Sunday, November 05, 2006

Memory, Sorry, and Thorn Trilogy – Tad Williams

This trilogy is not quite a trilogy. Translation: the final book is big – so big that it was divided into two books for paperback publishing (To Green Angel Tower part 1 and 2). Why do I start out with this? It illustrates the main weakness of the series for me – it could have been tightened up, especially in the first book, The Dragonbone Chair. It starts slow, but once it gets moving it is a well-written and entertaining story.

In many ways, this is a standard/cliché epic fantasy. The main character, Simon, is a low-born servant, with mysterious parentage, who is thrown into extraordinary circumstances over and over again during a conflict that could result in the end of the world. There are ‘elves’, giants, dragons, trolls, ‘wizards’, and other beasts. There is no escaping the similarities to Tolkien, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. While much of the story will seem familiar, there are enough unique moments and surprises to keep it fresh. In the end it comes to the simple fact that Williams tells a good and entertaining story.

Simon is a simple orphan kitchen boy; a typical teen with angst, big dreams, and difficulty with authority. He is taken under the wing of the mysterious Dr. Morgenes, reputed to actually be a wizard. Times are changing, the old and loved King dies and is succeeded by his dark and brooding son, Elias. With Elias comes his advisor, a priest who inspires little but fear and is a darkly powerful sorcerer. The inevitable conflict arises between King Elias and his brother, Joshua.

Events around Simon spiral out of control and he flees for his life from the castle he has always known as home to where Joshua is building a resistance to King Elias and his sorcerous advisor, Pyrates. Times are tough, people are restless, and evil creatures of legend prowl the lands – war is coming, and it is more than just a war of succession. The undead Storm King is pulling the strings.

Great adventures and battles occur. Simon comes face to face with elves, trolls, giants, a dragon, and even a beautiful princess.

What makes Williams’ take on Tolkien-esque fantasy seem novel and fresh is the accessibility. His writing style is more contemporary and he focuses on characters. Interesting parallels between individual characters are drawn, and Simon is one of the more realistic heroes I’ve encountered. Simon’s first battle is one of the best scenes I’ve read of the realization of horrors of war.

The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series rates a 7 on 10-point rating scale. I consider it “new classic” in the epic fantasy sub-genre, and strongly recommend it, particularly for fans of epic fantasy.

Related posts: The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower

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