Welcome! After many months of chapter-by-chapter re-read and reaction blogging of Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising – the fourth book of The Wheel of Time series – I have made it to yet another end and another beginning in this circle-themed series. You can find my chapter recaps HERE.
Now I will endeavor to review the entire book as a completed project. There will be no spoilers beyond this book in my review. There will be spoilers for *this* book and the first three volumes, though.
“The Shadow shall rise across the world, and darken every land, even to the smallest corner, and there shall be neither Light nor safety. And he who shall be born of the Dawn, born of the Maiden, according to Prophecy, he shall stretch forth his hands to catch the Shadow, and the world shall scream in the pain of salvation. All Glory be to the Creator, and to the Light, and to he sho shall be born again. May the Light save us from him.
-from Commentaries on the Karaethon Cycle Sereine dar Shamelle Motara Counsel-Sister to Comaelle, High Queen of Jaramide (circa 325 AB, the Third Age)”
The main plot begins with most of the ensemble cast gathered in the Stone of Tear. Rand has proclaimed himself as The Dragon Reborn and unlike his similar proclamation in Falme, he is now certain of his title and considering his next steps. Moiraine Sedai has plans for Rand to invade neighboring country, Illian, and to quickly consolidate his power across the continent. Rand’s childhood friends do not wish to see Rand start a war, and Egwene in particular urges him not to do so. For his part, Rand wants to do something that will surprise everyone – particularly the Forsaken now loose across the continent.
Egwene approaches Rand and tells him that she no longer loves him romantically. Rand seems relieved to hear this and says he feels the same way. Elayne immediately thereafter confesses her romantic interest in Rand, to him, and they act on that in dark corners in the Stone while Rand is learning how to rule a nation. Egwene, for her part, subsequently acts as though she might not have entirely meant it when she confessed her changed feelings to Rand.
Rand is not the only one sorting out his next steps. After an attack in the Stone of Tear, from a magical “bubble of evil,” Perrin decides that his new girlfriend Faile would be safer away from him and he begins searching out rumors of goings-on that might draw her away from Tear and from himself. However, instead of finding something to lead her away, he discovers that his home village is besieged by Whitecloaks who believe a youth from the Two Rivers, with yellow eyes, is a Darkfriend. Perrin decides to return home to face their justice, hoping that in doing so he can save the community from further harm. He tries to push Faile away, but is unable to prevent her from traveling with his party toward his home. Loial the Ogier guides the party through The Ways so that they can reach home quickly, and three Aiel friends – Gaul, Bain, and Chiad – also join them.
Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne are all posing as Aes Sedai in the Stone of Tear, still under orders from the Amyrlin Seat, Siuan Sanche, to hunt the thirteen members of the Black Ajah who fled from the White Tower. After interrogating two captured Black sisters, the group discovers a potential plot that might be underway in the coastal city of Tanchico. The alleged plot centers around a hunt for a weapon to be used against Rand. During the process of planning, Egwene is summoned by Aiel Dreamwalkers to go to the Aiel Waste for training in tel’aran’rhiod – the world of dreams. Egwene decides to go due to the fact that no living Aes Sedai has the ability to teach her properly in this area, and she believes that in the long run, this skill will be important as the world approaches the Last Battle. That leaves Elayne and Nynaeve to travel together to Tanchico in search of the Black Ajah. Moiraine sends Thom Merrilin with them, to function as a worldly guide and protector, and Lan sends Juilin Sandar to help protect them.
Mat does not know what to do with his life so he asks Egwene for advice. She tells him about a ter’angreal in the Stone which allegedly gives true answers to the person who uses it. Mat decides to walk through the red doorframe ter’angreal and as he does so, he visits another world altogether. He encounters snake-like humanoids, and after a terse back and forth, he is eventually told that he must visit Rhuidean in the Aiel Waste. Unsatisfied with the answers he has been given, Mat presses the snake-people and they tell him his destiny:
“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!”
Without knowing Mat or Egwene’s plans, Rand also decides to visit the Aiel Waste. He intends to find out whether he is the fulfillment of the Aiel’s “He Who Comes With the Dawn” prophecy. Rand hopes that if he is, and if he gains command of the Aiel, he will obtain the most powerful fighting force on earth.
Before the various parties set out on their journeys, the Stone of Tear is attacked by a trolloc force. Rand is able eventually to fight them off, using Callandor, but he requires some help and advice from Lanfear, first, who has appeared to him offering to obtain someone to teach him how to use the One Power. Rand thinks reluctantly that he really does need a teacher.
Rand uses Portal Stones to carry a large party, including Mat, Egwene, Moiraine, Lan, and a large group of Aiel, deep into the Aiel Waste, just outside of Rhuidean. Shortly after arriving, he asks a group of Aiel Wise Ones for permission to enter Rhuidean. This infuriates Couladin, a warrior from the Aiel’s Shaido clan. However, Rand goes and Mat comes with him. Mat is convinced that the answers he was given in the ter’angreal in Tear require that he go with Rand into the city. Shortly after they leave, Moiraine also is given leave to enter the city. Aviendha, an Aiel Maiden of the Spear, also follows them – with Aviendha overtaking Rand and Mat as she goes.
Inside the city, Rand passes through the ter’angreal (an object which utilizes the One Power) utilized by the Aiel to test men before one can become a clan chief. As Rand does this testing, he sees through the eyes of his ancestors, the ancient history of the Aiel. He experiences the centuries following the bore that was made into the Dark One’s prison, the War of Power, the Breaking of the World, and then the wandering that followed. He learns that the Aiel were pacifists during the Age of Legens – a fact which is deeply shameful to those who learn the truth in the present. In fact, this truth is so painful that most Aiel cannot cope with the truth. When Rand emerges from the glass columns ter’angreal, he has two dragons embedded into the skin of each of his forearms. This marks him as the Aiel Car’a’carn, the Chief of Chiefs. Mat, meanwhile, finds another red doorframe ter’angreal inside Rhuidean while he waits for Rand. He enters thinking to obtain more answers from the snake people, but instead finds fox-like people who provide gifts rather than give answers. Mat eventually exits the ter’angreal in possession of a medallion on a string around his neck, a spear weapon, with a blade on its end, called an ashandarei, and a lot of new memories from other long dead men. Mat also emerges from the ter’angreal hanging by a noose from a nearby tree. Rand exits his own ter’angreal and finds Mat just in time to save his life.
In the Two Rivers, Perrin discovers that not only is the region now occupied by Whitecloaks, it is also overrun by trollocs. In fact, the Whitecloaks are helping the villagers against the trollocs, at least to some extent, but enough so that the locals do not feel as though they can attempt to make the Children of the Light leave. Perrin also learns soon after reaching Emond’s Field that his entire family has been butchered by trollocs. Unable to save his family, he still decides that he cannot turn himself over to the Whitecloaks unless or until he helps everyone deal with the shadowspawn invasion. To that end, Perrin travels the region, successfully urges the farmers to move into the villages, over objections from another visitor to the area – Lord Luc, a hunter for the Horn – who has advised them to fight from their farms. Perrin recruits a small fighting force from among the community’s young men and they begin attacking the trollocs. Faile, Tam al’Thor, and others help the village prepare defenses. Emond’s Field is also currently home to two Aes Sedai – Verin Mathwin and Alanna Mosvani – who are both visiting in search of potential pupils for the White Tower. Neither of the Aes Sedai are in the open, initially, due to the fact that Whitecloaks are capable of recognizing the significance of their Ageless faces on sight. They join in the preparation of defenses. Perrin further learns that the Whitecloaks are in the company of Padan Fain, who is now calling himself Ordeith.
In the Wolf Dream, Perrin learns that a man calling himself Slayer is operating in the Two Rivers and that Slayer is the one who has been letting trollocs into the region via a Waygate. Loial and Gaul the Aielman leave the safety of the village to close the Waygate for good while Perrin rests and recovers from a battle injury. Perrin is finding that the villagers – people he grew up with and people he took orders from not long ago – are increasingly looking to him for leadership, even going so far as to call him Lord Perrin. Despite his best efforts, he is unable to put a stop to this. Eventually villagers raise and fly banners featuring a wolf’s head, representing Perrin, and a red eagle representing Manetheren, the long dead but still fabled nation of their ancestors.
On the journey to Tanchico, aboard a Sea Folk ship, Nynaeve and Elayne learn that the Sea Folk consider Rand the fulfillment of their own prophecies, and that they call him the Cooramor. They also learn that Sea Folk Windfinders can channel the One Power – a secret the group has long kept from Aes Sedai. After arriving in Tanchico, the group begins searching for the Black Ajah. They run into Bayle Domon and co-opt him to assist in their endeavor. They also meet Egeanin, the Seanchan ship’s captain who once captured Domon, after she saves them from an attempted kidnapping. Eventually a combination of Domon, Juilin, Thom, and a visit to the World of Dreams by Nynaeve tell the group that the Black Ajah are in the city’s palace and also that the weapon that might hurt Rand is also there.
Inside the Palace, Elayne rescues the local ruler of Tanchico, tthe Panarch Amathera, from one of the Black Sisters who is tormenting her, while Nynaeve goes separately to find the weapon. In a royal showroom of exotic artifacts, Nynaeve encounters one of the Forsaken, Moghedien, and learns to her own amazement as they duel that she is as strong in the One Power as the other woman. Ultimately, Nynaeve prevails in their combat, and secures the weapon – a ter’angreal which might be used to control men who can channel – as well as finding and taking a seal for the Dark One’s prison. In the aftermath of the fight, though, Moghedien escapes. Nynaeve, Elayne, and the rest of their group flee the Palace with Amathera and begin planning their next moves. Nynaeve arranges for Domon to throw the weapon into the sea and makes plans with Elayne to return the Seal to Tar Valon before going to Lan, wherever he might be.
Inside their walled up village, the trollocs throw increasingly large attacks at Emond’s Field. After Loial and Gaul return from the Waygate, having successfully closed it for good, Perrin learns that the force is too large for Emond’s Field to hold it back if it attacks at once. He believes that an all-out attack will come now that the Waygate is closed. Perrin confirms all of this by visiting the Wolf Dream. While there, he encounters Slayer and manages to shoot the other man with an arrow, injuring him. Simultaneously in the waking world, Lord Luc suffers an inexplicable chest injury and flees Emond’s Field for the countryside. Perrin concludes that there must be a connection between Luc and Slayer, though he cannot see how. Knowing that there is no hope, Perrin asks Faile to seek help from the Queen of Andor, reasoning that she will be received by a Queen and will know how to talk to her. He lies and says their defenses can hold out for months, but says that they will not eradicate the trollocs without help. Faile agrees on the condition that Perrin marries her before she goes. Perrin agrees and they are wed. When the final onslaught arrives, we learn that Faile had seen through Perrins lies and rode not to Caemlyn but instead to the neighboring village, Watch Hill, where she rallied the locals there to come to Emond’s Field’s aid. As the final onslaught overwhelms Emond’s Field’s walls, leaving men and women fighting shoulder to shoulder by their houses, Faile returns with help. Emond’s Field is also helped by neighboring villagers from Devon Ride, who saw the fires in the distance and guessed correctly what it meant. The combined people of the Two Rivers completely overwhelm and slaughter the shadowspawn horde before the final attack even reaches midday. With the shadowspawn now dealt with, Perrin orders the Whitecloaks inside the village walls – who still believe that he is a Darkfriend – to leave the region. He calls them all cowards for refusing to help when help was needed most.
In the Waste, Rand plans to declare himself publicly, in front of the clan chiefs, at a place called Alcair Dal, but he is forced to break custom and journey early to the meeting ground make his declaration before all of the clans arrive. He does this because the Shaido clan leaves early for the gathering and Rand anticipates that they will create significant problems if he waits. A group of peddlers arrive as Rand’s group journeys to Alcair Dal and Rand believes immediately that Lanfear is in their posse, as well as one of the male Forsaken. When the groups arrive at Alcair Dal, one of the Shaido, Couladin, declares himself as He Who Comes with the Dawn and shows dragons on both of his forearms as proof. Immediately thereafter, Rand also shows his own markings. Knowing that he has to expose Couladin as a fake, Rand challenges him about whether he visited Rhuidean at all – knowing that the other man never had permission to do so – and then Rand tells the gathered crowd about what he has seen inside Rhuidean and about the Aiel’s history . It becomes clear to the clan chiefs – if not the other gathered Aiel – that Couladin is the fake. As a result, the clan chiefs name Rand as the Car’a’carn – the Chief of Chiefs.
Chaos erupts and suddenly Lanfear reveals herself to Rand, up close. She warns him that Asmodean is traveling to Rhuidean, to do something, and that whatever it is that he is doing is a greater danger to Rand than what he is facing in Alcair Dal. Rand uses the One Power to follow Asmodean into the city, and then once there, they fights over Asmodean’s target – a ter’angreal which allows its user to use the most powerful male sa’angreal ever made. Rand is just able to beat Asmodean, though it completely saps him of his energy, and in the process, Rand severs Asmodean from his connection to the Dark One. Lanfear finds both of them exhausted and places a shield on Asmodean. She sees the ter’angreal Rand is holding and looks around briefly and unsuccessfully for the female equivalent. Lanfear tells Rand that with what he is holding, and the female equivalent, they can challenge and defeat even the Dark One. After she leaves, Rand digs through the debris in the city and finds the ter’angreal which connects to the most powerful female sa’angreal ever made. He takes it and plans to keep it hidden from Lanfear and the rest of the world, at least until he might need it. Asmodean agrees to help teach Rand, understanding now that the other Forsaken and the Dark One will believe he is a traitor. His only hope is that Rand wins.
Rand and Asmodean return to Alcair Dal and learn that the Shaido are gone and that they are following Couladin. He also learns that many of the Aiel, from other clans, have thrown down their spears in despair over what Rand revealed regarding their people’s ancient history. Nevertheless, with the group that remains, Rand now leads the largest and strongest fighting force in the world and he plans to lead them back toward the main continent.
WHAT I LIKED
I just really like her.
Faile spends most of this book seeing the nobility behind Perrin’s terrible decision-making and then reacting accordingly. In a series where so many of the characters struggle to communicate effectively, Perrin in particular, Faile is consistently shrewd at seeing the heart of things. This allows her to endure the various and sundry ways Perrin attempts to shove / send her away in the name of protecting her, and then to make the right decisions on his behalf and to his benefit. She completes him. Jordan does not give us a coldly shrewd Faile, though. A cold Faile might not have been such a charismatic character. Instead Jordan gives us an incredibly bright young woman with her heart clearly on her sleeve, too. For example, I do not believe that Faile ever really believed Perrin’s overtures about possibly having interest in Berelain, but she did believe Berelain had interest in Perrin. It made her FURIOUS. You could feel the “how DARE you?” coming through Faile’s actions with Berelain. I loved it.
We also got another hint of how much Faile loves Perrin in the immediate aftermath of Perrin hearing the news about his family. She recognized that he needed to grieve and MADE him do it. Everyone else in the room was content to let him continue ignoring his pain.
Just to recap some of what Faile goes through:
1. Perrin tries to send her away.
2. Perrin implies romantic interest in Berelain to push her away.
3. Perrin *spanks* Faile – like one might a misbehaving child – in front of their friends in The Ways during their trip to the Two Rivers.
4. Perrin leads a spur of the moment attack on the Whiteloak camp to rescue the Cauthons and Luhhans. He would have died in this endeavor but for Faile’s help.
5. Faile is the primary person who organizes the defenses of Emond’s Field. She does this while Perrin leads a group of untrailed Two Rivers boys on an ill-fated campaign against the marauding trollocs in the Two Rivers.
6. Faile sees through Perrin’s lies, when he attempts to send her to Caemlyn, and instead rallies help from Watch Hill.
7. Faile, more than anyone, pushes Perrin to accept the leadership role the Pattern is giving him in The Two Rivers because she recognizes – even though he does not – that they *need* him to be their leader.
Perrin might be the figurehead that the Two Rivers needs. He might grow into a great and wise leader. But Faile is one who saved Emond’s Field.
The Shadow Rising is a very immersive deep dive into Aiel culture and history. Jordan does some of his best writing in the series while we spend time among the Aiel.
This book includes a great cultural contrast between the Perrin sections and the Rand sections. The Two Rivers feels familiar to book readers. Emond’s Field was modeled on Tolkien’s “The Shire” and thus represents the small town many might have grown up in, or wished they had grown up in. The Waste is not at all familiar, but the people who live there have a society that is powerfully appealing to outsiders. They are a strong and hard people, with leaders who are wise, and for the most part, they are a moral and good society. It’s easy to understand, after some time with them on the page, why their society has been so enduring. The back and forth between the story arc in the Two Rivers and the story arc in the Waste thus creates this sense, for the reader, of going from home, to a new home, and then back again.
The highlight of the book, and arguably the series so far, is Rand’s trip through the glass columns and thus through the ancient history of the Aiel. We see in reverse order a lot of the big moments in the history of their people and how often someone’s simple spur of the moment decision, under extreme duress, changed the culture of a group of people from one of pacifism to warriors. It’s gripping and sometimes heartbreaking. This section of the book also gives us our best look at the Age of Legends and the fascinating, yet temporary, ideal society that had existed then. It left me wanting to spend more time there.
The whole depiction of the Aiel is a tremendous example of Jordan’s genius for world-building, rich in detail, whether that be the various clans, the societies within the clans, how clan chiefs and Wise Ones are chosen, and how their past intersects with and impacts their present. You leave this book feeling as though you really know these people and have made a home among them.
The People and World Beyond the Red Doorframes:
Mat’s two trips into the two red doorframe ter’angreals were incredible to read. Jordan does something really subtle with Mat in these two trips by changing the way Mat speaks. His tone and his curses are slightly different, but without losing the sense that it *is* Mat – almost as though the version of him we see on the other side of the door is himself from another life. The effect aids the sense of otherworldliness in that environment, and it’s not as though the environment needs a lot of help in that respect. Mat meets two different types of intelligent humanoids, in a place where the normal rules of reality seem not to apply, to the point that even walking down corridors is physically disorienting. The snake people and the fox people are both so alien that it is difficult to attribute evilness to them, though they certainly seem dangerous.
The first of the two trips also gives us some of the best and most interesting prophecy we have been given in the series. Mat is fated:
“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!”
This is the best kind of foreshadowing. It is vague enough that I cannot predict what it means, precisely, and significant enough that Mat’s importance to the series feels highly elevated. I look forward to seeing how Jordan brings these future plot points about.
She is the most interesting of the Forsaken we have met, by far. Does she want to turn Rand to the Shadow? Yes. Would she betray the Shadow to get Rand back romantically? Probably. How much of what she says and does is intentional manipulation and how much is that she is unhinged? No idea. Even her beginning with the Shadow is mysterious. We learn in this book that she is one of the people who drilled the initial hole into the Dark One’s prison. Did she turn to the Shadow willingly? Did she know what would happen before she made the bore? No idea.
Her true motivations in this book are veiled and that makes her compelling. She is plausibly doing her part for the Shadow and also plausibly trying to help Rand. Her distaste for unnecessary violence and death creates an impression that she might be willing to return to the Light while her self-restraint simultaneously feeling like a mislead. To some degree, she feels like the most dangerous person we have met in the series.
Jordan has created a fascinating character here and I look forward to continuing the story with her in the next volume.
WHAT I DID NOT LIKE
There was little in this book that I did not enjoy, but I will point out a few particulars here:
- We did not get to see Perrin’s rescue from the end of The Dragon Reborn on the page. He was bleeding and maybe dying as The Dragon Reborn ends. When we meet back up with Perrin in The Shadow Rising, he is healed. I felt a little bit robbed of what should have been a dramatic rescue.
- Perrin’s frequent dim-wittedness throughout the book:
Why did he think Faile would leave him in search of an adventure somewhere else? That never made sense. It felt as though Perrin became a bit dumber in this book, than in the previous books, with more examples of that to follow.
Shouldn’t Perrin have seen enough of the world by now to know that turning himself over to the Whitecloaks in the Two Rivers would not have saved the Two Rivers from the Whitecloaks? Telling them that he is a Darkfriend – they would see it that way – would only have encouraged them to persecute everyone else. The best argument to be made for Perrin, here, is that maybe he just kind of wants to die, and his logical choices are being subverted by that desire. That’s a rather dark view of things, though.
Shouldn’t Perrin have pieced things together a little more quickly re: Luc and Slayer? He had suspicions.
Wasn’t Perrin being really brazen to lead a bunch of completely untrained youth into battle against trollocs led by myrddraal? For a guy who continues to say he is not a leader, he is really quick to lead a bunch of young men into danger – and it turned out about like you’d expect. It’s not as though he is a seasoned commander of any kind.
- On a topic other than Perrin, and I don’t have one particular thing to point out here, but Elayne and Nynaeve bicker, a lot, and while I think their interactions seem authentic, they are just not very much fun to read. I cannot wait for these two to not be together in the story.
INTERESTING NEW STORY ELEMENTS
The Two Sa’angreal Rand Finds in Rhuidean:
According to Lanfear, these are the two most powerful sa’angreal ever made, and their power is such that Rand can challenge the Dark One with them. The impression given is that if Callandor gives Rand the ability to level cities, these give him the ability to break the world.
Their inclusion in the story now feels significant and ominous.
Moghedien emerges as an adversary for Nynaeve. In their first encounter, the female Forsaken, known a “The Spider,” uses the One Power to manipulate both Elayne and Nynaeve’s minds. Nynaeve seems to know afterward that it happened, and the encounter bubbles just beneath the surface in her subconscious until the two meet up again. After she is beaten by Nynaeve, Moghedien gets away, and the book ends with a kind of ominous feeling in the air for Nynaeve. What happens when one of the thirteen most powerful channelers of all time has a personal grudge against you? We will find out, I think.
Asmodean’s depiction is fascinating. He is apparently the only one of the male Forsaken not completely eaten up with a personal hatred for Lews Therin Kinslayer. His disguise, as a Gleeman, and his ability to play music lead one to believe he was like a bad boy musician in his time (just imagine one of the Satanic rockers from the 1980s, but powerfully magical.) He nearly succeeds in not only beating Rand, but in becoming the most powerful of the Forsaken. Had he managed to gain control of the sa’angreal in Rhuidean, he would have. Instead, he is cut off from the Dark One, shielded, and essentially forced into subservience to Rand.
It’s interesting to me that he is in league with Lanfear. He seems as un-overtly evil as she does. Most of the other Forsaken we have met have been openly evil, mustache-twirling types. Perhaps there is a quiet contingent of the Forsaken who might prefer not to be among the Forsaken were all things otherwise equal. We’ll keep an eye on that.
This is my favorite book in the series so far. The scope of the series continues to broaden, this time largely in the vast and previously unvisited Aiel Waste, but it does so without failing to provide readers with rich new cultural depictions, history, and relatable individual and group motivations. Jordan’s brilliance shines the most in world-building and this book is arguably his masterpiece in that respect. The main original cast continues to grow in ways that are realistic and interesting, with newer characters growing into increasingly important and interesting mainstays in their own right – Faile in particular. The Shadow Rising continues the Jordan tradition of big finishes, but ups the ante, giving us not one but three separate and utterly satisfying climactic confrontations. I cannot wait to read what The Fires of Heaven has to offer next.