This series by Tad Williams is one of my all time favorite fantasy reads. It was among the first books that made me fall in love with the genre, and one of only a handful I’ve read more than once. I read this series again now for both the 2019 Popsugar and ATY Reading Challenges. I also wanted to reread this series to refresh myself on the world of Osten Ard so that I could dive into the new series by Tad Williams, also set in this same world.
This series opens with The Dragonbone Chair. The story begins as the High King, Prester John, is about to die. He has reached the end of a long life after establishing his rule over much of Osten Ard. John’s two sons, Elias and Josua, along with representatives of all the regions under his rule, have been called back to the Hayholt, the home of the High King. Elias is eldest and heir to their father’s throne. It becomes quickly apparent that there is some deep unpleasantness between the two brothers.
The main character of the story, however, is Simon, a scullion boy who is far happier climbing about on the rooftops and listening to old Doctor Morgenes stories than he is performing his assigned tasks. Simon goes from boyish dreams of knighthood and glory to the harsh realities of civil war. He ends up fleeing for his life from the only home he’s ever known to join Prince Josua, who, though he never wanted the throne, is compelled to stand against his brother when under the influence of a power-hungry magician, King Elias releases a long-dormant evil.
Stone of Farewell picks up where the first ends. Prince Josua has been dealt a cruel blow, and most of his allies are separated, scattered across the world of Osten Ard. They flee toward a place of safety, a rallying point from which Josua can renew his fight against the dark forces his brother has unleashed on the world.
The final volume in the series, To Green Angel Tower, eventually brings all the action back to where the story first began – the Hayholt castle in Erchester. Here, the final battle will be won or lost. The mystery of the three swords is revealed at last. And surprising revelations come to light.
Tad Williams writes huge novels. Some might consider them too big, too wordy. But I feel that he has an incredible gift for evocative imagery that brings his stories to life. Here is one moment that caught my attention as I was reading through book two. Simon has been caught up along with some of this friends in a fight for his life. This passage follows his being struck nearly senseless and cast to the ground:
[Simon] was staring at a round stone, just a hand’s breadth beyond his nose. He could not feel his extremities, his body limp as boned fish, nor could he hear any sounds but a faint roaring in his ears and thin squeals that might be voices. The stone lay before him, spherical and solid, unmoving. It was a chunk of gray granite, banded with white, which might have lain in this place since Time itself was young. There was nothing special about it. It was only a piece of the earth’s bones, rough corners smoothed by eons of wind and water.
Simon could not move, but he could see the immobile, magnificently unimportant stone. He lay staring at it for a long time, feeling nothing but emptiness where his body had been, until the stone itself began to gleam, throwing back the faintest pink sheen of sunset.
(Stone of Farewell, Tad Williams)
In this passage, Williams shows Simon’s impotence to help even himself, let alone his friends, and I think something of his frustration at that fact comes through as he stares at a simple, unimportant stone. His entire reality has been reduced to this pinpoint focus, and he is powerless to affect anything.
While it may not be to everyone’s taste, it is precisely this style of writing that appeals to me. It is elaborate and detailed, and yes, it piles up into some very large books. But it is also what will keep bringing me back to Tad Williams’s books again and again. If you enjoy epic fantasy set in a richly detailed world and you haven’t yet read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, I highly recommend it.