Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a classic fantasy trilogy by Tad Williams that I have only heard amazing things about. The first novel, The Dragonbone Chair, was published in 1988 and since then it has been the inspiration for any number of authors. I personally missed this classic series, but found it rising to the top of my to do list as Tad has released the first book in a follow up trilogy, The Witchwood Crown, this year and it is the only thing a few reviewers I know are talking about. This piece will cover the first two books, The Dragonbone Chair and The Stone of Farewell, but the final book will have its own piece soon as it is quite literally the longest fantasy book ever written and I don’t have enough space here to cover it.
Building off that last sentence, these books are huge. They have an extremely high page count, are very dense, and go into an enormous amount of detail. If you are looking for some light reading, you are going to have a hard time with Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. However, for those who are willing to take the time with it, you soon begin to see why this series is so highly regarded. The plot of The Dragonbone Chair is not incredibly complicated, in fact one of my first annoyances with the series is that the blurb on the back pretty much perfectly sums up the events of the entire book:
“A war fueled by the powers of dark sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard—for Prester John, the High King, lies dying. And with his death, the Storm King, the undead ruler of the elf-like Sithi, seizes the chance to regain his lost realm through a pact with the newly ascended king. Knowing the consequences of this bargain, the king’s younger brother joins with a small, scattered group of scholars, the League of the Scroll, to confront the true danger threatening Osten Ard.
Simon, a kitchen boy from the royal castle unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League, will be sent on a quest that offers the only hope of salvation, a deadly riddle concerning long-lost swords of power. Compelled by fate and perilous magics, he must leave the only home he’s ever known and face enemies more terrifying than Osten Ard has ever seen, even as the land itself begins to die.”
This is pretty much it, a young boy sets out on a classic hero’s journey and is shaped by his experiences. The thing is, while the plot of the book is not exactly revolutionary – the growth of Simon as a character is. Simon’s story is probably the single greatest example of good character development I have ever read in my life. I will not lie to you, the first part of book one was rough for me. Simon starts as a irreverent, self-centered child (though only as much as you would expect of an actual child) and slowly grows into a hero. The beauty of the book is that this doesn’t happen due to some traumatic events resulting in him realizing he should be a better person. Instead, he grows due to the thousands of small interactions with people across the country that help him grow up and become a better person. It is the single most organic growth I have ever seen in a character and the change is truly stunning to watch, although, as mentioned it takes patience and investment on the part of the reader.
While The Dragonbone Chair focuses primarily on Simon, the second book (The Stone of Farewell) sees a large diversification of character screen time. Dragonbone is all about introducing you to Simon and building his foundation as a person – often through his interactions with a wonderful support cast around him. Once you get to Stone though, Simon has built up enough momentum that we do not need to spend every moment with him and it allows Tad to flesh out and grow his incredible support characters and make them closer to secondary protagonists. While Dragonbone took some time to get into, I absolutely flew through Stone.
The first two books show how a seemingly useless young man can change and grow in convincing ways that don’t feel like reader wish fulfillment. Simon’s origin story made me feel like I could be the person I wanted to be with hard work and determination, and that only you can decide who you are. The first two books have earned their place as two of the most powerful pieces of fantasy or fiction I have ever read, but you will have to come back for part two to hear about the finale: To Green Angel Tower (because it is frankly absurdly large and reading it is seriously messing up my review schedule).
The Dragonbone Chair – 8.5/10
The Stone of Farewell – 9.0/10