Shadowrise (and past books)

I seem to always have the same reaction to Tad Williams‘ novels: (a) very excited by the first volume which sets an exciting universe and a good collection of characters, invariably including a pair of teenagers and compelling secondary characters from other races, (b) mildly disappointed by the second volume which gets bogged into an imaginary or mythical realm and a dispersion of the characters all over the (real) universe, (c) more strongly disappointed by the third volume which also invariably turns into two volumes because the author cannot keep up with the multiplication of subplots and characters… Although this has been quite a while ago, I still remember the pleasure of getting immersed into the DragonBone Chair, before some of the heroes vanished for another volume into an ethereal and unappealing Elven kingdom… Then the disappointment when reading the two last novels, first in the unnecessary length and second because the main characters did not gain in stature through the volumes, leading to a lukewarm ending of the series solved by an unconvincing deus ex machina plot device…

The Shadowmarch “trilogy” stands better the test of time/length than Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, but not that much! I still find the lengthy incursions into an(other) ethereal realm where anything can happen outside the “reality constraint” a strain on the story. While I do not mind a temporary suspension of disbelief, whole parts of a volume in vaguely defined universes (or otherlands to borrow from another of Williams’ series I have not read) is too much for my taste! Still, I  must acknowledge that the Shadowmarch series has more backbone, thanks to the major characters Briony and Barrick. In the third volume, those characters achieve a larger and more convincing stature, either by political maturing for Briony or by magical transformation for Barrick (who has at last stopped his perpetual whining!)… There are striking similarities in the plot with the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, in particular the threat from the Northern races and the young stereotyped princess (Miramele/Briony) feeling helpless to defend her case. But the plot is nonetheless deeper and more satisfying [/complex in the positive sense] with enemies (the Qars) turning into victims and another enemy, the aurach of Xis, slowly emerging. (There are also similarities with Jones’ Book of Words, including the partial deterioration of the plot—or rather the lesser attractivity of some of the major chracters—along volumes, but I do not want to get into this.) I am thus most likely going to read the final volume in the series, Shadowheart, which is already published.

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