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The Dragon bone chair is the first novel in the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn four book epic written by Tad Williams. This book was published in 1988 and runs at 910 pages, and all four books come in at over 800 pages each so to describe the novels as epics is perhaps doing them a bit of a disservice. This is a fantasy classic and has all the aspects any fantasy writer loves to read and re-read.
I first read the novel when it first came out and the sequence but somehow managed to miss the final pair of books in the series as I was a student and had more pressing events on my mind. So the first book in the series is fairly new to me and I have no idea what happens to the characters further down the line.
The Dragon bone chair
The Dragon bone chair is a classic fantasy set-up; it begins with a castle and a lonesome boy who loves to walk around the higher parts of the castle including the mysterious Green Tower. The book begins with the birth of Simon, or Simeon and then shifts immediately 14-15 years in the future where Simon is a scullery chattel. He does his job all day but dreams of greater things in the future and manages to befriend the castle's Doctor. The Doctor is a man of learning and through him we meet the aged King John and the king's two sons Elias and Josua.
This is a classic fantasy setting, well covered by such authors as Mervyn Peake, Raymond Feist and David Eddings, a young boy whose an orphan who eventually grows up to become involved in a quest. There is the classic older mentor, a couple of peripheral older overseer women and a beginning of the quest when Simon starts to begin puberty. The differences are minimal between this novel and say Magician by Feist or The Belgariad by Eddings but the writing is fresh and encourages further reading.
Thankfully the author soon moves away from regurgitating the styles of other fantasy greats (take a note Terry Brooks) and starts to weave a story which of course means a change in the stability of the kingdom and a journey for Simon. Simon is now an outcast and as a result soon meets characters which will continue with him through the following novels. So we are soon pulled away from the stable castle under a stable king into meeting Trolls, a version of Elves, wolves, magical swords, and dragons. The author though has a few tricks up his sleeves, rather than letting all these characters to slowly dominate the book making it unwieldy and stuffy but focuses throughout on either Simon or Prince Josua.
The novel soon splits into what appears to be a morality tale; it sets up a split in the country after the death of the old king and an argument between Princes Elias and Josua. One appears evil and has bad council, the other a good honest prince but the true nature of both shifts perceptively as the book progresses.
The book finishes with big changes, there are of course huge changes in the characters of Simon and Josua along with changes to peripheral characters. They all have seminal moments towards the end of the novel and we have a sense as a reader that each has changed and the changes will be pursued in future novels.
This is old fashioned classical fantasy novels; we have the boy in castle set up and a world of black magic, dragons, magic swords and elves. Reading the book does make the reader feel as though he's writing how fantasy was presented in the late 70's and 80's until more edgy fantasy came through in the 2000's. So the genre had become rather saturated by the boy taking up the challenge of a disrupted kingdom, it was and still is a genre which Terry Pratchett parodied so well in his early Discworld novels.
The strength in the novel is its length, not as a terrible weight around the reader's neck which he feels when he reads any of the later Wheel of Time series but a feeling of wishing to find out more about the central characters. The author gives us a bit of information about the character but never fully explores all the issues at one time, giving the sense of a complex patterns becoming slowly clearer. Tad Williams does have a lovely style in his writing and has a happy knack of describing events during conversations between two characters, so we get descriptions of battles from the viewpoint of two people observing the events.
At 900 pages it must be a decent read to make the reader want to dedicate his time on the rest of the series.
The Dragonbone Chair sits yellowing in the great hall of the Hayholt, its king too frail to sit upon it any longer.
Deep in the bowels of the mighty castle echo voices, fragments of a past whose roots stir restlessly in the north.
A lanky, awkward kitchen servant, loved by the serving staff despite his daydreams and absentminded forgetfulness runs recklessly among the rooftops of the towering castle, dreaming of glory and adventure in his own private play world.
The Dragonbone chair is a sweeping tale of epic proportions, the entire saga is told across four books, starting with this one and moving on to 'the Stone of Farewell' 'Siege' and 'Storm'. The story is not interrupted, little time passes between each book.
We start off with Tad Williams setting the scene, an immense castle and rich, lively characters reside within its walls.
But all is not well, the legendary King John, unitor of Osten Ard, lies dying, loved by his people and hailed as a dragon slayer. A pall has fallen over the castle and the surrounding town.
The Princes are at odds, still fueding over a decade old dispute, and guilt over the death of the elder prince's wife. Joshua the scholar, called lackhand for the missing extremity he lost in the fight to save his sister in law, is a quiet man, not interested in succeeding the throne. Elias is the stronger, healthier man, interested in the manlier things in life, having kept company with his men and fond of fighting in the past. Now though, never quite the same after the death of his wife, Elias more often keeps the company of a strange priest, given to dressing in scarlet who demonstrates more than a slight sadistic streak. This relationship concerns the court, who need a strong successor to the throne to ensure the peace in Osten Ard.
None of this much bothers Simon, a lively and reckless youth, a daydreamer, called 'mooncalf' by the matron of the maids. Simon wants nothing more than to join the militia, and his opportunity comes when he is requested by the resident doctor and scientist, Morgenes.
Simon begs Morgenes to teach him magic, convinced that the old man is a sorcerer, but more often it is history he is taught, much to Simon;s distain.
One night, after the death of King John and the disappearance of prince Joshua, Simon is confronted with more destructive magic than he would ever want to face as tensions in the castle reach breaking point. What follows is Simon's story, his race to reach safety and his terror of the ever watching, ever searching eyes of the Priest...Pryrates.
This book can often get bogged down in the start with some of the scene setting, Simon doesn't leave the castle until halfway through the book, and a lot of the political relationships can sometimes get confusing, but once you have broken free into the story proper what follows is one of the most gripping and inventive fantasy epics I have ever read.
Tad Williams is, as always, a master at creating horrific enemies, frightening creatures and fantastical beings.
A lot of the races are Tolkienesque, the Sithi standing in for the elves, the trolls, for the Halflings and so on, but there are no orcs, no ferocious feral enemies, the menace that haunts Simon and his companions is far more stealthy.
The ever hunting white foxes, the terrifying Bukken and the bald, sadistic and manipulative Pryrates create a much more menacing threat than any fantasy 'bad guy' I have come across.
I would definitely recommend this to fans of fantasy epics. Perhaps not so much for people not used to the style of that genre, it took me a couple of goes to get my teeth into this, and if you are new, perhaps something like Magician - Raymond E. Feist would be more appropriate.
Tad Williams has created something special in this series though, plot twists and character development that will leave you richly satisfied.
Paperback: 944 pages
Publisher: Orbit (18 Oct 1990)
usually to be found in good second hand book stores through.
The Dragonbone Chair is the first in a four part trilogy called Memory, Sorry and Thorn. They are all written by Tad Williams. The other three books are: The Stone Of Farewell, To green Angel Tower: Siege and To Green Angel Tower: Storm. The story is set in a place called Osten Ard. The mystical Sithi used to rule over it all before being driven out by mortal invaders who took over Asu'a, now called the Hayholt and drove the Sithi from the land. The Hayholt is the home to Osten Ard's king: Prester John as he is known. Famous for killing the dragon Shurukai in the tunnels beneath the hayholt. The first few chapters focus on the main character: Simon. He dreams of battles, war and glory. His Father is dead and his mother died giving birth to him. He is looked after by the mistress of the chambermaids "Rachel the dragon" as she is known. The first few chapters mainly focus on him trying to stay away from her and avoid doing any sort of work. He is apprentice to the archivist and sorcerer Doctor Morgenes. The Doctor teaches simon how to read and write aswell as some history of Osten Ard. Little does Simon know that his dreams will soon become a reality. During this time the old king dies, his last dieing wish that his sword: bright nail, be passed on to his heir Elias. But for some reason Elias buries the kings sword with him when he dies. A few days after this and Elias' brother Josua Lackhand mysteriously disapears. On a routine wander round the Hayholt Simon notices an open trapdoor and decides to investigate. As he steps down he hears footsteps echoing along the small corridor he quickly hides and sees Elias' priest Pryrates (who evil) pass through the room. He carries on untill he comes to a bolted door. He peers in and to his suprise sees Elias' brother josua hanging in chains on the wall. This is the main turning point in the story. Simon runs back to Morgenes' chambers
and tells him what he has seen. They manage to get josua out of his prison and out of the Hayholt using a secret passageway in Doctor Morgenes chambers so he can make his way to his home city Naglimund. Just as Josua has left the room the kings guard: the Erkynguard come to the door Morgenes makes simon get into the secret passage just as the door bursts open and Morgenes starts reading and chanting from an old book. The doctor throws himsel at the men. Their is and explosion and simon crawls further into the tunnel. His adventures begin. Little does anyone know at this point but Ineluki: the Storm King seeks to regain his lost realm as the darkness and evil spread across the land. with Elias and Pryrates helping it. This is an incredible book. After reading the first few pages i wasn't sure if i'd really enjoy it but as soon as i read more i got completely hooked and couldn't put it down. It really is that good. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading fantasy. Simon has many adventures once he leaves the Hayholt. The biggest is his search for the sword of power Thorn. As the White Foxes are seen once again in Osten Ard and Naglimund prepares for siege. Simon and a small company of friends set out on their quest Amazing book, Five stars Excellent
The Dragonbone Chair is the first release from the Memory, Sorry and Thorn Trilogy by Tad Williams, an author who himself on his unique style of literature and acute understanding of the sci-fi genre. Tad Williams immediately plunges the reader into the story line and gives the trilogy a heart felt opening. Taking on the life of Simon, an orphan abandoned at an early age and taken in by the dragon Rachel. Working as a scullion boy is far from exciting and not the kind of environment necessary to quench Simon's imaginative mind. He is uninterested and unchallenged by the daily tasks set for him, instead he scampers away from the watchful eye of Rachel. I don't want to delve into the storyline too much because I feel that reading the story was part of the major enjoyment to the novel. Watching as Simon's life unravels is an amazing experience as you watch him overcome the trials thrust upon him. The Dragonbone Chair is a novel of self-discovery rather than anything else and bares a stark resemblance to Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings trilogy. For instance the different races, Simon encounters on his travels to defeat King Elias, The Pryrates and to find Prince Josua he meets Jiriki and the Quanuc, not so unfamiliar from Tolkien's elves. In saying this, the story brings one more side to a quest of self-discovery. The thirst for knowledge is very evident in our young hero. We watch as he overcomes boundaries to achieve his goals, his desire for magic and his awe for his teacher Dr. Morgenes. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this novel is the brilliant literature style of Tad Williams when developing the characters within his stories. Not only are the characters unique and individual but they leap out of the page when you read of their exploits, different races have different traits and the reader can't help but imagine of a far away world where such magic could occur. Tad Williams has dre
amt of such a world and has beautifully woven his ideas into the pages of the novel. My one criticism of the book would be the pace t which it moves. Readers do not misunderstand, The Dragonbone Chair is a wonderful novel but at times it lacks the quintessential action and thirst for fast paced scenes of indecision. Tad Williams has failed to incorporate this into his work. For instance, although Tad Williams successfully converses about the landscapes and the characters motions without being over description, his slow style of literature makes the book predictable at times. For this reason I don't recommend the novel to lovers of fast paced books, but rather those who enjoy and inspiring and uplifting read once in a while. It has to be said that the conclusion of the novel leaves the reader wondering and curious. One cannot simply read one novel; you must be prepared to read The Stone Of Farewell and To Angel Green Tower. In saying this I cannot deny that Tad Williams has managed to capture my imagination in this witty and well-structured novel.
I just noticed, the description of this product given by Dooyoo is a lot more accurate than a lot of their descriptions. Good one Dooyoo. This is the first book in Tad Williams epic trilogy now published in four parts in paper back, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. In hardback the three volumes are this one 'The Dragonbone Chair', 'The Stone of Farewell' and 'To Green Angel Tower'. It appears Williams fell into the same trap that many trilogy writers do, they say it'll be a trilogy, or whatever, and then write a last book that is so large it needs to be published in two paperback volumes. In this case these volumes are called 'Siege' and 'Storm'. I first read this series what I thought was a few years ago but upon closer inspection it was more like seven which makes me feel too old, never mind that. I'm now rereading them having found the entire set looking brand new in a second hand bookshop, that's a bargain I thought and here I am again. In between reading these the first time and now I've read the other series by Williams, the Otherland cycle which I thoroughly enjoyed. Having returned to his first major publication I am pleased to find that it is as good as I remembered it being. One of the press comments on the front is 'the fantasy War and Peace'. Now I've struggled through a lot of the translation of war and peace and I think this far outranks it. One of the problems with 'classics' is that they don't have to be all that great, there are modern authors who, due to a better education and general world understanding write better novels than those authors of the classics we all had to study in school (everyone must have done at least one). Now don't get me wrong a lot of the classics are very good, fine but some of them aren't, in fact some of them would only make Mills and Boon nowadays. Anyway my point is that if you've read War and Peace, this is nothing l
ike it, at all. In some ways this is a fantasy classic, in all ways an epic. It takes as our hero Simon, a scullery boy in the kitchen of the great castle in the capital of a newly forged realm. Williams takes all the ingredients of fantasy and mixes them up very successfully into a complex story with so much depth you might think it was Tolkien. Now I'm not one to throw that name around. Having carped about classics not really being here is one that deserves the name. The Lord of the Rings is still one of the best books ever written. Partly because it was effectively the culmination of a life's work, partly because the author had a perfect understanding of the prose he was using being a language professor and partly because he managed to take every folk tale from English cultural history and adapt it into Middle Earth. One problem for fantasy novels post Lord of the Rings is that they can easily be held up to it as 'copies'. This is unfair as Tolkien did base his world on the myths of everyone so that if you now use those same myths you are 'Tolkienesque'. Anyway this series is comparable, in a good way. Admittedly the thing that does smack of Tolkien in this series are the 'elves' which Williams calls the Zida'ya or Sithi. They are very elf like but Williams makes the concept his own. They are much more alien than Tolkien manages to make his elves (or elfs from his old English style?) and much more fluid. There is very little similarity on the whole history front either apart from 'the furthest west' as the afterlife or second part of immortality. When reading the series you aren't continuously thinking 'this smacks of Tolkien' the way you are with some authors, this happily stands up on it's own and then runs away with you. The book is set in a land named Osten Ard, the high king Prestor John who bound the whole land together under himself is dying, rapidly, and passing the th
rone onto his eldest son Elias. As the land breaks apart under Elias' misrule the adventure takes off. Williams takes a leisurely pace, in fact this is the only 'criticism' I could level at this novel if criticism it is, and there is a lot of background and scene setting. Basically Simon sets off almost accidentally from his home after he discovers the levels of depravation of the evil priest counselling the king and then suffers the consequences. After a long while a heroic quest ensues and the book has so wrapped you up with background and characters that you follow along quite happily after. As with a lot of fantasy novels although you start only following one person or group after you have become sympathetic to other characters you split your time between them. This does happen here but Williams also uses the technique of following much more minor characters as a window on what is happening in the rest of the world, a technique that adds depth to the story. Again this isn't a unique thing, many other authors do it but that doesn't devalue the effect it has. These books are very smooth, really very smooth. You sit down to read for a bit and then a hundred pages later look up and decide that maybe you can spare some more time, you'll just read a little more. The slow pace is deceptive as you follow events in such a wealth of description that you don't realise you've been reading for all that long. On the other hand don't let my continual reference to the slow pace put you off, when needed Williams can up the heat and excitement. There are various ways he raises the tension. In the 'middle' of some things he will jump to another set of characters and then return to the tense atmosphere later, leaving you a cliff-hanger as it were, also the contrast between fast and slow, tense and relaxed heightens the tension. Giving you the description right through the eyes of the character, including the distractions
of hunger, thirst, wounds or whatever is another way of placing you right in the action. Most of the narrative is given in the nearly neutral 'he did this and went there and then this happened' type style. Although you are definitely following a character and you get told what they are thinking you still get to 'see' things which they can't. When Williams switches to a purely character based perception he often leaves you knowing more than the character resulting in you reading and partly going 'the bad guy's still around somewhere, no don't relax you're still under attack' and partly feeling that it's you under threat yourself. The beginning of a wonderful series I don't think these books get enough attention. If you liked the Otherland series then in my opinion (:-)) these are much better. 'Epic fantasy you can get lost in for days, not just hours' as it says on the back.
A heartstopping quest that blends the machinations of a king gone mad with the politics of empire; suspense with the pity of war; a world of ancient days with joys - and terrors - of magic.