Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair (Memory Sorrow and Thorn #1) by Tad Williams

Five Stars

“Brave and foolish often live in the same cave.”

Where has this book been all my life? Well, since it was published in 1988. So much better than many Lord of the Rings rip-offs. Epic fantasy in a quasi-European medieval setting (though the Sithi are as much Nipponese as elvish; and the name is unfortunately similar to the evil characters of Star Wars). Good world building, good character development, complex cast and motives and history and ….

“Books are magic because they span time and distance more surely than any spell or charm.”

Unlike many LOTR clones, Williams’ series has a so-flawed-as-to-be-disgusting hero. Not that Simon’s bad, he’s just … irritating–in the hero-worshiping, ADD teen boy way. Well, he’s got room to grow. The other men are complex and driven as necessary.

“Why is everyone forever forcing their horrible secrets on me?”

Unfortunately, most female characters are not so well developed, though telling about the exception spoils things. In this volume Williams assigns gender roles in accordance with medieval standards, but …

“What the men are doing now is men’s work and whatever is left is woman’s work–unless you want to carry a sword and spear.”

The specie-ology is not just Tolkien’s elves, dwarfs and orcs renamed. Good job.

“Fighting was, after all, mostly for younger men, whose grip on life was light and careless.”

Good and bad people and forces have their strengths and weakness, prime among which are pride–often masquerading as honor.

“Honor is a wonderful thing, but it is a means, not an end.”

In the introduction Williams warns readers that he wrote this series (The series tag is the name of the three swords of power) as an organic whole, so reader shouldn’t expect  resolution at the end of the first volume. Despite that he provides a suitable, if depressing climax to the first book. My advice to potential readers: have the second two volumes on hand before you finish this book. And be ready for a long read.

“People on adventures always had swords or sharp wits. Or magic.” Simon starts with none of those.

Have you noticed how in most books people never share their insight, dream or observation? Or when they do, everyone ignores them? Williams gives the reader special insights without spoon feeding us facts. For example, by the end of The Dragonbone Throne we know exactly where each sword is, though he hasn’t told us and no one (living) in the story knows.

“Faithful as a debt unpaid.”

Series like this are why people still read epic fantasy. Not the only reason, but a good one. It has the feel life: real, witty, aching, wonderful, and totally out of control. For more of Michael Whelan’s art, click here.  (Warning! It covers the whole series. Spoilers!)

“We go into unseen places.” “As do all mortals, sooner or later.”


4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (Five Stars)

  1. Nice. By coincidence, this book just arrived in the post today, and then Deborah Beale (Tad’s wife) retweeted your review.

    I’ve never actually read Tad Williams before (just been vaguely aware of him as a respected fantasy author that my friends have recommended but that I’ve not got round to yet). Good to know I’ve got something to look forward to. 🙂

  2. Yes, I’ve heard of Tad Williams. I do get tired of women as drudges while the men have the adventures. But otherwise, sounds fine. Nice your review was re-tweeted.

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams (Five Stars) | As a Matter of Fancy

  4. I love how you use so many quotes in your review! This is one of the many, many things I love about Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, so many beautiful lines I like to quote.

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