Monday, 31 October 2016

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.

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