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Shadowmarch: Volume 1    by Tad Williams order for
by Tad Williams
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I was enchanted many years ago by Tad Williams' Tailchaser's Song, which put him on my must read shortlist of fantasy authors. I loved his Memory, Sorrow & Thorn trilogy as well, but somehow missed the Otherland books. And though I enjoyed The War of the Flowers, it was not as much to my taste as Williams' earlier works. Shadowmarch, first in a new series, has fully engaged me once more.

In some ways it's reminiscent of George R. R. Martin's acclaimed Song of Ice and Fire - a northern family, the House of Eddon, rules a contentious kingdom bordering on a perilous land of fairy; they live in the ancient seaside castle of Southmarch, with kingdoms in conflict to the south. But it's only a surface similarity between the two series. Overall, Williams' creation, while having its share of ruthless leaders and battles, is not as dark or as ghoulish as Martin's. In Shadowmarch, the fairy folk (Qar) once lived amongst humans until they were blamed for a devastating plague, slaughtered, and the remnant driven north to desolate, forested lands. There they have stayed for two centuries behind a misty boundary called the Shadowline. Humans who ventured beyond it disappeared or lost their wits.

This tale begins when the blind king of the Qar sends a human child across the Shadowline. He's taken in by old Chert and Opal of the small Funderlings. They name him Flint, and grow to love him. Other non-humans in Southmarch are thick skinned Skimmers, who've adapted to water, and tiny Rooftoppers. The king of the land, Olin Eddon, is being held for ransom by the treacherous Lord Protector of Hierosol. His elder son Kendrick rules in his absence. Twin fifteen-year-olds, Briony and Barrick Eddon, share everything except a secret that the prince has kept since an accident left him with a crippled arm. After a delegation arrives from Hierosol, a treacherous blow leaves Briony and Barrick as co-regents. Competent guard captain Farras Vansen (who's also a dreamer) secretly loves Briony and feels deeply his failure to prevent the disaster, which is quickly blamed on a previously trusted Eddon retainer, Shaso.

But that was only the beginning. The Qar are on the move across the Shadowline, striking towards Southmarch, where betrayal already lurks, waiting the chance to strike. The twins are separated, Barrick journeying in the land of fairy, of which he's dreamed. And it seems that old gods are awakening. In a parallel storyline, on the southern continent, young bee acolyte Qinnitan is suddenly plucked from her peaceful life in the Hive temple in Xis to be a bride of the all-powerful, cruel autarch, the expression in whose eyes daunts her. She's taken into the Seclusion, a kind of harem. A eunuch and a guard captain, who were her childhood friends, choose to help her. Qinnitan and the reader wonder why she was chosen and what the vile concoctions she's forced to drink daily are intended to do.

It's a wonderful beginning to a fantasy series. Williams gives us a well realized world embroiled in war, magic, secrets, and treachery. I especially like the strong female characters (Briony and Qinnitan), each seeking to control her own destiny, and the non-human folk caught up in a war not of their making. I can't wait for the next book in this exciting new epic.

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