Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Dragonbone Chair

In many ways "The Dragonbone Chair" is typical high fantasy. Many of the stereotypes of the genre are here and this could also be "kitchen boy fantasy". The protagonist is named Simon, and he is an orphaned teenager living at the Hayholt, a great castle in the land of Osten Ard. Simon is one of the castle servants, but is something of a lay-about. Somewhat clumsy in his chores, he spends much time avoiding his responsibilities and goes off exploring the great castle and dreaming of different lives he could lead. There is the occasional mention early on about something to do with his birth and origins that is shadowed in mystery, so we get the typical fantasy glimpse that Simon isn't as simple as he seems. But this is to be expected.

The first 200 pages or so of the novel can be by far the most difficult because Tad Williams is giving a lot of exposition. There are small details that build the world and set up some conflicts for later in the book, but it takes some work to get through the beginning. I admit that it took me three tries over the past 10 years for me to finish this book. Not because the novel is bad, but because it starts so slowly.

In this opening section we learn about the decline of the old King Prester John, and the strife between his two sons Elias and Josua. Elias is fearful that Josua will take his birthright, but Josua wants none of it, and there is a twisted advisor whispering in Elias's ear. Finally the old king dies, Josua disappears, Simon ends up on the run when tragedy and treachery strikes, and the novel truly begins. "The Dragonbone Chair" is an epic high fantasy novel where a castle servant boy will rise to a level of importance he never imagined and travel the world on a great adventure with a goal of saving the world as they know it. It is fairly typical fantasy, but Williams writes it well enough that the cliches do not feel forced or distracting.

This novel is the first of a long three volume cycle. Thus far we learn more about what sort of quest the series will take, a glimpse of the ultimate evil facing the world and what the stakes are, and how difficult things will become for the "good guys". The second volume, "The Stone of Farewell" is a somewhat shorter novel than the 600 page + "The Dragonbone Chair", but the conclusion "To Green Angel Tower" tips the scales at more than 1000 pages. The "Memory, Sorrow, Thorn" trilogy is one which will require a serious time commitment to read, but it is a favorite of many and is a classic feeling epic fantasy and is one of the most commonly recommended fantasy series. Right now I can't say that it is worth recommending above all others, but the story is interesting, the writing is good if a bit slow, and I hope that this is a series that continues to grow and develop in such a way that the set-up is worth the pay off.

1 comment:

RobB said...

Stick with it Joe. As I may have said in Greg Keyes' forums, this is one of my very favorite sagas. IT gets better and the whole of the trilogy outweighs the sums of its parts.