The Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams
Twenty-five years ago I read Tad Williams’ MEMORY, SORROW & THORN trilogy and since that time I’ve considered it one of my favorite fantasy epics. For years I’ve been planning to re-read it when an audio version was published and that happened recently, so here I am. A few weeks ago I reviewed the first book, The Dragonbone Chair, which you need to read before picking up this second book, The Stone of Farewell (1990). If you haven’t, stop right here because there be spoilers (and dragons) beyond this point.
After a quick synopsis of the first book, The Stone of Farewell begins where The Dragonbone Chair left off. Simon has killed a dragon, has been “touched” by the dragon’s blood in some way (which left him with a white streak in his hair so now people are calling him “Snowlock”) and has obtained Thorn, one of the three swords needed to defeat mad King Elias. Binabik the troll, Simon’s best friend, has been caught and jailed by his tribe due to breaking one of their laws and Simon is trying to get him released so they can continue on their quest. Prince Josua, younger brother of King Elias, escaped the besieged castle with only about a dozen followers. They continue to be harried and attacked as they flee through a forest. Miriamele and Cadrach, who had left Josua to seek help from allies in Nabban, are traveling together and Miri doesn’t know if she can trust her companion (and neither do we, but we do learn more about him in this book). Duke Isgrimnur is trying to find Miri and Cadrach when he stumbles upon a legendary hero that everyone thought was dead. Meanwhile Maegwin, now the reluctant leader of the Hernystiri after her father and brother were killed, leads the remnant of her people to underground caves where she attempts to get help from the Sithi, but everyone thinks she’s crazy (and she kind of is).
Eventually all of these folks learn that the allies that oppose King Elias are gathering at the Stone of Farewell, a legendary and powerful Sithi landmark. Most of the action in The Stone of Farewell details the adventures and drama the characters have while trying to get to the Stone. These include various traps, treachery, captures, escapes, duels, battles, magic, romance, a wedding, and even some sexual abuse. And lots and lots and lots of travel. Along the way, Simon develops quite a bit both physically and mentally. He gets tall, grows a beard, learns to use a sword, acquires some leadership skills, struggles with his faith, and develops some ability with visions and prophecy (perhaps due to the dragon blood).
Meanwhile, back at the Hayholt, life continues to degenerate as King Elias becomes more mad and tyrannical due to the influence of Pryrates, his evil scheming advisor, and the sword Sorrow. Guthwulf, until now a loyal retainer, has had enough of Pryrates. So has Rachel, the castle’s headmistress, whom Simon lovingly calls “the Dragon.” They both try to do something about it. Unfortunately, the evil is not only affecting the Hayholt, but throughout the region crops are failing as the weather is affected. The land seems cursed and has spawned various monsters including giants and zombies.
The Stone of Farewell is everything we’ve come to expect from a middle book in a well-written traditional medieval-style epic fantasy trilogy. Depending on your goals, that can be a good or bad thing. If your primary goal is to completely lose yourself for a long time in a fantasy world, this is a great place to do that. Tad Williams’ world-building is second-to-none, he has created some loveable characters, and he’s a great storyteller.
But for me, who hopes to read a few dozen books this year, The Stone of Farewell seems excessively lengthy (768 pages in the mass market paperback) and not nearly as interesting as the first book. It often drags as Williams takes a long time to get his players (and not even all of them yet) to the Stone, the launching place for the next novel. Many of the adventures they have along the way seem unnecessary as they don’t add much value or interest to the story. I got impatient and ended up skimming some of the segments showing the perspective of my least favorite characters (e.g, Tiamak and Maegwin). I hate to say it, but The Stone of Farewell feels like a 768-page waiting room. Fortunately, the story gets a lot more exciting in the next volume, To Green Angel Tower, which is, amazingly, much longer than this one.
The audiobook version of The Stone of Farewell is 32.5 hours long and is nicely narrated by Andrew Wincott. My only complaint is that Wincott’s deep voice doesn’t have the range for many of the characters with higher-pitched voices, so he substitutes a slightly hissing voice for some of the female and non-human characters. It’s noticeable, but not too big of a deal.
I definitely need to read this series. Thanks for the reminder that it’s a great fantasy series.
Let me know how you like it, Michelle! :)
I’m a print music journalist of 20 years, trained in tech English BA and MA Lit. I’ve read much, much more on my own, but up until now I’ve kept to the American, English and Russian literary canons. Except, that is, for my love of scoff and fantasy. I’ve read all of the basics, but mostly when I was younger, at least with fantasy. The Belgarian, all of CS Lewis (Prelandria included), all of the Dragonlance shit, Chronicles of Prydain etc etc. The problem is, I’m attempting to return those these old stomping grounds of my youth. I’m writing my first book now and I’m all set on my own, personal style. In fact, I purposefully stay away from badass (and by this I mean iconic) authors as they tend to rub off. And I’ve been rubbed off upon quite happily-to-recieve , but quite enough. The effort now is to maintain “my” voice.
Since reading is my “television” I’m still hurting for some rec time. And since I’m staying away from the literary canons, I’ve dwelt mainly in the realm of sci-fi. I’m having a hell of a time finding an Fantasy worth its sand, or even that is readable. Whether or not it was due to an editor’s/publisher’s insistence to meet a demographic, that it was purposefully targeted to the tween demo before that was officially a “thing” or they are just shit writers, I can’t get though more than 1/4 of a fantasy book I’m picking up. In sci-fi there seems to be a greater abundance of “good” artisans: Dick, Asimov, Clarke, Lieber (fantasy as well, I know), Bradbury, Herbert, Le Guin. However, in the old sword ‘n sorcery genre I’m pretty frustrated. C.S. Lewis. Clark Aston Smith, Tolkien (though not my thing per se). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to get my head blown off by a genius-level stylist… but plot pacing and diction above 13 years-old would be super.
If you have any recommendations, please. I’ve got 1,000 books on my tablet and just keep missing, despite my efforts. A solid series would be great. If they hadn’t made Game of Thrones I’d read that, he seems to be able to turn a phrase. This book here, while passable, just seems a bit colorless. Based on the Sir Gareth tale from the Arthurian cycle. I’ve read Le More d’Arthur, in fact it was my first major read as a kid and really was a springboard for my aspirations, so anything Arthurian is welcome.
I’d love to start a dialogue with anyone willing. I’ve never done a discussion board before.
Holgun, Kat beat me to it with Robin Hobbs, but if good prose is what you like, you might try Guy Gavriel Kay. I find his books a little slow, but beautiful.
Patricia McKillip is another. Look for her earlier works (The Riddlemaster Trilogy, Forgotten Beasts of Eld) first, I think.
Robert Jackson Bennett
Moorcock’s Elric stories
For prose? Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin (Earthsea), Patrick Rothfuss, Patricia McKillip, Robin Hobb (or Megan Lindholm, same person), Susanna Clarke, Jack Vance, Mervyn Peake, Stephen Donaldson, Elizabeth Hand, John Crowley, Tanith Lee, Catherynne Valente, China Mieville, Guy Gavriel Kay.
That said, most of those authors tend to be more “literary,” character-driven fantasy. If you’re looking for purely sword and sorcery… well, Moorcock, Leiber, and maybe Mark Lawrence could fit the bill. If you’re including Epic Fantasy as well, then you could try GRRM.
I would agree with one of the other reply’s and suggest Rothfuss. His fantasy series is a great read for folks that don’t regularly read fantasy. One of the best fantasy writers of the last decade.
Well. Yea. I guess I should have edited that before I posted it. I’m not going to re-read it now, but I can see out of the gates “I real of course, but much/MUCH more on my own. As an adult I’ve stuck mainly to the…”
Hi Holgun, sorry for lack of response — I got busy with the holidays and then the beginning of the semester… Have you tried Robin Hobb’s FARSEER saga? Also, have you taken a look at our FanLit Faves tab in the menu at the top of the site? That would be a great place to start. Please let us know what you decide to read and how you feel about it. I’m interested in what you find that you like.
I agree with pretty much all of the authors referenced here if you’re looking to return (outside of GRRM since, in my considered opinion, he’s a hack who should stick to TV script writing). However, I’d add one more name to the list: Brandon Sanderson. If you’re looking for a single author who spans multiple genres, Sanderson is your man. He’s so far produced everything from classic SF and YAF to epic fantasy, almost all of which is couched within a multiverse framework similar to King’s “Dark Tower” referential construct. Also, similar to King, he’s astoundingly prolific at this stage of his career, so there’s no shortage of his work to approach if you really enjoy his style. I’d say that if you like Hobbs and Sanderson, you’ll have at least a year or two of constant reading material to enjoy just reading them, and I definitely encourage you to read as much of Hobbs as you can as well.
I would absolutely second Kay (and my wife and son would third and fourth). I’d also suggest Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet. A few others: Mieville, Grossman (Magicians, especially read past book one), Hobb again, Robert Jackson Bennett, Peake, Vandermeer, Connie Willis (especially her world war duology) , David Mitchell (Cloud atlas especially), Station Eleven
Definitely give Station Eleven a try.