REVIEW: Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

Shadowmarch is a slow-burning fantasy epic with fine world-building, interesting characters, and large amounts of political intrigue. It is mostly the groundwork that is set here of what I don’t doubt will be a phenomenal series. Introducing the players, the factions, the warring nations, and a potential threat from the fabled Qar, the Twilight People.

It’s a traditional high fantasy series that will appeal to fans of Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy, John Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen, and Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea Trilogy. The Qar are similar to The Others from A Song of Ice and Fire. Whereas White Walkers dwell behind The Wall, The Twilight People reside behind the Shadowline. Humanity pushed them back to The Twilight Lands yet after hundreds of years the Qar have decided that they wish for their lands in Eion back. The closest of which is Southmarch.

“Most dreadful of all, as she lay with her shivering children on the cold ground just outside the murdered town, she could hear the destroyers of everything she had, and they were singing. Their voices were painfully lovely. Darkness claimed her then, but only for a while.

33410883. sy475 The action in Shadowmarch mainly takes place in, or around Southmarch. The main characters we follow are the Royal twins Barrick and Briony. Their father, King Olin, has been kidnapped and taken to Hierosol and we follow how the twins behave, live and change during his absence. Barrick has a crippled arm and has morbid dreams where shadows haunt his residence. Briony is a young Princess who doesn’t wish to be treated like most the other girls, and has to learn how to cope in a man’s court where murder, deceit, and betrayal is often the order of the day. These were my two favourite viewpoints. Even in this first entry of the series they develop a fair amount whilst having the fate of Southmarch weighing on their shoulders.

Other point of view perspectives in Southmarch are those of Captain Ferras Vansen, the poet Matty Timwright, and the funderling Chert. Funderlings are this world’s equivalent of dwarves and Chert’s tale was one of my favourites to follow. Towards the beginning he finds a young child abandoned, only just on the human side of the Shadowline, and takes him in as his foster son. The child is extremely mysterious but likeable, and there is no doubt that he is extremely important to the overall narrative.

“‘But he came . . . he came from . . .’ Chert looked at the boy, who was sucking his fingers and examining the landscape. He lowered his voice. ‘He came from the other side.’”

The other main character that we follow is Qinnitan who is a Sister of the Hive. This is a religious organisation in Great Xis. Xis is ruled by the Autarch – the God-King – and he chooses Qinnitan as one of his wives. The Autarch is power-mad and has been invading the southern regions of Eoin with an intended aim of taking over the entire land. Qinnitan’s was the perspective I found least interesting and slightly dull but it gives us an insight into Xis which is completely unlike Southmarch. The conclusion of her tale here was actually pretty exciting and sets her story up to be really interesting in the forthcoming releases.

Unlike the White Walkers in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Twilight People here are presented through a point of view perspective of one of them. Here we have Yasammez – The Scourge of the Shivering Plain – a superpowerful, fairy-like hater of humans who wields a legendary sword.

Shadowmarch slowly builds up this epic and extremely detailed world. It isn’t really action-focused at this point. The novel had intriguing moments though such as when Vansen gets lost behind the Shadowline, the Wyvern hunt, and uncertainty regarding what happened in Prince Regent Kendrick’s room. When reading Shadowmarch I kept overanalysing who the twins can trust and also which of the two mighty threats of Southmarch will materialise first, when, and will they be prepared/ able to cope at all? The ending was fulfilling and was great to see how things wrapped up in this first series entry. At the finale, at least four of the characters make/ are forced to make life-altering choices. I am so intrigued to see where this series will go next with Shadowplay. This novel is so deep and enthralling that, with the horrors currently happening all around us with coronavirus, it was great to immerse myself and escape to this world. Although it’s not a five-star read, Shadowmarch is still an impressive first chapter in what may become one of my favourite fantasy series. I can’t wait to find out more about what is hidden behind the Shadowline.

In my reviews for the Shadowmarch series, I have used parts of the amazing German covers for the featured images. You can see the full covers and read more about them on Tad Williams’ website article Shadowmarch in Germany.

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James Tivendale

James reviews fantasy books, is a pretty good pool player and likes the musical Hamilton.