I am wavering between 3 and 4 stars, but I am going with 3 because I won't be fooled that Sanderson can truly turn this series around.
Elayne isn't in this book and that makes the Gathering Storm redeeming for me. All of the characters are less childish and prone to squabbling. Overall, Sanderson did well representing the characters, toning down their ridiculous natures, and stayed true to the personalities Jordan created. The only character that didn't seem quite right was Mat. He was too argumentative and negative without the complementing positive. I liked the change in Rand because finally he is thinking logically and doing what he should have been doing the whole time. No mercy.
Perrin still doesn't have a need. At one point it seemed that Perrin was needed for something, but it wasn't him, just someone with him. I was excited for Perrin and then disappointed. Unless Perrin will be shooting lasers out of his eyes for the last battle, I don't think he is ever going to be useful.
Egwene is my favorite character and I really like her role in the story. It is hard to believe the character she was at first, and I don't think she had a very believable transition, but her steadfastness was fun to read. Nynaeve was actually easy to read, thanks to Sanderson.
I am confused about the use of balefire. Now that Rand has been using it more often, doesn't it mean that more things should be affected now that people have been ripped out of the Pattern? I initially had the thought in the series if you removed one person it would be like those movies were there was a serious, drastic change by their removal. I guess not...or it hasn't been shown yet?
Elaida's plotline seemed very convenient. All of that back and forth...and then something as simple as that?
I think Sanderson did the best he could. The fact of the matter is that the book is enormous. Things are happening to move the plot forward, and Sanderson makes the scenes more interesting, but many scenes are still filler. I don't think the Gathering Storm is a return to the early books of the series because the damage has been done. However, it is a great improvement over the recent few, and I actually enjoyed this book the whole time through.