Shadowplay – Tad Williams

About the Book

A year ago, the March Kingdoms were at peace, and the Eddon family held the throne. Now the family has been shattered. King Olin Eddon is a prisoner in a faraway land, and Olin’s heir Kendrick is dead–slain by treachery and dark, bloody magic.

With their father and brother taken from them, the royal twins Barrick and Briony have done their best to hold the kingdom together, but now Barrick has been captured in a failed war against the immortal Twilight People and Briony has been forced to flee.

Behind the Shadowline, Prince Barrick is lost and spellbound in the land of the fairies, while Princess Briony finds both allies and deadly enemies in unexpected places far from the land of her birth.

During their desperate journeys the twins discover that even a land’s rulers may know little of its true history, and that both families and nations can hide dark and terrible secrets.

But even if Barrick and Briony survive learning the astonishing truths at the heart of their own family and of Southmarch itself, they must still find a way to do the impossible: they must reclaim their kingdom and rescue their home and people from a multitude of powerful enemies–from traitors, tyrants, a god-king, and even the angry gods themselves.

656 pages (hardcover)
Published on March 6, 2007
Published by DAW
Author’s webpage

I have a really freaking hard time reading Tad Williams books, not because they are bad or because I don’t like how Williams writes, but because I tend to love his books so much that I really don’t ever want them to end. What’s the best way to never let a book end? Don’t start it in the first place. Just sit there and look at it for years and years….

Yeah, I don’t get my logic either.

I have made it exactly halfway through Shadowplay twice before. Two times I have tried to read this book and then decided that reading the book meant that I’d have to finish reading it and I just didn’t want to do that. Last weekend I made my routine weekend binge trip to the library, and this book was sitting on the shelf. I decided it was time to put my big girl pants on and finish the damn thing. I devoured it, finishing it in two days flat and now I’m about a third of the way through the next book in the series.

Shadowplay starts off directly after the events in Shadowmarch. As with most epic fantasy, there are numerous perspectives, and they are spread all over the map involved in their own various struggles and dramas. In fact, one thing that Williams really excels at with this series is that each character’s own conflicts are just as interesting as the main conflict.

Much of Shadowplay is spent on the move with characters traveling from one location to another, trying to blend into this or that foreign culture. One thing that this book has going for it is that all of the main characters and perspectives have been introduced. With the introductions done with, readers can really sit back and enjoy the character evolution that happens when people like princesses are forced to travel across vast swaths of land with no protection and no comforts.

And yes, a lot of the book is dealing with people on the move and that can lose the attention of readers, but Williams makes the travel interesting. He spends a lot of time introducing readers to various cultures, and in a lot of ways he makes cultures that don’t really seem sympathetic on the surface, just that – sympathetic. Shadowplay seems like a warmup. All the players are moving and situating themselves for something big, and in the process the reader is getting a lot of information that they really, really need.

Barrick and Briony are separated, and their separation is quite fascinating in a number of ways. Their personalities are so dependent on their twin link that they seem like a weird homogenization of one person rather than two. Being thrust apart, and lacking any contact or any real knowledge of each other really forces them both out of the annoying and entitled royalty that they appeared to be in the previous book. In fact, many of the characters evolve and change into something new and different in this book.

Barrick and Vansen go through some pretty serious stuff, and while their two cohorts they meet along the way to said adventure were less than appealing at first, it was really interesting to see these two characters who are so uncomfortable in their world, their roles, their relationship to each other, learn to work together and in some ways come to grips and grow in leaps and bounds (in numerous ways) from who they started out as.

And, when its said and done, that’s probably what I liked about this book the most. Shadowplay is long, and it very much feels like the bridge from the starting point to the ending. Everything is being set up, and the pieces of the game are moving. Things are being revealed slowly, and there are parts of the evolving storyline that I still am not perfectly clear on.

But I know Tad Williams will see me through it. Why? Because he always does.

Shadowplay isn’t the strongest book in the series, and I can see why it might cause some readers to ho-hum about it. There is a lot of travel, and it is obviously a bridge to other things, but it does highlight was Williams does so well and it really illustrates why he is one of my favorite authors.

No one can evolve a character quite like Williams. The characters he creates are so very real that readers can feel the emotional struggles they all go through as they are forced to face uncomfortable parts of themselves, and it makes it all feel so rewarding for the reader. Furthermore, Williams has this uncanny way of dropping key pieces of information in very subtle ways, and his plots are so intricately woven together. Everything is merging. It’s starting to become apparent where connections are that weren’t obvious before, how ties and relationships span nations and landscapes, and how the will of one person can truly change the world.

Shadowplay shows what Williams is so damn good at – characters, complexities, and writing a hell of an addicting story for readers.

 

4/5 stars

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