Book Review: Robert Jordan - "The Shadow Rising"

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Book four in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, The Shadow Rising is perhaps the best of the series up to that point. There are a few reasons I say so.

First, in contrast to the conflicts in the earlier novels are "man versus self" conflicts, in which the young novice characters are wracked by self-doubt and self-denial, the conflicts in The Shadow Rising are pure action. Finally, most of the main characters have grown self-assured enough to act as heroes, even if they don't consider themselves heroes. This is a much more entertaining kind of plot, in my opinion, because there's only so much brooding and bumbling a reader can handle before going crazy. Would you rather read about a guy who's too scared to do the right thing, or a guy who does the right thing despite his fears? The latter, right? And so it is for The Shadow Rising.

Second, I am a sucker for a great love story, and The Shadow Rising has it in spades, although perhaps not where the reader most expects it. The love story between Perrin and Faile teeters on the edge of young-adult-literature type schmaltz at times, but by the end of the book, their story has it on all the important parts of a great love story without really over-doing anything. Furthermore, the characters are likable enough that we're cheering for them rather than against them, which is quite different from some of the other romantic arcs in the series.

Third, and further to the above point, the book spends a lot of time on my favorite character, Perrin, whose quiet, humble, deliberate, and definitively ethical behavior is a bright spot among a long line of characters whose vices advance the plot as much as or more than their virtues. Perrin is an easy character to cheer for, a thrilling character to watch when he's at his best. While many other characters in the series have changed for the worse over time, Perrin's core character hardly has, and where it has, only for the better. He's become more self-confident, more capable within what powers and abilities he has, and still as honest and kind as ever. Who wouldn't want to read more about a character like that?

And even beyond those strengths, the other storylines are told beautifully as well. Rand's adventures with the Aiel are fascinating, owing largely to Jordan's remarkable ability to have invented an entire human culture -- the Aiel -- for the reader to explore. It's a culture with a rich history, mythology, set of cultural norms, music, fashion, sense of humor… If a writer were to have written so completely about an existing, real-world culture, it would be truly impressive. But when you stop to think that Jordan thought this whole stuff up out of thin air, the genius of it really takes hold.

It's not a perfect book, though. I've actually grown to despise Nynaeve, one of the series' main characters. It's simply not fun to read those parts of the book because she is such a detestable character. There are also elements to the plot that seem to be less cohesive with the overall Wheel of Time universe, namely a few of the "Forsaken" characters, about whom we know nothing until they suddenly appear to do battle with the main characters from time to time. Their presence in the book feels a little disjointed, considering how cohesive the rest of the "universe" is, almost leaning toward deus ex machina levels of plot interaction.

All in all, though, it's a great book, and highly recommended.

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