As I mentioned in my review of The Dragon Reborn, the first three books in the Wheel of Time series are bit different in style and scope than the books that follow. At almost four hundred thousand words The Shadow Rising is the first of three most massive books in this series. Where the first three books are relatively self-contained stories, in this book the story branches out in several directions. It is where the book where Jordan’s saga becomes a true epic. It is the point where he starts loosing readers but also where the series becomes more than a standard fantasy tale. There is something to the criticism found in many reviews that this book is overwritten. My mass market paperback is over a thousand pages, perhaps a slight indulgence on the author’s part. Despite that, it is still one of the better books in the series in my opinion.
At the end of The Dragon Reborn almost all of the main characters have gathered in Tear. Rand has drawn Callandor and fulfilled one of the prophecies surrounding the Dragon Reborn. There is no going back now, Rand has announced for the entire would he is the one that will break the world anew and save it in the Final Battle. That battle however, has not yet come. In the mean time he has a country to run and plans to make. Moiraine is still insistent he confides in her and tries to get him to take the initiative. Rand feels the forsaken look over his shoulder. He must act in some way they won’t expect and he must act soon. But who can he trust?
In the end Rand hesitates too long and the Stone is attacked by shadowspawn. After consulting the Aelfin ter’angreal in the holds of the Stone of Tear Rand decides to travel to the Aiel waste and try to fulfil their prophecies as well. Mat, having consulted the Aelfinn as well, decides to travel with him. Egwene has been summoned to the waste as well, by Aiel Wise Ones who have found out about her Talent for Dreaming. And of course Moiraine sticks to Rand like glue.
Perrin chooses a different path. Disturbing rumours of Whitecloaks in the Two Rivers have reached his ears. They can only mean one thing, the Whitecloaks are still looking for him. Perrin, Loaial, Faile, Gaul, Chiad and Bain travel to the Two Rivers to settle the matter. Perrin intends to let himself be arrested by the Whitecloaks so as not to endanger his family. When he arrives he find that matters have already gone to far for that to be an option. Even if Faile would have allowed it.
Nynaeve and Elayne decide to continue the mission the Amyrlin Seat has given them without Egwene. After having interrogated the two sisters they have captured in the Stone they are more determined than ever to find the remaining Black sisters. It seems they have moved to Tanchico to dig up an artefact that could be dangerous to Rand. Bot Lan and Rand, both of them romantically entangled by now, are worried about their safety and send Thom Merrilin and Juilin Sandar with them. Something Nynaeve and Elayne do not appreciate.
I said all the main characters were in Tear at the end of The Dragon Reborn. That is not quite true. Min is still in Tar Valon and Siuan has no intention of letting her go after Rand. Her visions are too useful. While Min walks the tower grounds pretending to be the girly, empty-headed Elmindreda, a young woman seeking sanctuary in the tower from two hotheaded suitors, she sees matters in the tower destabilize.
The Shadow Rising may be a big book, there is also an awful lot going on. As usual with Wheel of Time books, a lot of it won’t be important until later books though. Mat for instance, has his encounters with the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. These encounters completely turn him into the gambler, trickster and general in the later book. Some of it seems to have surfaced as early as The Eye of the World, where his old blood sings when he encounters Trollocs for the first time, but the encounter with the Eelfinn completes the transformation. Apart form the memories of other men, it has been speculated they are his ancestors, these encounters also provides him with his power-wrought weapon, his foxhead medallion and the prophecies he is to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons. All these things prepare him to step out of Rand’s shadow. The waves created by these encounters travel throughout the later books, the Daughter of the Nine Moons for instance, won’t show up until Winter’s Heart.
“Go!” the man shouted. “You have had your answers. You must go before it is too late!”In a way, Rand makes even greater strides. He finds out the history of his people and the story of his parents in this book. The scene in which he enters Rhuidean is a great bit of writing. Through the eyes of Rand’s ancestors we explore the origins of the Aiel, the mysterious Jenn Aiel, the Tinkers, the history of Rhuidean, hints on the guardian of the Eye of the World and the origins of the Aiel War. His experiences in Rhuidean shape Rand’s relationship with the Aiel to a large extend. It is one of those passages that will probably make more sense during the second time around but I still think it is fascinating reading.
Abruptly a dozen of the yellow-clad men were around Mat, seeming to appear out of the air, trying to pull him toward the door. He fought with fists, elbows, knees. “What fate? Burn your hearts, what fate?” It was the room itself that pealed, the walls and floor quivering, nearly taking Mat and his attackers off their feet. “What fate?”
The three were on their feet atop the pedestals, and he could not tell which shrieked which answer.
“To marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons!”
“To die and live again, and live once more a part of what was!”
“To give up half the light of the world to save the world!”
Together they howled like steam escaping under pressure. “Go to Rhuidean, son of battles! Go to Rhuidean, trickster! Go, gambler! Go!”
Mat and the Aelfinn – Chapter 15: Into the Doorway
Perrin simply kicks ass in this novel. His rallying of the Two Rivers to rise up to the challenges the region hasn’t faced in centuries is one of probably Perrin’s finest hour in the series (unless he manages to surprise me in the books yet to be published). It will also get him in an awful lot of trouble, but that is a discussion for Lord of Chaos. With Mat, Rand and Perrin all being very prominent in the book there is less emphasis on the female main characters. This will change in The Fires of Heaven where both the ladies will be much more influential. Unfortunately that also means the already… odd… relationship between the genders will be put more on edge in that book. In fact, The Shadow Rising is the last book where it didn’t annoy me that much. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a fair bit of snorting, sniffing, and braid-tugging but Jordan has kept it manageable in this book.
A number of Forsaken have have shown up in The Dragon Reborn. InThe Shadow Rising we get to see a few of those that were still missing. They still are not all accounted for however. In later books the Forsaken spend nearly as much time trying to finish each other off as they do trying to make sure Rand won’t fight the last battle for the light. In this book their plots are still rather straightforward. Moghedien in lurking, Lanfear is trying to seduce Rand and Rhavin and Sammael are playing at being Lords of the land. Asmodean shows up as well, setting the stage for one of the most debated questions in the Wheel of Time series. But that riddle is something for later books to look at. Asmodean is odd for one of the Forsaken. Most of them at least go out in a blaze of glory but he just screws up. All things considered he is quite pathetic.
Even with all this action the question whether The Shadow Rising is too long remains. I don’t really think so, or not by much anyway. Jordan manages to weave the four main story lines into a good novel as far as I am concerned. Although not as fast paced as the earlier book he makes good progress in each of them, which is more than can be said for some of the later books. Jordan has shown himself quite capable of handling the four main story lines in this book. The beginning of the novel is a bit slow, Rand hesitates too long. But then, that was Jordan’s point. This book is a change in direction for Jordan. If you do not like where he is taking it, there really is no point in continuing with the series, if anything, the story becomes even more sprawling than it already is. Still, I think this book shows Jordan is capable of more than he has shown us in the previous entries in the series. Maybe the series, and Jordan’s world-building in particular, is becoming too ambitious. If it is, it doesn’t show in The Shadow Risings. All things considered, it is a very satisfying read for people who enjoy epic (and yes, that implies it is long) fantasy.
Title: The Shadow Rising
Author: Robert Jordan
Format: Mass market paperback
First published: 1992