Mountain of Black Glass by Tad Williams science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMountain of Black Glass by Tad Williams science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMountain of Black Glass by Tad Williams

The third book in Tad WilliamsOVERLAND quartet, Mountain of Black Glass (1999) is better than the previous novels in the series (City of Golden Shadow and River of Blue Ice). Warning: You must read those books before starting Mountain of Black Glass.

At this point in the story, our heroes are still in Otherland, hoping to find Paul Jonas, but their progress is hampered because they’ve lost the lighter that allowed them to jump between simulations. They are still split into two groups after losing each other in the previous book. As Renie’s group travels, they learn more of each others’ personal histories and their reasons for entering Otherland. Orlando and Fredericks, meanwhile, are in an Egypt simulation where they meet members of the Circle who know a lot about the Grail Brotherhood and are trying to take them down before their “ceremony” takes place. They don’t know exactly what the outcome of this event will be, but they know it is something the bad guys have been planning for years, so it can’t be good.

Meanwhile, Paul Jonas is stuck in a simulation of The Odyssey (he’s Odysseus) where he figures out that if he follows the story and travels to Troy, he may get some answers to his existential questions. To do so, he’ll encounter the same dangers that Odysseus did (sirens, whirlpool, cyclops, lotus eaters). A concern for all of the characters in Otherland is that the operating system, the artificial intelligence that runs the world, seems unstable, which might explain why some users are not able to get offline and/or why people who are dying in Otherland are also dying in Real Life.

Back in RL, Renie’s ex-boyfriend, who she consulted before entering Otherland, is not happy about being dragged into her problems. It has ruined his life, and now he’s being pursued by the bad guys and he doesn’t know why. He seeks answers from Joseph, Renie’s alcoholic father. Ramsey, the lawyer, has been hanging out in Orlando’s online world, trying to surmise which of his activities may have led to his coma. Dread, who has the magic lighter, has hired Dulci to figure out how it works while she watches over his physical body as he makes his move in Otherland. The cop who is investigating one of Dread’s murders has dug up some important clues and is on his trail. (We learn a lot about Dread in this novel.) Olga, the middle-aged woman who works on the Mr. Jingle show, hears the voices of children calling to her. They tell her to go to Louisiana, so she quits her job and goes. After Christabel’s father, a military officer, finds out about Mr. Sellars, their family also gets sucked into the drama, and this causes a lot of conflict and danger for them.Otherland (4 Book Series) by Tad Williams

Though the story continues to move very slowly, there is actually a lot of plot in Mountain of Black Glass and it’s exciting. We learn a lot more about the Grail project, the operating system, and all the characters, including the backstory on Paul Jonas. All the little pieces of the story finally start coming together and solidifying into a complex but cohesive opera. There are some cool set pieces (such as the mansion that never ends) and some nice horror elements (such as the telephone that won’t stop ringing).

Some themes start to emerge, too. Renie worries about the “puppets” in the simulation. They aren’t technically human, but they have lives, families, and feelings that seem real. Are these people not human just because they’re code? Sam Fredericks, who is thinking about what it means to be a hero, starts to see herself as Sam from LORD OF THE RINGS. Many of the characters are thinking about friendship — the different forms it can take (for example, Sam and Orlando are best friends, yet have never met each other in RL), and how it hurts to love people because when you open yourself up to others, you make yourself vulnerable to loss and pain. That kind of loss is experienced by some of our heroes in Mountain of Black Glass.

I continue to listen to George Newbern’s excellent performance in Penguin Audio’s edition of the OTHERLAND quartet. Mountain of Black Glass is just over 27 hours long. Again, too long, but at least the story progresses significantly in this installment.

Published in 1999. “The Grail Brotherhood has built the most powerful, sophisticated simulation network imaginable. At the same time, they have manipulated ad injured the minds of thousands of children.” This proclamation from the mysterious Mr. Sellars confirmed what Renie Sulaweyo had feared to be true when she first broke into the Otherland network in a desperate search for the cause of her brother Stephen’s deathlike coma. Now Renie, the Bushman !Xabbu, and their companions find themselves navigating a treacherous and ever-changing course―from a strangely unfinished land, to a seemingly endless labyrinthine House―pursuing a sociopathic killer who has stolen one of their group. To Renie’s despair she is no closer to uncovering the secrets which could help save Stephen’s life, and now it appears that something may be very wrong with the Otherland network itself. As Paul Jonas, Orlando, Renie and the rest strive to reach Priam’s Walls, in the heart of Troy, they know that their quest is running perilously short of time. For the Grail Brotherhood has finally set the date for the Ceremony when they will make their bid for the immortality, and thereby seal the fate of Earth’s children forever. But before Renie and her allies can hope to stop the Brotherhood, they must first solve the mysteries of Otherland itself, and confront its darkest secret―an enitity known only at the Other..


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.