The Shadow Rising is the fourth novel in the Wheel of Time series, following the events of the climatic third book which has seemingly killed the Dark One's strongest Forsaken as well as resulted in the crowning of Rand al'Thor the Dragon Reborn for all of the world to see.
The book opens with Rand struggling with his new-found position as the King of Tear as well as his friends' struggle to deal with these new changes to his personality. Perrin has begun a relationship with the beautiful noblewoman Faile, their personalities contrasting as well as cultural background. Mat, despite having been healed by Aes Sedai, maintains a great distrust for channelers and avoids associating with any of his former friends who now can, Nynaeve as well as Egwene struggle with the Black Ajah, and there is increasing tension at Tar Vallon which will soon boil over into outright civil war within the Aes Sedai.
It is Robert Jordan's greatest talent to be able to weave together hundreds of minor plots and characters into a single coherent tapestry. Usually, in these sorts of books, there's always one or more characters I find intensely annoying. Instead, almost all of the Wheel of Time's characters are extremely likable. The only member of the group I want to sometimes punch in the face is Mat and that's only intermittently, oftentimes when he's displaying the qualities of a faithless friend or ungrateful jerkass.
The Wheel of Time's protagonists may be unrealistically good but they have a Clark Kent, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia-like decency which reminds us why we're supposed to root for the side of right over wrong. Likewise, while the villains may not be as interesting as the heroes, Robert Jordan avoids making them two-dimensional.
Lord Bornhald's motivations are a desire to avenge his father, no matter how misguided his belief Perrin is responsible for his death may be. Lanfear is motivated by her ambition and lust for power but also a desperate desire to be loved. Elaida may be acting against our heroes in the White Tower but the extremist has a point about how their actions must look to outsiders.
The book provides us with a lot more insight into Aiel culture as well as the events surrounding the Breaking of the World. While I, initially, was a little nonplussed by the insertion of post-apocalyptic imagery into the otherwise feel-good series, I came to like how it highlighted how so much of the past had been forgotten. Discovering the Aiel had been a very-very different sort of people worked well to illustrate that. Rand's arrival brings the possibility of them learning from their forgotten past as well as the change promised by a tradition-bound culture which discovers most of their ideals are based on lies.
The book expands on the character of Aviendha and I'm very interested in her coming relationship with Rand. Robert Jordan is not subtle in his foreshadowing of a marriage between Rand, her, Elayne, and Min. Aviendha's relationship with Rand is complicated by her extremely strong females for Elayne which, while not intended by Jordan, could easily be subjected to a queer reading. The conversations between them get a bit on the monotonous and repetitive side but I think she's probably my favorite of Rand's girlfriends.
We also get a humanizing look at the Seanchan with the way the revelation that their traditional hatred of channelers may not, in fact, be as justified as they've traditionally believed. I hate slavery, even in fiction, perhaps because I grew up in the South and know how it can be rationalized away in cultural memory, so I am personally hoping for a series of dramatic rocks to their society. I, genuinely, hate the Seanchan far more than I despise the Dark One's forces and look forward to seeing them brought low.
If the book has any major flaws, it's that not much really happens this time around except for the events in the White Tower. Which, shockingly, is handled in all of one chapter. Robert Jordan's work always moves at a languid pace but I felt this one was even slower than usual. I also disliked the removal of any moral ambiguity from Lanfear and was hoping there might be something redeemable to her.
Despite this, there's genuinely affecting moments throughout. I, especially, loved the plotline in Two Rivers where events remain close to home for our heroes. I also liked the developing romance between Faile and Perrin. They may come from different worlds and have different attitudes to love but you can tell they have a deep affection for the other.
In conclusion, The Shadow Rising is yet another installment I greatly enjoyed. I will continue this series right up until the very end.