Sunday, July 3, 2011

Book review: "Shadowrise" by Tad Williams

Interesting, I just noticed that on front cover, then name of the author if larger that the name of the book. This is also true for first two parts. If I was an ignorant buyer (ignorant about Tad Williams and this books, not in general way), I don't think I would buy it. It gives an impression that the publisher is trying to sell the book based more on author's previous fame than on the quality of the book itself. Fortunately, this is not completely true.

I finished reading this book last weekend, but I was quite busy after the vacation, so I didn't have the time to really devote myself to writing its review. Now is Saturday, so I finally can.

This is Tad Williams' third major work. First was "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn" tetralogy (initially planned as trilogy, similarly to "Shadowmarch" series) and I read it. It is a very good epic fantasy series. I wouldn't say it is a masterpiece, but I would recommend it to every fantasy fan because it doesn't have any big flaws, it has an interesting setting and it's a very fun read. Second one is "Otherland" series, something of a cyberpunk or science fiction which I haven't read, although it has good reviews. I actually planed to read it last year, but other things got priority priority, so it lost its place in schedule. Other than that Williams wrote several standalone novels, of which I read only "The War of the Flowers", a very unique fantasy with setting I would compare to China MiƩvile's "Perdido Street Station", although not so good; but good nevertheless.

"Shadowmarch" series, which started with novel with the same name, was return to classic fantasy a la "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn". But it was even more than that. I don't know how much it was on purpose, but if someone else wrote this book, Tad Williams would be able to sue him for plagiary with no problems. We have very similar setting: pseudo-Medieval kingdoms with sever hundred years of more or less unchanging history and technological level, one Church and so on. We have elves that were once on better terms with humans, but now they have retreated behind a barrier. We even have small gnomish people that occasionally interact with humans. Characters are also very similar. Main character in both series is teen boy with red hair living on court. Then there is a friendly court-doctor who privately deals with more mystic forces. Even the plot starts in the same way: unrest and succession after disappearance of king.

But after the same start, "Shadowmarch" starts to diverge. It introduces new elements of setting, new characters; plots takes different turns... When you get to the second book, "Shadowplay", it is a curious combination of known and unknown. All in all, this series is somewhat tough to recommend. There is many better fantasy series out there, with more originality, more tension, better characters and so on. But on the other hand, it is in no way bad, just mediocre. So, if you read haven't read "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn" I would advise you to start there. If you already had and liked it, you can give "Shadowmarch" a chance when you don't have anything better to read. If you didn't like MSaT, don't even try this.

And if you read first two books, "Shadowmarch" and "Shadowplay", I think you will like "Shadowrise" because it was best so far. I am only sorry that I didn't do a reread before reading it. I remembered all the characters in general way, but I forgot some specifics of their circumstances, since I read "Shadowplay" only once.

We have several POVs. Princ Barrick is on a quest in fairyland, although he is not even sure why or what he has to do. He is almost alone (except a raven Skurn), with no weapons or equipment, and he is definitely lost there. All he knows is that he has to bring a mirror elven general Yasammez gave him to elven King, to have a hope of saving humanity. He will not have a nice trip, but at least he will learn more about the reasons fairies attacked his kingdom. He will also find some sources of power that he never dreamed of attaining. His sister, Princess Briony has finally finished her journey and is now safe in the court of neighboring and friendly kingdom of Syan. At least this is what she believes at first; she will learn that she is not so save after all, and that Princess can't afford to have any friend. But she will also find strength to stop being just a victim and to try to do something for her kingdom. Captain Vansen, after sudden parting with Princ Barrick is now in Funderling Town under Shadowmarch castle. Together with Chert Blue-Quartz, doctor Chaven and other Funderlings he will try to defend the Funderling Town and Shadowmarch from underground invasion of Quars. He will also find a chance for at least temporary truce, only if he succeeds meeting with Quar General. Above them, in Shadowmarch castle, poet Matt Tinwright is have much smaller aspirations: he is trying to survive between serving regent Hendon Tolly, taking care of his missing mistress Elan and spying for former minister Avin Brone.  On the other side of the world, but slowly traveling to Shadowmarch, we will follow Pinimmon Vash, a Prime-Minister to Autarch Sulepis of Xis. Although having almost infinite power, he is like a fly to his Emperor, a living god. Even more, Pinimmon, minister to several Autarch before, will learn that the current one in nothing like his predecessors. He will also learn that he can't understand King Olin, who travels as prisoner toward his kingdom, where he will be used as mean for some unknown purpose. Somewhere behind them is young Qinnitan, abducted by mysterious Vo, who is bringing her to Autarch. But Qinnitan will do everything to escape for this fate.

In this book don't expect any sudden changes in style, setting or atmosphere compared to previous books. But expect a nice reading in familiar circumstances. There are not any boring parts. Plot develops naturally, and even though is sometimes predictable, it still introduces enough surprises to be interesting. We have everything: an important journey, court politics, religion and magic mix, history, occasional comical scenes... Characters behave in believable ways and still develop. Most interesting part to me was gradual revelations of this world's history and mythology, especially how it was seen from different races.

In the end, best thing to say about "Shadowrise" that is was very fun to read. I recommend it to all who read first two parts and liked it; they won't be disappointed.

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