In Shadowheart, volume four of Tad William’s Shadowmarch series, Barrick and Briony arrive at Southmarch with their respective armies and take up the fight against the overpowering Autarch whose army is breaking down the castle’s wall bit by bit. Inside, Matti Tinwright is caught spying and forced into Hendon Tolly’s gruesome employ. Unbeknownst to the castle’s inhabitants, Captain Vansen and his Funderling comrades fight in a valiant effort to slow down the Xandians; they can not be allowed to reach the Mysteries before Midsummer. With the end near, both Rooftoppers and Skimmers—until now mainly passive observers of events—join the fray alongside their Qar relatives. Midsummer is drawing near.
Shadowheart is one long, bloated battle that diminishes the actual climax. The final reveals are unsatisfying because they seem unimportant or have been obvious since two books before. Even after the finale itself, Williams goes on with some rather embarrassing explanations which try to make things plausible in hindsight.
The Shadowmarch series as a whole is rather atypical. It has a weak start, strong middle and a weak, outdrawn ending. Williams is a good writer in terms of local suspension; there are great scenes with psychological dramas between Olin and Sulepis, Yasammez is a frightening presence whenever she enters stage, the small Rooftoppers are a delight, and the Funderling defense effort is just a great read. The books are decent in other aspects, too, especially because of Williams’ worldbuilding. He took the Greek pantheon and let things get terribly out of hand. Proposing three different religious views on the godly war and having their believers battle for supremacy is a fascinating idea. Read more »
Shadowrise is volume three of Tad William’s Shadowmarch series. Princess-in-exile Briony Eddon tries to gather support in Hierosol but soon becomes target of nasty gossip and even assassination attempts. Only Prince Eneas, old enemy-turned-ally Dawet and her actor friends support her. In Southmarch, the strained situation escalates: sensing Gyir’s death, Yasammez renews her attack on the castle, both below- and aboveground. Captain Vansen, who ended up in Funderling town by falling through the strange gateway in Jikuyin’s mountain, leads the Funderling defense with more success than expected; the valiant defenders will fall eventually, though, and can only hope to delay the attackers as long as possible.
In besieged Southmarch, Matti Tinwright struggles to keep his Elan safe and hidden while being forced into Brone’s service who desparately tries to find Chaven’s mirror. Other characters continue their travels: Barrick to Qul-na-Qar, Autarch Sulepis—with Olin and Vash in tow—to Southwmarchand Vo with Qinnitan to his master.
Shadowrise turned out to be a real pageturner with very gripping story lines in three levels: plot progress (Vansen, Barrick), politics (Briony) and history “dump” (Olin and Sulepis, Merelonna and Utta, Barrick). Other parts seem to be yet more setup for the final volume. The story takes up momentum and becomes increasingly compelling. Politics do not develop much, but spin a dense net of intrigue and betrayal—who can trust whom? Read more »
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. Read more »
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 MSaT
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. Read more »