Friday, 30 March 2007
'Shadowplay' - Tad Williams
This year looks to be another good one for fantasy and science fiction. Erikson, Abercrombie, Lynch and Martin have all got books that are either out or in the pipeline. The one that I've been waiting for is Tad Williams' 'Shadowplay'. I've been a big fan ever since I picked up 'The Dragonbone Chair' (way, way back in 1988!) and learnt that fantasy wasn't just cliched 'Dungeons and Dragons' style quests; there were politics that actually affected the story, things really weren't as they seemed and people actually died (and didn't come back!). The 'Otherland' series was just as good but I was always hoping that Tad would go back to Osten Ard and write something there again, the 'Shadowmarch' series isn't set in Osten Ard but it's fantasy so I'm happy.
'Shadowplay' continues directly on from the events of 'Shadowmarch'; Briony and Shaso are in self-imposed exile (trying to gain support in order to win back Southmarch Castle while Barrick and Ferras Vansen travel beyond the Shadowline for reasons they are yet to discover. The pact made, at the end of the first book, keeps the Qar army at the gates of Southmarch but how long will the truce hold? In Hierosol, Quinnitan tries put some distance between her and the evil schemings of the Autarch but she is important to his plans and he will not let her go that easily... Supporting characters, from the first book, also step to the fore (giving the book a more well rounded feel in terms of three dimensional characters). My favourite was the poet Matt Tinwright (who we discover isn't such a rogue after all) and the introduction of King Olin is also handled well, hopefully we'll see much more of him in the next book.
Tad has often been criticised for overplaying the 'worldbuilding' aspect of his books and producing 'bloated' epics that dwell too long on scenery. While 'Shadowplay' doesn't escape entirely unscathed from this, the book benefits from Tad concentrating more on the characters and how the plot develops. The story seems tighter and left me with a keen anticpation for book three (working title of 'Shadowrise').
Perhaps Tad could have paid just a little more attention to his geography though. A particular character's only escape route lies across miles of uninhabited countryside (and she has no food), placing a Goddess in her path (who's only purpose is to help) just comes across as the author having written himself into a tricky spot and taking the easy way out. Next time Tad; just add a couple of crofters cottages, they're always good to steal food from!
Overall though, a couple of fairly minor points didn't stop me wholeheartedly enjoying this read and I'm looking forward to finding out how this one ends.
Eight out of Ten