Very often I am faced with a question that, at one time or another, every Wheel of Time fan has to answer: “Which is your favorite WoT book?” That, or its close cousin, “Which do you think is the best WoT book?” And like so many other die-hard fans will tell you, I just can’t decide.
Sometimes I tell people that I love The Great Hunt the best for its frantic pace, streamlined narrative, and amazing climax. Other times I love The Fires of Heaven, where we get a nice big dose of political intrigue mixed with some of the best action sequences in the series. And sometimes I’ve even been known to give a very Robert Jordan-like response and say that my favorite WoT novel is the one I’m reading right now.
So when Tor invited me to announce the release of one of their ebook novels, I decided I would introduce The Shadow Rising. I chose it in part because one of my fondest memories of Robert Jordan involved this book. Wanna hear it? Well, settle in kids, and have a listen.
In 2005, Robert Jordan attended ComicCon in San Diego. I was there as well, having taken a 9-hour road trip with my friends to attend. RJ had just finished taking part on a panel of science-fiction and fantasy authors. The room hosting the panel had standing room only—which is status quo these days for ComicCon, but back in 2005 there was still hope for getting a seat somewhere. The cause of the crowded room on this occasion was undoubtedly Jordan’s attendance.
When it was over, the head table was swarmed by people wanting to talk to RJ or get their books signed. He somehow managed to get away, only to be cornered again by fans in the hallway just outside the panel room. Being the good little fan-organizer and volunteer escort I was that weekend, I lined everyone up and got a folding chair for RJ to sit on. (Harriet was there too, btw, but she was able to hover incognito nearby; a Talent she has lost since becoming the Amyrlin of Bandersnatch) RJ stayed there for about 30 minutes, and I’d estimate that he signed about 50 books, also taking the time to answer questions.
Now, by that point, I had been running Dragonmount.com for close to 8 years. Like many fans, I’d read every interview, heard every theory, and memorized all of RJ’s standard answers to questions he was most frequently asked. But that day, in a random hallway at ComicCon, I heard him answer one particular question in a way I hadn’t heard before. A fan asked him the Age-Old question: Which do you think is your best book? I heard the fan ask the question, and was just beginning to tune out the standard Whatever-One-I’m-Currently-Working-On response, when instead he gave it careful consideration and replied with the following. (minor spoilers!) “There is a sequence of chapters in The Shadow Rising where Rand enters a range of glass columns and sees the history of the Aiel through the eyes of his ancestors. This is the sequence I am most proud of.”
If you, like me, had heard all the answers Robert Jordan gave either before or after, you’ll recall that he didn’t often point out individual chapters or events like this as being special or meaningful to him. Recently, on The Gathering Storm book tour, we received reports on Dragonmount that Harriet told some fans these chapters were her favorites. Perhaps she said that because he had said the same. Or perhaps, just as likely, he knew she loved it, and therefore he was exceptionally proud of it. That was how they worked, I think. She had that effect on him. “The light of her eyes is my Light”, he dedicated to her in The Fires of Heaven. It would not surprise me if he gave that answer for her benefit.
Another reason that memory stands out for me so vividly is because I remember thinking to myself “Yes! That’s my favorite sequence too!” And it’s true. Not just for me, but for many fans other as well: Tor.com’s own Leigh Butler said of these chapters (in her own endearing way): “[They’re] frickin’ gorgeous, is what it is, y’all.” and Brandon Sanderson said “The best part of this book for me, hands down, were the scenes where Rand gets to experience the history of the Aiel and the Traveling People.”
(Now really come the spoilers!)
But even beyond those two chapters, The Shadow Rising is full of some of the other “Bests” in the series. This is, in my opinion, the book in which Perrin shines the brightest. His homecoming to the Two Rivers, and his subsequent efforts to save it from the Trollocs and Whitecloaks are incredible and stand out as some of the best chapters in the series. Not to mention his battle-hunts against Slayer in the Wolf Dream. This is the book where Mat goes through the twisted-stone ter’angreal. Twice. This is the book where Rand takes out hundreds of Trollocs in a single moment using Callandor. This is where Rand tries—and more importantly, fails—to bring a little girl back to life. Where he mutually breaks up with Egwene in one chapter and snogs Elayne the next. Where Egwene begins to train as a Wise One. Where Aviendha finally becomes a major character. Where Mat acquires his ashandarei and the memories of other people’s past lives. Where Nynaeve finds the “sad bracelets” and faces off against Moghedien for the first time. Where we are taken to the Aiel Waste and see the amazing culture of people who call it home. Where we get our first hints of the power of the Choeden Kal—before we even know that they were called that. And, of course, this is the book where the White Tower is split, and a few lone survivors somehow manage to escape the city….
In just about every single online poll I’ve ever seen that asks this Age-Old question, “Which is your favorite WoT book?”, the clear winner amongst fans is The Shadow Rising. It represents Robert Jordan in his finest form; where he’s hit his stride, and where The Wheel of Time changed from being just an up-and-coming series into the finest saga of fantasy literature that decade would serve up. This book was, in other words, where the books went from being good, to being incredible.
Tor has gone to great efforts to bring us this book—and the rest of the series—in the electronic format. Irene Gallo is assembling a dream team of artists to compose original cover paintings for each book in the series. Sam Weber’s cover for The Shadow Rising (shown above), has arguably been the most well received of the bunch so far—and that’s saying something considering the company it’s in.
So if you haven’t done so recently, consider giving this book another go. Grab that old paperback, or—better yet—download it from one of the various vendors offering it for sale. In this new format you can read it on your phone or iPod while you’re on the bus, or kick back by your fireplace with a laptop on your…well, lap. Take a moment to recall how much The Wheel of Time moved you. How it grabbed hold of you and refused to let go. Because chances are, this book played a key role in you falling in love with the series.
Now tell us, what did you think of The Shadow Rising? And what’s your answer to the Age-Old question?
Jason Denzel is the founder and webmaster of Dragonmount.com, the largest Wheel of Time fan site on the Internet. Since 1998 he has been an influential part of the WoT community, and has been a consultant on dozens of WoT-related projects including the New Spring graphic novels and the upcoming film adaptation of The Eye of the World. Last year Jason was the Toastmaster of the first annual JordanCon convention, where he orchestrated a 40-minute “summary” of the series for the convention’s Opening Ceremonies. He owns every single card from the Wheel of Time Collectable Card Game, and he has seen the name of Asmodean’s killer written in Korean…sorta.