Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Stone of Farewell Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Tad Williams
Publisher: DAW Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series:  Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Book Two
Pages: 727

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(Contains spoilers for The Dragonbone Chair).

Where as the previous book was one of the slowest paced fantasy books out there, the Stone of Farewell manages to bring up the pace up to a point where it moves at the speed of a typical fantasy novel.  In addition to this, there are many more narrators and different subplots, many of which greatly add to the moral dilemmas and issues being discussed.

If you made it past the first 600 pages of the last book, Stone of Farewell will reward reader patience by delivering a sequel that largely improves upon the Dragonbone Chair.

After the fall of Naglimund, Josua swears to topple his brother Elias from power. He begins moving his small band of survivors to the Stone of Farewell after it is requested of him by the witch, Geloe.  Simon has acquired the sword Thorn, and defeated the dragon Igjarjuk. However the trolls have taken Binabik and Sludig prisoner. It’s up to Simon to free them, and like Josua, lead them to the Stone of Farewell.

Miriamele and Cadrach’s journey continues even after they learn the nobleman they were seeking has been killed.  Being Elias’ daughter she is constantly in danger of being discovered for who she truly is.  Maegwin, the new leader of the Hernystiri, is losing her grip on reality, yet she must find a way to lead the survivors of her father’s kingdom to safety. Guthwulf, Hand of the King, continues to struggle watching his friend Elias continue to be consumed by the sword Sorrow.

The biggest change in this story is the number of different subplots that are taking place.  Where as the last book almost exclusively focused on Simon, readers now get to learn more about Josua, Guthwulf, Miriamele, Maegwin, and Binabik. Some of the these subplots work better than others, but the way they intertwine with one another makes for a much faster paced story.

On the strong end of the subplots is Guthwulf and Maegwin.  Where as Simon’s plot is virtually a straightforward good vs. evil type of scenario, Guthwulf and Maegwin are in some serious grey areas.  Guthwulf covets power, and he likes being the King’s second hand man, but he can’t deny the fact that Pryrates has a greater influence over the king than he does.  Guthwulf also can’t deny the unnaturalness that accompanies the sword Sorrow, and he can’t deny the strange demonic appearances and supernatural events that are occurring at the Hayholt.  As he watches his friend Elias begin to be consumed by madness, Guthwulf has to decide whether or not to remain loyal to the king.

Maegwin can’t cope with the loss of her father, brother, and their kingdom.  The Count Eolair is a former romantic interest of Maegwin’s and a sworn man to her and her deceased father.  A cliched love story is expertly avoided by Williams, and love and romantic feelings become more of a form of emotional blackmail as Eolair and Maegwin lead their people to safety.  The exploratory journey also takes the reader to new and interesting places, as well as providing more history about the Great Swords and the Hernystiri.

While the Maegwin and Eolair romance remains interesting, the Josua and Vorzheva romance continues to be baffling.  So much so, that the author essentially has to use a get of jail free card to save it midway through the story in order to make it somewhat believable.  While, I don’t mind Josua by himself, he’s essentially surrounded by interchangeable secondary characters that offer little substance and interest to the plot.  In order to circumvent the lack of character development here, a number of violent attacks on the group keep their plot paced well, and the readers attention focused elsewhere.

Miriamele proved to be a competent character in the Dragonbone Chair, but that is not the case in this book. The point I’d make is I liked her a lot more in the previous book because she mad a lot more intelligent decisions. In Stone of Farewell her decision making is terrible, and she is constantly being saved by Cadrach, a man who is constantly wasted. He frequently doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what’s going on.  I get that Miriamele is young and naive, but having her constantly being saved by someone so incompetent doesn’t say much for this book’s leading lady.  At the very least when Simon gets saved it’s by heroic, intelligent, well meaning knights. This lessens the reader’s perception of his mistakes.  With one (technically two) more books left, this situation could be turned around, so I’m not completely put out by it, but it was irritating.

The main plot with Simon introduces readers to many of the cultures that were only talked about in the previous books.  A subplot with the trolls reveals Binabik’s back story, the trolls rivalry with the Rimmersmen, and more about the customs of Binabik’s people.  Jao e-Tinukai’i, the last refuge of the Sithi, filled me with the same feelings I felt when I initially first read about Lorien in Lord of the Rings. A lot of the workings of this city are magical such as  leaving and entering it. The Sithi game of Shent was also a conceptually brilliant idea for a game, even though the rules are only vaguely explained. The grace of the Sithi remind me of Tolkien’s elves, but elves in the Lord of the Rings were almost exclusively good.  In Williams’ world, the great evil power, The Storm King, was once a Sithi, and thus this culture loses a lot of it pureness having produced such an evil power.

Williams sets the pieces for an epic showdown in the final book. Stone of Farewell delivers an excellent ending, especially in its last chapter; readers should be pleased and eager to read more.

Score: 8.5

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