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Shadowmarch
Tad Williams
DAW, 656 pages


Art: Michael Whelan
Shadowmarch
Tad Williams
Tad Williams is the bestselling author of Tailchaser's Song and the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. He is co-founder of an interactive television company, and is currently writing comic books and film and television scripts as well as novels.

Tad Williams Website
Tad Williams Other Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The War of the Flowers
SF Site Review: Sea of Silver Light
SF Site Interview: Tad Williams
SF Site Review: Otherland, Vol. 3: Mountain of Black Glass
SF Site Review:Otherland Vol. 2: River of Blue Fire
SF Site Review:Otherland Vol. 1: City of Golden Shadow
Tad Williams' Shadowmarch
Tad Williams Fan Page
Interview with Tad Williams

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

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After a departure to successfully delve science fiction (Otherland) and urban fantasy (War of the Flowers), Tad Williams returns to epic high fantasy with a strong opening. Set in a realm where the country is divided between the politically fractured and medieval Eion, the monolithic, despotic theocracy of Xand, and the exiled Twilight Lands of faerie, Williams has constructed a stage rife with political intrigue, conflict, mystery and, of course, romantic possibilities. And despite the usual cast of conventions and borrowings, he has mined old material very well, creating his own imprimatur and quickly establishing why he is recognized as one of the better writers of this genre.

After a bit of history, the novel opens in Southmarch, one of several kingdoms that borders The Shadowline, a vaporous and magical barrier dividing the lands of men from faerie. At one time the March Kingdoms were part of the faerie realm, but men drove them into the cold and icy north, where they have remained unseen for hundreds of years, hidden behind a foggy shroud from which few return, and if so, mad. In recent years the castle city of Southmarch has known relative peace, aside from the occasional squabble with its human neighbors, and the three children of King Olin have grown up in the calm of prosperity. But elsewhere in Eion the southern kingdoms are troubled by strife and usurpers, and a new autarch in Xand has ruthlessly consolidated his rule and begun to look north. To meet this challenge, King Olin travels to the southern city-states to urge an alliance, only to be betrayed into the hands of the bandit ruler of Hiersol, where he is held for ransom. Thus the regency of his kingdom has temporarily fallen to his oldest son, Kendrick, supported by his younger twin siblings, Barrick and Briony. But the country is unsettled by Olin's absence: powerful courtiers vie to take advantage of the king's absence and an unwanted proposal is presented to secure release of the king. Additionally, strange creatures have been sighted along The Shadowline, and there is evidence that the denizens of faerie, after generations, may again be stirring, seeking a return to their ancestral lands. And when Kendrick is found mysteriously murdered in his bed, suspicion is cast in all directions, and the twins suddenly find themselves placed in a role for which they, and the nation, are unprepared.

The author deftly directs his large cast of characters and multiple storylines into a stew of intrigue, conflict and misdirection, tracking plenty of ploys, hints and divergent plotlines sure to tantalize many. And in the process several strong and sympathetic characters emerge, as well as an intriguing supporting cast, many of whose roles remain a mystery by novel's end. While there are many others that aspire to this, few accomplish it as well as Williams.

This is not to say some will not be bothered by similarities between this work and the typical conventions so often burdening high fantasy. As already implied, this is another war between fairies and men, a thematic constant in all of William's fantasies, as well as the work of many others. Dwarves are only thinly disguised as Funderlings, and the debatable depiction of desert peoples as despotic, monolithic, evil foes, begun by Tolkien and thoughtlessly mimicked by so many that have followed, seems particularly unfortunate at the present time, especially when borrowing so blatantly, as is common practice, from Islamic culture. And although the dwarves here are for the most part free of the burlesque qualities that have typified some other work, this caricature is instead replaced by the rather prosaically identified and miniature Rooftoppers.

There is little question this narrative follows a formula that by now is familiar to most readers of high fantasy, however well written or constructed. Nevertheless, Williams is far more imaginative and skilled than most, spinning a wealth of new approaches to a central story that, elsewhere, has long circled itself. As this is a genre that in large part defines and restricts itself through reiteration, that any reinvention occurs at all, as happens here, is what is most to be marveled at.

Copyright © 2005 William Thompson

In addition to the SF Site, William Thompson's reviews have appeared in Interzone, Revolution Science Fiction and Locus Online. He also has worked as a freelance editor for PS Publishing, editing The Healthy Dead and Grandma Matchie, by Steven Erikson, and Night of Knives, by Cameron Esslemont. He lives in Mesilla, New Mexico.


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