Book; 12: The Gathering Storm
Chapter; 36: The Death of Tuon
Bandar Eban: Rand, Min, Nynaeve, Cadsuane, Alivia, Logain, lots of Aiel.
The Aiel Waste: Aviendha.
Trustair: Mat, Thom, Julin, Thera, Noal, Olver, Egeanin, Setaille, Aludra, Verin.
Somewhere in Ghealdan: Perrin, Faile, Elyas, Morgase, Berelain, Alliandre, Two Rivers Army.
Caemlyn: Elayne, Birgitte.
Outside Tar Valon: Siuan, Rebel Aes Sedai, Rebel Aes Sedai Army.
Inside Tar Valon: Egwene, Leane, too many Aes Sedai to count.
The Gathering Storm marks the end, and beginning, of an era for the Wheel of Time. In November of 2007, James Oliver Rigney Jr. AKA Robert Jordan, succumbed to a long illness, leaving his masterpiece unfinished. However, it was his wish that his wife (and editor), Harriet McDougal find someone to complete his work. Enter Brandon Sanderson.
For those who don't know (and considering some peculiarities in publication dates, you might not) Brandon Sanderson is the Utah-based author of the phenomenal Mistborn series. Mistborn is characterised by a much darker, pessimistic tone than is usually found in Wheel of Time (the tag line of the first book, The Final Empire, is 'What if the Dark Lord won?') and Harriet reportedly felt that this would suit the grand finale to a tee.
Just a quick aside here. If you haven't already, read the Mistborn series. Its dark and bleak and clever, it has one of the most original magic systems I've seen in a long time and it comes in easy-to-digest trilogy form! OK, so there is a second trilogy now, but however many books there end up being we are not talking about, say, a fourteen book epic here.
Where was I? Oh right. Due to the nature of Jordan's illness (some rare form of blood cancer, I think. The description is actually quite hard to understand and not really relevant here) he had plenty of time to plan out the end of Rand's, Mat's and Perrin's stories with lots of other stuff dotted all over the place. When I say lots, Sanderson apparently got handed the biographies of around 1500 characters and enough details of places, times and events to fill a couple of filling cabinets. He has two secretaries to help him keep track of it all.
Strangely, it seems that right to the end, Jordan was only planning for one more book to be called 'A Memory of Light'. After studying the material, Sanderson and McDougal determined that such a book would have to be about 750,000 words long and so they decided to split it into three, in something-close-to Sanderson's words (coz I can't find the quote), "to keep it within the range of current binding technology".
So now we have book 12: The Gathering Storm, book 13: The Towers of Midnight and the yet-to-be-released book 14: A Memory of Light. All based on Jordan's notes where he didn't actually write it himself.
The problem with three books is that you now need three finales where previously there was only one. This has led to Sanderson accelerating certain characters plot lines ahead of others so that something shiny can happen. Don't get me wrong, the ending to TGS may be one of the best moments of the series so far and I am greatly looking forward to reading it again, but there are little bugs to bear. A developing plot line over the last few books has been the 'colors' [sic. Americans!]. Every time one of the big three (Rand, Mat of Perrin) thinks of one of the other two they see a swirl of colours that form a vision of that person at that moment in time. They have all got quite used to this now and rarely pay much attention. However, Rand's visions in the past few chapters have been of Mat and Perrin doing things that have not happened yet. By my guesstimation from my knowledge of the next book, Rand could be as much as two weeks ahead of the other two. In the first half of ToM, there is a fairly major character that seems to be in two places at once. This could be seen as a clever form of foreshadowing but I think it is just an unfortunate side-effect of the split. A necessary evil.
Another necessary evil, I suppose. The publication date for A Memory of Light is now the 8th of January 2013. Just too late for my birthday. Poop.