The twelfth Wheel of Time novel, The Gathering Storm, the first book in the series for four years, is due to be released in the UK and USA in about two weeks' time. By now, we should have a number of early reviews about the book, contributing to a building buzz about the long-awaited tome.
Instead, there is only a deathly silence. Only two reviews have appeared, one on Dragonmount and one on Tarvalon.net, but obviously they are not independent reviews. Independent bloggers, even those who are well-inclined to the series such as Pat of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, have been effectively refused review copies before release date.
Under normal circumstances this perhaps should be expected. The Wheel of Time is a massive, international best-selling series which has sold almost 50 million copies over the past twenty years. The new book will likely be, with the exception of the new Terry Pratchett book, the biggest-selling fantasy novel of the year. It will certainly be the biggest-selling epic fantasy of the year, no question. Review copies for the previous books in the series from about the seventh book onwards were also very thin on the ground, because frankly they weren't needed any more. The series' fanbase had grow to such a vast size that they could get the books onto the bestseller lists with no problems at all.
But The Gathering Storm is also the first book in the series not wholly written by Robert Jordan. Brandon Sanderson had to write most of the book based on Jordan's notes and even hardcore fans of the series (the ones who think Crossroads of Twilight is a good book) are uneasy about this situation, especially after a preview chapter was put up last month which indicated that the book will feature a radically faster pace and a more concise form of writing than they are used to from Jordan. There's a great deal of doubt about this book and a lot more people than normal are saying they'll be holding back on buying the book and waiting to see what the reaction is and what reviewers are saying. Getting review copies out early for this tome would have been a vote of confidence by Tor Books and I also very strongly expect would have built up a positive word-of-mouth about the book. The two reviews, as somewhat unreliable as they are from people with official ties to Tor and Sanderson, are very positive and for my money the three preview chapters are extremely strong. Based on Sanderson's superb Mistborn trilogy, I am expecting a very good book.
As it stands, The Gathering Storm will likely have a bit of a faltering start (if only compared to the previous books in the series; I still expect it to make the bestseller lists in its first week) as people look at the new name on the cover warily and with suspicion, which will likely only be reinforced when they find there are no reviews of the book online. In the film industry studios usually only refuse to hold press screenings if the movie is a total dud and some of that suspicion has now crept onto publishing as well.
I also understand that Tor at least will be vigorously enforcing the book's street-date, which is unusual for an author who isn't J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown. In the UK Bantam recently did this for Steven Erikson's Dust of Dreams which led to a bit of a backlash: booksellers simply chose not to have the book taking up stock room space for a week before being allowed to put it out, so simply didn't order it until after it had come out, meaning that on release day fans up and down the country couldn't find a copy on shelves anywhere, and in some cases had to wait a week or more before they could finally buy it. Even the Book Depository didn't get any stock in for the same reason, with the book unavailable for ordering on their system for several days after release (even more frustrating for overseas fans anxious to get the book ASAP). Erikson, of course, is nowhere near Jordan's sales level, so it is unlikely the same situation would happen again here, but you never know.
This blog will, of course, bring you a review as soon as possible :-)