Wow!!! Two different posts in a day!;-) Don't count on this happening too often! I just don't have the time to do that. . .
In order to offer a book review which is a bit more up-to-date, following Coe's trilogy I elected to read Shadowmarch, Tad Williams' latest novel. It marks the beginning of a new fantasy trilogy, his first in about a decade. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is one of my favourite series of all time, and his scifi/technological series Otherland captivated me as well. So I was more than eager to start this book. Expectations were high, I must admit. But given the quality of his previous works, that's as it should be.
The odd thing, however, is that there is absolutely no buzz pertaining to this novel. And based on the fact that Tad Williams is a New York Times bestselling author, that is weird indeed. I always keep track of national fantasy bestsellers on the Locus Magazine website. Strangely enough, I could not find a trace of Shadowmarch. It's almost as if it had not yet been released. . .
Okay, so if you've read anything by Williams, you are aware that everything he does is always vast in scope and in details. Shadowmarch is no exception to that rule.:-)
Tad Williams' worldbuilding in this novel is again above and beyond what is currently the norm in the fantasy genre. And the fact that Shadowmarch offers us only a glimpse of what appears to be an impressive new universe makes me eager to read the next two installments!
As was the case with his other series, Williams starts rather slowly once again. But where the novel is lacking in action, it certainly packs a powerful punch in other respects. I got the feeling that Shadowmarch is one big introduction. And in Tad Williams' style everything appears to be secrets buried under riddles wrapped in mysteries.:-)
The characterizations, which are always one of the author's strong points, are at times brilliant and at times lacking. That was a disappointment, I must admit. Williams is always a master at building up characters. He obviously has a lot more in store for us in the future volumes of the series. Indeed, we want to know more about Shaso, the master of arms of Southmarch; Captain Vansen; The God-Emperor Sulepis, Autarch of Xand; Qinnitan, a seemingly ordinary girl chosen to become one of the Autarch's wives; Chaven, the mysterious physician; Yasammez, Scourge of the Shivering Plain; the strange, nameless boy found just beyond the Shadowline by the Funderlings; the orphaned girl named Willow; the potboy Gil; and so many more.
But as I mentioned, at times the chracterizations are lacking. With the Funderlings, Chert and Opal and their brethren, Williams made several attempts at humor, which somehow wasn't really à propos. In some instances, it even kills the momentum of the book. But my biggest disappointment lies in the chracterization of the twins, Briony and Barrick. It's obvious that there is a lot more to both than meets the eye, especially with Barrick's strange curse. But the way both characters think, interact with others, talk, etc; none of it rings true. In a way, it's as if their scenes were written by another author.
The other major shortcoming of Shadowmarch is all the politicking that takes place. Williams is much better than most writers in certain aspects of writing fantasy. Political intrigues, however, is not one of them. And since a large part of the novel hinges precisely on that, it's a bit of a setback. Not everyone can do it like George R. R. Martin or Katherine Kurtz, after all.
But enough about the negative. There are a lot of positive things about this novel, which keeps you turning those pages. Much like the Sithi in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, the Twilight People are not your typical happy-go-lucky elves. Somehow, Williams is the only writer who can bring the darker nature of the fairy folk in such a fashion.
Williams caps it all off with a very good ending that answers few questions. But it raises many more, which creates undeniable interest for the sequels. As the cover blurb indicates, Shadowmarch is a vast tale of magic, intrigue, terror, sacrifice and war.
And with the Qar, the Twilight People, now reaching beyond the Shadowline to reclaim their lost lands; with the Autarch of Xand looking to expand his vast empire to the north; with the king of Southmarch imprisoned in Hierosol, victim of betrayal; with Yasammez poised to destroy humankind; with a conspiracy attempting to kill the Eddon family, rulers of Southmarch Castle; with Qinnitan destined to become the mother of the Autarch's heir; with Prince Barrick plagued by a strange curse that will take him beyond; with all that and more, there is a lot to like about Shadowmarch.
The positive outweighs the negative by far. Anyway, this series will have to be judged as a whole, not just by its opening chapter.
Regardless of its shortcomings, I am convinced that Williams' fans will enjoy this new novel. They are used to the fact that he is a slow starter, even if the end promises a lot more to come. However, I am not certain that newcomers will get into this one as much. Hence, I would recommend that they read Williams' previous works before tackling this book. It would be a shame for them to base their opinion of such a good writer on the premise of Shadowmarch alone.
The final verdict: 7/10