Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Readthrough of Time: The Shadow Rising

The Readthrough of Time continues this week with The Shadow Rises, the fourth volume in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. As with the previous books thus far, I won't be doing a traditional review, and...well, let's just get into it already.

We may as well start with the good:

* Rand's scene where he speaks to the crowd about the war and finishes by putting the sword back in the stone? Possibly my favorite scene in the series so far.

* Perrin at the Two Rivers was easily the most interesting plotline of this story.

This, however, speaks volumes to the problems inherent in The Wheel of Time at this point. So much of the story feels diversionary that it's becoming increasingly difficult to figure out what is truly important and what is worldbuilding flavor. I love epic fantasy, and there's plenty of good, if not great, worldbuilding out there. The best worldbuilding, to me, ends up being organic and feels significant and weighty.

Compare this to the Wheel of Time books up to now. In theory, up to this point, you have three significant storylines of note - Rand as the Dragon Reborn, the Aes Sedai, and the mess with the Whitecloaks/Trollocs/White Tower. There is, of course, plenty of overlap as we'd expect, but, at the same time, we see a lot of issues. Rand doesn't arrive in this story until well into the book (and this being the longest book of the series, it means it's a long time before Rand gets any screen time), and then he's gone again for a significant number of pages. This would be more of an issue, of course, if Rand's story was at all compelling at this point. Instead, Rand is the Dragon and he's kind of unlikable. Still. That' There's not significant growth, there's not significant happenings, and we're forced to follow his friends around instead.

In The Shadow Rising, the Aes Sedai issues feel more like a mystery being unveiled slowly than an issue of significance. This means it feels like it meanders along, and while I assume the payoff will be worth it, I can never be sure with this. Who knows where that payoff will be? This leaves Perrin and his situation at the Two Rivers as the only other piece of significance at that point, and even this story took forever to get moving.

This book is pretty much the single-volume example of everything that's wrong with The Wheel of Time for me up to this point. There isn't enough that's compelling regarding many of the main characters, and the books feel like they're padded with a lot of irrelevance along its way to get to the good parts - good parts that are great once they're happening, but require pain and suffering through the journey to arrive.

I'm not really ready to give up on it just yet. I feel like I've invested...something in this that I should keep rolling for the time being. I just hope that we get to the point where the quality of the whole meets the sum of many of its parts.

And now for something different, Macmillan Audio was kind enough to offer us a sample of the audiobook for The Shadow Rising. If you're looking to catch up/reacquaint yourself with The Wheel of Time, the audiobooks might be your route. You can hear a sample of The Dragon Reborn here, and, if you're interested, purchase the audiobook at your audiobook retailer of choice.

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