Monday, June 09, 2014

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn: A Review

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is a trilogy written by Tad Williams.  I picked up the first book in the series, The Dragonbone Chair, a couple months ago based off a recommendation on Goodreads.  It was one of my first times using the recommendation feature, but am I glad I did!  This is one of the best series that I've read in a long time.

Image via Google
The lowdown?  The trio is a fantasy story about a kingdom plunging into darkness.  The newly crowned High King Elias and his evil priest, Pryrates, have begun to commune with powers better left alone: the powers of the ancient Sithi Storm King.  Killed hundreds of years ago, the Storm King's soul seems to be in an interim state, festering in its hate of mortals.  When we first meet our young hero, Simon (also called Seoman), he's working in the High King's palace, a distracted and lazy kitchen boy.  However, he soon becomes caught up in the early tides of the battle and is forced to flee from his home after finding the High King's brother, Josua, held captive by the priest.  That is the initial turning point in his story.  From there, he is thrown reluctantly into adventure and quest.  Along the way he meets many new friends with whom he tries to stop the High King and prevent the Storm King from winning and destroying all mortals.  Through it all he slowly he grows into a man.

And that is the bare bones summary of the three books.  There are so many details and I don't want to spoil it in anyway by trying to cram a bunch of plot points here.

I really liked the way Williams reshaped the classical fantasy elements into something I hadn't seen before. There were dragons, knights, princesses, running for their lives, disguises, deceit, magic... And many more other things/creatures.  Williams introduces us to different immortal creatures, the two more important "groups" being the Sithi and then the Norns.  In the beginning, I was thinking of them sort of like elves, but they really stand alone as their own species.  In comparison to the mortals their way of life is drastically different.  Through the interactions between the mortals and the Sithi, you can grasp the mortals confusion concerning this ancient race.  They often feel out of place and uncomfortable around them and Williams conveys that well.

I also liked the dynamics between the characters.  There were so many different people that at the start I thought I was going to have trouble keeping track of everyone, but each was able to stand alone in my head and did not mesh into one character as time wore on.

And my last like: I did not see the ending coming.  I thought I had a general idea of where things were headed and then with roughly 150 pages left (these are big books) all of a sudden everything shifted and I was holding my breath in frantic anticipation and anxiety.  As it came to a close, I was satisfied and there is nothing like closing a book and being satisfied.

No matter how much I like a book, there are usually one or two things that I am not a fan of.  In these books, there were certain moments when I felt like the passage I was reading was a little drawn out.  There were a few instances where characters were wandering in the dark passageways alone and I thought that Williams said a lot more during these scenes than he needed to.  A minor erk, but one nonetheless.  

In Betweens
Williams employed a changing narrator style and so often we would switch between point of views and places, sometimes many times within the same chapter.  At times, the change was pleasant and I enjoyed jumping to see how other characters were doing.  However, sometimes the changes were really brief and I found myself not caring much about the character I was following.  I wanted nothing more than to hurry on to the next switch.  In The Dragonbone Chair, we meet a character named Tiamak.  At this point in the story he isn't involved in the main intrigue and his narratives are merely setting up his later importance.  Those brief sections were really dry for me and I wanted to skip them.

Williams occasionally reminded the reader they were reading a book.  I know that there is a literary term for when an author reminds the reader that they are reading, but I can't recall it at this point in time.  I found this slightly amusing as it was often in a ironic way (e.g. " 'Someday we will perhaps be in someone else's book,' Tiamak offered, smiling, 'and whoever writes it will be very certain about how everything came to pass.' " (To Green Angel Tower, book 3) ).  He did this maybe three or four times over the course of the third book and by the last time I didn't find it as amusing.  Done well, reminding the reader isn't a bad thing, but when I read, I like to immerse myself and lose myself in the plot.  I don't always like being bounced back into my chair.

I loved the books and would recommend them to fantasy lovers everywhere.  I think I even remember reading that this series helped inspire the Game of Thrones, so if anyone likes those books, I think there's a good chance that this trilogy is also up your alley.

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