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#BookReview: The Witchwood Crown by @TadWilliams

I am a great fan of Tad Williams’ work, in all its many incarnations. The Witchwood Crown is his most recent release, a follow up to his masterpiece series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. It is a fitting continuation of the original story featuring four great characters, Simon Snowlock, Miriamele, Binabik, and Jiriki.

I became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered the world of Osten Ard and The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. Simon was such a complex, sometimes clueless character that I was immediately drawn to him. Miri was also clueless and naïve. Binabik, Tiamak, and Jiriki had the wisdom needed to guide these two toward making good decisions.

Throughout the original series set in Osten Ard, it seemed like each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The bigotry and arrogance shown by some members of each race, each believing in their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a sad truth about the real world.

When this new series set in Osten Ard was announced, I was curious as to how Tad Williams would maintain that deep connection to the story after such a long absence. In my opinion, The Heart of What Was Lost proved Williams had not lost his touch, that indeed, he had matured as a writer.

I bought the Kindle version of The Witchwood Crown, but also downloaded the Audible book, because I have a monthly subscription. Andrew Wincott is the narrator, and he’s an incredible reader. His narration makes this one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. I read along with his narration, which is an awesome experience.

The Witchwood Crown, by Tad Williams

  • Series:Last King of Osten Ard (Book 1)
  • Hardcover:736 pages
  • Publisher:DAW; First Edition edition (June 27, 2017)
  • Language:English

MY REVIEW (as originally posted on my review blog, Best in Fantasy):

This book is not a light read. Tad Williams’ work is brilliant and complex because he understands the character arc and the importance of agency and consequences. Change and growth or degeneration happen to each character over the course of the story—no one is allowed to stagnate. With a character-driven plot set in a fantasy world, the growth of the characters is the central theme. The events, shocking and yet unavoidable, are the means to enable that growth.

The story opens some thirty years after final passages of To Green Angel Tower. Many events have occurred in that time, leaving scars on those who have lived through them. Prince Josua and his family have vanished. The League of the Scroll is no longer what it was, death and age having taken most of the people who had the knowledge. Simon and Miriamele have lost a son to a deadly fever, and are deeply concerned about the behavior of Prince Morgan, their grandson and heir. They have reservations about their son’s widow and fear her influence has ruined him. They also fear for their very young granddaughter, Lillia.

There are other problems for Simon and Miri to contend with. Political unrest, lack of hospitality and rudeness by the King of Hernystir, trouble in Nabban, and rumors that the Norns are stirring. Simon, who has always been gifted (or cursed) with prophetic dreams, is no longer dreaming. A council is held, and it emerges that Binabik the troll also has concerns.

Prince Morgan is more than just a womanizing young noble, but he doesn’t know it. Jiriki and the Sithi will have a large part to play in Prince Morgan’s journey, as they did in his grandfather Simon’s journey to manhood. Whether or not Prince Morgan is the kind of man his grandfather is, remains to be seen.

The Witchwood Crown is an epic fantasy which will put some hoity toity literary purists off. It is literary, illuminating the internal lives of the many characters, and is centered upon how the perception that the king is dying has gendered plots and plans for coups among many factions. This lack of focus on one primary hero will put off the genre purists who need more noise and sixty-second sound bites in their literature. Those readers will find it difficult to follow the many threads.

Osten Ard is a place of contrasts. Dark, in many ways Gothic, negotiating the rough waters of this dark-age world is not easy. The three main cultures differ greatly from each other and are worlds of extremes. These contrasts drive the plot and frame the story in such a way the world of Osten Ard seems more real and tangible than this world. The room in which I read grows colder when the Norns breeze into the narrative.

In the years since the original publication of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams has matured as an author. His prose is beautiful, almost poetic yet not going there. Harsh, lush, and carefully designed with layers of allegory and subtext, some readers will find the narrative too literary, difficult to read. Williams has a large vocabulary and sometimes takes the long way rather than dumping you into the fray immediately. He isn’t afraid to use compound sentences, which makes it an adult read. Other, more avid readers, like me, will devour it, savor it, and think about the deeper concepts long after closing the book on the final page.

I give this novel five stars for its complexity, maturity, and sheer originality. A powerful narrative, this book left a different kind of mark on me as a reader than the original series did. That series is young and brash, detailing the early days of kitchen boy who became king. A young and brash author wrote that first amazing series. This book is mature, not only because the author has matured in the craft but because the king is older—it shows us who that boy became, what kind of man he is, and offers us a glimpse of who might succeed him.

I look forward to the next chapter in this very large story.


Tad Williams is a California-based fantasy superstar. His genre-creating (and genre-busting) books have sold tens of millions worldwide. His considerable output of epic fantasy and epic science-fiction series, fantastical stories of all kinds, urban fantasy novels, comics, scripts, etc., have strongly influenced a generation of writers. Tad always has several secret projects on the go. 2016 will see the debut of a number of them; March 2017 brings ‘The Witchwood Crown’, the first volume in the long-awaited return to the world of the ‘Memory, Sorrow & Thorn’ novels. Tad and his family live in the Santa Cruz mountains in a suitably strange and beautiful house.

You can find out more about Tad Williams and his books at www.tadwilliams.com  


Credits and Attributions

This review of The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams, as reviewed by Connie J. Jasperson,  was originally posted on Best in Fantasy,  on November 16, 2017

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#bookreview: The Heart of What Was Lost, by @TadWilliams #OstenArd

tadwilliams-the-heart-of-what-was-lostI just finished reading Tad William’s latest book. Wow! Told from three points of view, Duke Isgrimnur of Rimmersgard, a Norn leader, Viyeki, and Porto, a Perdruinese mercenary, The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams is a gripping, worthy return to the world of Osten Ard.

But first, THE BLURB:

At the end of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Ineluki the Storm King, an undead spirit of horrifying, demonic power, came within moments of stopping Time itself and obliterating humankind. He was defeated by a coalition of mortal men and women joined by his own deathless descendants, the Sithi.

In the wake of the Storm King’s fall, Ineluki’s loyal minions, the Norns, dark cousins to the Sithi, choose to flee the lands of men and retreat north to Nakkiga, their ancient citadel within the hollow heart of the mountain called Stormspike. But as the defeated Norns make their way to this last haven, the mortal Rimmersman Duke Isgrimnur leads an army in pursuit, determined to end the Norns’ attacks and defeat their ageless Queen Utuk’ku for all time.

Two southern soldiers, Porto and Endri, joined the mortal army to help achieve this ambitious goal—though as they venture farther and farther into the frozen north, braving the fierce resistance and deadly magics of the retreating Norns, they cannot help but wonder what they are doing so very far from home. Meanwhile, the Norns must now confront the prospect of extinction at the hands of Isgrimnur and his mortal army.

Viyeki, a leader of the Norns’ military engineers, the Order of Builders, desperately seeks a way to help his people reach their mountain—and then stave off the destruction of their race. For the two armies will finally clash in a battle to be remembered as the Siege of Nakkiga; a battle so strange and deadly, so wracked with dark enchantment, that it threatens to destroy not just one side but quite possibly all.

Trapped inside the mountain as the mortals batter at Nakkiga’s gates, Viyeki the Builder will discover disturbing secrets about his own people, mysteries both present and past, represented by the priceless gem known as The Heart of What Was Lost.

MY REVIEW:

the-heart-of-what-was-lostI became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered this world of Osten Ard and the books of Tad Williams. It seemed like each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The bigotry and arrogance some members of each race have with regard to their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a sad truth about the real world.

When this new series set in Osten Ard was announced, I was curious as to how Tad Williams would maintain that deep connection to the story after such a long absence. When The Heart of What Was Lost was launched, I bought the hard-copy, but also downloaded the Audible book, because I have a monthly subscription. Andrew Wincott is the narrator, and he’s an incredible reader. His narration makes this one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Like some gutter-dwelling book junkie, I read along with his narration–an awesome experience.

This is not a long novel, only 224 pages. It is well-written, with the harsh, beautiful prose I have come to expect from Tad Williams. Most importantly, an inspiring story is encapsulated in those pages. I found the pacing excellent, and at times, heart stopping. There is no place where it slows or becomes pedestrian.

Osten Ard is created from both good and evil, with all the many grey places between those two absolutes clearly defined. For each misery, some small glimmer of hope is introduced, offering a reason for the characters to keep struggling. The unlikely friendship between Porto and Endri is deep despite their humorous rivalry. Through their eyes we see the truth of the conflict and what it means in terms of human suffering.

Duke Isgrimnur is strong and resolute, driven on every level. He is faced with hard decisions, an impossible task, and does what he has to. A many-layered character, Isgrimnur is one of my favorite people in the series, as is Sludig. I had wondered about them at the end of To Green Angel Tower. This ties up their threads well.

Opposite Isgrimnur is Viyeki,  a Norn who has risen high in the Order of Builders. He has also been given an impossible task. It is through him we feel some compassion for the Cloud Children, the immortal Norns, and what they have lost. His thoughts and the way he deals with the constraints he is under illustrate the alien society he loves, making their reasoning more clear to us. He sees many things that worry him, but as a Host Foreman, his position is somewhat perilous. His world is at stake, but faced with conquering the terrors of the deeps or being crushed by the enemy, he is beset on all sides, caught in the middle. He has questions, doubts, and the answers he is given offer him no comfort.

I give this book five full stars. In the watershed series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams originally created the world of Osten Ard masterfully, exploring it through the diverse people’s thoughts and conversations. This novel is a brilliant continuation of that tale. He uses his characters’ impressions to show the setting, the history, and the core of the conflict. Through their eyes, we know this amazing world. At the end of the book, it’s hard to let them go.

You can find  The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams  in paper, as an audiobook, or a Kindle download at Amazon. It is also available at other eBook retailers, and in paper at all brick and mortar stores.

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#amreading: cold, dark days and four books worth reading

the-heart-of-what-was-lostI read a lot, and I’ve become a fan of audio books, especially when I am editing for clients or wrangling tough plot points in my own manuscripts. It frees my mind to enjoy more books when I can put on the wireless headphones and cook or do my house work and never miss a thing.

My current audio book is Tad Williams’ new novel, The Heart of What Was Lost. It was only launched yesterday, and I’m already about six hours into it. (And so far, WOW!) I bought the hard-copy, but also downloaded the Audible book, because I have a monthly subscription. Andrew Wincott is the narrator, and he’s an incredible reader. His narration makes this one of the best audio books I’ve ever listened to.

the-woman-in-the-mirror-cathryn-grantWhile I love audio books, I do still read my Kindle, and one I recently read and enjoyed was The Woman in the Mirror by Cathryn Grant. Published July 01, 2016,  it is a dark, contemporary tale, a psychological thriller. The many twists and turns make what could have been a rant on misogyny and abuse into a many-layered mystery you never quite get to the bottom of. The book is set on the foggy central coast of California, in a house perched on the edge of the crumbling cliff. The precarious state of the house is almost an allegory for Alex’s character: looks beautiful and feels dangerous.

The author, Cathryn Grant, did a good job. The storyline is compelling, doled out in bits and pieces. Each time you have the pieces to one puzzle, another has reared its head. Every character is a riddle you finally begin to understand as the novel progresses, even “sweet, responsible” Noreen. Behind that facade is a scary woman. The author’s voice is unique, and the narrative flows smoothly, although the switching of POV between Alexandra and Jared is occasionally jarring. But overall, it works. I had a hard time putting the book down, reading it straight through, and staying up late to finish it.

The ending is surprising, but when you look back, it fits perfectly. I highly recommend this book to readers of dark, contemporary fiction.

the-couple-next-doorAlso, recently I read Shari Lapena’s mystery thriller, The Couple Next Door. This is a tale of love, fear, greed, and secrets. Nothing is what it seems, except for the central plot point: A baby is missing from her crib.

Anne and her husband, Marco Conti have gone to a dinner party in the house next door. The sitter has cancelled at the last minute, and the hostess has insisted on an adults only party, as she doesn’t like children. Since they share a wall with these neighbors, they have brought the baby monitor with them, leaving their baby home in the row house next door.

The baby, Cora, disappears during the dinner party.

No one is free of secrets.

Rasbach is the detective, Jennings is his assistant. As the case unfolds they discover that Anne Conti’s family is more than merely rich. They are old money and secure in their sense of privilege, and her parents are quick to offer a ransom.

Little by little, evidence emerges about each character, none of it flattering. Anne herself is not without secrets.

Anne is a well-drawn character, with a mysterious history she has never fully explained to her husband. She is portrayed realistically, flaws and all. Marco is also a flawed protagonist, which makes him intriguing. This book was full of twists and turns, and the ending is a complete surprise.

broken-numbersAnd to cap off my recent completed reads was the third installment in Dean Frank Lappi’s dark fantasy Aleph Null series, Broken Numbers. Violent and graphic, this series is not for the faint of heart, as it combines elements of horror, with a magic system based on mathematics and sexual energy. After a brief prologue bringing us up to speed on the Korpor (one of the creepier beasts of dark fantasy), Lappi opens the story with our protagonist, Sid, considering his losses, the death of his mother and loss of his magic being the two worst of them.

Sid, the Aleph Null, is a deep character, a man whose life has been seriously altered by events beyond his control. He has been traumatized by incidents that occurred in his early childhood, yet he remains kind and caring of others. His former childhood friend and now leader of the Oblate, Tris, has managed to rip away the Black Numbers from Sid. It’s a partial victory, but he won’t rest until Sid is dead.

The plot is full of twists and hard-hitting. Sid is desperate to get his numbers back but knows it won’t be easy. Nothing is simple, and every step forward brings another step back. Yet through it all, his companions remain strong in their support of him. This novel also had a surprise ending, and left me jonesing for the next book!

With the new year, we have entered my favorite reading time. Something about the dark and the eternal gloom of the Northwest winter encourages escapism, and what better way than through books?

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Learning from the masters: @TadWilliams: contrast and texture #amwriting

tadwilliams-the-heart-of-what-was-lostOne of my favorite authors is Tad Williams, who wrote the watershed series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. To my eternal joy, he has set another series of books in the world of Osten Ard. The first installment, The Heart of What Was Lost, is set to launch on January 3, 2017.

I have it on pre-order, as you might imagine—a Happy New Year present to me.

I became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered this world of Osten Ard and the books of Tad Williams. Each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The arrogance some members of each race have with regard to their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a truth about the real world, something the Buddha once said: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”  

Why did I become so captivated by Tad Williams’ work in the original series?

Contrast.

It is well-written, with harsh, beautiful prose, but more importantly an entire world is encapsulated in those pages. It is built from both good and evil, with all the many grey places between those two absolutes clearly defined. For each misery, some small glimmer of hope is introduced, offering a reason for the characters to keep struggling.

Tad Williams created the world of Osten Ard masterfully, exploring it through the diverse people’s thoughts and conversations. He used their impressions to show the setting, the history, and the core of the conflict. He started out slow, introducing Simon Mooncalf (Seoman) and the other players, showing a certain amount of background by Simon’s wandering path through the various places in his familiar environment.

Simon Mooncalf is an orphaned kitchen boy, serving in the immense castle, the Hayholt. He is in service to King John Presbyter, but he is a dreamer, unable to concentrate on the mundane tasks he’s been given. With the reputation of being an idiot, his fortunes change when he is apprenticed to the good Doctor Morgenes, the castle’s healer and wizard.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1Unfortunately, the king dies. Many dark, terrible events transpire, and ultimately Simon finds himself alone and on the run, carrying Dr. Morgenes’ true biography of the good King John.

The action then intensifies, as do Simon’s struggles. He finds friends who help him along the way, but they are also in danger. Love, friendship, and loyalty are tested when thrown against a lust for power, a desire for complete domination, and the endless desire of the ultimate mastermind behind the war, Ineluki, the immortal Storm King.

Tad Williams uses contrast. He opens in a place that feels comfortable and familiar, a place where food is plentiful and cats are lazy. He then slingshots the reader into a world of violence and darkness, hunger and fear. Simon is lost, alone, helpless, and terrified. Despite his being an orphan, he has only known comfort and now his life of deprivation is more than he can bear.

When I first began reading the series, it was clear to me that Tad Williams understood a fundamental truth of life: if you have never felt hunger, you can never understand what it is to have plenty. In the same context, if you have never known sorrow, how can you know joy? The contrasts of life are the flavors, the textures that give it meaning.

Since we are waxing philosophical, the Buddha also offered this morsel of wisdom for authors to consider, “There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it.”  

That contrast of good and evil is a fundamental truth for all writers of traditional fantasy fiction to consider when devising plots. It is one that J.R.R. Tolkien understood quite clearly. After all, what would have been the point of Frodo and Sam going to the depths of Mordor, suffering the hardships they endured if not to destroy the One Ring and negate the power of Sauron? And why would they do this, if Sauron was not the embodiment of evil?

In both the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, we have two of the most enduring works of modern fiction. Both feature an epic quest where through it all, we have joy and contentment sharply contrasted with deprivation and loss, drawing us in and inspiring the deepest emotions.

This use of contrast is why Tolkien’s work is the foundation upon which modern epic fantasy is built. It’s also why Tad William’s work changed the way people saw the genre of epic fantasy, turning it into hard fantasy. The works of these authors inspired a generation of authors: George R.R. Martin and  Patrick Rothfuss, to name just two of the more famous.

To_Green_Angel_Tower

In my own current work (as in all my work), good people have found themselves in bad situations. It’s my task to demonstrate the beauty of life through the drama, heartache, and violence.

Employing contrast gives texture to the fabric of a narrative. My intention is to use the emotions that are experienced when joys are contrasted against sorrows to draw the reader in. If I do this right, my readers will think about this story and these characters long after it has ended.

As a writer, if I can create a tale in which the reader experiences the full gamut of human emotion, I will have done my job.  The longer I am at this craft, the more I see that the rest of my life will be a training ground, teaching me new things, widening my writing horizons everyday. Reading and analyzing the works of the masters is a joy and a privilege, and is a necessary component of my education in the craft of writing.

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