Every so often I take a deep breath and immerse myself in what can only be described as Epic Fantasy -- with capital letters.
Yes, the cover does not lie, this is such a book, and yes it has fairies and gods and strange races with odd names that might as well be called dwarves and selkies and borrowers. Yes borrowers, bless him. I loved the borrowers growing up, and these truly perfect little people remind me of their vigeur, sans the overly cutesy angle.
The story begins with the threat of the fairy shadowline moving near the kingdom of Southmarch. The king has been kidnapped, and the world they had been a small part of is now threatened, not only by an evil ruler who believes he is a god, but by an incursion of fairies. Not the nice, sweet ones many people grew up with, but big, nasty, dangerous ones.
A fiesty princess -- yes of course there's a fiesty princess otherwise why would any girl ever pick up such a book? -- is kept pretty busy even as her twin brother is beset by nightmares and unsurprisingly eventually finds himself on the wrong side of the fairy "Shadowline." Notice the Capitals. High Fantasy, after all seems to demand them.
Anyway, I'd love to make this a complete book review with an ending, but it's impossible. The series isn't finished -- and wont be for some time by the look of it -- so I can't help but wonder if I've started this series a little too early, on the positive side Tad Williams is relatively young, so he's unlikely to die before writing the last book -- unlike David Gemmel and Robert Jordan, on the negative side this could turn into another of those, "walking, walking, walking," epics where nothing heappens as the publisher and author take all the money they can. There was a small section in the middle of Shadowplay where I was terrified this was about to happen, enough to make me think it didn't quite get the stronghanded edit it deserved, especially as I was thrown out of the story too often by typographical errors.
Still, I can't help but feel the gandness of this is Tad Williams at his best, at his peak of writing, and he's never been a slouch, the plot so far is strong, always keeping me reading from one chapter to the next. In the end I can only surmise the weaknesses are only those that can be expected in this strange genre where writers aren't thinking in hundred pages, but in thousands. And the strengths are those that can possibly only be appreciated by people who aren't immediately put off fiction because there might be fairies and gods and ... doesn't Shakespeare have such things? --
Anyway if you love fantasy, and just can't get enough, or you want your fantasy-loving teenager to be invisible for several days, this is the series you're looking for. Plenty of blood and gore and violence for the boys - without straying too far into graphic realism, but most of all there is a cast of definite characters, a sense of adventure, and of our protagonists rising to enormous challenges to cope with events that, despite their best efforts, keep spiralling out of control.
Review by Alicia Ponder