The Dragonbone Chair review

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ok, I'm more than 20 years late in reading Tad Williams... and this is not the only well established author I haven't read yet. Still, I like to read some old stuff between new authors. This book is quite interesting. It's the first of the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy or quadrilogy (the last book is split in two parts).

Since it was written in 1988, I think it's understandable that we find ourselves in the realm of a more classic kind of fantasy writing. A good part of the book centers around the farm boy (castle scullion in this case) seeing the world to meet his destiny. The Tolkien influence is present with this one. It's not as big as Terry Brooks first Shannara trilogy, but I will call this "Tolkienish" ... although it gets a voice of its own.

We follow Simon, living as a scullion in the Hayholt, king John Presbyter castle. He's eventually taken as an apprentice to Doctor Morgenes, a scholar. After the king's death, his two sons, Elias and Joshua return. The first one is corrupted by his magical priest advisor. He takes the throne and throw Joshua in the dungeons. Simon will be the one to set him free. This will begin Simon journey. He'll encounter new races, fall in love and will eventually be chosen to search for a ancient sword, the only hope against Elias and his evil partners.

The main character, Simon, is not the most thrilling protagonist of the book. But some of his acolytes are memorable. The duke Isgrimnur, a dedicated northern grumbler, Binabik the learned troll and his wolf pet, Joshua the forsaken prince and Cadrach the druken monk to name a few. So even if Simon is not the main attraction of his storyline, his friends fill in for it.

The narrative is done with multiple PoV. In the beginning it's more about Simon but as the story unfolds, the PoV multiplies. I think it's necessary judging by the expansion of the plot. The author gives us a nice glimpse of the story from various angles and from both sides. I usually like a more "morally grey" cast of characters. In this book, it's more holy white and black evil.

The world building is well done. There's a great depth of history surrounding the characters and the environment in which they evolve. As for magic, I can't say it's really elaborate but it's integrated in a lot of elements of the story. While on the subject, the main story is a little bit too simple but it's surrounded by intriguing storylines.

In the end, it was a fun read. Always good to return to the roots of the genre from time to time. I enjoyed it enough to read the rest of the story. But beware, if you read it, the beginning of the book is very slow (I almost put it down). You really have to get at least to the second half. I would surely have given this book a better score if I had read it some years ago.

Technically, the DAW Books original cover is very ugly but the new print will be nice. The appendix is a must have.

Characterization............. 7 /10
World building............... 8 / 10
Magic system................. 6.5 / 10
Story.............................. 7 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 7 / 10


Tad Williams page


Bets Davies said...

I read this a while ago, so forgive me if I mess up. I found it tedious. The world building was consistent but uninspired. Simon had me plucking eyebrow hairs to stay awake.

As you mentioned, the povs do open up with a total "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding" affect (everyone is interesting except the flat and underdeveloped main character).

I know this doesn't always have to be, but I'm a girl, and of all the characters you just mentioned, a woman was not among the voices. The females are not well developed and even young, I felt I was drowning in male bonding.

Bertha Craig said...

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