The tetralogy consists of four books: Shadowmarch, Shadowplay, Shadowrise and Shadowheart. The story starts in Kingdom Southmarch (called Shadowmarch, due to the close border to the land of faerie). The kingdom is ruled by the king Olin Eddon who has been kidnapped and kept hostage. His three children (Kendrick, Barrick and Briony) are trying to free their father and secure the throne. An incident, trivial at first sight (merchant caravan has been attacked by strange forces) sets a sequence of strange events in motion. A group of soldiers, sent to investigate the accident, disappears in the mysterious shadow which divides the lands of faerie from those of men.
In the first book (Shadowmarch) Tad Williams describes the members of the House of Eddons, intrigues of the nobles at court, political disturbances in other parts of Eion. He also introduces us to Barrick and Briony Eddon, the royal twins. These two young people are very different in character: Briony values independence and freedom, she is hot-tempered and impulsive. Barrick is silent and cautious, weighted down by his crippled arm and haunted by strange dreams. However, they are looking for challenges in their changing world: despite his injury, Barrick volunteers to investigate the incident with the caravan, while Briony remains in Southmarch in order to find out who murdered her elder brother Kendrick. In the year to come, their lives will be changed forever by many adventures and hardships. It is exciting to follow the story, trying to find out what destinies have been prepared for brother and sister.
The fantasy world of Shadowmarch is another important characteristic which can leave no one unimpressed. You will see many races, co-existing together: Skimmers (fish-like people) and Rooftoppers (similar to lilliput), the Qar (“fairies”) and Funderlings (little people, similar to dwarves), Xis and Tuani… To each other they are more acquaintances than friends, yet they all fear common enemy (the Autarch of Xis). Tad Williams unites all races for one great cause in the final battle (Shadowheart, fourth book).
The adventurous story in the fantasy world is swirling in the mysteries. The Qar (fairie people) of all shapes and forms are the biggest and most impressive mysteries of the books – they are clearly not from this world, considering their culture and spiritual skills. From the beginning, you might be overwhelmed with questions: who are the Qar and why do they hate men? What is Shadow-Mantle and why is it spreading over the world? Why have the gods become so indifferent to people? Book by book, you will find the answers; much patience is required, because not all the mysteries can be explained. It is exciting not only to follow lives of the main characters but also see how fate or gods may change the upcoming events.
All in all, in Shadowmarch you will find all elements of a good fantasy: adventures, battles, intrigues, mysteries and mythology, as well as some romantic and family scenes (after all, it can’t always be about war!) As soon as I have finished reading, I caught myself on missing Barrick and Briony, as well as some other characters. The story Tad Williams has brought to life remains in one’s heart forever.