Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Heart of What Was Lost (Tad Williams)

The Heart of What Was Lost
(A novel of Osten Ard)
Tad Williams
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: With the fall of the undead Storm King in a cataclysmic battle, the power of the Norns was shattered - but even short-lived mortal men know better than to leave a deadly foe alive at their backs. As the survivors of the faerie Norn forces straggle back north to their ancestral stronghold in the mountain known as Stormspike, Duke Isgrimmnur leads a force of battle-hardened Rimmersmen, joined by soldiers from across Osten Ard, in pursuit. Thus begins a legendary siege, one that will set the stage for the future of the land, and the races of men and faerie alike.

REVIEW: When I heard Tad Williams was returning to Osten Ard for a new trilogy, I - along with countless fans of epic fantasy - rejoiced. His Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy is a genre benchmark, famously serving as partial inspiration for George R. R. Martin's sprawling A Song of Ice and Fire saga. Until the first novel of the new trilogy drops in June 2017, Williams offers a taste of things to come with The Heart of What Was Lost, a linking novel. At only 200 pages, it itself is not an epic, nor is it quite a standalone... and there, I believe, lies the crux of my own dissatisfaction. A few characters from the original trilogy return here, but they feel like pale shadows of the rich characters I remember, just as the world seems flatter and less immersive than the Osten Ard I knew. The new characters, particularly on the human side, felt more like plot devices than rounded people, whose presence was meant to drive home themes and emphasize the surreal atrocities of the war against the Norns. Speaking of the Norns, Williams makes what I consider a tactical mistake: he gives the Norns half the narrative. I can understand why he did it from a storytelling perspective, showing that the "enemy" isn't a monolithic bogeyman but full of its own motivations, rivalries, and contradictions, but part of the reason his faerie races worked so well in the original trilogy was their alien mindset. Their lives are inconceivably long, their culture riddled with odd customs and taboos and cultural touchstones, their powers beyond mortal ken, their thought processes inherently inscrutable even among the "good" race, the Sithi. They could be interacted with, but never fully understood. By turning over so much of the story to them, the Norns become too human, even as the story becomes burdened by alien names and terms (not to mention far too many apostrophes.) The overall story isn't terrible, but it feels weak, with some great moments separated by long slogs. The whole novel reads like filler material or background information, events Williams wrote for himself, for continuity reasons, but which the reading public didn't need to know about before embarking on the next Osten Ard adventure... save for the money, of course. I can't say I begrudge Williams (or his publisher) cashing in and building hype, but I must say I'm distinctly less enthused about the forthcoming Last King of Osten Ard books than I was before I read this. Maybe Williams has changed. Maybe I've changed. Or maybe that enthusiasm is the true heart of what was lost, here.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin) - My Review
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson) - My Review
The Dragonbone Chair (Tad Williams) - My Review

No comments:

Post a Comment