mankind. Scratch that. The second-greatest. I think the only competition Jordan had in mind was The Bible.
I’m not going to give any plot spoilers to those of you actually into the Wheel of Time. Which brings me to another aside. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who gave up on the series after book six or seven, and I simply must say that those people are weak. I mean, I get it. The middle of the series has some volumes that require some serious slogging. But hey, isn’t that true of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Kings, Chronicles… okay, pretty much all of Leviticus through Matthew is a slog-fest. That doesn’t make it any less valuable.
The people who gave up on the Wheel of Time simply seem to have lost all sense of what epic character development truly entails. I don’t mean those folks who read the first couple of books and just decided it wasn’t for them. I mean the people who gave up on it after book six or seven, who had already invested a lot of time in the series. Now, I’ll admit, Jordan brought a lot of this upon himself with his Lucasian “It’s five books, no it’s seven books, no it’s ten books, well it’s as many as it takes.” But as I find myself on the cusp of the end of the series, I see the slogging was not for naught.
As I read through The Gathering Storm, I realize everything that Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Siuan and everybody else went through had a purpose. How else do get a sheep herder from the Two Rivers to the Dragon Reborn, kingdoms bowing before his nation-trodding boot? Three books? How else do you ensure that the last scene of the Wheel of Time–the one Jordan had in mind from the beginning–carries as much dramatic weight for all the dramatis personae involved that you can? Five books? Not hardly.
It’s not for nothing that the end of The Gathering Storm had me literally dizzy with emotion. The Wheel of Time is not one of those mere trilogies where you sort of identify with the main character but not really, and you think it’s a pretty clever plot but it ends the way you think it should, and it’s satisfying for the moment but then you go on to something else. Not to take anything away from those trilogies, I’ve enjoyed them myself. But there is something about the Wheel of Time that sets it apart. There is a reason it always hits #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, each time a new installment is released.
With the Wheel of Time, you do not merely identify with the main characters, you live it with them. Does that mean a lot of books? Yes. Does that mean a significant investment on your part? You bet it does. But when Rand sits alone and thinks about his life, you feel the massive weight of history and consequence on his shoulders. You don’t merely identify with it, you’re right there with him in the thick of it! I’ve only read each book once, but I see things connect with books from the past and each one tugs on an emotion, not merely a synapse of factual connection.
One cannot read the Wheel of Time and stand apart. You will not understand it if you do not absorb it, but it’s not like it’s hard reading. The depth of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen will simply cause the brains of most people to explode. Those books take me months to finish. The Gathering Storm took maybe a week. But the Wheel of Time also is not merely a fun little romp. It does take some work.
I will simply say the reward is well worth the wait, and there are further rewards ahead in the last two books. And the Wheel of Time has become a valuable lesson in character development.