Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shadowplay (Tad Williams)

(The Shadowmarch series, Book 2)
Tad Williams
Fiction, Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Dark forces work to reshape the world of the Living. Outside the northern castle of Southmarch, the army of the faerie Qar camps amid the deserted city, their seige halted under an ancient truce... for now. Within the castle walls, the reign of the Eddons is over in all but name; though a baby heir to the kidnapped King Olin lives, the castle is under the harsh stewardship of the ambitious Tolly clan, who already maneuver to make their occupation of the northern throne more permanent. But without an Eddon as king, Southmarch and its people - the humans, the burrowing Funderlings, the seagoing Skimmers, even the secretive Rooftoppers - may be in greater danger than any could possibly imagine... dangers the short-sighted, infighting Tollys cannot possibly foresee, let alone counter.
Olin's elder children, the twins Briony and Barrick, have been torn away from Southmarch by the currents sweeping across the land, thought by many to be dead. Brooding Barrick, plagued by dreams of flame and shadow, travels north beyond the Shadowline into the eternal twilight of the Qar realms, on a mission he himself hardly understands. Briony, meanwhile, having narrowly escaped assassination, travels with the Eddon's former armsmaster Shaso far to the south. She hopes to rally support for her family among the other human kingdoms, perhaps even with the bandit-king of Heirosol (abductor of Olin), but just staying alive beyond the rarified world of castle nobility takes far more effort than she could have anticipated.
As the northlands fall into discord and ruin, the fanatical forces of the god-king Sulepis begin to stir on the southern continent of Xand, ever eager to expand their empire. The divided land lies ripe for invasion... but even the Qar armies and the autarch's invasion fleets may only be a part of a much greater threat to the world, a threat that has the gods themselves stirring in their ancient slumber.

REVIEW: The first volume, Shadowmarch (reviewed previously on this blog, here), while enjoyable, read like many epic fantasies. A troubled royal family, power plays among the nobility, inhuman enemies, ancient buried secrets... A nicely realized world and interesting characters, but still nothing truly distinctive. Shadowplay steps beyond the average fantasy, taking its world in some interesting new directions. As before, Williams tells the tale through numerous narrators, each with a unique voice, place, and perspective on the greater tale. Also as before, a couple of the narrators irritated me more than the others, but even those who seemed superfluous in the first volume find themselves involved in far more than they bargained for in this book. The world itself grows sharper and more fully realized, most especially the interwoven myths and theologies of the various cultures. Williams indulges in more "sightseeing" in this book, one of his trademarks, but enough was happening overall that I didn't mind. I noticed several minor yet annoying editing errors, which came close to costing it a half-star, but by the end I was enjoying the tale too much. Hopefully, I can track down Book 3 soon... though it'll still be a wait before Book 4 is available in paperback.
Dang it...

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