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The stone of farewell is the second book in the Memory, Sorrow and thorn quadrilogy of novels by American author Tad Williams. The series as a whole has been compared with War and Peace for its length and Lord of the Rings for its quality. High praise indeed, after the brilliance of the first novel The Dragon bone chair we continue the story of Simon the orphan scullery servant.
The DragonBone chair
In the previous novel we met the orphan hero of our novels, Simon is a wanderer a dreamer and a man who has befriended the castle's doctor. The doctor proves to be more than a man of medicine and through Simon we encounter the history of the strange old castle and the fates of the kings who rule there. The book begins with the very final days of King John the dragon slayers rule, after his death Elais his son takes over but soon discord between Elias and his brother Josua splits the country. In an act of terrorism the doctor is killed and Simon is now on the run for his life, the book ends with Elias destroying Josua's castle and Simon having a monumental event which scars him for life.
The Stone of Farewell
The second book continues the story of Simon, Josua, Elais and other characters we met in the first book. The story is separated between the main characters and isn't so focused on Simon as the first book was, the other main character arguably in the novel is the troll Binabik one of Simon's friends. Binabik at the end of the previous novel has been captured by the mountain trolls and his release covers the first third of the novel. Also featured are Elais' daughter, Josua's chief baron and a strange princess who dreams of death and destruction.
This novel like many second novel acts to split our heroes and villains and through their travails we cover far more ground than a single simple narrative. So in the first we encounter castle life through Simon and a period of wanderlust basically to another castle, here we are exposed to all facets of life in King Elias' realm. The soaring mountains, corrupt priests, a strange journey on a ship, a witch woman in the fens, siege, murder and death all are components we meet during this novel.
However, the other main event is the entry of the Sithi, an elf like creature we met in passing in the first novel but here they have central billing. They are all aloof, cool, calm and mysterious but their story is the back story of the series of novels, through their actions years before, events are unfolding as a consequence.
The Sithi are used by the author to introduce a key element in the novels, that of renewal, replacement and the correct order of things. Large sections of the book are concerned with discussing the natural order of life and how it has been disrupted.
Through the actions of the Sithi and thier close relations the evil Noons we find out about how the impact of man altered the relationship between people and the environment. This angle used by the author has to be applauded considering the fact that the novel was written in 1990 well before the age of conservatism and green thinking.
So in the end, the brilliance of the first novel does feel a little watered by the expansion of characters and the increase in spread of time and space which the novel depicts. However, Tad Williams does explain events brilliant he uses dialogue in a simple but sensible way which describes events as they would be perceived. He doesn't take the reader for a fool and doesn't feel the need to keep the reader in the dark over certain events which have yet to unfold. So if one the character finds something out then so does the reader, if a character is caught by surprise then so is the reader.
Williams also describes battles brilliantly, he has a habit of describing events through dialogue between characters so as a battle rages we find out about specific characters through two other characters mentioning them. So we get comments like "X is attacking Y, look at X driving his horse forward to face Y", a very difficult skill I suspect but he does it brilliantly.
Overall a very satisfying second novel in the series, expanding some storylines but bringing others to a conclusion, the focus is still Simon but we learn more about him through his actions and the impression he makes on others rather than viewing the events in his own words.