Select one of the keywords
Shadowheart: Volume Four of Shadowmarch    by Tad Williams order for
by Tad Williams
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I was enthralled by the first in this series, Shadowmarch, but somehow missed (and intend to catch up on) the next two episodes, Shadowplay and Shadowrise. Now Tad Williams, one of today's top fantasy writers, brings us the conclusion to this outstanding series, Shadowheart. The saga surrounds a northern family, the House of Eddon, rulers of a contentious kingdom bordering on a perilous land of fairy; they live in the ancient seaside castle of Southmarch. The fairy folk (Qar) once lived amongst humans before they were driven north to desolate, forested lands behind a misty boundary called the Shadowline.

I was delighted to see this massive volume begin with summaries of the previous three books (and wish more long fantasy series did the same!) In earlier episodes, Southmarch's King Olin was held for ransom and ultimately handed over to the mad southern god-king, the Autarch of Xis, who had also imprisoned brave young temple novice Qinnitan - she continues to suffer regular captures and escapes throughout the saga. Dwarfish Funderlings (who live beneath Southmarch) adopted a mysterious human child, Flint, from the far side of the Shadowline. And Olin's eldest son Kendrick was murdered, leaving twins Briony and Barrick to rule.

Barrick led an expedition against the Qar, accompanied by royal guard captain Ferras Vansen, who had long loved Briony. They ended up in adventures beyond the Shadowline. Barrick and Qinnitan shared dreams. Hendon Tolly staged a coup, which Briony escaped with help from Skimmers (water-people). Briony traveled south with theatrical players and won the help of a smitten Prince Eneas of Syan. He and his Temple Dogs returned north with her. Barrick reached the royal court of the fairies, where he accepted the Fireflower, 'the wisdom of all the kings of the Qar.' Ferras Vansen returned to Southmarch where he led the Funderling defense against the Qar.

As Shadowheart begins, two deadly - and equally daunting - enemy armies close in on Southmarch Castle. The autarch plans to sacrifice Olin (who has Qar royal blood) to gain power over a sleeping god. And immortal Lady Yasammez (herself the daughter of a god) leads the Qar against the castle, intent on vengeance for ancient wrongs against her family. All players gradually converge on Southmarch. Barrick is on the verge of madness after 'the painful gift of the Fireflower' allows him to awaken Qar Queen Saqri. Ferras Vansen orchestrates a truce with Lady Yasammez. She agrees to join forces against the autarch, and passes the Seal of War to Saqri. But Elementals hold the Fever Egg - broken, it will result in genocide.

Ultimately, heroes from all races (humans, Funderlings, Skimmers, Rooftoppers and all forms of Qar) fight and sacrifice together in what seems from the beginning a hopeless cause, as the Autarch descends into the deeps to perform his vile sacrifices. All seems lost more than once, and the end of the world certain. After all, how can mere mortals defeat a god? This is an enthralling epic fantasy set in a world designed by a master architect of the genre and filled with battles and betrayals, friendship, romance, and a strong sense of wonder. I hope that Tad Williams plans to spin Shadowheart's few loose threads into a brand new series in this same world. All four volumes of Shadowmarch are must reads for any fan of high fantasy.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Fantasy books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews