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.