Well, I have mixed feelings. I pulled this from the library shelf based on the author and the promise of non-human characters in a medieval setting. High Fantasy. I remember that several years ago I enjoyed Williams’ 3-book series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
Shadowmarch is the first in the 4 book Shadowmarch series. It begins to setup the invasion by the Qar (faerie folk) into the human lands, with all the required heroes. The invasion has just begun in the last chapters, the heroes are losing and many have been forced to run.
The Qar are fearsome, deadly, and very much alien creatures. In history, they were persecuted by the humans and chased into restricted northern lands where they surrounded themselves with a protective magic fence of mist and shadow. They want their lands back. The secondary threat is the insane and powerful ruler of a rival kingdom. Real problems with this ruler are obviously pending.
The heroes are the Shadowmarch castle defenders, including a teen-aged female regent (Briony), her dream-tormented and unstable twin brother (Barrick), a mysterious scientist (OK, probably a wizard) plus assorted nobles and soldiers. Political intrigue abounds in the castle. Nobody can be trusted. By the end of the book, Briony is being spirited away into hiding from traitorous courtiers.
A side story involves Funderlings (aka Dwarves – stonemasons according to stereotype) and some small pixies called Rooftoppers who live in the city around the castle, and a mysterious artifact. The side story will at some point loop into the invasion defense but at this stage in the story it is parallel. Of course, the Rooftoppers are clearly friendly Qar who have lived among humans unseen.
This book alone is over 600 hardcover pages. It opens with a dragon hunt – usually a good sign – but in the end it was around 200 pages too long and didn’t progress the plot enough for me to be really engaged. While I like the idea of the female hero, Briony is whiny, weak, and unworthy. Clearly the intention is to mature her as the series continues, but as of now I don’t really much care.
I finished Shadowmarch, and overall it was allright. But it is telling that it took me around 10 days, a long time given I was on vacation with more leisure time than usual. I am not going to go out of my way to get my hands on book 2 and another 600 long pages.
Note that I have also read the first Otherland book from Tad Williams. That verged more into what I consider SciFi, with a virtual world adventure. I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t continue with the series. However, I have also tried other books with similar concepts, and didn’t enjoy them either. The idea is just not for me. Didn’t really like The Matrix either.