Somewhere early in his writing career Tad Williams lost the ability to write a trilogy in less than 4 parts.
The excellent 'Memory, Sorrow & Thorn' saw it's final book divide into two. It was none the worse for it though which is more than can be said of 'Otherland', three outstanding works of fantasy & fiction undone by a truly disappointing weak fourth & final episode.
So it was with some nervousness I read in the forward to the 3rd of the Shadowmarch books that once again Mr.Williams had overdone it & was headed for a fourth volume to close out this series.
There was some consolation in the fact that 'Shadowrise' was as well written as the previous two but when 'Shadowheart' was delivered from Amazon I felt we were all doomed when I saw the sheer size of it. 700 pages! Surely an editor has fallen asleep somewhere or Tad has simply overdone it and lost the plot?
There is so much story still to be told that we join the tale after a major event has happened that isn't even told in detail. The scale of the Autarch's plans are so monumental and threaten every living creature to such an extent that, incredibly, the humans of South march and the Qar have joined forces to face this terrifying enemy.
Hendon Tolly gambles against the Autarch and finds himself outplayed. Unfortunately the poet Tinwright cannot escape his clutches and looks doomed. Briony makes her, oh so slow, way back to her home as does her Father alongside,(albeit as prisoner), the Autarch.
Barrick has taken on the memories of the Qar men and struggles with his newly acquired knowledge & with being something a little more than human.
Below the castle humans & fairies work uncomfortably & mistrustingly together in a desperate attempt to avoid disaster but they are up against enemies who want to release the gods, some in the suicidal thought they can control them and others to simply annihilate every living thing.
All fears for this final instalment were misplaced and although it is hardly a quickly browsed book it certainly goes by faster than you think. The level of detail simply helps populate and create the fantasy even more and although sometimes you wonder if they are all going to finally get on with it they do and it's well worth the wait.
With so many characters and such a vast amount going on even this huge tome was never going to conclude everyones tale as fully as you would like. Nonetheless this is about as good as it can be without falling into a fifth and frankly disastrous concluding book.
This has been a huge world that could easily be returned to and a whole new storyline created. Whole cities are sometimes merely hinted at as are countries and characters whose stories would be worth the hearing.
It is only fitting that this does not end with everything happy and where you would wish and it is, for me anyway, Tad Williams ability to make fantasy beings seem real & believable that make this series so worthwhile. The Funderlings are superbly written in this final episode, Sulepis is genuinely horrid and Briony realistic in her being torn as to what to do and how to react with the people she meets.
Add to the realism the mounting sense of tension, unexpected twists and characters changing sides and the whole saga is finished in a stylish and ultimately satisfying manner.
Obviously if you've not read any of the previous episodes then 'Shadowmarch' is the place to start. Don't worry if the idea of fantasy novels puts you off. This avoids the 'Mage apprentice dragon taming wizard slayer' style being churned out endlessly. The story is gripping and well written and the characters well rounded and interesting.
If you've read the first three then I guess you don't need me to tell you to go for it with 'Shadowheart'. It's as good an ending as you could hope for and taken as a whole is unlikely to disappoint.
Great to see Tad Williams back on form with a saga to rival his own 'Memory, sorrow & thorn' series.
It has been an exciting few years and this has been well worth reading making this a series easy to recommend and one to which I'll no doubt return to read once again in the future.