The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan might be the single slowest book I’ve ever read in my life. I read four or five others as I was reading through this one, and even with those breaks I still struggled to finish. Spoilers do follow because I don’t personally know anyone aside from my husband who will make it this far - this review is for random, online strangers who braved it as well.
Mat Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, and Rand al’Thor are all at the Stone of Tear when two Forsaken attack. Rand ends the battle with a lightning storm he creates with help from Callandor, shocking everyone with his power. Mat and Rand leave shortly after with Moiraine, Egwene, and the Aiel from the Stone to head to the Aiel Waste. Rand enters Rhuidean, a city in the Waste where Aiel go to learn about their past before they can become a chief. Rand learns that the Aiel were once peaceful, not warriors, and they had been charged by Aes Sedai to keep their angreal, sa’angreal, and ter’angreal safe. Rand exits Rhuidean with dragon marks on both arms. Mat, Moiriane, and Aviendha (an Aiel who is learning to become a Wise One and has been assigned to teach Rand about the Aiel) also enter Rhuidean to learn things about themselves. Mat, most notably, gains the memories of his ancestors. Aiel warrior Couladin has also declared himself the Car’a’carn (Rand's new title) but the majority of the Aiel choose to follow Rand. At the end of the novel, Rand battles with the Forsaken Asmodean and uses the One Power to cut him off from the Dark One with some help from Lanfear. Rand decides to keep Asmodean as a hostage of sorts and in exchange for his life, he is expected to teach Rand more about channeling.
Perrin, having left Mat and Rand, travels back to the Two Rivers after hearing rumors of trollocs attacking. He meets up with Mat and Rand’s fathers and Aes Sedia Verin and Alanna who came looking for new recruits for the White Tower. Perrin trains his people to defend themselves against the trollocs, the Children of the Light (who are pretending to help), and a strange new enemy named Slayer. Perrin’s leadership earns him the title of “Perrin Goldeneyes” in reference to the eyes he developed from his telepathic connection to wolves. Perrin marries Faile, and she brings help in the last standoff against the Children of the Light before they leave the Two Rivers.
Meanwhile, Elayne and Nynaeve have been busy hunting the Black Ajah and manage to rescue one country’s leader, Amathera, from the Forsaken Temaile in the process. They obtain one of the seals of the Dark One’s prison. Nynaeve battles with the Forsaken Moghedien, realizing that she is equal in power to the woman, but a member of the Black Ajah destroys the palace as they fight and Moghedien escapes. Min, off on her own, arrives at the White Tower and remains until Siuan, the Amyrlin Seat, and Leane, the Keeper of the Chronicles, are betrayed. The Aes Sedai who rise up against them depose and “still” them, meaning they can’t access the One Power and are essentially no longer Aes Sedia. Min, along with Elayne’s brother Gawyn, helps them escape.
This installment had so much fluff to it, it was hard to enjoy the story. I believe I mentioned all the repetition in my review of books 1-3, and boy oh boy did that ever NOT go away in this one. It was possibly worse. Here are just a few examples of the prose that practically beats you over the head with its own self:
“Verin and Tomas had stayed behind, and he eyed her sharply.”
“Mat glanced at him silently.”
“...the gaze she swept across Rand and Mat was hardly softer than what she had given Couladin.”
“‘No!’ Melanie snapped, her eyes like green steel.”
“Melanie...fixed Rand with cold green eyes.”
“Egeanin’s stare was fierce-eyed and offended.”
One thousand pages of that, my friends.
I'm genuinely curious as to whether or not Jordan knew any reasonable, pleasant women. Almost every single major female character - and most of the minor ones - are shrill, conniving, manipulative, rude, demanding, etc. The biggest offender is Nynaeve, although several of the highest ranking Aes Sedai can give her a run for her money. Did Jordan think these miserable female characters are fun to read about? Or that that's what it takes to be a powerful woman? Min is the most normal woman in the novel but we don't see enough of her. Moiraine is my favorite overall because while she’s pretty manipulative, she's actually smart and plans to help Rand succeed.
My favorite part of this novel was Nynaeve’s battle with Moghedien. It was tense; I wasn't sure who would win. I thought Nynaeve was getting beaten and then realized she was matching the Forsaken for power, but she’s untrained so I was anxious waiting for the finale. It was a good few pages.
Of all the Wheel of Time books so far, this one was my least favorite so it's a 2 of 5. My plan to trudge my way through this series hasn't changed but The Shadow Rising really derailed me with how slow it was. I only recommend this series for people who adore fantasy and are willing to spend months on one series. Otherwise you'll hate me for wasting your time.