So, today I’m going to talk about a series of books, both as one series and individually. The series is Shadowmarch by Tad Williams, one of my favorite authors. A quick bit of background: I’ve been a fan of Tad Williams work every since I discovered his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy in high school. I’ve told this story before on the blog, but I first found about Tad Williams after purchasing The Dragonbone Chair from a bookstore in Atlanta, GA in the (now disused and mostly abandoned, but then thriving) Underground Mall area. The back wall in this bookstore was pure rock, hewn from the ground, and so, even though I don’t always read every Tad Williams novel, I’m still interested when I hear he has a new novel.
I really like Tad Williams’ novels when he writes Epic (or what used to be known as High) Fantasy. Tad’s world building is impressive. I’ve tried to read his Sci-Fi series and his non-epic works (The Otherland books and The War of the Flowers), but none of his non-epic works ever capture me in the same way as his fantasy novels. Basically, Shadowmarch is the story of a war between the humans and the fae, but for reasons that are very hard to decipher–at least initially. While I won’t give a plot synopsis here, I will say that even though I bought everyone of the Shadowmarch novels, I’ve only read them once before, right after their initial publication. That’s unusual for me, as I only buy books (or keep books) that I truly love. I think it is because, after establishing all the major characters and relationships in the first book, they go there separate ways in the subsequent volumes, only to return together in the 4th volume (as a group).
Book 1: Shadowmarch
As mentioned above, this book sets up the world, character, plot, and relationships of the various humans on one side and the fae on the other. It gives us our two main protagonists of the book, Princess Briony and her brother Prince Barrick, and then sets into motion a war that is initiated by the faeries. These are not your traditional fae and are formidable opponents. This is probably my favorite book in the series in that it establishes the most things in the novel. While not small, we get a LOT of world building, characterization, and plot development in this novel.
Book 2: Shadowplay
I remember not particularly caring for this one when I originally read it, and upon rereading it, I think I know why. While it focuses on all the major characters, at the time, I thought the Princess Briony was, by far, the most interesting character, and the places where she wasn’t “on the screen” really dragged. Also, while I don’t hate Prince Barrick, he isn’t a particularly likable character in this chapter of the story (unlike Chapter 1, where he had Briony to balance him out and neutralize some of his rough edges), and since we spend so much time in his POV, or in the Guard Captain Vansen’s POV (who is with him), that we get to see/interact with Barick a LOT, which makes the whole book seem to slow down. I appreciate it more now than I did at the time, but originally, it was really hard to get through Barrick’s sections.
Book 3: Shadowrise
This is where I remember the series really coming into its own when I first read it, and even upon rereading, I still think this. I think the answer is two-fold: 1) we finally start getting some answers in the form of clues, revelations, and hints about the story. While a lot is in mythology, the answers given are like pieces of a puzzle and the more we’re given in this volume, the clearer the overall narrative becomes, and 2) Prince Barrick finally becomes likable. While far from perfect, you can see why he has been such a “jerk” in the past and his demeanor gets heavily tempered in this book. While Briony’s “journey” stops (she no longer advances the plot as she had before), she gets some fairly heavy characterization in the form of serious court “intrigue” that is deadly serious.
Book 4: Shadowheart
This probably my 2nd favorite book in the series. Firstly, because Tad Williams “sticks the landing” with this series. So many authors that I’ve read (and even admire) have books whose endings just fall apart from me. However, this book manages to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion (for me). I do wish the final battle had been a little more involved (I think the “obstruction” sub-plot to keep one of the side characters from enacting his final plan to help take out the ultimate enemy went on too long and could have been shortened), but the battle that was depicted was epic enough and, at 727 pages, the book was already long (having originally been planned as a trilogy, but having to be changed to a 4 book series due to the original size of the third volume), so I can understand that the climatic battle might have been shorter than I might have liked. Also, both Barrick and Briony get to shine in their respective roles. While there is an annoying romantic “triangle” that Briony is involved in, I can say without spoilers that it doesn’t get in the way too much, and adds a bit of depth to Briony’s character–in other words, the author has Briony dwell on it for a paragraph or two, sometimes interweaving through a section, but she’s never on the subject for too long (in my opinion). We finally get answers to our questions and the full tapestry is revealed and I think it is a successful end to the series. I’m glad I bought it, but wish I’d reread it sooner. It is a great series and would make a great story to adapt into live action (series or movie) one of these days.
Are you listening, Hollywood?
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- “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
Finished: Rough Draft (Idea phase)
Next: First Draft (Plot phase)