03 February 2011

2011 Books: The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Eleven years ago I fell in love one long, hot summer.

FW was away at her second round of Army Reserve training, and I was working for the summer on the grounds crew at Luther Seminary.  No classes, just hours upon hours riding a lawnmower, moving sprinklers and the like. Work was done every afternoon at 4:30, which left a lot of daylight hours to fill.  On a whim, due to the advice of a friend, I picked up The Eye of the World, the first book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.  Within a few pages, I knew I'd found something really, really wonderful.  I spent many of that summer's late afternoons on an old wooden church folding chair outside our apartment, smoking cigarettes and devouring the first few books in the series. 

Jordan died in 2007 with the final volume half-finished.  Brandon Sanderson was picked to complete the series, and over the past two months I've worked my way through his first two volumes, The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight (Sanderson and Jordan's executors thought Jordan's vision needed multiple volumes to tell properly).

I've been hot and cold on the series over the past five years or so.  On the one hand, the scope of Jordan's project was immense - on the level of Tolkien's Middle-Earth.  His writing was engaging, often humorous, and always enjoyable.  Those two things alone go a long way toward overcoming his weaknesses:  cliched characters being the worst, followed closely by the series descent into sometimes-mind-numbing political dithering prior to his death. 

Things have changed for the better since Sanderson took up the mantle.  He mentions in the introduction to The Gathering Storm that he's writing in his own style, not trying to emulate Jordan's voice.  The humility is appreciated, but as I've devoured these two books recently, especially Towers, I've felt as though Sanderson has rediscovered the voice of volumes 1-5.  The battles are huge, the characters decisive, the action is frenetic and it all combines to demand your attention.  I have spent many late nights under lamplight recently, flipping pages and forcing myself to savor when all I want to do is gobble.

If you've abandoned the series (and I certainly wouldn't blame you - it really was hard to read for a while), you might want to consider picking it up again.  You've got plenty of time - the final volume, A Memory of Light, is due in March 2012, a date that seems far too far off for my taste.  After absent-mindedly picking up the series along the way these last few years, it's wonderful to look forward to a publication date again.

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