The journey to Tarmon Gai’don begins here.
There is a chance I will lapse into a trance of compliments for this book, and I only half-heartedly apologize. The Shadow Rising contains two of the best chapters I have ever read.
This book, more than any of the books that come before, relies on your sense of empathy. For some, that will make this book an emotional rollercoaster, for better or worse–for others, who don’t try to relate directly to the characters, I fear you will find this book to be unleavened bread; it will keep you going for a while, but ultimately it will be unfulfilling.
Moiraine continues to grow as a character, as a human being, going beyond what I am coming to recognize as the two dimensional Aes Sedai template character. Oh, that isn’t to say that each Aes Sedai isn’t unique, but they share so many traits that it almost feels like Jordan had an unnumbered “connect-the-dots” template, and would just fill it out every now and then when he needed a new character. (Don’t hurt me! It is true! Tell me, how similar are Liandrin and Elaida?!)
One issue many readers have with the Wheel of Time, especially the early books, is that Robert Jordan frequently references history that he has clearly developed, but is leaving the reader to figure out. This isn’t a failing, not to me, but many people who like the current Hollywood trend of plots that can be distilled to a single sentence (Avengers: Aliens are coming, superheroes fight them) will find this difficult to chew and swallow. The War of Power, the War of the Shadow, the Trolloc wars, keeping all of those separated and the time frames consistent in your head can be a bit of a challenge. The Shadow Rising will help you sort that out, if only by giving you one major part of the puzzle, as though his own world is just a giant game of Sudoku. In any case, the two chapters that I referenced as being my favorite ever written tell of the history of Randland in the time just before the Breaking of the World and for several hundred years after it. The story is not merely told, though — that would create far too much distance between the events and the reader. The story is shown through the eyes of people who lived through it and did not know what happened.
If you have not read any of the books, some context to help; three thousand (or so) years before the events of the book, a great cataclysm happened that destroyed most of the world, killed most of the population, and was so devastating that it completely changed the geography of the planet the books take place in. The fear and uncertainty of those that lived through it, the causes and effects, and the slow fading into legend as the details of The Breaking are lost — it is quite a journey. What you have read up until this moment is the distant fallout, and these two chapters, these two wonderful pieces of art, give you context for what you are reading.
There is more that plucks on your empathy, though–the storyline involving the White Tower, home base of the Aes Sedai, will pull at emotional chords that many of us generally keep well in check. To make a comparison with something most have read, the events at the White Tower often feel like reading chapters in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that feature Dolores Umbridge heavily. May God have mercy on our souls.
As you read through this book, you will feel the rising tension, not just in the characters, but in the world, as everything draws closer to the prophesized Tarmon Gai’don, the last battle with the Dark One himself.
I don’t know if I have talked about it at any length, but the way the story is told, it is possible to imagine it takes place in our own world, so far separated from us that the details have become muddled. The Dark One’s name, Shaitan, can easily be envisioned as Satan, and The Creator easily as God–but it is not two dimensional Christianity, you needn’t fear that. The world, as I’ve mentioned before, is basically the result of taking all of the current races and religions on Earth and putting them through a gigantic meat grinder (The Breaking). A large part of the fun of the book is the moment when your mind “clicks” and you realize exactly what elements from our current world combined to create the race you are currently reading about. When Robert Jordan speaks about their accents, and you know exactly what the accent sounds like. It is not abstract, it is all bounded in the real world.
To use proper terms, the denouement of The Shadow Rising is about one page long, and really serves to feed into the next book. If you are prepared to keep reading, this is not a series that lends itself well to being set aside while you digest the book. There are no clear points of separation between many of the books, they are a flowing narrative (contrasting starkly with fiction such as Harry Potter, where the plot is split clearly between the books). If you set down this book while you are within arm’s reach of The Fires of Heaven, you won’t be without a book to read for longer than a few seconds.
The Shadow Rising
Rand's Storyline - 9/10
Perrin's Storyline - 7/10
Matt's Storyline - 7/10
Moiraine's Storyline - 8.5/10
History - 10/10
Overarching Plot - 9/10
Other Characters - 8.5/10
Pulling at your sense of empathy, The Shadow Rising will take you on an extensive emotional ride. There are times you will feel happy, sad, scared, angry, outraged, and several combinations of the above, and it is a skillful author who is able to bring all of that about. Most of the exposition is done, though there is still a lot of depth to Randland that has barely been touched, though this is the beginning of the books that tend to be much more plot-heavy.