The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time: Book 4)

The best thing about reading this series is the constant reminder of how long it is. As I read this, I frequently looked up at my Wheel of Time shelf, at the nine books I have yet to read in the series, which serve as a reminder that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this totally epic fantasy world. I have so much left to see. 

And this really did get epic this time around. Rand decided to go and visit the vast Aiel waste and through the process discovered much about himself. He has finally started to grow up and discovered that destiny cannot, in fact, be avoided, so he grits his teeth and gets with the pattern. He knows what he must do; he knows that he must defeat the darkness and fulfil the prophecy to bind his true people to him: the people of the dragon. 

“I surrender to it, and by surrendering, I control it.” 

However, this isn’t just Rand’s story. It would be a terribly boring book if it was. This series does have the standard fantasy trope of the light versus the dark, but the world is much more complex than that. It is full of factions that attempt to do good, namely The White Cloaks, though they are completely misguided and tend to do very stupid things. They are noble-hearted men, for the most part, and they remain true to their cause, but they cannot identify evil. These fools deserve pity more than anything. The same is true for the Aes Sedai; they attempt a controlling approach, and whilst some of their actions are benevolent, they do lean towards tyranny. Sometimes they just need to guide mankind, to give him a gentle push, rather than try to control him directly. Gandalf managed it in The Lord of the Rings. 

Despite the murkiness, the one character that has remained absolutely true so far, to himself and to his friends, is Perrin. This book was his first taste of real heroism. He has gone past denying what he is capable of and just accepts the label men assign to him. He is a character I look forward to seeing stand beside Rand and Mat in the last battle. And, unfortunately, this wasn’t Mat’s finest hour. There is little of him in this book. He follows Rand, and he gets a new weapon, though the significance of it is yet to be explained. He felt rather absent for most of the plot, but I suppose that’s what comes with being the travelling companion of the protagonist for a large part of the book. I hope in the next book to see a little more of him, a shift away from Perrin is in order I think to keep things a little evener. I miss his roguish adventures. 

The plot has progressed a great deal, though at times I do feel like Jordan is juggling too many characters. The friendship between the three girls is getting much stronger; they have a mutual respect and fondness for each other. Their individual character arcs are also improving. These girls rely on each other rather than striving out on their own. Nynervea is becoming my favourite of the three. Egwene’s dreams are growing in potency, and Elayne, the daughter-heir, is becoming more intriguing. But by book four they should already be very established characters not just emerging. 

This is a strong book in one of fantasy’s most important series, I hope it continues to get better as the characters are slowly built upon.

8/10 This is a strong book in one of fantasy’s most important series, I hope it continues to get better as the characters are slowly built upon.

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