Note: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books.
To Green Angel Tower (1993) is the third book in Tad Williams’ MEMORY, SORROW & THORN trilogy, following The Dragonbone Chair and The Stone of Farewell. This is an extremely popular trilogy, which is why the arrival of a fourth book published a few weeks ago (23 years after To Green Angel Tower was published!) is such a noteworthy event in the fantasy community. In preparation for the new book, The Heart of What Was Lost, Penguin Audio finally released audio versions of the original trilogy last fall.
To Green Angel Tower, at 1083 pages in the hardback version, is one of the longest, if not THE longest, books I’ve ever read. Some editions, such as the one I read two decades ago, are actually divided into two volumes. Penguin Audio’s version is over 63 hours long (though I listened to it at double speed) and narrated by Andrew Wincott who does a great job, though his low-pitched voice can’t handle many female characters. Fortunately (for him, but not for us) there are few female characters in this series.
The story begins where The Stone of Farewell ended. Simon has finally arrived at The Stone of Farewell where Prince Josua’s forces and their allies are gathering to plan how to defeat King Elias and his evil advisor, Pryrates. With help from some visions, prophecies, and an ancient text, they figure out that (as readers have guessed by now), they need to acquire the three magical swords named Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Simon procured Thorn back in the first book. King Elias has Sorrow. Memory, they think, is buried with the old king, Prester John. Someone (Simon, of course) will need to dig it up.
The allies continue to be attacked by their enemies, but one big advantage they have, besides moral authority, is the help of Camaris, an ancient hero. Unfortunately, he seems to have amnesia and maybe other intellectual deficits. They are hoping that he will soon come back to himself and help them win the war.
Miriamele and Cadrach are still on a ship where Cadrach is imprisoned and Miri is also essentially the prisoner of the icky Aspitis who plans to force her to marry him. Duke Isgrimnur is still traveling around looking for her. Meanwhile Maegwin, affected by the Sithi, continues acting weird in the caves but she will have a crucial and tragic role to play. Guthwulf (now blind) and Rachel are hiding out, with an awesome cat, in the dark winding corridors under the Hayholt. Eventually all the major players will end up there for a final battle.
As with the previous book, The Stone of Farewell, this story moves so very slowly and readers need to be patient. I admit that I skimmed some sections (this was a re-read for me) though I don’t think I did that when I first read the book 20 years ago, at a time when I tended to be a lot more patient with these types of epic fantasies. Coming of age stories were a lot more appealing to me back then and I recall feeling like I had escaped for days into another world. Twenty years later, I do not feel quite so generous with my time, though I still admire Tad Williams’ craft, especially at world building, and I love some of his characters.
Fortunately, there’s a lot more action and excitement in To Green Angel Tower than there was in the previous book and the last part of the story is quite thrilling with several scenes that are truly frightening, poignant, tragic, or triumphant. I vividly remembered a few of them from my previous experience with the trilogy — they had left an impression on me that stuck all these years.
I’m looking forward to reading the new OSTEN ARD book, The Heart of What Was Lost, very soon.