When bestselling author Robert Jordan died last year from a rare blood disease, fans of his popular series, "The Wheel of Time," braced themselves for the possibility that his 12-book fantasy world would end one volume shy of completion.
Before his death, Jordan, whose real name was James Rigney Jr., signed over the book rights to his wife, Harriet, and requested that she find a capable author to finish the series for his fans. After his death, a eulogy posted on the website of Brandon Sanderson caught the attention of Harriet Rigney, and a successor was named. Rigney announced that Sanderson, a 32-year-old fantasy writer from Provo, Utah, would complete the final book, slated to be released in 2009.
"I am sad to see the series end. But I would be far more distressed to leave it unfinished, incomplete and dangling forever," Rigney wrote via e-mail from Charleston, S.C., where she lives. "Jordan didn't want that. I must see it through for him."
Sanderson had grown up a fan of Jordan and, more specifically, a fan of "The Wheel of Time."
"I grew up, when I was a teen, reading a lot of fantasy," Sanderson said in a phone interview. "But his were the books I kept coming back to."
Jordan's literature had inspired Sanderson to pursue his own passion for writing, and it wasn't long before he was pitching his first novel, "Elantris." He signed with the first publishing company to make him an offer, TOR books, which coincidentally was the company that represented Jordan.
When word of Jordan's death hit news wires, Sanderson, like many of Jordan's fans, was devastated.
"I'll be perfectly honest: When I heard the news, my first thought was of the big loss of someone extraordinary," recalled Sanderson. "My second thought was . . . he was working on the last book, would we ever get to see it?"
His sentiment was echoed by many on "Wheel of Time" fan sites across the Internet, and soon Sanderson found himself becoming a topic on those sites.
"I'm relatively unknown as an author; I've only been published for a couple of years," Sanderson said. "I did not know I was being considered."
Indeed, the most prominent question on fan sites such as seemed to be: Who is Brandon Sanderson?
That question was met head-on by Sanderson as he began interacting with "Wheel of Time" fans both live and on the Web, and taking the time to introduce himself to those who were still new to his work.
"Overall, I'm absolutely thrilled that Brandon is the man for the job," exclaimed Jason Denzel, site founder of Dragonmount.com. "It's as if they picked the most talented fan they could find and handed him the series to finish."
As confident as Denzel and the rest of the fans on his website have become in Sanderson, they admit that there remains a trickle of skepticism.
"The thing that we haven't seen yet, and whether or not it can be pulled off, is if this book is going to feel like someone else wrote it or as if Robert Jordan wrote it himself," said Denzel. "Our biggest worry is whether or not it's going to have the feel of the rest of the series."
Sanderson empathizes with the fans.
"I can't do a better job than Robert Jordan. I can't even do as good a job as Robert Jordan, I don't think," remarked Sanderson. "He's the only one that could've done it the right way."
Fortunately for fans, the author wanted to give them the ending they deserved, one written by him. During his last days, the writer began dictating onto a recorder how the prologue for the final book would play out, and feverishly scribbling down the ending he had kept stored away in his mind for the past 17 years.
"Jordan worked hard, 9 to 5, generally seven days a week," Rigney recalls through an e-mail. "He loved what he was doing, of course, but that W-word prevails."
For Sanderson, this project is a labor of love -- love for the series he grew up reading and love for the man who created the very world he now seeks to end.
"I think I can do a really good job because I love the series so much," said Sanderson.