Series: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams (books 1 to 3 of the Osten Ard Saga)
Books: The Drabonbone Chair (3,5 stars), Stone of Farwell (3 stars), To Green Angel Tower Part 1 (3,5 stars) and Part 2 (4 stars)
Release Dates: 1988 to 1993
Tags: Fantasy / Classic Fantasy / Orphan / Trolls / Dragons / Elves / Swords / Prophecies / Legends / Diversity / Disability / Loss of Limb
While this is a series review and I try to keep them as spoiler free as possible, in this case it might be that I mentioned things that some find spoilers. Beware of that.
After reading four tomes of over 800 pages each I am feeling quite accomplished that I finished this older epic fantasy read. It wasn’t always easy, and I struggled with it here and there but even so I am glad I was able to read these books. And I am a 100% ready to go pick up the newer books that continue the Osten Ard Saga .
Memory, Sorrow and Thorn shares with us the world of Osten Ard where its king, Prestor John, lies dying. This pits his two children, who didn’t have that much love for one another anymore to begin with, against one another when one makes a high risk bargain. One with the dead storm king who isn’t dead in the way that we perceive death. This bargain threatens the whole of Osten Ard and leaves the youngest with no other choice than to fight back.
Amidst this all however we meet the young kitchen boy Simon. Orphan and not particularly quick on his feet, he dreams of adventure, of becoming the hero of his own story. And that is just what happens when a change of assignment sends him into doctor Morgenes’ chambers. He gets dropped in the thick of it.
While the overarching plot is rather big, The Dragonbone Chair starts us of with just Simon who we see grow up from a young boy to a gangly, dreaming young adult. The first half of the book focuses mostly on Simon. We get to know him and through him we get to see the basic situation and see the political intrigue going on. Even if he doesn’t always understands what he sees or hears himself. I think this was a good way to introduce the story to us and Simon remains the red thread throughout all the three (or four as I read the last one divided into two parts) books. Half way through the first book there is an event in which Simon saves someone and loses someone. This shakes up his world and shapes the rest of the story for him. This is where the plot truly begins.
Every book continues to build on this, adding new characters, new side plot lines and new point of views. I also think this is where perhaps Tad Williams took it too far on occasion. The side lines take such a speed out of a plot that already isn’t very speedy. There is enough to focus on with the main plot that this redirection only made me lose interest instead of letting me gain interest in some of these characters. Adding onto that is that Tad Williams writing is very dense and overly descriptive. This is especially noticeable in the first two books. It made me struggle in a few places. And for a fantasy reader certain things just are a bit predictable which isn’t entirely Tad Williams fault as he came before so many of the others I’ve read. He lulled me into a sense of safety there at the end, thinking well he isn’t going to do that predictable plot twist now, and then he did, twice. And because of that I was surprised a few times. I loved that.
There is however a great amount of world building and I got the idea I knew Osten Ard reasonable well. I loved the legends and the different species that there were. I only wish that our big villain, the storm king had felt a bit more threatening, but I think that really has to do with what I mentioned in the above paragraph
Character wise, while I didn’t expect it, I fell for Simon a bit. Simon is a bit of a dimwit (as Rachel, one of his caretakers in his early years used to say) and he really doesn’t lose that throughout the whole series. He grows up. He learns to listen, even if it takes a while to get through his thick skull sometimes. But he certainly isn’t truly an adult by the end of it. The events shaped him though, especially what happened in part 2 of To Green Angel Tower, and it gave him insight. And we as a reader go along for the ride and he shook my feelings. His story line was always the one I was most interested in.
For me the second book was for sure the weakest. This has to do with Miriamele. She is the daughter to the oldest brother and ran away from him to her uncle. Her trip and characterization in this book were a big struggle for me. I genuinely liked her in the first book but as the second book progressed I started disliking how she treated others. She didn’t want others to treat her as the princess yet she treated her travel companion as if he was scum underneath her feet. Arguably he certainly was a flawed character but you should treat others the way you want to be treated Miriamele. He never did anything more than keep his own secrets in that book. While she got better in the next books, I could never recover my like for her.
On the other hand I welcomed how sex was treated throughout the book with her on occasion (though there was nothing graphic in the book). The author tried to open up that can of worms and considering when this was written, that was a brave thing to do. Unfortunately I felt that when it was called a sin it never really got countered and that was a shame.
Other characters that I truly liked were Jozias, the younger brother, and Dearnoth, his friend. There is also Binnabik, the troll with his wolf and partner, who takes on Simon, and the siblings Jiriki and Aditu, the elves. I thought this combination of characters really worked well. I would have liked to have seen some more females like Aditu who could kick ass on the battlefield. I think Vorzheva could have done that but she was shoved into the roll of the (house)wife and I don’t think that suited her.
All in all I do think that if you like classic fantasy and want to take a look at some older series, this is a great one to read