Tad Williams: Shadowplay


Shadowplay is the second tome in the Shadowmarch series by Tad Williams. Following up on the final of Shadowmarch, all main characters are put in desperate situations they do not know how to deal with: Barrick has been sent into Qar territory by Yasammez, accompanied by Ferras Vansen, who is true to the promise he gave Briony. The Princess herself flees her enemies towards the south, mentored by frail Shaso. Qinnitan arrives in Hierosol and wants to go in hiding there, unknowing that the Autarch has already put one of his deadly hunters on her trail. Below besieged Shadowmarch castle, Chert struggles to keep his family out of trouble which seems to wait for him around every corner.

Olin Eddon, the King in exile, is repeatedly shown but not given a viewpoint yet. He bears his imprisonment with valiant grace while trying to help the Hierosolians prepare for the attack he is sure will come from Xand. There is a lot more going on with several small viewpoints, each contributing a little piece of the puzzle. In particular, we get to know a lot more about the history behind the quarrels between humans and Qar which might in fact date back do an ancient war between the gods themselves.

I liked Shadowplay way better than than its prequel.  It has more coherence; you can feel Williams spinning, not only telling. Probably the best part is the pampered royal twings—especially Briony—having to adapt to fundamentally unroyal situations. They learn in the most brutal ways how protected they have been and how oversimplified their worldviews used to be. This worked great for me because we get into their heads during Shadowmarch, accepting their point of view to be somewhat right.

I also enjoyed a number of new focus characters: via the very interesting viewpoint of the Autarch’s right hand, Pinimmon Vash, we get to know more about the Autarch himself. We furthermore get a few, but telling glimpses at King Olin Eddon through the eyes of several Hierosolian viewpoint characters, especially one cheeky girl taking an interest in the foreign prisoner.

Another big plus is the amount of background information provided, especially regarding religion, myth and Qar society. The fact that Williams sometimes dumps those stories ungracefully disturbs only a little; oftentimes, characters naturally exchange knowledge or belief concerning the gods in an effort to make sense of what happens. Another good thing I dearly missed in MSaT: Williams kills important characters when appropriate. Sadly, though, he does so “off-screen” in at least one prominent case. The only way this can be legit is that the character has not actually died—we will see.

My greatest critism is that there are some impossible saves from hopeless situations that have the unpleasent tinge of deus ex machine to them which I can not explain without spoilering too much. In addition, I felt particularly cheated in the end because the foreshadowed attack on Hierosol’s wall does not happen. Having already read the sequel, I know that it is not told of in the sequel, either; in fact, Hierosol is not on-screen even once. This really left me hanging.

All in all, Shadowplay is a decent second book. It has to remedy some issues of volume one and is therefore a bit slow in taking up momentum, but it clearly prepares the ground for a thrilling and complex climax. Looking forward to part three!

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