The plot of Shadowmarch is rather complex, but the basics of the story are simple. Three groups vie for time in the main storyline. First and foremost are the lands of Southmarch, ruled for many generations by the Eddon family. Directly to their north are the lands of the Q’ar. The Q’ar are the fairy folk, long ago driven out of the southern regions by humans. The Q’ar have not let the many years soften their bitterness and hatred of humans. The third group involved in the story inhabit the desert kingdom of Xis to the far south, and they are ruled by the not so nice god-king Autarch. The fairies want their land back, and the southern-based god-king wants everything. The Eddons and the people of Southmarch simply want to survive. The narrative flows back and forth mainly between these three locations, telling the story from the perspective of several individuals in each of the three geographic areas.
Shadowmarch is essentially one ginormous prologue. It is in this book that you become intimately familiar with all the major players in the Shadowmarch series. It is a very entertaining read despite the fact that its main purpose is to set you up for the remaining books. My summary does not do the complexities of the plot justice. There is so much going on that I would have to write a book of equal size just to explain it all to you. Don’t run away just yet, it’s not as bad as it sounds! Tad Williams is amazingly adept at weaving complex stories in a digestible manner. I ran away from huge epic fantasies because I was growing weary of books filled with overly complex family lineages and violently tragic storylines. Shadowmarch has been my antidote, and has renewed an excitement for long epic fantasy that I thought I’d lost some time ago.
Shadowmarch has a large number of major characters. Some get more time than others, but in general the attention is spread fairly evenly among them. The most prominent characters are the Eddon twins, Briony and Barrack. A large portion of the book is spent with those two and their dealings in and around Southmarch castle. The next in line would probably be Chert the Funderling. Funderlings are a dwarflike people who are the miners and stone craftsmen of Southmarch. Chert’s story centers on a strange boy he finds near the northern border close to the lands of the Q’ar. Chert is probably my favorite character. He is funny, intelligent, and kind, and his stone-themed curses never failed to make me chuckle. The characters I just mentioned are only the Southmarch cast. There are also the fairies of Q’ar and the Autarch’s people in Xis, who provide the left and right to Southmarch’s center stage.
I’m very glad I decided to tackle this seemingly daunting series. I have not read any of Tad’s other works, but if they are anything like this, then I just increased my TBR pile exponentially. I listened to Shadowmarch on audio CD by Brilliance Audio. Shadowmarch is narrated by Dick Hill, and he is nothing short of brilliant. Mr. Hill is one of those voice actors who act their parts rather than simply read them. I was enthralled with his performance. I actually own the print version and have never read it, but when Brilliance sent me the audio version I could no longer ignore it. I will continue to choose the audio version over the print version for Shadowmarch.