I started reading the Wheel of Time series almost twenty years ago. I believe the fourth book in the series, The Shadow Rising, was just released in softcover when I picked up the series, which would mean I started it in 1993 or so, I believe.
Robert Jordan's series marks, for me, the beginning of a new era in fantasy literature. Between the release of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and the first book of Jordan's series, The Eye of the World, there really is no truly epic fantasy. With the release of Jordan's series, and the wild success of it, fantasy really came into it's own. Thanks in large part to Jordan's success, we now have Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Bakker's Prince of Nothing, Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, and countless others.
Sadly, Jordan passed away in 2007, with his grand vision incomplete. After the release of the 11th book in the series, Knife of Dreams, fans were left wanting more. Sadly, Jordan could not provide it. However, he had copious notes, and had told the story to his wife, who was also his editor. She finally chose Brandon Sanderson to complete the story, and provided him with all of the notes that Jordan had, and related the story to him, so that this tale, 20 years in the making, could finally be finished.
I admit that when I heard that Sanderson was going to complete the series, and that he was going to split the final volume into three books, I was worried. I feared that he would not be able to do justice to Jordan's vision, that he would skew the story into areas that it should not go, and that he would take the opportunity to further his own career at the expense of Jordan's life-long work.
The release of the 12th book in the series, The Gathering Storm, was a moment of great excitement for me, as well as a moment of great trepidation. I hesitated, and, unlike every other volume in the series, did not read it immediately upon purchase. I was unsure.
I finished it last night, finally, and I have to say that my fears were completely unfounded. Mr Sanderson has done a wonderful job, and has taken over Jordan's work with admirable skill. At no point was I jarred with the change in style, and there were several moments that I completely forgot that it was a different author. The characters were the same, the plots were picked up without a hitch, and the story progressed much as Jordan would have had it.
The story itself is good. One of the best in the series. Many of the plot threads were tied up in the previous volume, but many more are done so in this one. Some major ones. A war that has been coming for six books is completed in this volume, and done so in a way that made me hold my breath without realising it. The final 200-300 pages of this volume are intense, and I found it very difficult to put the book down for more time than it took me to move from room to room.
In my many online discussions of this series, there are a few characters that stand out, in that most people absolutely hate them. One of them, at least, is vindicated in this volume. There are few characters in this series that I dislike, but I can easily see how this one, in particular, will regain the respect of the readers.
There are faults with this book, don't get me wrong. Two characters, in particular, are completely missing, and I would have liked to have seen them pop up. They are both mentioned several times, but they are among my favourites, and I would have liked to read more about them directly. One, in particular, should have shown up late in the book, but did not. There was a sequence toward the end that could have been handled much, much better had one person shown up instead of another, in my mind, but the way it played out will have ramifications through the next two volumes.
All in all, I place this one high on the list. The series itself is very long, and very complex, so there are obvious low points in your enjoyment of the series. Books 7, 8, and 10 are, admittedly, pretty terrible, as are parts of 2, 3, and 9, but the series as a whole is magnificent. And, in this latest volume, one can see that there are reasons for those low points. Some of the things that happened in those volumes are coming back, and remembering some of them now, with this latest book, raises my esteem of them somewhat. There was a point where I seriously considered giving up on the series, and many people I know have done so, but I am glad I stuck with it, and I hope that some others will give it another shot. The last two books have been well worth the wait.