Review: The Dragonbone Chair, Tad Williams

For my first review, I re-read an old favourite of mine. This review was originally guest posted on Once Upon a Time.

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Title: The Dragonbone Chair (Goodreads)

Author:   Tad Williams

Rating: 

Series: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn – Book 1 of 4

Genre: YA/Adult Fantasy

Published: Legend Press, 1988

Pages: 912

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository

E-copies: Not available from Amazon • Ebooks.com

Simon is a teen-aged kitchen-boy in the ancient Hayholt castle. He isn’t very good at the tasks the Mistress of Chambermaids sets him, instead preferring to daydream and make-believe around the castle grounds and buildings. Everything changes for Simon when a series of events is kicked off by old King John’s death. John’s eldest son becomes King Elias, but he keeps odd and sinister company with a priest and the golden age of King John’s reign starts to decline. Simon is forced out of the castle to make a journey to find and join the cause of the old King’s second son, Josua.


Review

The world of Osten Ard is rich and detailed, populated with many races each with their own history, religion and heroes. Tad Williams paints vivid pictures of locations and events – in fact sometimes the descriptions can go on a bit long, but it gives the story a very realistic quality. The story was described by one critic as “The fantasy equivalent of War and Peace”, so you get the idea of the weight of some of the writing.

Events start off slowly with a lot of scene-setting, but once the action starts it progresses fairly quickly. The story is told from the viewpoint of several characters in different locations. I must admit the character of Simon annoyed me until I realised that he is meant to be a whiny teenage boy at the start and he does become more bearable as the story progresses. I felt some of the other characters weren’t as engaging as they could be, with the dialogue a little wooden at times.

The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series reminded me of another series that is being widely discussed at the moment – A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. The story is similar to ASoIaF in some ways in the detail of the world and its people, but I didn’t find it quite so confusing to keep track of all the characters and politics in The Dragonbone Chair.

I recently re-read this book – the first time I read it was probably around 15 years ago, so I had mostly forgotten the details of the story, only remembering that I loved it at the time. I also don’t remember how my younger self must have reacted to some of the events of the book – Tad Williams is not afraid for his characters to be killed or hurt in nasty ways and it adds a certain anxiety while reading it. There’s no particularly adult content, but some events could be nightmare material for very young readers.

If you’re looking for a story of adventure, intrigue, magic, battles and prophecies then The Dragonbone Chair will not disappoint. I gave it a total of four stars only due to the length and weight of the story – a truly “epic” fantasy that may end up putting some readers off. It still remains one of my favourite reads.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Review: The Dragonbone Chair, Tad Williams

  1. Wow, I haven’t thought about this series in a while. I remember it as being fairly dark, but also following a pretty well-trod formula. Williams’ willingness to kill off major characters startled me in a way I wasn’t prepared for at the time, but unlike GRRM’s work, I actually cared about them. I can’t say that I cared for more than one of GRRM’s characters, and he’s dead halfway through the first book, so I never made it to the second.

    I enjoyed it, but like you, I didn’t retain a lot of the details of the story. There were three swords, and evil … elves? Norns. Not elves, the elves were good and (invariably) had their peaceful kingdom torn apart by Simon’s visit.

    Thanks for reminding me of this series!

  2. One of my favorites as well — even though it was fascinating re-reading it as an adult — I noticed a lot more of the references and allusions made to various mythologies.

    Binabik forever!

    • Hi, thanks for your comment! I have to admit loving Binabik.. he’s such a long-suffering character and yet he holds it together until the end. And, he rides a wolf, which is instant awesome.

  3. This series seems to have totally passed me by, however after reading that it’s of a similar ilk to A Song of Ice and Fire I’m going to have to add it to my ‘to read’ list! 🙂

    • Hooray! I hope you enjoy it – it’s not quite as gritty as Song of Ice & Fire but the scale of the world building and simultaneous story events just reminded me of it, that’s all.

  4. mageic

    This is the only series of his that I’ve been able to finish, I really enjoyed reading it and have to agree about Binabik. best character around

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