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Friday, March 30, 2007

"Shadowplay" by Tad Williams

Official Tad Williams Website

Shadowplay”, the second volume in the Shadowmarch trilogy, is the latest offering from Tad Williams, probably best known for his Otherland fantasy saga, but also is the author of the Memory, Sorrow & Thorn series as well as various SF/fantasy standalones, short stories, and most recently comic books (Aquaman, The Next). For me, while Tad Williams is a name mentioned prominently in the fantasy world, the Shadowmarch trilogy is my first endeavor into his works, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t all that impressed…at least, not with his new saga’s opening chapter.

On the surface, Volume 1 of Shadowmarch has all the makings of a fully realized epic fantasy: maps, appendix, a rich background history, excerpts (Book of Regret, The Book of the Trigon, Revelations of Nushash) to preface each chapter, a huge cast of characters, races, locales, gods, goddesses and much more to bring the world of Shadowmarch to life. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more involved in making a great fantasy and I felt that “Shadowmarch” was sorely lacking in some areas. First and foremost, the overall story is clichéd, uninspiring and predictable. Sure, some plotlines are interesting to follow like Quinnitan’s arc in the kingdom of Xis or Chert’s fun adventures, not to mention the concept behind the Shadowline/Shadowlands which offers something a bit different, but for the most part “Shadowmarch” is a boring, overly trite affair, particularly the scenes involving the court intrigues set in Southmarch. To make matters worse, the characters are very formulaic – for example you have royal twins, a captain of the guard who longs for something beyond his station, a physician who dabbles in the mystical and a poet among others not counting such fantasy tropes as Funderlings (basically dwarves), Rooftoppers (tiny people), and Qar (fairy folk) just to name a few. Fortunately, some of the narratives are engaging like the aforementioned Quinnitan and Chert Blue Quartz, and to some extent Matthias Tinwright or Captain Vansen, but then you have Princess Briony & Prince Barrick who were two of the most annoying & whiny characters that I’ve read in some time. While I understand that their particular personalities are part of their nature and integral to the overall story, it doesn’t prevent them from being irritating.

Overall, “Shadowmarch” was a difficult read for me. While parts of it were entertaining, I had to force myself to finish the book, and by the time I had, I wasn’t sure that I was going to continue reading the series…but I did.

And thankfully “Shadowplay” was a much more enjoyable read for me. For starters, the second volume in the Shadowmarch trilogy improves in almost every area over its predecessor most noticeably with a story that is much more engaging, complex and vaster in scope. After all where “Shadowmarch” was merely a long-winded set-up piece introducing us to characters & places and establishing history & plotlines, “Shadowplay” is an incessant build-up of action, suspense and drama that picks up immediately from the cliff-hanger events of “Shadowmarch” and continues on until its own exciting unresolved ending. Sure, there are still fantasy clichés and foreseeable plot twists that plague the book, but not nearly to the extent that “Shadowmarch” suffered from. Plus, the characters this time around are much more fun to follow. Prince Barrick, though still whiny at times, has, along with Ferras Vansen, probably the most fascinating storylines in the entire book with their journeys through the Twilight Lands, which is where we really get to see Tad Williams’ imagination soar. Even Princess Briony is entertaining to read, though I felt that her arc was still probably the weakest and most hackneyed. I was disappointed that both Chert and Quinnitan played lesser roles this time around, but new viewpoints of fresh (Pelaya, Daikonas Vo) and familiar faces (Sister Utta, Pinimmon Vash) helped to offset that while developing a couple of interesting supporting characters (the imprisoned King Olin Eddon, Sulepis the Autarch of Xis). Matt Tinwright’s narrative seemed to be the most irrelevant, but every character, no matter how big or small, plays an important part in the overall story, which should come to fruition in the final chapter of Shadowmarch. Of course, no matter the improvements in story or characterization, “Shadowplay” would not work if not for Tad Williams’ skills as a writer, which had not been entirely evident to me in his novel “Shadowmarch”. With “Shadowplay”, I felt that the book does a much better job of showcasing Mr. Williams’ adeptness at world-building, establishing lore, managing numerous plotlines/subplots and creating suspenseful situations for his characters, all of which helped to make “Shadowplay” a much more pleasurable reading experience.

So what started out initially as hesitancy in continuing a series that had failed to impress me, turned out to be a surprisingly fun adventure and I’m happy that I persevered to read “Shadowplay”. While I would never place Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch trilogy alongside the likes of George R. R. Martin or Steven Erikson, it has been a worthwhile read that I look forward to completing…

2 comments:

Swaroop George said...

Really good blog...

Keep up the good work..

Regards,
www.agloco.com/r/BBCJ4798

Robert said...

Thanks for the compliments. I hope you'll keep coming back...

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