Shadowheart by Tad Williams

DAW, Hardcover
December 2010


So, the fourth book in Tad Williams Shadowmarch trilogy has published, where to begin this review? Right, fourth book of a trilogy is what you see in the first sentence of this review.  You see, Tad writes very large novels and as he draws to the end of the stories, the books get longer, as was the case with these.  Rather than trim his story beyond a level of comfort, he and the publishers decided it best to publish the last book in the trilogy as two novels a few months apart.  I’ll immediately say this was a wise decision, as it allowed Mr. Williams to tell his story uncompromised, and allow the readers not have to wait overly long to read the results.

Enough preamble. Before Williams picks up the story directly after the events of Shadowrise, he provides readers with some insight into the main villain of the story – Sulepis, the Autarch of Xis, the self-made god who is looking to take over Southmarch and from there, the entire world. Following from that, he thrusts the reader back into the conflicts of the world – Briony Eddon, with the aid of Prince Eanas, attempting to re-secure her family’s good name and the throne of Southmarch; Hendon Tolly’s spiraling dive into insanity; the fallout from Barrick’s acceptance of his dual heritage; the battle beneath Southmarch between the Ferras Vansen led forces of the Funderlings (with some help from the even more diminutive Rooftoppers and Skimmers) against the invading army of the Autarch, King Olin’s last attempts to find a sliver of redemption in the face of his crazed enemy Sulepsis; the fractured ideologies of the Qar as they hold on to their civilization; Chert the funderling’s personal quest for his people, and all good people’s salvation; and the mysterious heritage and identity of Chert’s adopted boy Flint.

Clearly, Mr. Williams has a lot of elements coming together as this series concludes. Looking at those plot threads, it could easily seem as if too much is going on for one writer to handle. Tad Williams is more than capable of handling so many threads, and even more importantly, of expertly weaving them together tightly into an exciting narrative.

The much-awaited reunion of the Eddon twins was played very well considering the separate journeys taken by Briony and Barrick prior to their reunion. It could have gone down a very predictable route, but Williams plays it very well based on the foundation of the character development through which he put them both leading up to their meeting.  Barrick’s more direct lineage to the Eddon heritage profoundly affects the outcome of their meeting.

I was also very charmed by the revelations presented by the character Flint.  There were some parallels between the young boy adopted by the funderlings Chert and Opal Blue Quartz and Barrick, but Flint proved to be an important character who held mythic resonance of his own.

The character who emerged as one of my favorites was the captain who fell through the world, Ferras Vansen. The man trudged through godforsaken portions of the world with a dazed prince in earlier volumes before falling through a chasm and finding himself in the underground world if the Funderlings. In many respects he fits the duty-bound honorable knight, despite not being a knight, with some similarities to the Arthurian knight Gawain. His loyalty to the royal family is unquestioned and he is quite admired by a certain Eddon Princess.

The tension and narrative pull was strong throughout the whole novel, but was particularly powerful as Sulepis’s plan came to fruition.  It didn’t quite occur the way the mad Autarch had hoped, but it provided for some epic and potentially world-shattering scenery.

This entire saga started out with great promise, albeit a bit slowly as is often the case with Tad Williams’s epics.  What that does is provide for a solid foundation for which Tad can throw his story and play with the gods he creates, give the true Epic sense to his character’s journeys they richly deserve, and allow a true sense of world changing events to be felt within his narrative. Each character gets an emotional spotlight, through either the scenes in which they appear, or through the reflections of other characters. My only minor problem was the predictable nature of one (or two) character’s final resolutions. 

Although the story is fully complete, the world is rich and expansive.  Be it the pre-history of the events in the novel, or the future of this world, Mr. Williams has left himself the opportunity to return for more stories.  Either way, the Shadowmarch four-book trilogy is an extremely enjoyable reading experience and one, with all the great debuts over the past couple of years, and fantasy series coming to a close, deserves more recognition.

Highly recommended.

© 2011 Rob H. Bedford

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