The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Warning! This review makes reference to events from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. These events may be considered spoilers for that series.

Well, it feels good to be back in Osten Ard! The Witchwood Crown takes place thirty years after the events in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Simon and Miriamele are still on the throne. Some of our old favorites are back, including Count Eolair, Binabik, Tiamak and others.  Once again, as is usually the case, there is a rising threat from the Norns, and possibly from other sources.

Without giving too much away, the story seemed to have an air of impending doom. I kept thinking that at some point,Simon, Miriamele, or others may die. Obviously, I won’t give anything away, but there was a sense that anything bad could happen at any moment. That could be influenced by the stories I have read since Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was first published. Nonetheless, it brought a nice tension to the story. I wanted this story to be an introduction to the next generation- a passing of the torch. Simon and Miriamele are still the main characters, and I am anticipating that the next book will have the next generation closer to front and center.

We say goodbye to some old characters, and are introduced to some new ones. The politics of the world have expanded. I look forward to spending more time in Nabban and amongst the Thrithings folk. Their stories are featured more prominently and expands the world much more than in the original trilogy. We get to see more of the politics of the world and all of its complexities. It feels like a more sophisticated and complicated Often Ard. That’s a good thing. We get to spend more time with the Norns, too. If you read The Heart of What Was Lost, you will recognize some of the Norn characters. These people can really hold a grudge!

And, for those who were wondering, the fate of Josua, Vorsheva and their children is explored in this book. I was able to correctly guess some things, but not others. The reveal was very well done and absolutely worth the wait.

One thing I did have trouble with were the actions and decision making of Simon and Miriamele. I didn’t think some of their decisions really made sense, and they only made those decisions in order to move certain characters around in preparation for the main story arc. Miriamele in particular seemed harsh, and Simon didn’t seem to have matured into his role as king.

The story has some surprises, mystery and betrayal. All of the ingredients for a masterful  trilogy.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

The Faithful and the Fallen Series by John Gwynne

The first book in this series, Malice, had been on my “to read” list for at least a couple years. I think I even read the sample twice during that time. Since the fourth and final book in the series was published last year, I figured I should go ahead and give it a try. I’m glad I did.

This is a four book fantasy series set not in your typical medieval European type setting, but probably in a time before that. No knights in armor (I don’t think the word “knight” is used once) but nations with war bands and short swords. Archers are mainly used as hunters, and battles are basically one big melee, and whoever has the most people standing at the end wins. Nations/regions ruled by kings, but loosely and informally tied together under a “high king”. The high king doesn’t have much or any real power. There are also angel and demon like beings, ancient artifacts of immense power and a little bit of magic thrown in. The setting is very reminiscent of Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, or The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell.

Anyway, the four books in the series are:

  1. Malice
  2. Valor
  3. Ruin
  4. Wrath

The story turns the “farm boy who is really a king/savior” trope on its head. Yes there is a farm boy type protagonist, and yes he has a “destiny”, but it doesn’t play out the way you might expect. There’s also a prince who believes he has a “destiny” as well, and that has an interesting twist, too. There are several point of view characters, each chapter dedicated to one viewpoint. The very basic premise is that the “bad” guys are trying to bring there leader back from the Otherworld, so that he can reign over our world full of humans. The “good” guys, of course, are trying to stop him. There are a group of ancient artifacts needed to bring the evil leader to our world, so there is a search for those as well. There are giants, giant bears, giant wolves and talking ravens and crows! I’m being very simplistic with this plot description because anymore detail will give away some of the twists to the tropes.

The writing in the first book was a little rough. Characters were doing a lot of grunting and snorting. In the next book, Valor, that was largely absent. Really, the grunting happened often enough to where it became distracting.  Like the skirt smoothing in the Wheel of Time series (which I do recommend, by the way.)

There is a strong emphasize on friendships. There are romances, but the focus is on the non-romantic bonds formed between the characters. The romances are pretty basic, there’s enough there to make you believe them and root for them, but the outcome of the story does not hinge on the romantic involvement of any two characters. The romance informs the decisions that some of the characters make, and it has its consequences, but it doesn’t seem forced or ham-fisted.

It was nice to have points of view from both sides of the conflict. It gives you a sense of the reason why people are making the decisions they are making. Very often the evil characters are evil just because they are evil.  It also shows how sometimes “good” and “bad” just depends on where you’re standing.

The story was very compelling. I cared about the characters and what happened to them. I was sad when characters died, and cheered when they came out on top. As with many of today’s fantasy novels, main characters die- some tragically, some heroically. The ending is bittersweet, but definitely satisfying.

I did have a couple of quibbles. Some of the characters that needed to die, took an awful long time to die. Its the evil character that seems to be immortal. No matter how many times they are stabbed, ambushed, or seem to be in an impossible situation, they manage to escape. That frustrated me a bit. While the ancient artifacts were clearly important, we only knew the purpose or power of some of them. The others didn’t seem to have a power or function. It could’ve been that the knowledge was lost, but it was never brought up.

It doesn’t appear that there will be anymore stories with these characters, but I wouldn’t mind a follow up story where we catch up with theses characters several years later. There are definitely more stories to tell.

 

Lily Pad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

 

 

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Trilogy by Brian Staveley

I had been looking for a good epic fantasy, and someone mentioned this on Goodreads, so I gave it a try. I’m glad I did!

The three books in the series are:

  1. The Emperor’s Blades (TEB)
  2. The Providence of Fire (TPoF)
  3. The Last Mortal Bond (TLMB)

This is the story of 3 siblings who are the children of the Emperor of Annur. The children are raised in different places; Valyn is on an island training to become a member of an elite military group; Kaden (the heir to the throne) is studying with monks and Adare is raised at home in Annur. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the emperor dies, and since the heir to the throne is off studying with monks, you can image that the empire of Annur is in a very precarious situation. That’s pretty much where the story takes off.

I am not a big fan of long and detailed descriptions of battles, so for the first book (TEB) at least, that was a plus. The battle descriptions were general enough so that you get a sense of what is happening, without the excruciating detail of every knife, punch or sword thrust. There was some of that, but not too much. If you are looking for a sweeping romance to carry you through the trilogy, well, you won’t get that. I like a good romance, but I will admit that it was refreshing to not have that angst.

You have a wide range of characters. There’s an immortal race of beings, gods (both young and old), regular humans and fantastical creatures. Not too much, but just enough. That seems to be my running commentary- not too much of this, not too much of that. However, once you get into the second (TPoF) and third (TLMB) books, the violence is on the uptick and you get a new point of view character. In the third book (TLMB), there is a confusing section in the middle of the story that can be hard to make heads or tails of. Stick with it because it does resolve itself before the end of the book. More astute readers may be able to catch on sooner. There are also some time jumps which you can miss if you are not reading carefully. I did notice in the third book (TLMB) that there were a few events that happened off screen, and you only learn about them when a character is describing the events either to another character or in their own thoughts. I wish some of that could have happened in “real time” but the last book goes through quite a bit of plot, so that may have been a good thing. I’m still not completely sure that I liked it.

Anyway, it was a great adventure with good world building and characters that you can really root for- or against.

Also, if you read the series and want more, there is a standalone novel called Skullsworn. It is the backstory for one of the characters in the trilogy.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 More than just “pretty good”, but not quite at the top of your “to read list”

 

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti: Home is the sequel to need Okorafor’s previous Hugo and Nebula award winning novella, Binti. I’m going to keep this brief because I shared most of my feelings about the world, the main character, plot, etc. If you want my take on Binti, you can read it here.

The story takes place after the closing events of Binti. And as the title lets us know, Binti goes home. Binti’s experiences at the university have changed her, both emotionally and physically, but she feels compelled to go home for a rite of passage that is very important in her culture. She brings along her alien friend, Okwu. Of course, we have the inevitable conflicts with Binti and her family- she’s changed, and her family has a hard time understanding this new Binti. Through her rite of passage, Binti begins to discover more about herself, and her people.

Overall the story is a worthy successor to the story begun in Binti. The use of an African culture for this futuristic setting is refreshing and exciting. We are able to sidestep the usual tropes found in science fiction when its based on European or American norms. If you’re looking for something new and fresh, Binti and Binti:Home are an excellent place to start.

I fully realize that this doesn’t give you too much to go on, (I don’t want o spoil the plot!) but trust me, its worth the read.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

 

The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

Happy 2017!

As I mentioned in my Memory, Sorrow and Thorn post, this is a bridge novel between the last events of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (MST), and the beginning of the new trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard. More specifically, this book details the events between the end of To Green Angel  Tower (the third book in MST) and its epilogue. For those who don’t want MST spoiled, I will say that this book is clearly a set up for the new trilogy, and is probably a necessary read before you dive into The Last King of Osten Ard (LKOA).

SPOILERS FOR MEMORY, SORROW and THORN ahead!

After the Storm King was defeated, Duke Isgrimnur is tasked with destroying the remaining Norns, who were still terrorizing parts of Osten Ard. We get view points of Isgrimnur, a couple of common soldiers, and the Norns themselves. With the Norn point of view, we get to see more of their society and how it works. We see the conflicts that arise when the ultimate fate of their entire race is hangs in the balance.  What some of them propose to do is actually quite shocking, and seems to go against everything they believe, about themselves and about the world, but it makes for a fascinating dilemma. What would you do if you are facing the complete annihilation of your race? I became very invested in their story, and it’s pretty clear that what happens in the final battle between the Norns and the humans if Osten Ard will have ramifications for generations to come.

I was not as invested in the point of view of the common soldiers. While the change of perspective was good for pacing, the characters didn’t resonate with me. I tend to like fantasy that focuses more on the upper classes, royalty, etc. as opposed to the common folk. I get why its there, its just not as compelling to me.

There are certainly events in this book that are foreshadowing of events to come in LKOA, including some good old fashioned prophetic ramblings from immortal creatures!

The Heart of What Was Lost is a great throwback to the epic fantasy of the 90’s. When I first read MST, I was reading it along with The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc. which were clearly influenced by MST. Its nice to get back into high adventure, and a nice break from the graphic violence and long detailed depiction of battles that are depicted in the more “grim/dark” fantasy that is popular now.

This is absolutely a set up for the new trilogy. For fans of MST, this relatively short novel is a nice way to reacquaint yourself with the world of Osten Ard, and prepare you for the new adventure to come.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5