High Fantasy ✓ Slow Storytelling ✓ Strong Emotions ✓
Far to the north, the towers in thick fog, looms the huge, labyrinthine Southmark’s stronghold. No one knows its age, and for centuries it was all but forgotten. But now its lonely location on the border of the eerie realm of the twilight dwellers can no longer protect it. Southmark is threatened.
Armies are gathering in the misty world of the twilight zone in the north as well as in the realm of the power-obsessed autarch in the south. And their destination is Southmark’s stronghold, where the young royal twins, with their father languishing in captivity far away, must take over the affairs of government; where Ferras Vansen, Captain of the Royal Guard, is consumed in a passion of which those he is charged with protecting are unaware; where Chaven, who possesses secret knowledge from the Old Days, guards a magical mirror; and where the Funderling Chert finds a child – a child whose destiny is to lead him into the deepest heart of the Twilight Realm …
Williams depicts political intrigue, assassinations, murders, wars, perfidy, friendship and bonding with apparent enemies, courage even in seemingly cowardly people, strength of character, kindness and love, error, naivety, experience and learning. Everything as you would expect from Tad Williams. He created a huge world down to the smallest detail. Dozens of characters cross your path and you think you have known and loved them for years. In my opinion, his narrative style is unrivalled in this genre. Everything seems to flow and even banal things captivate the reader. He plays with emotions like a star pianist on the piano.
The world of the book is a classic fantasy world, enriched by many classic races, which nevertheless have their own touch. Tad Williams’ world-building in this novel once again goes far beyond what is currently common in the fantasy genre. And the fact that Shadowmarch offers us only a small glimpse into an impressive new universe makes me curious about the next volumes! We meet the Funderlings – that is the dwarves. Of course, the elves should not be missing either. And the elves seem more epic than ever before, because this time they are not only the pointy-eared super-beings who shimmer with wisdom and profundity, but they seem to be more on the dark side of the powers. The Qar, the People of Twilight, are now pushing beyond the Shadowline to reclaim their lost lands. Then there are the Dachlings, which is something unique, and of course the humans. And this world stands out because of the mystical and threatening feeling that is given to us by the Shadow Boundary. Thus, this epic seems darker and more adult, like his epic work of Memory, Sorrow & Thorn.
Not only does this book have a dark setting or atmosphere, but the whole plot seems dark and mysterious. There are so many secrets woven into the story that at first you don’t know where these stories might lead. Even if you are already a reader and lover of Tad Williams, you know that his stories need a lot of time before they really start and so it was here too, where you only get little hints and you have to wait a long time before you know what is really happening here. But I love this way of slowly building up the plot and gradually getting more answers. As the worldbuilding suggests, Shadowmarch is a massive story of magic, intrigue, terror, sacrifice and war. And even though there is not so much action in the first volume, every page is exciting as gradually the secrets are uncovered, but which again raises more questions, which undeniably creates interest in the sequels. I created, discarded or shelved many theories while reading. Whether some of them will come true remains to be seen, but it has been a long time since a fantasy novel has captivated me as much as Shadowmarch.
The characterisations, always one of the author’s strengths, are brilliant. Williams is always a master at building characters and he has done it again in this series. We want to know more about Shaso, the Master at Arms of Southmarch, Captain Vansen, the God-Emperor Sulepis, the Autarch of Xand, Qinnitan, a seemingly ordinary girl chosen to become one of the Autarch’s wives, Chaven, the mysterious doctor, Yasammez, the Scourge of the Shivering Plains, the strange, nameless boy found by the Funderlings beyond the Shadow Boundary, the orphaned girl named Willow and so many more. We also want to know about the two dominant main characters Briony and Barrick. It is obvious that there is much more to both of them than meets the eye, especially with Barrick’s strange curse. The way both characters think, interact with others, talk, seems like true sibling love (or sometimes hate :D) to me. And yet, initially, my highlight was Chert the Funderling, who quickly grew on me with his dry manner. Despite the fact that there are so many storylines, each character has a unique way of being and so you can follow many different trains of thought.
Each country and its inhabitants are described in an atmospherically dense way, so that I got the feeling of smelling and feeling the climate. Of course, Tad Williams once again manages, through his outstanding writing skills, to create a feeling that this world is real and that you live in it yourself. I had a particularly haunting experience of the land of the Quar. When I was there and met the almost translucent creatures, I sometimes felt shivers run down my spine, but at the same time I felt the sad melancholy that their ruler Ynnir, the blind king, radiated, almost moving me to tears. The land itself exuded a disturbing and creepy atmosphere, no wonder people who strayed there went mad.