Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Shadowmarch

Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a somewhat turbulent relationship with [a:Tad Williams|6587|Tad Williams|].

[b:Tailchaser's Song|23340|Tailchaser's Song|Tad Williams||1514441] was really good. Some of his short stories are among the best I've ever read - and I'm not really a fan of the short story format.

[b:Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn|91981|The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #1)|Tad Williams||840191] started out as a fine, if somewhat stock-standard, epic fantasy. The first two 700-page books had great settings and characters, but dragged on a bit. Then he turned the 3rd volume into 2 thousand-page monsters, and all I could think all the way through them was "if an editor pared this down to 700 pages it would lose _nothing_."

[b:City of Golden Shadow|28695|City of Golden Shadow (Otherland, #1)|Tad Williams||1570074] was a fantastic first book in a series - really amazing. The next two were pretty mediocre; well-written, but ultimately travelogue-fantasy without any plot. Characters just stumbled from interesting locale to interesting locale and ended up right back where they started from. The last book is one of the worst I've ever read. I was literally shouting out loud in the street when I read the climax, it was that bad. Deus Ex Machina meets the skillful plot-twistings of Independence Day bad. I wrote Tad Williams a letter just to tell him it was that bad - something I have never done to another author in my long life full of books.

This should establish that I'm not a Williams fanboy. So when I say that _this_ series (yes, I did come here to write about Shadowmarch... eventually) is really very good, I'm not just saying that.

Williams establishes an interesting, detailed, and believable world. He populates it with characters we care about. He crafts a deep and novel mythology that the story spirals around, but introduces us to it piecemeal instead of lecturing to us about it like so many fantasy authors feel entitled to do. Kupilas and the Qar are great bits of original twists on the idea of the Fey.

My one gripe is that the pacing bogs down a fair bit in the middle two books - he could still use an editor more willing to wield the knife - but I found it slow, not actually boring. Its done in the style of most fantasy these days (which I think of as Game of Thrones-ey, despite the fact that its been around for far longer than that) wherein multiple characters follow multiple plotlines, and our viewpoint skips back and forth between them. The problem is, it often felt like Williams really didn't have anything to add to one thread or another, he just felt the need to pop back over and give us a dozen pages about them so we wouldn't forget them, while they marked time and waited for everyone else to catch up in the overarching story.

Oh, and call me old and jaded, but I'm a bit over the "destined star-crossed lovers" bit. Its only a side-story in this, and by no means ruins the main tale, but it kind of dominates the epilogue - which of course means I just read it, so you get to listen to me winge. If you (think you) have dreamed about someone you have never really met, and then you sacrifice the apparently-still-sentient spirits of the last generation of a dying race just to steal her most of the way back from death so you can cart her comatose body round with you? That does not make you romantic. It makes you a freaky stalker pervert. (And no, I don't care that the voices in your head say she's consenting. Pervert.)

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