Legends: Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy

LegendsLegends by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The eleven stories with in this first “Legends” anthology are by some of the best writers of fantasy and science fiction, both in prose and sales.  Edited by Robert Silverberg, who also contributed as well, the stories range within their established fictional worlds from stand alone either connect with the main series or in-between main series books or prequels with mixed results.

The best stories whether, stand alone or prequel, had the same things in common.  First the reader did not need to know anything about the fictional setting from any previous location as the authors used the stories to introduce the audience to their written creations.  Second, the story usually followed just one character, at most two if change of perspective was easily denoted, allowing the narrative to be tight given average 65 pages each story took.  Those that were on the bottom end of the scale were the exact opposite as they relied too much on the reader already knowing the story’s universe and too many characters or point-of-view changes to keep track of (or both!).

Unfortunately two of the weakest stories are at the very beginning and the end of the anthology, however of the nine stories in the middle of the anthology seven were at the least very good and make this fantastic purchase for anyone who gets it.

Individual Story Ratings
The Dark Tower: The Little Sisters of Eluria by Stephen King (3.5/5)
Discworld: The Sea and Little Fishes by Terry Pratchett (4.5/5)
The Sword of Truth: Debt of Bones by Terry Goodkind (3.5/5)
Tales of Alvin Maker: Grinning Man by Orson Scott Card (4/5)
Majipoor: The Seventh Shrine by Robert Silverberg (3.5/5)
Earthsea: Dragonfly by Ursula K. Le Guin (4/5)
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn: The Burning Man by Tad Williams (5/5)
A Song of Ice and Fire: The Hedge Knight by George R.R. Martin (5/5)
Pern: Runner of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (4.5/5)
The Riftwar Saga: Wood Boy by Raymond E. Feist (5/5)
The Wheel of Time: New Spring by Robert Jordan (2.5/5)

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The Burning Man (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #0.5)

The Burning Man by Tad Williams
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The castle of Hayholt in the middle of Osten Ard is once again the location of a Tad Williams story. Set a few hundred years before the time of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy this story adds to the overall history of the Hayholt by describing the time of ‘King’ Sulis the Apostate, the 4th mortal to reign over the former Sithi capital of Asu’a, as told by his step-daughter Breda.

Breda recalls how Sulis was considered an Apostate by the Church in Nabban and how he pursued an intellectual question to the detriment to his own health, all the while Breda remembers her first love which at first seems trivial but later has important ramifications at the end of the story. The titular ‘Burning Man’ makes readers of the trilogy think of someone else, but is in fact a slight of hand by the author to MST fans while also intriguing to first time Osten Ard readers. The tight, interconnected plot threads and the nice swerve as to who the Burning Man is makes this prequel great both for MST readers and those that have never stepped foot in Osten Ard.

To Green Angel Tower, Part 2 (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #3b)

To Green Angel Tower, Part 2 (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #3; Part 2)To Green Angel Tower, Part 2 by Tad Williams
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The second part of To Green Angel Tower brings Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn to a stunning and thrilling finish.  The book begins with the Norn attack on Josua’s camp and Simon & Miriamele’s quest to the Hayholt, directly where it left off in Part 1 giving a “sense of continuity” of the overall novel.  The story arcs of the various second tier characters were either ended or brought into the main story before the last quarter of the book so as to concentrate on the major climactic siege of the Hayholt and the supernatural battle on top the aforementioned Green Angel Tower.

By the last quarter of the book every living character, save one, has made their way to the Hayholt through a variety of paths.  It is only then that all of them start realizing that they had been tricked by the Storm King and the Norns, including their human allies Elias and Pryates though the later had tried to cage his supernatural ally himself.  The Storm King’s defeat is not through strength of arms, but on empathy towards the great antagonist at the right time that stymies his return to mortal plane.  The resolution to the great crisis is a unique twist that one doesn’t see coming along, but given the one who expresses the empathy it goes well with that character’s development throughout the book.

There were some issues I did have while reading that I have to mention, the first of which was the pace at the beginning of the book.  To Green Angel Tower was originally published whole in hardcover so one would assume that Part 2 would feel just like a continuation, but the beginning of Part 2 reads and feels like it is a different book entirely.  I mentioned in the first paragraph that Part 2 began where Part 1 left off to give a “sense of continuity” but it doesn’t read that way especially as one continues on through Part 2.  It seems that To Green Angel Tower is actually two books in one that were pressed in the original publication so as to have the “trilogy” but the series would have been better served as a tetralogy when originally published.  The second was trying to keep the various timelines straight of the various storylines, especially as they started interconnecting with one another and which sometimes was maddening trying to remember what another character was doing somewhere else at the time.

Overall, To Green Angel Tower Part 2 was a fantastic finish to a memorable series.  Not withstanding my feeling that the series should be a tetralogy and my other minor issue, this is a series that any fantasy fan must read because of how Williams brought something new to the genre over a quarter of a century ago and inspired several other authors to bring their ideas forward with his success.  So consider Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn as well as this book recommended.

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To Green Angel Tower, Part 1 (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #3a)

To Green Angel Tower, Part 1 (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #3; Part 1)To Green Angel Tower, Part 1 by Tad Williams
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The first part of To Green Angel Tower hooks the reader from the first page with suspense, action, growing tensions that are unique to particular characters, and mysteries both solves and still unanswered.  Tad Williams begins the finale of his series Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn with major characters still separated throughout the vast terrain of Osten Ard, but through course of the events bring many of them together only to separate them once again.  The majority of the action takes place in and around the Stone of Farewell as newly knighted Simon Snowlock joins the battle for the survive of the town of refugees that had sprouted on the ancient Sithi site as Prince Josua begins to openly challenge his brother’s rule.

The journey of Miriamele to the Stone of Farewell along with the dubious Cadrach brought together Isgrimnur, Tiamak, and the mentally lost Casamir in a journey through the dangerous Wran and enemy held borderlands.  The reunion of nearly all the major characters results in very interesting dynamics and sometimes annoying with Simon and Miramele’s interactions varying on the situation.  The situation in Hernystir sees the Sithi ride to war and Maegwin lose her mind, which is neither improves or worsens her character development instead of just continuing to make it frustrating as usual.  And Williams turns his attention to Pryrates, Elias, Rachel the Dragon, and blind Guthwulf to give the situation in the Hayholt.

To Green Angel Tower (Part 1) builds on the first two books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series as well establishing the endgame for entire story.  Part 1 ends just as important things look like they are about to take place, especially as Simon and Miriamele separate from Josua’s ragtag army on a mission only Miriamele knows the objective.  It’s an ending that makes the reader want to go straight to Part 2.

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Stone of Farewell (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #2)

Stone of Farewell (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #2)Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy appears at first to be an event-laden set up piece for the grand finale series, however Stone of Farewell turned out into something more in-depth especially when it comes to characters.  From various locations around Osten Ard, characters that have survived the events of The Dragonbone Chair start heading to the legendary Stone of Farewell, a temporary sanctuary for those fighting against the tide of evil brought by the Storm King.  While others continue their noble, and sometimes misguided, personal quests.

From the north, Simon’s journey begins with saving the lives of his friends from a death sentence then heads to the southern border of the Old Forest only to be separated from his friends.  In the west, Prince Josua leads a ragtag band of survivors in the Old Forest first in a battle of survival then into a quest that leads them to the vast plans in the east of the country to the Stone.  Miriamele learns her quest to bring Nabban to her uncle’s side a failure before her arrival then finds herself being secretly traded from one political player to another while Duke Isgrimnur’s search for the wayward Princess gets sidetracked to find small Wrannaman along with a legendary figure.  And in occupied Hernystir, Maegwin leds her exiled country in the depths of the mountains and finds a lost city.

From the first page the action is always moving forward unlike the beginning of The Dragonbone Chair.  Simon’s sojourn with the exiled Sithi is a interesting and very necessary change of pace in the later half of the book as the reader continues to learn that things aren’t necessary as they seem.  While the vast majority of the book is a great read, there are parts that are somewhat of a drag and questionable.  Both Miriamele and Maegwin seem to be well-written one page then clichéd the next, its very maddening as a reader.  Another is the fact that the majority of Josua’s journey to the Stone comes from Deornoth’s point-of-view, while Deornoth is a great character it questionable that a major player like Josua seems sidelined by the writer.

Stone of Farewell is a wonderful middle volume of a trilogy that is not only an adventure in itself, but builds up the story for the finale.  If you’ve read The Dragonbone Chair and are thinking about if you really want to continue with the series, I recommend you read the first 100 pages because you won’t want to put it down.

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The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #1)

The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #1)The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The first book of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy on the surface looks like a cliché, however Williams puts his own original spins on those standard elements that in The Dragonbone Chair the reader is confronted with a fantasy that is familiar yet very different.  The main character is the young Simon, a scullion orphaned from birth, who becomes the assistant to the castle’s doctor as old heroic King John’s long life is coming to an end and his son, Elias, succeeds him.  Then as larger events that Simon only takes note of start effecting his life in the castle, he finds an open door in the floor.  From that moment Simon’s takes him from the ancient castle of his birth to the reaches of the known world, not that he really wants to and doesn’t prevent him from complaining.

Williams’ story further populated by other intriguing characters, both friends and foes of Simon.  The troll Binabik who becomes Simon’s travelling companion thanks to a secret message from Simon’s mentor, Miriamele the only daughter of the corrupted new king who runs away under disguise only to join Simon, and Prince Josua who must confront and fight his older brother King Elias are but a few of the individuals that Williams makes the reader want to learn more about in future books.  But Williams’ unique take on the “standard” elf was a pleasant surprise for those accustomed to the Tolkien version.

Coming to my first Tad Williams book, I had read and told various things to expect about his writing.  The most frequent was that he started slow and frankly this is correct, though once the action really kicks into gear all the events previously thought as tedious at the start to be seen by a different light.  Though overall not perfect, the storytelling is engaging and the worldbuilding top notch.

After finishing The Dragonbone Chair I am fully committed to seeing how story will play out over the next two (three if you have the Mass Market Paperback) books.  Yes, the book does start slow but as I said above once the action starts everything read about before will take on a different light as you along with Simon traverse Osten Ard.

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