In Shadowrise, Tad Williams elevated his game to a level we hadn't seen since the final volume of the Otherland series. I was pleasantly surprised and I couldn't wait to read the endgame in Shadowheart.

Here's the blurb:

Thousands of years ago the gods fought and fell in the deeps beneath what is now Southmarch Castle, then were banished into eternal sleep. Now at least one of them is stirring again, dreaming of vengeance against humankind.

Southmarch haunts the dreams of men as well as gods. Royal twins Barrick and Briony Eddon, the heirs of Southmarch’s ruling family, are hurrying back home as well: Barrick now carries the heritage of the immortal Qar inside him, and Briony has a small army at her back and a fiery determination to recover her father’s throne and revenge herself on the usurpers.

The cruel and powerful southern ruler known as the Autarch of Xis wants the power of the gods for his own, a power he can only gain if he conquers Southmarch. And nobody knows what the Qar want, only that the mysterious fairy-folk are prepared to die for it – or to kill every living thing in Southmarch Castle and in all the lands around.

It will come to an apocalyptic conclusion on Midsummer Night, when the spirits of the haunted past and the desperate struggles of the present come together in one great final battle. Many will die. Many more will be transformed out of all recognition, and the world will be forever changed

It's no surprise that the worldbuilding is once more my favorite aspect of this novel. As was the case with its predecessor, mythic resonance permeates Shadowheart, demonstrating yet again how vast in scope and vision the Shadowmarch series truly is. Revelations are made as Williams brings his myriad plotlines together, unveiling a grand tapestry which goes back through the centuries.

Though the principal protagonists understandably take center stage in this final installment, quite a few members of the supporting cast will find themselves in the middle of the action, thus influencing how the tale will play out in the end. This was a nice touch, for it showed that many of the secondary characters were not just filler material from the beginning. Tad Williams has many tricks up his sleeve, so expect a high number of unexpected twists and turns. We were aware that Barrick and Qinnitan were somehow connected, but what the author had in store for them was a real surprise. In terms of character growth, Barrick takes the cake. Though his storyline is not the only one which carries the tale in Shadowheart, he remains at the heart of what is unfolding. After growing on me in Shadowrise, I'm sad to report that I dearly wanted Briony to die in this one. You can't have your cake and eat it too, I guess.

Since this book is the second part of what was supposed to be a single-volume Shadowrise, I was expecting the pace to be akin to that of its predecessor. After all, Shadowrise quickened the rhythm and it appeared that the proverbial shit was about to hit the fan. Surprisingly, Shadowheart starts rather slowly. Not as slow as Shadowmarch and Shadowplay were, but I was puzzled by the fact that this one didn't ride the wave created in the third volume. Still, it doesn't take very long for the storylines to come together around Southmarch Castle, and soon the rhythm is no longer an issue. The endgame itself might not be as great as that of To Green Angel Tower or Sea of Silver Light turned out to be, but the finale should satisfy most SFF readers out there. After quite a few unanticipated twists, the multilayered ending closes the show with a bang.

Had it ended there or soon afterward, Shadowheart would have been as good as or better than Shadowrise. The problem is that the finale is not even close to being the ending of the novel. There follows a 120-page epilogue of sorts which thoroughly kills the momentum of the book. I understand the need to tie up loose ends when the smoke has cleared, but this was overkill. It takes so much away from the great endgame. It probably should have been limited to 20 or 30 pages to settle things between the factions and characters. By dedicating such a vast chunk of the novel to the aftermath of the series, Tad Williams' narrative lost all the awesomeness it had generated along the way.

And it's kind of a shame to end on such a low note, especially when the book hit so many high notes prior to that long epilogue. . . Still, Shadowheart brings the Shadowmarch series to an engrossing end. Don't know if the series could have been structured in a way that would have made both Shadowmarch and Shadowplay as good as the last two installments. But all in all, it's another quality read by one of the masters of epic fantasy writing today.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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4 commentaires:

Adam Whitehead said...

The series-ending epilogue which fails to satisfy seems to be a weakness of Williams. He did the same thing for MS&T which was a big mistake. OTHERLAND didn't have the same issue that I recall, with Williams instead producing a short story (for Robert Silverberg's LEGENDS II) which did much the same thing and worked a lot better as a separate story.

Unknown said...

I don't have any complaints with MS&T's epilogue structure. I greatly enjoyed the post-battle and "one year later" parts of the finale. When I've spent some 2500 pages with these characters, I welcome the long goodbye. Haven't read Shadowheart yet but I'm looking forward to it.

MarcD said...

Tad Williams is an up-and-down author. Otherland was up, this Shadowmarch dreck ws down. Way down.

Anonymous said...

If MS&T came to a better conclusion than this series, I am so glad I've never picked up another Williams book after To Green Angel Tower.

Oh well, just goes to show that everyone's different.