The author of Tailchaser's Song and Otherland,
Tad Williams is perhaps best known for his epic fantasy "Memory, Sorrow
and Thorn." The first volume of three, The Dragonbone Chair
introduces readers to the land of Osten Ard, its history and mysteries,
and the major players in the conflict that threatens to unleash an ancient
evil upon the inhabitants, both human and nonhuman, of Osten Ard.
Peopled by a memorable and intriguing cast of characters, The Dragonbone
Chair, at 783 pages, still ends earlier than the reader would
Thankfully, the epic entire is already complete, so no one will
have to wait agonized for Stone of Farewell, the second
volume of "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn," to be written, published and distributed.
Part of the joy of reading backlist fantasy is that one can sidestep
the year or more wait between installments in series.
Simon (named "Seoman" by his mother) is an orphan boy raised by the
Mistress of Chambermaids in the royal keep of the Hayholt. Easily distracted
from his scullion chores, Simon lives a life of relative freedom that
all the same chafes. The Prester John, Osten Ard's king, who slew a
dragon in his youth, is drawing to the end of his life. He has kept to
his rooms for three years, but is once again emerging to name his successor.
There is bad blood between his two sons, Elias and Josua, to do with
the death of Elias' wife. Josua lost a hand, but Elias lost a wife, his daughter a mother,
can never forgive his younger brother the circumstances. It is Elias,
the more martial and straightforward of the brothers, whom King John
will name to succeed him on the throne made from the bones of the dragon
John long ago slew.
The Hayholt is abustle with activity at John's reemergence, and Simon
manages to have himself named apprentice to Dr. Morgenes, the Hayholt's
resident magician-of-sorts. The work Dr. Morgenes gives Simon is less in
the way of magic, as Simon hopes, and more in the way of still more
cleaning and of agonizing lessons in reading and writing. Simon despairs of
ever getting anything truly interesting out of his life. But King John's
death brings more of interest than Simon would ever have wished for.
Elias is named king, but the seat of power seems to rest more on the head
of Elias' shadowy and sinister advisor Pryrates. Josua disappears shortly
after John's death. When Simon stumbles across the prince in a dungeon
deep below the Hayholt, he takes his first step on a journey that will
take him far from the safety of the Hayholt's walls. He will encounter
dark magic, lose his mentor, gain friends among humans and among others,
and will get his first taste of youthful love along the way. He must
find two ancient swords, siblings to King John's "Thorn," to try to
stop the ancient evil that has waited for patient centuries to return to
rule -- and destroy -- Osten Ard.
The Dragonbone Chair hardly telegraphs what will happen
as "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn" continues. It is like the tip of an iceberg,
with so much as yet unseen waiting to be revealed. Simon is likable,
very human in his moments of confusion and begrudgement. The characters
who surround him, and the complexity of Osten Ard itself, have brought The
Dragonbone Chair the acclaim it richly deserves.