It has taken a while to read, but at a hefty 974 pages the Shadow Rises and the 4th in the Wheel of Time series begins to mark a change in how this series will continue. So far we have had three novels that present a problem and attempt to solve it, this novel gives you character arcs and tasks but finally Jordan lets his characters go off on their own a little and he doesn’t shoe horn them into the same location by chance at the ending. He lets them (and us) go and see a bit more of the weave of the world and really stretches his Epic Fantasy legs.
Overall I enjoyed this one the most it has been the most complex of the four and it has a little more to bite into than the previous novels and generally I feel as if Jordan has finally grasped the story he wants to tell and is commanding it the way he wants to. His writing is still not without its flaws, again men and women argue like they are different species, sometimes women fight over men and men stand by idly shaking their heads at the curiosity of ‘never understanding’ the fairer sex. But there are a lot of reasons to hang in there.
The novel starts with a little bit of a drag. We spend about 200 pages in Tear while characters catch some well deserved rest but also try to figure out what they are going to do. Luckily this little hiccup is minor and is peppered with interesting twists and the sudden appearance of Trollocs. But Jordan brings a new element into the threat of violence and tension into his character’s lives which is the Bubbles of Evil that are now appearing around Mat, Perrin, and Rand. These Bubbles are supposedly leaking out from the Dark One’s prison as the seals that hold him there fail.
These scenes are some of the most surprisingly surreal I’ve read from Jordan yet however, Perrin’s axe suddenly has a will of its own and that will wants to murder him, the characters in Mat’s playing cards come alive and try to murder him and of course, Rand faces mirrored versions of himself trying to murder him. It seems as if the Shadow Rising has taken this series on a turn for the darker and it certainly does amp up some of the tension of the novel. After everybody has discussed it and Rand has threatened the High Lords of Tear to behave themselves the group splits off in different directions.
They hear that Trollocs and the Children of the Light are terrorising Two Rivers and that the latter are still loudly searching for Perrin. Faile bullies her way into going with Perrin by tricking Loial into taking an Oath and a few Aiel go along for the journey too. ‘Trapped between a rock and a hard place’ is the best way to describe Perrin’s struggle throughout the novel, he is conflicted with keeping Faile safe and rescuing his friends and family and also with doing the right thing. But I really enjoyed his storyline, he really going a chance to shine and develop in this novel and got a chance to prove that he is also a leader in his own right. We also see little bit more of Loial who gets to swing an axe or two and even runs off of his own accord to do something only an Ogier could.
Finally Rand has stopped being annoying again and this next storyline I really loved. Rand, Egwene and Mat march out in search of the waste and the fabled Aiel city, and surprise surprise find all twelve clans of them and the city. Finally we see a little bit more of this weird people who thrive off an unforgiving land waiting for He Who Comes With The Dawn. Aeil are reminiscent of the natives within Dune, but the Fremen seem to only scratch the surface of the complexity Jordan delivers about Aiel culture in the Shadow Rises. Their celtic complexion already places them oddly in this Middle Eastern-like waste but soon some of their history is revealed that points bizarrely in the direction of the Tinkers and the Way of the Leaf. I need more Jordan. I just… must know more.
This part of the novel is also dedicated to Egwene quietly learning about Dreams, and Moraine and Lan being remarkably quiet for a change. Rand is keeping an eye out for the Forsaken and Mat has been stupid and gotten more than he has bargained for again and is keeping it quiet. Mat is rapidly becoming the character I roll my eyes about. Again? Really? Can’t you just stop and do the thing like them instead of being a blockhead.
Meanwhile Elayne and Nynaeve take a fast ship to an awful city called Tanchico. They are still following the Black Ajah and trying to determine what they plan to do to Rand. Thom and Julian tag along and navigate the grittier parts of the city while Elayne and Nynaeve meet a new character who they have very mixed feelings about when they realise her origins. Elayne gets drunk for the first time and realises she knows Thom from … somewhere. Nynaeve is her usual angry self and forgets herself when she has a face off with one of the Forsaken (who seem to be everywhere now) at a risky moment. But she is more awesome Nynaeve then annoying Nynaeve.
Back at the tower Min is hiding in plain sight under the orders of the Amyrlin Seat. After warning the Seat of some horrible visions she’s had ultimately they come true when some of the Red Sisters cause an uprising and in a terrible turn of events depose the Amyrlin Seat. Honestly there is a moment here where I wanted to throw the book across the room. Why Jordan…. WHY WOULD YOU LET THEM DO THAT.
This novel is awesomely complicated. There is a lot going on, it was a little understated but I really enjoyed the Sea Folk and seeing the Tinkers a little more. Jordan has also started daring the reader to decide if new characters are friend or darkfriend and I really like that.
Out of the four I think this one I have enjoyed the most, the weave is getting more complicated but stresses the importance of Rand rising to power. The Shadow Rises stresses what it takes to claim leadership and who has the right to claim the power of authority. But the biggest difference between this novel and the other three is instead of weighting sole expectation on Rand’s shoulders to defeat evil it is about Rand growing into the man who is capable of uniting the forces of good against the forces of evil.
Which in my opinion, is a far worthier narrative.