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Juggling Feast: ‘Shadowheart’ by Tad Williams

December 16, 2010

I keep planning to write more book-review-ish things for this blog. As it is, though, this is only the third so far, and it is little more than a continuation of one I’ve written in back in spring.

I believe I’ve managed to keep it spoiler-free, so feel free to read it even if you haven’t read ‘Shadowheart’. Though some of my metaphors probably won’t make sense… not that they necessarily will even if you’ve read the book…

In March, I greedily devoured ‘Shadowrise’ by Tad Williams as soon as it was published. Even if I did my best to read it slowly, with all the ceremony that ‘feast books’ deserve, in the armchair with hot chocolate and no distractions, there came a point where I could not stop reading when I had to leave that place. When I had to read, read, read wherever I was, which included a broken-down train and a cold, snowy platform.

Oddly, I wasn’t so greedy this time. It took me a couple of days until I even made it to a bookshop that carried English books, and I hadn’t bothered to re-read all the earlier books in the series. I didn’t bother with ceremony so much, either, reading anywhere from the bathtub to the bus, but I read slowly, savouring each page. This is something I always vow I will do when I read a book I know will be good, but I never do. I’ll read slowly, I’ll make it last, I’ll enjoy every bit of it. And every time, there comes a point at which I must know the ending, and I must know it now , and I gobble up those last couple of chapters like a starving woman.

The last book of a series is always particularly difficult. The characters, who I’ve known for so long, have become old friends, and when that one book is over, I have to let them go forever. I didn’t even like them so much when I read the first book all those years ago, but they’ve grown on me. I think I may even have another one of these embarrassing crushes on fictional characters.

So reading this last book, and particularly the last chapters of this last book, was a balance act between ‘Must read! Must read! Will they die? What will happen?’ and ‘Nooo, only 200 pages left! I want to have more!’ The latter sentiment won out this time – for the first time ever, which is a sign of how much I’ve grown to like the characters and the world – and it took me several days to finish ‘Shadowheart’.

I’ll repeat what I said in March – it’s a ‘Feast Book’, with every course and ingredient you could wish for in a Fantasy series, and it’s an amazing juggling act. ‘Half a dozen balls, a couple of knives and burning torches’, was my comparison for all the characters with all their hidden agendas, all the different strands of the story. And not only does Tad manage not to drop a single one of these diverse objects, and to put them down neatly at the end – too neatly, some have complained, but I for one like a neat and happy end. If I want messy, unhappy endings, I’ll look at real life.

And not just that. It’s not just bringing together all those characters and storylines and resolving all the conflicts he’s been building up for thousands of pages in a ‘logical’ way. No, he managed to surprise me, too, with a twist that, in hindsight, he has been building up to, but so subtly that I, for one, wouldn’t have been able to guess. To return to the juggling metaphor, what I – and probably others, too – thought was an orange was actually an apple all along (and I so wanted that ‘orange’, too! *pouts*), but what I thought was only a harmless butter knife was actually a wickedly sharp dagger that a number of balls got speared on in the end.

Another thing I’ll repeat from the ‘Shadowrise’ post, because it’s still true now that we know the end: The lack of an outright ‘villain’ is a big, big plus. The ‘X is evil and must be destroyed’ formula is getting so old.

Admittedly, ‘Shadowheart’ does have someone who might fit that formula, but there are also always other people who are ‘evil and must be destroyed’, too – except that this whole ‘good or evil’ thing is confusing, since what someone is depends on your point of view. And that may change.

The one thing I have a little issue with is the ‘dessert’, the sprinkling of romance over all the tangled wars. ‘Shadowheart’ follows the ‘rules’ in that regard, bringing together who readers expected to get together, if not exactly in the way we hoped for. Personally, I like the way it’s been resolved, but what I don’t like is the build-up. The switch from ‘I hate you!’ to, ‘no, actually, I love you!’ was a bit too abrupt for my liking, though that’s actually a problem of the earlier books, and not so much of ‘Shadowheart’ itself.

Still, like I said, I like the way it’s been resolved, so I try to focus on that. And on the many, many things about the book that I like. And try not to miss my ‘friends’ too much. It’s always such a disorientating feeling, leaving a story-world… after days spent in Eion, in the company of Briony, Barrick, Qinnitan, Vansen, Chert and countless other wonderful people, it feels strange to return to the real world, unable to return to them and find out what else they’re up to now.

And now… *impatiently tapping fingers*… now, Tad, hurry up with ‘Sleeping Late On Judgement Day’. (Just kidding. Take your time and write us another great book. I can write 50,000 words of crap in a month, but a Tad-size, Tad-quality book would take me a lifetime at least. Possibly two.)

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