Monday, September 25, 2017

The Witchwood Crown Book Review

by The Wanderer 

Author: Tad Williams
Publisher: DAW
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: The Last King of Osten Ard Book One
Pages: 736

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(Spoilers for The Heart of What Was Lost and Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn are below).

Over three decades have passed since the defeat of Ineluki the Storm King, and the Norns' retreat into their mountain stronghold of Nakkiga. King Simon and Queen Miriamele continue their long reign over Osten Ard, but new troubles are stirring. Many of the kingdoms they've ruled over are now all rife with internal conflicts that are threatening to break apart their kingdom, their Sithi allies have all but been silent, and Utuk' ku the Norn Queen has just re-awoken and is planning on continuing her war against humanity, if only she can recover the mysterious artifact known as the Witchwood Crown.

It's been more than two decades since Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, was written. The series that directly inspired George R.R. Martin to write A Song of Ice and Fire, and the series that convinced publishers that it was profitable to publish door-stopper sized fantasy novels, and the series that brought moral ambiguities and adult issues into the genre is finally getting a sequel. To say this is long-awaited would be an understatement. 

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is stylistically a novel that's like a bridge between Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. But if we're being honest, the mostly central focus on Simon, the heroes journey, and the worldbuilding and naming tells a story that more closely relates to Tolkien than it does Martin. 

What's different in The Last King of Osten Ard? Well there is less focus on one central character, and instead the narration is split up into a bunch of different storylines that have balanced their importance. 
  • King Simon and Queen Miriamele visit the major kingdoms of Osten Ard and discover more unrest than they feared
  • Joining the King and Queen is their heir apparent and grandson Prince Morgan, a man who shirks responsibility and drinks and gambles too much for his own good
  • Princess Lillia, Morgan's much younger sister tries to keep herself entertained while being couped up in the Hayholt
  • While the King and Queen are away it's Chancellor Pasevalles' duty to maintain the kingdom and run it's day to day affairs
  • Fremur brother to a Thrithing's chieftain finds himself trying to make friends with one of the clans' outcasts, Unver
  • Eolair, Hand of the King, and resident of Hernystir is greatly troubled by the rumors surrounding King Hugh and the new wife he plans on marrying
  • Jesa, a Nabban maid takes care of Serasina, the Duke of Nabban's daughter
  • Viyeki, a member of the Norn nobility and leader of their builder caste is becoming more and more disturbed with the Norn Queen's orders
  • A concubine for Viyeki and a human slave for the Norns, Tzoja hopes to one day gain her freedom, or at the very least her half-blood daughter's
  • As one of the youngest sacrifices ever appointed, Tzoja and Viyeki's daughter, Nezeru, undertakes an important mission for the Norn Queen
  • Jarnulf the Whitehand, a former Norn slave, has made it his mission to hunt down and kill as many of the Norns as possible
There's a balance between new and old characters here. Familiar faces like Simon, Miriamele, Eolair, Binabik, and Taimak are nice to see again. And as much as I want to see them involved in the story, there just isn't a whole lot for these characters to do ... especially Simon and Miriamele. There are a lot of frivolous discussions with these two, and it does little to aid the story. Their pillow talk is even worse. 

As for the new characters, some make good first impressions, others not so much. Jesa in particular comes to mind here. On the stronger side of character development is Prince Morgan who has a lot of growing up to do. Instead of focusing on accumulating physical skills, Williams wisely decides he needs to focus more on improving his maturity and responsibility, and overcoming his demons. It's a risk that I hope pays off. 

The same goes for Nezeru, she is already a well trained warrior, but as a half-blood, which is essentially a second class Norn citizen, she feels she needs to do more to prove herself. This also has her questioning the culture that has brought her up. The Norns getting narration time is what gives this trilogy its most potential, offering readers some sympathies that these fairies just weren't able to receive in the first trilogy.

This more balanced distribution of characters helps Williams' story to more close resemble Martin's. But even still, it overall bares a closer resemblance Tolkien, just less so than before. In a crowded fantasy market, The Witchwood Crown is not going to be the kind of standout Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was. It could even be read without having read the original trilogy, although I wouldn't recommend doing that. 

Score: 7.9

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