I’m very ambivalent about the Wheel of Time books. On the one hand, they’ve got a lot of good features.
- They’re good, easy reads that draw me in and keep me going. That’s a really, really good thing in a book.
- They’re long. When you read at the speed I do, that’s also a really, really good thing.
- They’re about gender and conflict and misunderstandings caused by prejudice or poor communication. Those are fascinating subjects.
- I have several of them with the grown-up covers.
Jordan was Unsubtle in his treatment of gender issues, and he always used the same sledgehammer – he’d describe in painful detail how someone screwed up because they didn’t think, because they thought in stereotypes, and because they assumed they knew best. I mean, considered as a criticism of gender relations in the real world, this is less subtle than Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis books, and that’s saying something. This just makes it all very tedious and depressing to read, because it’s completely predictable that no matter how cool the other things they do, every major character is at some point going to make a stupid assumption about someone else, forget to ask an important question, or sneer at someone’s stupid foreign ways.
Sanderson seems to be trying to row back on the Idiot Ball thing rather, and that’s good, but he’s a bit hampered by only ever sketching character with a really broad brush.
And now for comments on The Gathering Storm itself. On one hand – that worked well. Egwene rocks, Verin rocks, we’ve actually resolved some plot lines (Masema dead and gone, Semirhage and Graendal gone-and-not-coming-back, the Black Ajah gone, the White Tower back together, Morgase’s disguise penetrated, Verin’s secret revealed) and we actually see some people being competent and communicative and just getting on with things. Sanderson does not do the thing Jordan did, where he kept secrets from the readers for the fun of it.
On the other – Sanderson doesn’t do fine shades of character, which means that a couple of the characters have turned into pretty much caricatures of themselves. Seeing Mat reintroduced with a page-long rant of misogyny, shading into “I’m married now, what’s happening to me”, and then turning into something straight out of an AD&D adventuring party with that absurd plan was a bit depressing. It’s a really good comedy scene, but it’s not a good character one.
Nynaeve, on the other hand, is improving in that regard – though frankly, that’s because she spent most of the series as a caricature. Cadsuane gets to show off her outer arrogance and inner incompetence (she seriously wanted to torture Semirhage? She thought it would ever stand a chance of working? She responds to being exiled by skulking slightly further away and trying harder to manipulate Rand, but forgetting to tell her tools not to mention her name?) and infects Sorilea with it too.
The BA-hunters in the White Tower, sadly, get unceremoniously shoved off to the side because they might risk diminishing Egwene’s glory, and all their careful, sensible work gets rendered moot by Verin’s CMoA. It may well be that RJ left notes about this part specifically, but the way she deals with it is very much a Sanderson thing – a careful technical twist to the mechanics of the story. Speaking of those, I’d been wondering how he was going to put his own stamp on the magic system, and apparently it’s by changing how the ta’veren thing works. Rand has conscious control of it now, or at least gets to convince people he does. I cannot help but wonder, Was This Strictly Necessary. (He also seems to have acquired a completely gratuitous new sword, presumably Lews Therin’s, which will with luck turn out to be relevant in some way.)
Semirhage got captured doing something stupid, then breaks to one session of mild humiliation, but at least she got to try and do something really nasty to someone we care about. Graendal, after all that setup, never did.
I’m impressed that the twin Big Denouements are both very positive ones – Egwene reunifies the White Tower and kicks Seanchan arse, and Rand reintegrates his personality by refusing the temptations of power and force, and bringing in the Old Theme of coming back for a Second Chance and that Love Is Worth The Pain.
 Rather a generic title, but it’s sort of safe. “Hm, this book is the Approach to the End. Something really bad (and bad-ass) is coming, but it’s not here yet. We need a sense of enormous power gearing up for something… what about a Storm? Gathering?” “Sure, boss, that’s cool. Really new and unique and distinctive – ” “OK, OK, you can put the trowel down now.” Seriously, though – weather metaphors have been going on wholesale throughout the series, but this one is sledgehammerish and boring.
 I don’t care who killed Asmodean, and I only barely care where Demandred is. Right now, the only way the answer could be actually interesting is if he turned out to be Perrin.