Shadowmarch – by Tad Williams
March 24, 2011
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The Shadowmarch "trilogy"
So I finally finished all these books, after writing my review for Shadowplay in January. It was a pretty good series overall, but I don’t think it was as strong as his first big fantasy epic, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. I found that there were a few unresolved story points, and a few repeated themes that took away from the overall story. Like, the story and main purpose for the book could have been advanced more quickly and effectively.
Still, I really liked the overall ideas for the books; they reminded me a lot of some old Forgotten Realms stuff I read ages and ages ago. I’m thinking in particular about the Avatar trilogy; Shadowdale, Tantras and Waterdeep. I’ll have to re-read them to compare the way they used their “supreme beings come to earth” theme.
After it all, I thought the end of the series was pretty satisfying, most people got what they deserved, but I had a few lingering complaints about the books:
- I find “overly girly” stuff to be annoying. By that, I mean too many pages or paragraphs dedicated to talking about the fashion that the characters are getting into and how it makes them look with respect to their peers. I had to stop reading the Wheel of Time series (Robert Jordan) partially because of this. I also hate constant pointless romantic mooning. This is another reason I had to abandon the Wheel of Time. Too many pages taken up with girls getting mad because they think the guys are doing something dishonorable and the guys having no idea what they’re doing because they’re not doing anything at all in the first place. Waste! Fine to have romance, but if it’s there it has to move forward… it can’t just sit in a lump for 3 books worth of reading, and then be continually commented on with a constant “oohhhhh, I dunno how I feel!” It’s like Jr. High and it makes me mad. There were a couple of risky situations like this in the Shadowplay series, but thankfully it was only a paragraph every once in a while. Still, enough to notice and roll my eyes at. Nobody cares if the princess thinks she should love the prince, but can’t help but have eyes for the captain, and then be in denial about it everywhere she goes in every waking moment. Boring! Also, it makes the female characters weaker and the male characters dumber. Like, less plausible?
- There weren’t enough gods and goddesses running around. We saw a couple of demigods, but they didn’t really have much effect until very late, or only in short spurts. I found the storyline between the princess Briony (one of the main characters) and Lisiya the demigoddess to be a little bit unresolved, and unfulfilled. Briony’s brother grew greatly with his relationship to the mystical characters in the book, but she didn’t. Heck, she didn’t even really end up understanding much of it, which I thought could have been played out to make her a lot more important than she ended up being/seeming. The Lisiya arc was a really cool one, and it left me unfulfilled. With “the return of the gods” being such a central theme to the series, I just felt like there should be more of them running around doing nasty and helpful things, depending on their dispositions. Even the god who finally came out to play ended up being kind of a non-event in the end. I think the reader was just plain never well enough acquainted with the various gods to make them care a lot about what they could be capable of, or the fact that the one that appeared was bad and surprising somehow.
- The Autarch’s (who was the main mortal bad guy evil ruler, with designs on becoming a god) assassin was just kind of “there”. He was mean, he got another main-ish character up to the main locale for the series climax, but his role in all of it and how he kind of slunk through it seemed invented or contrived. Look out for the mean scary guy… who never really affected anything but once! I was just kind of annoyed reading about how tough he was, and then watching him wither away to pointless obscurity. His major surprise shocker role was just kind of a let-down. Heck, the assassin’s boss (the Autarch) was also just kind of a loser. While he was being all evil and smug and all-knowing for most of the book, you could tell he was going to get it in the end.
- The connection between the southern slave girl and the prince was not developed enough. I thought it was a much more potentially interesting romance (i.e., in line with high fantasy) than the princess and her captain-mooning. Considering the way it manifested in a fantasy novel, it could have been much more developed.
- The southern king and his concubine (who seemed to be poisoning everyone) was just kind of dropped. There they were… and we’ve left the city with the king’s son so the king no longer matters. The king was supposed to have been an ally, and the concubine was theorized to be an agent of the evil autarch, but none of that ever seemed to get resolved? Did the prince go back and fix his country? Did they catch the concubine and send her back to Xis for the Scotarch to deal with? Nobody knows. Dropped! Politicking in that king’s court was a main purpose of the princess for the better part of one of the books, and it’s sad it was just left at that.
- There were a few other minor ones, which I’m sure were meant to be “surprises” or “shockers” in the plot, but more or less ended up being giving me moments of “really? What was the point of that?” I won’t bother going through all of them.
It’s got to sound like I didn’t enjoy these books after reading that, and it would be false to assume that because I did enjoy them. There was a lot to like about the series, as well:
- I really liked the prince’s storyline. His mad quest through the northern lands, lands where no mortals were really supposed to go, was just great to watch. From the depths of insanity, to despair, to redemption and salvation, to finding a purpose, people, and home. His ascent to both strength and understanding was one of the better parts of the book. Real good fantasy.
- I also really liked the king Olin (the prince’s father) and his storyline. The king was painted as a very patient, very intelligent and calculating guy who just seemed to have a rotten lot drawn for him in life. Poor dude never gave up though, he persevered and never really gave up on himself or his own gumption.
- I liked the overall theme of the books, with a people grown ignorant of the terrifying fantastical past they may have had. Short-lived mortals go through their generations and quickly forget about the immortals who used to walk among them, but the immortals never forget.
- One of the main leaders of the mystical Qar people from the far north was just a plain awesome character. Her bitterness and strength just always made me happy to read about her. Yasammez was just plain awesome. She was sometimes villain, sometimes ally, sometimes unknown, but she was always an excellent character. I found her to be probably the best developed character in the book (i.e., the most background and the deepest personality, though she may have received less screen-time than the other main characters did. In fact, many of the Qar leaders were excellent and likable characters.
- Anything to do with the mystical people (except the elementals, they were just annoying and pointless) was cool. The funderlings, the rooftoppers, the weird and strange creatures north of the shadowline, Chert and his strange adopted human son Flint, the army of Yasammez… I liked all of that stuff quite a bit.
As above, there was a lot more than this to like about the series as well, but I won’t write it here; you should just read the darn books for yourself and make your own conclusions! Now onto some sci-fi or something. Too many swords, not enough robots…