The Gathering Storm is book twelve in the Wheel of Time series. This book was published in 2009, four years after book eleven was published and two years after Robert Jordan passed away. Brandon Sanderson, who was brought in to finish this series after Jordan’s passing, provides an endearing forward to this book in the form of a letter. This letter briefly explains how he was asked to take on the project and how he approached the work. I will admit that I had some concern about how Sanderson was going to finish the story. Jordan had much of it planned out so the story is very much Jordan’s to the end. He even requested the story be finished so the fans would not be left wanting.
My concerns about another author finishing the series have been alleviated. I think I could pick out a few chapters that were written solely by Sanderson, but this may be because I have a keener eye for the writing as I am a writer myself and often pick up on structure, word choice, format, etc. I think most readers will simply be able to enjoy it as any other Wheel of Time book without any concerns about the writing.
And now we come to the obligatory Spoiler Warning for the remainder of the post. If you haven’t read the series, you likely won’t know what I’m talking about at this point, but I’d hate to ruin something for you should you do decide to read it (you should because it is great). The same goes for anyone who is currently reading the series but hasn’t yet made it to this book. If you fall in this category, go check out my thoughts on the previous books.
First, of course, we will cover the prologue. There are four main events here. The first is Moridin telling the other Forsaken that they are not allowed to save Semirhage. Demandred and Mesaana had requested they rescue her from Rand, but Moridin forbids it. Next, we get a scene of Rand releasing the Seanchan he captured alongside Semirhage. He does this so they can go tell Tuon that he still wants to meet with her despite Semirhage’s attack. Then we get a scene with Ituralde. He is still fighting the Seanchan in Arad Doman and he proves to be an extremely skilled tactician.
The last part of the prologue is the scene of Masema’s death. He is running through a forest after the battle with the Aiel. Faile is the one who catches up to him and kills him. She claims that she had to do what her husband couldn’t. She intends to keep Masema’s death a secret from Perrin. I thought Perrin had no qualms about killing Masema and actually hoped that he would be able to kill Masema during the attack on the Shaido. My questions are: Why did Faile do it? Why did Masema die in the prologue instead of during or shortly after the battle with the Shaido in book eleven? It seems strange that he dies in a short scene during the prologue of this book since he had been traveling with Perrin this whole time and was a character from early on in book two. I guess I felt like his character was going to have a bigger impact or at least a bigger confrontation. Perhaps I only feel this way because the same thing happened with Aram. A character from way back in the beginning dying quickly and without much closure. Not that I need it (for Masema especially), but I think it would be easier to have an easy death such as this for more of a minor character or one who wasn’t in the story as long. For example, I felt like Rolan’s death was not abrupt. I mean, it was literally, but he was a recent character who was only in the last few books. I was okay with him going out in that way (though I did like him). Masema’s death in this book seemed a little too quick and easy.
Regardless, Masema is no longer a concern. We get very little of Perrin in this book. He remains one of my favorites though I do have a new favorite which I will reveal a little later. We don’t see any of Elayne, or Loial (my favorite character), or several others. We get a little of Aviendha and absolutely nothing from Padan Fain. Where has he been? He has to come back eventually for a confrontation with Rand. I think we last saw him in book nine(?) when he attacked Rand in Far Madding. Anyway, we get a little of Mat, but most of this book is about Rand and Egwene.
I already covered most of what happens with Perrin actually, so let’s talk about Mat. He is having concerns about being a newlywed, which is absolutely understandable considering his situation. He just got married, unceremoniously, to the person who is about to become the leader of people he considers his enemy. Mat is traveling north. Away from the Seanchan. Two interesting things happen to Mat in this book. The first is that he comes across a town that is caught in a violent loop. The town goes insane and they all kill each other at night, but then they wake up the next day as if nothing happened. No memories. No wounds. Anyone who dies is alive again. Any travelers who die in the town during the mad period wake up in the town the next day and are caught up in the loop. This scene best describes one of the big themes of this book. The Pattern is coming undone. The Dark One’s touch on the world is not only making the food spoil and the dead walk again, but it is causing the fabric of reality to become altered or at risk of falling apart.
The second event with Mat is shortly after his visit to this town. Someone had been distributing drawings of Mat and Perrin and offering good money for information. This turns out to be Verin. She agrees to Travel Mat and his forces directly to Caemlyn, saving them a twenty day march and eliminating their risk of low supplies, but only if he agrees to one of two things. He either opens a letter Verin gives him after ten days in Caemlyn or he waits in Caemlyn a full twenty (or was it thirty?) days after they get to Caemlyn. The letter would have instructions for him and he would only need to open it if Verin did not return to him. Mat will either have to open the letter or wait the full time agreed upon because Verin has a major scene later in the book which we will get to toward the end of this post.
On to Rand. We learn early in this book that it was one of Cadsuane’s ter’angreal that disrupted Semirhage’s disguise when she tried to meet Rand as Tuon. This was one of the main reasons they were able to capture her. We also learn that only the saidar statue was destroyed when Rand and Nynaeve cleansed saidin. That means the male statue is still intact, but Cadsuane has taken the Choedan Kal key into her safekeeping along with the male a’dam Semirhage tried to use to capture Rand. Cadsuane also has Callandor, but she is having a few retired Aes Sedai studying it. So it is out of play at the moment.
Rand is planning to secure Arad Doman. He approaches Rodel Ituralde alone and convinces the general to join him. He plans to have Ituralde defend the Borderlands since the Borderland armies are still in the south looking for Rand. I’m not sure why he hasn’t approached the Borderland armies at this point and just Travels them all back to where they came from, but it does come up a bit later.
Min has been reading a lot trying to find information that can help Rand. She discovers that the remaining seals on the Dark One’s prison must be broken before he can seal the prison a second time or attempt to kill the Dark One for good, which is what I think will be the ultimate outcome. We will see. It could be kind of interesting to have the ending “turn the wheel” and lead us as readers to re-read the series, but I think that would not be a satisfactory ending for most fans.
Rand enters the dreamworld, or some version of it, and meets Moridin. He realizes that it was Moridin who saved him at Shadar Logoth when he was fighting Sammael. Moridin was formerly Ishamael/Ba’alzamon, who was in the very beginning of the series when Lews Therin kills himself after finding out what he did. Moridin’s true name is Elam. This short scene shows a connection between Rand/Lews Therin and Moridin. Moridin seems tired and asks Rand to leave since Rand somehow entered Moridin’s dream unknowingly. Rand had been seeing Moridin’s face from time to time in the same way he sees Perrin’s and Mat’s. I’m curious to see how this connection plays out in the remaining two books.
The big scene with Rand is when Shaidar Haran, whom we haven’t seen for a bit and still don’t know who/what he really is, shows up and frees Semirhage. Semirhage then is able to take the male a’dam, apparently called a Domination Band, and is able to capture Rand with it. She gets a little help from Elza, the Black Ajah who has been with Rand. Semirhage then makes Rand torture Min before ordering him to kill her. He is squeezing the life from her when he suddenly gets access to the True Power. With the True Power, he is able to destroy the Domination Band and kill Semirhage and Elza with balefire.
Rand had forbidden Cadsuane and the other Aes Sedai from torturing Semirhage while they questioned her. He held onto his resolve not to kill women. He dismisses all that when he kills Semirhage and he will no longer hesitate to kill anyone. He is slowly becoming a cold, deadly, heartless shell of a person. Cadsuane sees this but doesn’t know what to do. Rand exiles Cadsuane from his sight after the incident with Semirhage. Mainly because the Domination Band was in her safekeeping and Semirhage was able to take it.
Rand has pretty much lost it by this point. He keeps trying to harden himself so he can do what he thinks needs to be done for the Last Battle. He thinks he must become a mythical figure and is bound by the prophecies and has no free will. He hones himself to be unemotional and after he gains access to the True Power alongside access to saidin or the One Power, he has a dark aura about him. Cadsuane and a few others are able to notice it but only out of the corner of their eye and they can’t actually pinpoint what it is or if it is really there. Rand becomes so hardened that many people back down simply when he looks them in the eye.
When Rand actually meets with Tuon, she feels an overwhelming sense to agree to his demands. But she is able to refuse him. He leaves once she denies the alliance. Apparently there is a Seanchan prophecy that states the Dragon Reborn will go blind and Tuon, as Empress, will be the one to guide Rand to attack the Dark One. Another Seanchan prophecy states that Rand will kneel before the Empress. This leads me to ask the question of whether all “prophecies” will be fulfilled. Will they? Or will only some of them come to pass? Since there are several from different societies and lands, are the prophecies guiding the characters’ actions or are they foreshadowing only to us readers of what is going to happen? Tidbits to keep us enticed? I’m not sure, but most “prophecies” seem to fall in that final category. Tuon does two things after her meeting with Rand. She claims herself as Empress and then declares an assault on the White Tower.
Rand, with some help from Nynaeve, discovers where Graendal is likely to be hiding. A fortress in the mountains. He takes Min and Nynaeve with him. He uses one of the nobles from Bandar Eban as a pawn and sends him to meet with Graendal. Once he returns and Nynaeve confirms the noble has Graendal’s Compulsion in him, Rand uses the statue (Choedan Kal) to summon enough balefire to eliminate the entire fortification. Every person inside is wiped from the Pattern. Rand confirms Graendal is killed by having Nynaeve check that the Compulsion is no longer on the noble he used. This act, a mass killing, frightens Min and Nynaeve enough to go assist Cadsuane and the Wise Ones with their plans to help Rand. Cadsuane has Nynaeve find out where Perrin is. Someone in Perrin’s camp is essential to her plan.
Rand abandons Arad Doman after he fails to create an alliance with the Seanchan. I think this is going to backfire because he promised Ituralde that Arad Doman would be secured and safe if he fought in the Borderlands. Ituralde only agreed to help Rand because he believed Rand would defend his homeland. Rand goes to Tear where he has had Darlin recruiting an army. While here, he agrees to meet the Borderland leaders. He goes to meet them but only meets Hurin, whom we have not seen since book two (or early on in book three). Hurin was with Rand when they tracked down Padan Fain to recover the dagger for Mat and the Horn of Valere. He was the thief-taker in Sheinar who could smell evil. Hurin is meant to meet with Rand to schedule a meeting with the Borderland leaders. Rand gets pissed and Travels outside of Far Madding where the Borderlanders are. They intended to meet him within the area where he wouldn’t be able to channel. This riles him up so he sends Hurin to give them a message. Either they can agree to join Rand and he will Travel them back to the Borderlands immediately, or they can sit down in the south while the Last Battle takes place in their homelands and they can live with their shame.
Before that though, Hurin notices something strange about Rand but he can’t quite place what it is. Obviously, it is related to the dark aura Rand inherits after he gains access to the True Source. But what does Hurin notice? He doesn’t seem put off by it entirely like he would if he came across a murder. He still holds Rand in high regard from their previous travels. His questioning does make Rand consider a few things later on.
He is considering those things when he decides to go attack the Seanchan directly. He is getting ready to leave when he finds Tam in his room. Tam was the important person from Perrin’s camp. This is the first time Tam has seen Rand since he left with Moiraine back in book one. They have an uneasy but good interaction up until Tam mentions Cadsuane. Rand loses it after hearing her name and almost kills Tam with balefire. He is able to stop himself but he Travels to Ebou Dar, alone, seconds afterward. Tam is pissed and confronts Cadsuane about what she has been doing to Rand and how much Rand has changed. He is obviously concerned and angry at how she has mishandled her station as Rand’s adviser. He is absolutely correct in his accusations. Cadsuane has not only bungled her job of trying to assist Rand, but she has become tiresome as a character. She treats everyone like a child and has a superiority complex. It was okay for a while when she was actually being smart and handling some situations well, but she has lost her edge and is unwilling to change. That unwillingness is why I think she is failing. She needs to be humbled and shown that she must change before she is able to succeed. I hope this happens or else she needs to pull off something incredibly clever for it to have merit.
Rand is in Ebou Dar and is going to destroy the palace with balefire, but when he takes hold of saidin, he is so sickened that he draws a crowd who wants to help him. He Travels before a Seanchan patrol gets to him and he finds himself on the peak of Dragonmount. He remains there for a long time contemplating himself and his recent actions. He recalls prophecies and asks why he is doing everything that he does. This is a reference to his conversation with Tam. In the end, Rand decides to destroy the access key ter’angreal that links to the Choedan Kal. Now both statues are destroyed.
The second half of this book centers on Egwene. Egwene has become one of my favorite characters in this series. Almost out of nowhere. Her handling of the division within the White Tower, and her resolve to see it mended, are nothing short of admirable. I wish we could make Egwene President. Honestly, we need people like her to make a better world.
Anyway, a lot happens with Egwene, including the big surprise in this book. We will get to that in a brief moment. First, Leane almost dies in her cell when the room starts to melt. Another bubble of evil/unraveling of the Pattern is the cause. Then Egwene discovers the group of Aes Sedai who are hunting the Black Ajah in the Tower, which is the only good thing Elaida has done. Egwene is able to gain them as allies. She makes huge progress with other Sitters and many influential people in the Tower. She even confronts Elaida in front of five Sitters. She destroys Elaida’s arguments and calls her out until Elaida loses her shit and starts beating Egwene with the One Power. Elaida yells “I am Tower Law” during her rampage, which reminded me so much of a scene is Star Wars Episode III when Palpatine declares himself the senate thus claiming himself the emperor (pic for funsies). Elaida shows her true madness here. She believes her word is law and that everyone should obey her. This is ridiculous, but it is up to the Sitters and other Aes Sedai to decide if they will let it continue (eerily relevant to the political climate right now). Elaida is a tyrant. She locks Egwene up after this but Egwene tells Siuan not to rescue her. We learn that Sheriam is Black Ajah when she is visited by someone, possibly Mesaana, who gives her the task of stealing all the dream ter’angreal. I thought Sheriam was simply being used by Halima/Aran’gar and that she may eventually regain her composure once Halima was gone. Nope, she is actually Black Ajah. My only question to this is: How long has she been Black Ajah?
Egwene gets released from her cell and learns that Silviana, the current Mistress of Novices, defended her in front of Elaida shortly before requesting, in front of a full Hall, that Elaida be removed. Elaida plans to execute Silviana for this and Egwene’s first action is to prevent this. Upon getting to her room after being freed from her cell, Egwene discovers Verin is waiting for her. We learn that Verin can lie. She can lie!
This is the big event of this book in my opinion. This calls everything Verin has done or said, since the beginning of the series, into question. However, what happens next may be the greatest thing any Aes Sedai has done. Yes, Verin reveals herself to be Black Ajah, but confesses she chose to become Black because it was a join-or-die situation. She decided to join the Black Ajah so she could study them from the inside and learn more about the Dark One. She compiled all of her knowledge into one volume which is encrypted. She gives this volume, and the cipher, to Egwene and shows her how to make the books turn invisible by using the ter’angreal bookmarks. Verin explains that she is only able to betray the Black Ajah and the Dark One because of a small loophole in the oaths she had to take. She could not betray the Dark One until the hour of her death. She is able to betray her information to Egwene because she poisons herself and will die within the hour. The whole volume includes detailed information about the enemy, including a complete list of Black Ajah in the back, which Egwene quickly deciphers after Verin passes away.
Egwene is about to tell Siuan about Verin’s visit when the Seanchan attack the White Tower. Egwene is able to gather many Novices and a few Aes Sedai and leads a defense. She is able to take out several of the to’raken and practically fights herself to exhaustion. Siuan and Gawyn mount a rescue mission to get Egwene back, despite her orders not to, during this attack. Siuan convinces Gareth Bryne to help them. He agrees on two conditions. The first is that Siuan make him her Warder. The second is revealed later that she marry him if they are able to live somewhere peacefully after the world has been saved. She agrees to the first instantaneously and the second later on once it is revealed. It’s good to see them finally reveal their feelings to each other. They go in and fight some Seanchan and end up rescuing Egwene. She is unable to tell them not to because she is literally a rag doll from exhaustion when they find her. The raid ends with approximately 40 Aes Sedai or Novices/Accepted captured by the Seanchan. Elaida is one of those captured. I felt like that was inevitable once the attack began though I would have almost preferred seeing the Tower depose her.
After the attack, Egwene reveals to her rebel Hall that she has a list of over 200 Black Ajah members and there are 70 Black Ajah within their camp. This includes Sheriam and one of the Sitters, Moria. Egwene captures, stills, and executes more than 50 of them. The other 20 escape.
The cleansing was in the morning and in the afternoon Egwene marches on Tar Valon. She waits as long as she can, and right before she orders an attack, the White Tower Aes Sedai come out to request Egwene be raised as Amyrlin in the Tower. She accepts and goes through the ceremony. She releases Silviana from her cell and raises her as Keeper. She does this to help heal the tower and not exclude the Red Ajah. She also does it because Silviana is possibly the most capable Aes Sedai in the Tower.
Egwene reprimands pretty much every Aes Sedai, stating that they failed to prevent the Tower from being broken and divided by Elaida. Unfortunately, the Black Ajah within the Tower escape before they can be captured. However, Egwene has all Aes Sedai retake the Oaths to prove they are not Black Ajah. This effectively rids the Tower of the Black Ajah and unifies the Tower without any doubts among who might be a Darkfriend. Once she accepts the rebel Aes Sedai back into the Tower, the unification is complete and the Tower is full of initiates/Novices. They can now work toward strengthening the Tower and preparing for the Last Battle.
Even though there is so much more we need to see, and this book primarily followed Egwene and Rand, I really liked it and am excited for the next one. Towers of Midnight is a bit longer than this one and from the cover I believe Mat, Thom, and Noal are going to go find Moiraine, who has been gone since book five (but I knew she wasn’t gone for good). We haven’t seen anything from the Black Tower either so I’m hoping we get something about that in book thirteen. The end is nigh. I’ll likely speed through these last two books. I’ll post about them as I get through them.