Tad Williams original idea was a trilogy, but as it happened before, trying to tie all his loose ends together, and realizing that there was much more to the story than he first anticipated, this current series would need to be told in four volumes. True, when his first series was published, the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, it was in three volumes, but book three was so large (over a 1,000 pages in hardcover), that when it was released in paperback, it had to be divided into two. Williams admits in a note at the beginning of the hardcover version of this volume that his distrust of planning meant it became inevitable that he could not wrap up all of the threads in just three books.
So, in many ways, Shadowrise is part one of the two-part finale. And at well over 550 pages, one could see why Williams thought he needed to split the series this way. And, from my point of view, there was little I could see he could’ve cut.
Like all fantasy novels, this third volume continues to follow Briony, Barrick and their father King Olin and others in various stages of separation from each other: Barrick is lost behind the Shadowline with only the talking raven Skurn for company, and who seems to finally be leaving all that self-pity behind and embracing his destiny, I guess. Briony is facing courtly intrigue as she continues to find allies to relieve her besieged home. Then there is Ferras Vansen, delivered back to the Funderling town below Southmarch Castle, who, along with Chertz and the other Funderlings, must counter the subterranean incursions of the Qar. The enigmatic boy Flint, whose behavior grows ever-stranger; the increasingly erratic Autarch of Xis, who is coming ever closer to Southmarch on a mission only he understands; his unwilling wife Qinnitan, on the run, and many other characters besides.
While all this is going on, we learn much more about the Gods, and see how everything is beginning to fit together. And Williams spends just enough time with each character before changing perspective and easily moves the story forward. His tales are always complex, yet never boring. His World Building technics are always logical and his characters move with a reality little seen in this genre anymore.