Tad Williams: Shadowmarch


Shadowmarch by Tad Williams was a birthday gift back in 2005. I read it, realised it was only the first of at least three volumes and shelved it along with its sequels until recently, when the final volume finally was published. In the meantime, I have read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and hated the ending. Given that Williams has done a similar thing to Shadowmarch as to MSaT1 I have been approaching Shadowmarch with a sceptical attitude. But I digress.

Shadowmarch is seat of house Eddon which reigns over a fair amount of Eion’s north. Its northern border is marked by the Shadowline, stuff of stories and fairytales; behind it, people say, the fairies retreated after they were driven away by human armies. To the south, there are some more kingdoms on the same continent and after that, far away, the continent Xand, ruled by a line of dictators posing as godkings.

In Shadowmarch, Prince Barrick and Princess Briony struggle to keep their heirloom together. Their father abducted by southern rival Hierosol and their older brother brutally murdered, they are forced into roles they are not quite adult enough for. One of their subjects, Funderling Chert, and his wife find a boy near the Shadowline and take him in, but the boy soon shows to be quite weird. Also, they discover that the Shadowline is moving—towards Shadowmarch! In Xis, holy capital of Xand, young acolyte Qinnitan is for mysterious reasons chosen as wife for her godking. One among many, she is not married immediately but put in his harem for months, a place shaped by rivalries of power-thirsty women.

Sadly, this is all that happens for about two thirds of the book. After the initial surge of activity, all plot lines settle in a calm, stretched-out flow. The major lines and individual scenes of the respecive lines are largely disconnected. In other words, there is next to no arc of suspense. I do not mind setup books and mysteries and actually like them a lot if done right2, but the author has to get me thinking. During this book, there is not much reason to assume Qinnitan will ever end up even remotely near the other main characters as her plot has absolutely nothing to do with the others. This changes only on the last fifty-or-so pages. Maybe—hopefully!—I just don’t see it and there are clues so subtle they are only visible in hindsight.

I have to give Williams that he creates a fine world there. We do not get to know much, but there are many mysteries including the Qar that promise more. That is, there certainly is potential yet untapped. Still, Shadowmarch was hard reading for me. After finishing it I had to go back to the X-Wing series for some lighter fare, but now I am up for volume two, Shadowplay. I sure hope we get some movement into story, characters and world then.

  1. Again, he went overboard with volume three, resulting it to be split. Go figure.
  2. There have been voices saying that nothing happens in Way of Kings which I loved.

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