I finished reading this book 5 days ago, and I still haven’t written a review for it ANYWHERE (on Goodreads, for the staff summer reading program at work, etc.); in the meantime, I’ve finished another book and started two more, so I told myself I had to get at least A review done before I go to bed tonight. I popped one of my super strong allergy pills about an hour ago, so I’m racing against the clock to finish this before the pill takes full effect and I fall asleep (because these things are fricken potent). Anyways!
The book: The Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams (Book #1 of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, which I keep wanting to call the Sorrow, Misery, and Thorn trilogy; apt, but not quite right). I don’t know how I’ve gone this long without hearing about this book, considering how much sci-fi/fantasy I consume on a yearly basis. I only found out about it ’cause Amazon was offering it as a Kindle daily deal item, which is SHAMEFUL. I need to read more! This is apparently the trilogy that inspired George R.R. Martin to write A Song of Ice and Fire, which is a HUGE deal and something that I will touch upon later in my actual review.
Format I consumed it in: E-book
The premise: The Dragonbone Chair is set in the land of Osten Ard. It starts out specifically in the Hayholt, the castle/seat of the high king, Prester John, who is dying and preparing to pass his throne on to his older son, Elias, whom he favors over his younger son Josua; according to John, Josua is too cold and removed from his subjects and would not make a good ruler. From the get-go, we get the impression that the two brothers don’t really get along (they rule lands far apart from each other and are only in the Hayholt at the same time at the beginning of the book because their father is about to pass on), although Josua tells Elias (quite honestly) that he has no intention of challenging him for the throne, which everyone believes is rightfully Elias’s.
The protagonist of the novel is neither Elias nor Josua, but rather a kitchen boy named Simon, a tall, awkward, redheaded 14-year old prone to daydreaming and fond of climbing the castle walls. He’s close to Doctor Morgenes, who’s like the Merlin of the Hayholt (doctor/alchemist/magician/etc.), and manages to get himself apprenticed to the doctor within the first few chapters. Alas, being a magician’s apprentice is nothing like what he’d imagined, and he spends a lot of time avoiding work and climbing/jumping around the walls, which results in him being in the right place at the right time more than once, and THIS is where the story TRULY begins, one year into Elias’s rule, when the tourneys and parties have started to lose their luster, a drought and a plague have caused great suffering outside the castle walls that’s being largely ignored by those within them, and Josua has mysteriously disappeared without any warning. Without any further spoilers, I move onto
My thoughts (which usually contain some minor spoilers): I read many reviews that complained about this book being too slow and having plot inconsistencies. I will admit, Tad Williams really takes his time moving the plot along, but I didn’t have a problem with it at all. It reminds me of the old King’s Quest games, where you spent hours doing chores and just going about your day, with tiny breaks in-between to eavesdrop and steal items to aid in your future escape or whatnot. You WILL be stuck following Simon around as he tends to his chores (or finds ways to get away with half-assing them), plays at being knights with his friends, serves important people at parties, etc., and nothing big actually happens up until the moment I mentioned earlier (where the story TRULY begins!), and then all the things start happening at once, piling one on top of the other, and gone are the days of sunshine and peacefully hanging around the castle grounds. Like I said before, pace was not a problem for me.
I would also like to, once more, bring up the George R.R. Martin thing, because you definitely start to see similarities pretty early on– even the scenes with Simon jumping from one wall to another to get to a high window reminded me of Bran scaling the castle towers for fun. Williams and Martin both use multiple POV-characters (although it’s obvious from TDC who the main character of MSaT is, whereas in ASoIaF, there’s more of an ensemble feel and nobody’s safe), they both include incredible amounts of detail when talking about minor characters’ houses and histories, and so on, so forth.
I didn’t spot any glaring continuity errors when I was reading, so I can’t say I was bothered by those, either. My biggest problem with the book was actually the portrayal of the two brothers, Elias and Josua, and their crumbling relationship/the reasoning behind it. [SPOILERS] Perhaps after they delve even further into the backstory, I’ll get it, but I thought the big reveal about Elias’s wife’s death (which he blames Josua for, even though Josua fought his hardest to keep her alive and even lost his hand for it) was sort of anticlimactic. I think I have a problem with the depiction of Josua’s character, period. Normally, I’d love his type: serious, cold, blunt, fiercely loyal, honorable to a fault– basically Ned Stark, but younger and more tortured (literally), but at the moment, he seems sort of like a caricature in comparison to Simon, Doctor Morgenes, Princess Miriamele, Binabik, and even minor characters like the musician Sangfugol, who barely even has any “screen time”! Elias isn’t quite that fleshed out, either, but I’m just going to assume that’s the result of a combination of lack of screen time and his shady dealings with dark magic. I want so badly to root for Josua, but I need a reason other than “he’s a good guy!” Also, what is with his relationship with Vorzheva? I hope she gets more stuff to do in the second book, because right now, she’s kind of just an extra, unnecessary accessory for Josua, and I just don’t see the point of her.
There are some female characters with real potential in this book, such as Miriamele and Maegwyn, the daughter of King Lluth. Williams seems to be setting them up for greatness, but this series did come out in the 80s, which is a bit before my time, so I don’t know how much hope I have on that front. HOWEVER! Problems aside, I actually think I like this book more than Game of Thrones (I missed having favorite characters that don’t get killed off) I already started the second book, Stone of Farewell, and the plot is moving fast with that one! Still, I really, really want Williams to get on Martin’s level when it comes to filling in characters’ backstories (I do not feel the same anticipation when it comes to learning about the Elias-Hylissa-Josua triangle as I did about the Robert-Lyanna-Rhaegar triangle) and getting the readers hyped up about them.
Rating: 5/5. I simply enjoyed it too much to give it any less.