Most of Tad William's fans out there know him from the acclaimed Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. A trilogy & change series, (the 3rd book was split into two for the paperback edition) MST was a fantasy adventure in the spirit of Lord of the Rings. This time around however, William's has gone for a change, basing his new series of books in mankinds future, a world of computers and virtual reality.
The premise of Otherland is intriguing. A group of Earth's richest people, namely the Grail Brotherhood, is seeking a way to live forever. Their answer, to create an realistic virtual reality network to exist in. Their plan however, is mysteriously stealing Earth's children.
Rene Sulaweyo, a University teacher, is drawn into the conspiracy as her younger brother fall's into a coma after visiting a mysterious location in cyberspace - Mister J's. Investigate further, she finds a series of such maladies, at the center of which, is a unexplainable and completely lifelike of a golden city. Rene is aided in her endeavours by Xabbu!, a bushman student of hers who is adamant in helping her solve the mystery of the sick children.
Paul Jonas, who believes he is a soldier in the First Wolrd War, travels between different worlds, which in truth are different areas of the Grail Project. Unknown to him, he is of utmost importance to the Grail Brotherhood, yet exactly why remains a mystery.
Orlando is Thargor, the fearless barbarian, at least in his role-playing adventures. In real life, he's a boy suffering from a fatal disease. He too has seen the CIty of Golden Shadow, right before his character, Thargor, was killed. Along with his friend Fredericks, Orlando begins to investiage the mysteries of the Otherland.
Finally, there is the mysterious Peter Sellers. An old man, living on a military base, somehow he is connected to the Otherland. Is he helping the children, or the Grail Brotherhood?
Williams does a competent job of eventually bringing these divergent plot threads together, but the keyword here is 'eventually'. As any one might expect with this writing style, it's inevitable that certain point-of-view chapters are more tedious than others, and sometimes so much so the reader has the urge to skip the standard linear read. Still, when it does come together, it does so admirably.
A problem with all books of this genre lies in the simple fact it is placed in a world so different from our own. Some of William's virtual reality exploits and explanations are confusing, and require a few reads, and even then seem wildly outlandish. On the other hand, several technical innovations and sequences are thoroughly enjoyable, as only good science-fiction can be.
City of Golden Shadow has an excellent story lurking within, but it's hampered by a size much larger than necessary, which leads to slow going at times. The ending is somewhat of a disapointment, as it's function is basically to lead into the next novel. It's always nice to have some type of resolution or a small victory at the end of a novel, but here you're left with no recourse but to read the next book.