Thursday, October 12, 2006

Book 87: To Green Angel Tower

To Green Angel Tower is the massive concluding volume to Tad Williams' epic fantasy trilogy Memory, Sorrow, Thorn. The novel weighs in at just over a thousand pages and the paperback edition has frequently been published as two volumes. Here Prince Josua has gathered refugees from this brother the King Elias and the Red Priest Pyrates at the Stone of Farewell (also the title of the second volume). At this point Josua and the good guys have an idea of what they are up against. Not only is Elias a bad king and under the influence of the evil Pyrates, they are also up against the The Storm King who has been dead for 500 years but whose spirit is still strong and full of hatred and the Norns. The Norns are the cousins of the Sithi, a long lived race of near immortals of great power. The Sithi once held all the land the humans now hold. The Sithi have accepted humanity's right to live and live in exile from their former homeland. The Norns seek to take their lands back and destroy the humans. To say that the odds are stacked against Prince Josua and his allies is to downplay the situation. The situation appears to be nearly hopeless.

The hero of our story is not Josua, however. The hero of our story is a young man named Simon. Simon started in The Dragonbone Chair as a kitchen scullion in the caste Hayholt and before long is on the run and finding his true destiny. By the beginning of To Green Angel Tower Simon, now called Seoman Snowlock for his slaying of a dragon and recovering one of the three legendary swords, has become a major player in his world. He has befriended the Sithi, some of the trolls, a princess, become a warrior, slain a dragon, recovered the sword Thorn, and has become part of Josua's inner circle. Still, Simon is a young man just discovering who he is and he has not yet grown as confident and mature as he will.

To Green Angel Tower brings the story to a crawling conclusion. At some point Josua and Simon and the allies will make a push to claim the throne and before that to claim the two missing swords Minneyar and Sorrow. They will face the great conflict from the Norns and will seek to bring healing to the land. They do not know how and neither does the reader. Tad Williams has one thousand pages to wrap the story up, so there is plenty of time. Tad Williams uses every page in the book to get us there, and by that I mean that he takes a really long time. One would think that after the first 1200 pages or so covering the first two volumes that we would be farther along, but in a very real sense the story has a long way to go because Josua does not know how to get the swords and has no idea how to overcome the enemy. One thing the reader has to understand is that the story moves slowly. Creeping along slow. Slow like the author doesn't quite know what to do next so he will keep writing more and more until he figures it out. Eventually he does.

So, here's the thing: Memory, Sorrow, Thorn is a very traditional high fantasy story. This is what is typically called "kitchen boy" fantasy because the hero is usually a servant of some sort, often a kitchen boy like Simon, with no parents and real hope to be anything more than what he is. He dreams, of course, but no real hope of becoming more. Something happens and the kitchen boy goes on a grand adventure and learns that he has a great skill or power, gets involved with the powerful men and women of the land who accept him as an equal, and more often than not finds something out about his own heritage which involves some sort of grandeur. This is a staple of the high fantasy genre and this is exactly what Memory, Sorrow, Thorn is. That's fine. It is what an author does within the genre that matters, not the trappings of the genre. This series is both very ordinary, but also well done up until the end. Williams gives us such a slow build that many readers would have quit a thousand pages ago and it is recommended that new readers give the first book at least two hundred pages before making a judgment on the book. There is some promise in the story as Williams makes some of the familiarity seem new. If one gets to the meat of the story, there is an exciting story here. With a good editor Williams could cut several hundred pages out of this book (and from previous books) and really make a moving, tightly paced story that still gets all of the detail (unlike what Terry Brooks is doing with his most recent novels which is all pace and no detail). Still, when I got deep into each novel and especially To Green Angel Tower I was wrapped up in the story and shortly before the end Williams makes some bold moves for such a traditional novel and does a couple of unexpected things to characters which is true to the story and characters and I was impressed.

Then we got to the coda and Williams betrayed the sacrifices of what came before. Note how I am trying not to spoil exactly who made these sacrifices or what the sacrifice entailed. Right before this coda of an ending which wraps everything up I am sold. Williams hammered home a great ending and then he went and undid everything that came before with one more chapter. He revealed too much, gave the reader too much and the ending lost all the power it had up to that point. One thing had been hinted at for a while regarding Simon, so I understand even though I wish Simon's fate could have come about without the family history. The other couple of characters who sacrificed at the end meant nothing after the coda. Betrayal by the author who apparently needed an extra happy ending to close out the trilogy.

If Williams did the same thing with the Otherland series I might be done with him.

Final Analysis: Slow moving traditional fantasy that has a strong story buried in with the lazy river of a plot but a feckless tacked on ending after the final battle which invalidated the power of said final battle.

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