As shadows threaten to consume the kingdom of Southmarch, Barrick Eddon, heir to March throne, battles his way across the sinister Shadowlands. He must journey through this dangerous, inhuman realm to fulfil a pact—as this may be all that can prevent the atrocities of a full-scale war with the Twilight people of Qul-na-Qar.
Meanwhile, the assault upon Southmarch has truly begun. Yasammez, the formidable head of the Qar army, has ordered the attack, believing that the pact between humans and Qar has been broken. Unless Ferras Vansen, Captain of the Southmarch Royal Guard, can convince her otherwise, the humans are sure to meet the dark end that has been promised to them…
Fritti Tailchaser, a young ginger tom cat sets out to stray from his home and clan, the Meeting Wall Clan, in search of his catfriend Hushpad after strange disappearances of the Folk have been reported. He and the kitten Pouncequick set out on a long journey to visit the Court of Harar with the intention of finding out the mystery of the disappearances--a journey that will take them to cat Hell and beyond.
The characters in the four volumes of Tad Williams’s , set in the extremely near future, discover a universe that exists side by side with our own—a fantastical, artificial universe hidden within the worldwide information net. And in that universe there are worlds within worlds within worlds.
That universe is the Otherland network, the creation of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people, an amoral assembly known as the Grail Brotherhood. The Otherland network contains hundreds of virtual worlds, the best that money and top-flight programming can produce. Many are near-perfect recreations of historical eras, others are famous stories such as the books or Tolkien’s brought to life, and some, like the endless House or the cartoon Kitchen, are unique to the network. The magnates of the Grail Brotherhood intend not only to visit these expensive playgrounds, but actually to live in them—to shed their aging bodies and live online forever as the immortal gods of this pocket universe.
However, something about the Otherland network is sending children in the real world into comas. The Grail Brotherhood will go to any lengths to cover this up, including murder, so a group of ordinary people from all parts of the globe are secretly brought together online by a mysterious figure known as Mr. Sellars; their goal is to enter the Otherland network and find out what is happening to the children. But once inside the virtual network, these volunteers make a terrifying discovery: something in the network will not permit their minds to return to their bodies—and not only that, but their real bodies (which are locked in comas now, just like the children they are trying to save) have also become vulnerable to the perils of the virtual worlds. If they are killed in the Otherland network, they will truly die. Thus they find themselves trapped in ultrarealistic worlds full of monsters and madness, one moment fleeing for their lives from one of Lewis Carroll’s jabberwocks, the next besieged inside the walls of Troy or chased across the desert by an angry Egyptian god.
The real mysteries of the system turn out to be even stranger than the mechanism that keeps the explorers trapped there. As these accidental heroes penetrate deeper and deeper into its unexplored places they begin to realize that not only is the network more complex than they had guessed, but there is something alive at the heart of it as well—something with plans of its own.
In the end these ordinary people find themselves the center of the most extraordinary events imaginable, struggling not just against the wealthy, powerful Grail Brotherhood and its hired murderer John Dread, as well as all the bizarre dangers of the virtual worlds, but also against their own fears and failings. The teenager Orlando Gardiner, an invalid with an incurable disease who only feels truly alive when adventuring on the net, battles right up to the moment of his own death to protect his friend Sam Fredericks and the others caught with him in the toils of the Otherland network, and in large part because of him, these ordinary people win an unexpected victory. It has come at a great cost, of course. Orlando and others have given their lives for it.
But in the Otherland network, even death is far from straightforward.
At the uppermost edge of the northern kingdoms, towers shrouded in mist, lies Southmarch Castle. For hundreds of years it has remained hidden from the affairs of empire. Now its isolation can protect it no more. Southmarch is under siege; from both its neighbours, without, and the more insidious enemies who would destroy it from within.
Even further to the north, within the ancient walls of Qul-na-Qar, in a land of silence and gloom, the Twilight People gather to hear Ynnir, the blind king, pronounce the dark fate of human kind. In the south, the Autarch, the god-king who has already conquered an entire continent, now looks to extend his domain once more.
It is upon Southmarch that the armies advance, and to its people that darkness will speed.
Barrick Eddon, prince of Southmarch, is no longer entirely human. He has vowed to safeguard the legacy of the dark Qar race, and must now decide where his loyalties lie.
His twin sister Briony has a difficult choice of her own. Her father, King Olin, is held captive by the Autarch, a mad god-king who plans to use Olin’s blood to gain unlimited power. And the castle of Southmarch still remains in the possession of Hendon Tolly, Briony’s murderous relative. As time runs out, will Briony decide to save her father's kingdom… or her father?
As the foretold Great Defeat draws near, history is stripped of its costume of lies. Poets and players, mortals and fairies, warriors and gods—all will have their roles to play as the fate of the known world hangs in the balance.
Darkness has fallen on the lands of the sun as an army of misshapen fey spill out from beyond the Shadowline. At their head is Yasammez, dark creature of nightmare. A furtive bargain was struck at the gates of Southmarch and the castle was spared, but centuries of enmity will not be so easily appeased. Meanwhile Barrick, heir to Southmarch and cursed with madness, has crossed the Shadowline into the realm of his people’s ancient enemy. There are stranger things than death here - stranger and older.
Much further south, shadow is also falling over the reign of the Autarch, god-king and supreme ruler. Quinnitan, junior wife, must flee the royal household or die, her greatest secret as yet hidden even from herself. Ancient blood flows through her veins and she will become a unique weapon in the fight against her greatest terror.
And beyond the ken of all but a chosen few, the gods are awakening and the world is changing …
Otherland—the private, multidimensional universe created and controlled by The Grail Brotherhood, an organization made up of the world's most powerful and ruthless individuals—was crumbling. The Brotherhood's plans for immortality within the network had been shattered by the monstrous intelligence that ran the network, a presence known only as the Other, and by the even more monstrous human being who called himself John Dread. Seizing control of the network from his employer, Felix Jongleur, Dread had now made himself the god of this virtual universe and was systematically turning the network's worlds into killing grounds.
As helplessly trapped as Renie Sulaweyo, !Xabbu, Sam Fredericks, Martine, Paul Jonas, and the rest of the small band who had entered Otherland in an attempt to save the many children held captive within this virtual reality, Jongleur was now forced to make common cause with his enemies. Yet even as they struggled through the maze of invented worlds, striving to reach the true heart of Otherland, time was growing short.
Caught in the surreal and deadly landscapes of the failing network, the desperate band battled against increasing odds to save the children, solve the bizarre mysteries of Otherland, and escape back to reality.
But before long there might not be a "real" world to return to for any of them. For destroying Jongleur's playground was merely a dress rehearsal for Johnny Dread. Dread's ultimate plan was to gain control of Jongleur's massive corporate holdings and spread apocalyptic destruction throughout the entire Earth. . . .