Book Review – Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

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Book Review – Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

Category : Book Review

Author: Tad Williams

Year: 1988-1993

Count this trilogy among the best fantasy epics of all time; George R.R. Martin does, it was an inspiration for his Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones, of course, to you TV people who might not know the official name of his book franchise).  Perhaps Williams’ greatest accomplishment with this franchise is its containment, because, although he has written more from this fictional world, this trilogy is a closed book, with one war, one hero, one mission, it’s just spread over three books, and that amount of self-editing is something we should be praising authors for so that they’ll do it much more.  The magic of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is that, while it does focus in and refuses to get distracted, it’s also told from many points of view, has many characters to root for, and a myriad of complicated reasons to stay engaged and to, ultimately, fall in love.

Simon is a kitchen boy who lives in the great Hayholt castle at the center of Osten Ard, a land of kingdoms currently ruled by a High King named John, who has conquered fairly, treated his subjects well, and, on the eve of his inevitable death, is respected and renowned.  As he dies, his sons argue over the throne; Elias is the elder and more militant and will become the overlord, while Josua is solemn, bookish, and won’t contest the succession, although he fears for his brother’s sanity and his rashness.  The evil Pryrates has Elias’ ear and is known to dabble in dark arts, which soon becomes apparent when he makes allies with the undead Storm King, one of the immortal race who once ruled Osten Ard before mankind came with their iron weapons.  Now, with the help of Simon, who finds himself at the middle of the swirl, and many loyal lords, who begin a quest for three legendary swords that just might turn the tide, Josua must pool all knowledge together to combat this rising threat, before darkness takes over the land and Pryrates, with Elias as his puppet, wins once and for all.

I read this trilogy in the 90s, probably right after the last book was written, and it had such an impact on my literary taste that I can’t put it into words; it was on a level with reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, or stumbling across Wheel of Time, franchises that are so amazing that they rise above everything else to live on a cloud by themselves, untouchable and magnificent.  Perhaps this series isn’t quite as groundbreaking as Tolkien’s or Jordan’s, but Williams created something special here, and you should absolutely have it in your life if you’ve ever loved fantasy novels.  It’s so smooth, so seamless, with multiple character viewpoints, multiple offshoot adventures, but all leading back to one climax, one place, one war, wrapped up so perfectly you’ll never read the like again.  That’s something Wheel of Time was not able to do, pare down, so I applaud Williams for controlling himself, it makes a big difference.  The three books are The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower, but they read as one large piece, not different stories, with flawed heroes and incredible villains sprinkled throughout who always have a fascinating part to play in the greater showcase.  Simon is a classic but extremely well-written main contributor, the elf/dwarf/human balance is both cleverly & originally struck, and the action is brutal & adult without ever crossing over into graphic territory.  This trio of books is simply a wonderful and entertaining set of gateways through the imagination of an author to a place that you’d swear was real and don’t ever want to leave; lucky for those of us who love it, we can revisit it any time.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆