Note: This review has been updated after a re-read, but we’re keeping the old comments on the post.

book review Tad Williams Memory Sorrow and Thorn To Green Angel TowerThe Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

Tad WilliamsMEMORY, SORROW, & THORN was one of the first epic fantasy trilogies I ever read and, two and a half decades ago, I absolutely loved everything about it. It’s one of the two series I recommend to new fantasy readers who ask me where to start (the other is Robin Hobb’s FARSEER saga). For years I’ve been wanting to re-read MEMORY, SORROW, & THORN but I’ve been waiting patiently for it to be released in audio format, even going so far as to pester the audio publishers about it, as well as Tad Williams’ wife, Deborah Beale, who does a lot of his publicity. Finally, this year Penguin Random House Audio released audio version of the trilogy (The Dragonbone Chair, The Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower) in preparation for next month’s The Heart of What Was Lost, a new novel set in the world of Osten Ard. Hooray!

In The Dragonbone Chair, we meet Simon, a teenage orphan who was born to a serving woman in the keep of Prester John, the old benevolent king of Osten Ard. Simon is a kitchen boy, doing the bidding of the woman in charge of the kitchen whom he calls Rachel the Dragon. Rachel, who calls Simon a “mooncalf,” is constantly frustrated with Simon’s tendency to dream the day away while caring little about Rachel’s high standards for the castle.

Simon’s boring life changes when King John dies, leaving the throne to Elias, his oldest son. When Elias and his court move in to the keep, they bring new life to Osten Ard, but they also bring Pyrates, an authoritative advisor who may have sinister ideas for how to use the power of the throne. After the glamour of a new prince wears off, the people of Osten Ard realize that the new king is not serving them well. Also unpleased with the situation are Prince Josua, Elias’s younger brother, and Princess Miriamele, Elias’s daughter. When they start acting against Elias, Simon gets tangled up in the drama. As he sets off on various related quests, he meets elves, trolls, giants, and even a dragon.

It was great fun to reacquaint myself with Simon the mooncalf and the other inhabitants of Osten Ard, but I have to admit that this time I loved The Dragonbone Chair more for its nostalgic value than for the story. Tad Williams is a great story-teller, as I had recalled, but at this point in my life I’m much less patient with this type of epic fantasy than I was 25 years ago. The book is a whopping 800 pages (33 hours in audio), and that’s just the first installment. The pace is slow, with every scene described vividly and a huge cast of major and minor characters to try to remember. Still, the characters are interesting and likeable even though many of them fit recognizable molds (something I can’t feel too critical about in a book written before they all became epic fantasy clichés). And they actually accomplish important deeds by the end of the book, even if we are a little tired of watching them travel across Osten Ard.

If you’re looking for a fantasy with a cast of diverse characters, some really strong women, a non-Western setting, non-stop action, or new ideas that will blow your mind, this isn’t it. If you’re in the mood for a slow-paced unchallenging medieval-style epic fantasy with a coming-of-age hero, The Dragonbone Chair is one of the best of them thanks to Tad Williams’ skills as world-builder and story-teller. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I decide to re-read this trilogy and waited until I was feeling nostalgic for the type of fantasy I loved reading when I was a lot younger. I’m certain that younger readers, especially teens, will get a lot more out of The Dragonbone Chair than older readers with a lot of fantasy reading under their belts.

The new audio version, by the way, is terrific. Andrew Wincott does a great job with all of the characters and I am pleased that I waited to re-read the book in this format. I’m looking forward to finishing this trilogy and trying the new Osten Ard novel, The Heart of What Was Lost. I have a feeling that it will feel a lot fresher than the original trilogy does.

Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn — (1988-1994) You can get the two parts of To Green Angel Tower (Siege and Storm) in one (huge) omnibus edition. Publisher: Simon is an ordinary kitchen helper who is taken under the tutelage of the magician Morgenes. When King John Presbyter dies and his son Elias ascends the throne, the way opens for a long-dormant evil to enter the realm. Elias, a pawn of the black magician Pyrates, moves to eliminate his brother Josua, and the brother-against-brother, good-versus-evil clash begins. Simon is thrown in with Josua and muddles through adventure and peril, maturing into a hero by book’s end. Williams weaves all of the classic ingredients of fantasy into his tale — trolls, giants, elf-like sithi, and dragons. Simon must travel from drought-stricken lands to ice-bound peaks as he follows his far-seeing dreams. The land of Osten Ard is well created, and readers quickly become immersed in the story.

book review Tad Williams Memory Sorrow and Thorn: 1. The Dragonbone Chair 2. Stone of Farewell 3. To Green Angel Tower Siege Stormbook review Tad Williams Memory Sorrow and Thorn: 1. The Dragonbone Chair 2. Stone of Farewell 3. To Green Angel Tower Siege Stormbook review Tad Williams Memory Sorrow and Thorn: 1. The Dragonbone Chair 2. Stone of Farewell 3. To Green Angel Tower Siege Stormbook review Tad Williams Memory Sorrow and Thorn: 1. The Dragonbone Chair 2. Stone of Farewell 3. To Green Angel Tower Siege Storm

Tales of Osten Ard / Last King of Osten Ard — (2017-2022)

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  • 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.