Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams

June 18, 2006 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | 3 Comments

Let’s get this right out there. It’s well known that there are a lot of fantasy books that are basically Tolkien with the serial numbers filed off. Well, this is one of said works. Now, in fairness to Williams, the coming-of-age arc with the protagonist and the romance element are really ripped from Eddings (or Eddings’ influences), not Tolkien. But really I was surprised just how many elements from Lord of the Rings are reshuffled and put back on the table. Even minor details, like the Elves (never referred to with that word, but come on) sailing to the hidden West when getting sick of the world, or the big bad guy sending a sun-blocking storm out from his volcanic stronghold, show up. Oh, there’s a few elements taken from Arthurian legend and, oh yes, for some reason the Catholic Church (again sans serial numbers) makes an appearance as well, kind of like in Guy Gavriel Kay’s later work. All these well-worn elements mean that, for me at least, the trilogy could never be much more than a pleasant diversion. It’s like listening to a decent remix of a song you loved: it’s still good, but it is hardly as exciting as listening to a good new song.

The good news is that if you are going to copy, you might as well copy from the best, and further Williams is a pretty good writer. As a first published effort Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is far better executed than Guy Gavriel Kay’s similarly Tolkien inspired debut, the Finovar Tapestry trilogy. Williams does some good work both with the characters as well as the story’s intricate plot. He falls down a little bit at the ending, but all in all it is pretty well done.

One more important note. This trilogy is very long, even by modern standards. Williams (in almost all his work) moves things along at a very slow pace. He’s a good enough writer to pull this off if you are willing to stay with him, but if the idea of someone spending 150 pages doing backstory on his protagonist before actually beginning the story frightens you, this isn’t for you. At least Williams finishes his series, unlike certain other long-winded fantasy authors.

War of the Flowers by Tad Williams

June 6, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | 1 Comment

This is a very solid fantasy novel. No one will ever mistake it for a great book and I doubt it will show up very high on any lists at years end or anywhere else, but it delivers a consistent level of quality. Most of the time these days, when I read something I tend to find that the author is very good at one area while quite lacking somewhere else. Williams is something of a jack-of-all-trades, as his novel has good writing, good plot, good setting, etc. That it is not exceptional in any category shouldn’t be held against it. The story is of the “crossing into faerie” subgenre. The big idea of the story is that faerie has a concept of science. There are railroads, power plants, and so forth. But faerie’s “science” is our “magic”. On the surface this is kind of cute, I guess, but in the details…well, Williams doesn’t explore the details, so you have to pretty much take it or leave it. While I would have liked a little more detail in the politics, science, and so forth, the book works as presented and maybe it’s for the better. It is reassuring to see a standalone novel that moves at a brisk pace, not least because Williams has been guilty of the overweight epic as recently as his last work (Otherland). While the book was missing the startling idea, unusual character, or surprising twist that would make me recommend it wholeheartedly, you could do a whole lot worse if you are looking for solid if procedural fantasy, especially in the era of editorless n-book series.

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