Not an Uncut, But a Hidden Gem: The Dragonbone Chair.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn: Book One, a Review

Michael Whelan’s cover art.

He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder.” — Qanuc proverb.

Much of The Dragonbone Chair does indeed feel familiar. Whether this is due to William’s clear Tolkien influences, or the fact that this story is thirty years old, and many have taken clear inspiration from it (Hello, George R.R. Martin.) I cannot say. Perhaps both. Either way, it does lead the reader to having certain assumptions and expectations for the book almost immediately. Heed the Qanuc, this is not going to go the way you think.

Many have blathered endlessly in the reviews I’ve seen about how the first part of the story is too slow. If one were going in expecting the same pacing as a Joe Abercrombie book, I would see how they would be confused. However, Tad is not like many modern fantasy writers. He is not in a rush, for him it is about the journey, not the destination. Part of this involves him doing a fair bit of world building and foreshadowing through the eyes of a young teenage boy, Simon. For much of Part One we see the world through the eyes of his youthful immaturity. Kings are noble, knights are brave and honorable, glory and war go hand in hand, and should be aspired to. A child indeed. For the next two parts of the story takes that intentional, and methodical world building in the first, and turns everything on its head, shattering Simon’s (and perhaps our) assumptions about the lands of Osten Ard. Part Two and Three see Simon having to confront just how foolish and short sighted he was, and realize that in his restless days at the Hayholt, wishing for adventure, he hadn’t known what he was truly asking for.

The next two parts are also considerably more quickly paced than the first, and do not let up. Quests, civil wars, dragons, oh my. The conflict begins to take shape and the players make themselves known as all the pieces start moving proper. Tad does this expertly, weaving threads together like a master craftsman, while also having some of the most beautiful writing I’ve had the pleasure to read in a fantasy novel. He paints such shocking and vivid imagery with his words, never going too far into ostentatious detail, or boring the reader.

The world of Osten Ard is vast and rich, and I simply cannot wait to start the next entry, The Stone of Farewell. As Tad did end this one on quite the cliffhanger, it’s clear to me just from this book that like Lord of the Rings, these books will be one massive sprawling story, just divided into three separate parts. Which makes binge reading them all the more fulfilling to me. RIP to those who read these one at a time waiting for the next book to come out. Couldn’t be me.

If you enjoy coming of age, the hero’s journey, classic fantasy, and lyrical, almost poetic prose, I would highly recommend this book. This has all of that and a few more surprises in store for you.

As the Qanuc also say, “Welcome, stranger. The paths are treacherous today.