It's hard to believe that nearly 3,000 pages into The Wheel of Time, and four books in, I haven't even gotten a quarter of the way through the series. I still have so much to read, see, and learn about this immense world that Robert Jordan constructed. Like its predecessors, though, The Shadow Rises took me to new and interesting locations, thickened the plot, and added new layers onto relationships and dynamics that I had expected to be squared away.
In a lot of ways, The Shadow Rises is a book in three arcs. There's Rand's story, in which he fulfills the Aiel prophecy and becomes the carn'a'carn, or Chief of Chiefs, ala the Dragon Reborn. Theere's Perrin's story of revenge and rebellion in the Two Rivers' region. And there's Elayne and Nynaeve's cloak and dagger intrigue in Tanchico. Yet, there are many other threads that weave these two together; it's no wonder there are so many books in the series.
Reflecting on the book--which I finished last week, as of writing this--I think that Perrin's story still stands as my favorite of the three. As with The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn, I struggle with Rand as a character; he's a bit boring, and for pacing purposes can't really be as openly introspective as the other characters. Additionally, because he's so dangerous, Rand is self-isolating. And while Elayne and Nynaeve's arc is definitely fascinating--their hunt for the Black Ajah is almost worthy of its own series--they definitely were in a place of lesser prominence to Perrin and Rand this time around.
Perrin's story of returning to his home, bringing his new skills--and some companions--with him to save them from evil, is a classic culmination of the hero's journey. It's the first moment of "closure" we've had in the series thus far, even if it doesn't feel like closure because A) the result is unwelcome to him and B) he is still under threat, and as far as we know still ta'vern, and thus likely to be sucked in by the next book. More importantly, I think, the stakes for Perrin's arc were just clearer. The Two Rivers is his home--and Jordan pulls no punches in giving him a motivation for defending what's left of it for Perrin. The resulting exploration of what it means to be a ta'vern, and how a rural region might defend itself, is a plot full of danger, heroism, uncertainty, and real victory. I liked it a lot.
I didn't care so much for Rand's journey to Rhuidean (how do I pronounce that?), even if it ultimately advances the plot, and is interesting from a top-down sense. The connections between the Tinkers and the Aiel gives a sense of age and dynamism to the narrative world that really makes you wonder how many rooms of paper Jordan had filled with notes and histories by the time he got around to writing the books themselves. I got bored in the desert, though, and Mat's relative silence through the book was a bummer. Aside from almost getting hanged by devils, in a very Odin-like fashion, Mat's sole job is to complain about his fate, and plot fruitless escape attempts that eventually piddle into whining. Boo. Give me gambling-addict Mat and some life in his step!
Familiar faces abound in The Shadow Rising, and new narrative perspectives open, too. Bayle Domon, the put-upon captain with the goofy accent (FORTUNE PRICK ME), Padan Fain, and a host of other side-characters from the previous three books arrive and push or pull the narrative forward. Min's subplot, in which she learns to love being a girly-girl in disguise, and ultimately has to free Aes Sedai upon the fulfillment of her Viewing, was interesting as well; but what is the purpose of her powers? I hope it amounts to vague but visual foreshadowing. Most of the other "power sets" in the book are proving to have many utilities, so I hope the series has something up its sleeve for her!
Finally, I wasn't very surprised by the end of the book's structure. Plot, plot, plot, oh a big fight happens that's a bit abstract and Rand prevails. That's fine. I was surprised by the capture of the Forsaken on his end, but given the drama of Nynaeve's prior fight with a Forsaken--in which she also throws something at the Forsaken to distract them, because she is cooler than Rand--I was hoping he'd actually sever the prick. Oh well. Four books in, I'm hoping the format on the shape of the plot begins to evolve soon.
I'm going to continue reading the series. Indeed, I've already started book five. The cliffhanger with Asmodean, and the uncertain ending for Min, the Amyrlin, and others, was a bit too potent for me to just pass up on. However, I'm thinking of taking another break on the series after that, to give myself time to read some non-fiction and "breathe" from the high drama of Jordan's series. What do you think? Agree or disagree? You can drop comments below--which I will respond to!--or you can chat me up on Twitter @TravisOKnight!