I stumbled upon this book after reading an interview with George RR Martin. Apparently Tad Williams was one of GRRM’s favorite writers, and Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” trilogy was one of GRRM’s biggest inspirations for writing his own giant epic…that I’d like to point out we’re still all waiting for him to finish. *side eye*
I loved all of GRMM’s books and thought it would be neat to read the original material, and it did not disappoint.
Like GRRM, Williams’ book encompasses a vast imaginary world filled with deeply rich cultures and land with a dark, bloody history. The main plot centers around the Sithi, a race of magical elves that humans hunted down to near extinction around a thousand years before the book begins. This makes for some serious animosity between humans and the remaining Sithi who’ve basically been forced to carve out an unfortunate existence in the woods. Add in a psychotic, power-hungry priest and the epitome of a douchey frat boy king with a deep hatred for his brother who’d totally be a much better ruler, and you’ve got a plot just roiling for a war. In the heart of all this chaos is a little scullion named Simon who finds himself apprenticed to a nice old man who just happens to be a member of a secret organization that the new ruling government doesn’t like. Simon ends up in a big mess that gets him banished from his homeland and on a treacherous journey to continue his mentor’s quest and (hopefully) keep the whole world from literally going to h*ll in a hand basket.
Williams is a great writer. He’s incredibly dense; it took me almost 3 weeks to get through this book, but his prose is poetic, descriptive, and lyrical without being over the top. Like GRRM, or I should say, like GRRM stole from him, Williams plots the story from multiple POVs to give a full scope of the world and all its problems, and the alacrity with which no character is safe from bodily harm or death, the narrative can feel like riding an emotional roller coaster. Williams does this thing where he lulls you into a false sense of security with his beautiful writing, only to turn on you at a page’s notice where that same lovely prose brutally maims a perfectly nice character. It’s glorious.
Beautiful writing and emotive heart-string wringing aside, the best part of this read for me was counting how many things GRRM literally just ripped off the pages of Williams’ book and copy and pasted into his own. Literally one of Williams’ characters says “All men must die.” I about flipped my teacup and died laughing when I read it. I see what you did there, GRRM, I see what you did. You can also almost see how Westereos was born out of Osten Ard, and where GRRM pulled several of his own plot ideas. It was a weird feeling to read this book, sort of like looking at a parent and deciding which features are most prominent in their child.
I promised myself I wasn’t going to get involved in another giant fantasy epic, but I may have lied to myself, and I may be ordering the next installment of this series to see just how far GRRM went for inspiration.