Skip to main content

The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams

I mused recently, rashly and publicly about the derivative nature of most fantasy fiction opuses. Unfortunately, for me, I was guilty of a sweeping generalisation that left me open to a convincing challenge, which duly arrived courtesy of Deborah Beale on Twitter, or @MrsTad as she is known. She told me in not so many words that I was a buffoon and to go away and read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Mr Tad before making any further egregiously similar mistakes, tenderly qualifying her praise with the caveat that it's a slow starter. So, having being goaded into committing what amounted to two months of my reading time to this trilogy (or tetralogy if you wanted to buy the last volume in two constituent parts, Siege and Storm), I have come to the conclusion that I was right all along.

That is NOT to say that these three/four novels are diminished by the presence of archetypal characters, races, situations and events and which are to be found littered throughout such luminary fantasy works as Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Tolkien, and the pages of Campbell's oft-derided mapping of hero myths, The Hero With A Thousand Faces  - rash oaths, unwilling heroes, plains dwelling horse peoples, magical metal work, gruff, obstreperous northerners, elvish types, naughty elvish types who don't mind a bit of cold, and so forth - no, not at all! In fact, I was engrossed from the off. It little matters who copies from whom when the storytelling is as good, and more importantly across 2200 pages, as consistent as this! 

And that is the truly remarkable facet of this multi-faceted work. I am absolutely amazed at how consistent is every single character voice, from the reluctant hero Simon Snowlock (né Mooncalf), through gruff Duke Isgrimnur, modest troll Binabik, spiky and tenacious Princess Miriamele, to even the overly-egged pudding that is Rachel, Dragon of the Hayholt. I could pluck a sentence of dialogue at random from any page and, reading it aloud, could instantly identify the speaker, such is the strength and stability of characterisation. I can only read in envy and awe. Such prowess is surely the work of years of painstaking editing and amending.

And whilst, for sure, there are some slower sections, with much Hamlet-esque pacing and musing where I would perhaps have preferred more charging and killing, and some where you think, surely he'd be dead by now, or physically unable to pick up a sword, or leap across a chasm, or climb a ladder, or even sit up without support, let alone climb a million steps in the dark or walk hundreds of miles through the most severe cold and punishing weather imaginable, it's so easy to suspend disbelief, to allow some self-indulgent wallowing of tortured souls in their indecision and suffering, when the characters propel the reader from page to page, chapter to chapter and volume to volume relentlessly and without respite. Who has time to dwell on minor details when they are so damnably keen to find out what next, what next? 

So, on the record then, I stand by my own rash oath that fantasy is perhaps overly reliant on the tropes and authority of that which has gone before (indeed, Tad Williams reminded me himself that George RR stated publicly the effect that these books had on his own story arc), but for all that, it is an unjustly maligned genre wherein beaver away some of the most fantastic storytellers imaginable. If you have a few months at a loose end, pick this up and hunker down for some highly addictive adventuring.



Check out all these books and more on Tad Williams' Amazon author page.

Comments

How's about that then?

Damned If I Do by Percival Everett

Where I should be recovering from a particularly nasty stomach bug, rather I appear to be on a Percival Everett trip today - first Strom, now Damned - but he really is that good. Good as in read-everything-he's-written-now good. Good as in I'm writing this on my iPad never more than two meters from the nearest toilet good. That's good. 

Damned If I Do is short stories, yes. That I have a curious relationship with short fiction is undisputed, but there are some like Breece D'J Pancake and Haruki Murakami that just have to be read, objections or no. Thankfully, it appears Everett has inherited some of their ability to write convincing, understated and ultimately addictive snippets of prose. And snippets they are. Somewhere I read once a quote from China Mielville where he says he just loves it when writers don't show the reader the monster in its entirety, that leaving something of the horror to the imagination of his audience adds a level of engagement and makes the …

A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

Open Door by Iosi Havilio

*Shame Klaxon*
I am ashamed to admit it but I know next to nothing about Borges. I know the names of his books. I know he crops up almost without fail when conversations include literature from South America. I know his words book-end so many novels that I have that habitual proving-my-bold-assertion-mind-blankness which means my brain knows it to be true and won't humour your scepticism with an example*. And I know it's likely the biggest single lacuna in my entire reading history**.
So you may imagine my lack of surprise, on finishing this novel and reading the afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, and author of works on the history and politics of Latin America, that Borges pops up, within three lines of text. Three lines! He wastes no time does Oscar. Of course, my shame bristled and I was ready to adopt the usual casual hostility to something of which I was ignorant. But straight away, I understood what he was saying. I have often consid…