One need only spend a few minutes traversing the massive catalogue of reviews we have here at Fantasy Book Review to realise that there are a lot of fantasy books out there. Similarly, it is not difficult to acknowledge that we only have so much time in our lives for reading – though we each may wish for more. There are a lot of authors I’m “supposed to have read” that I have actually read – Janny Wurts, Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien (of course), David Gemmell, etc. One of the authors that I haven’t read much of, however – much to my great disappointment – is Tad Williams. Specifically, I’ve never read his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series.
Many of you are likely Tad Williams fans already, and are well aware that he has finally returned to the world which made him famous – and the progenitor of authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Christopher Paolini. The Witchwood Crown was recently released, and it was only then that I realised it was a sequel. Further confusing the matter, Wikipedia told me that there was another book which came before it – The Heart of What Was Lost, which I finally tracked down, secured, and discovered was little more than a novella-length Osten Ard bridging book.
But boy did I enjoy it!
Having not read much of Williams before, it took me a little while to get into this book. Williams writes with a confidence that extends to what he expects from his readers, and as such many of the names and places – the languages that he uses for his various races – made it hard-going at first. Similarly, the race of men in Williams’ work are all very much Anglo-Saxon, thanes and jarrls and all rough-and-tumble, we-wish-we-were-Vikings. It’s not my particular cup of tea, but I grew to love it as it became less the focus, as we moved away from setting the scene and got into the heart of the story.
Other than some vague Wikipedia-ing, I don’t know much about Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn – and I’ve had enough of fourteen-year-old boys saving the world. I’m going to give them a miss, for now, and just read these new Osten Ard books as if they stand on their own. That being said, I didn’t feel like I was missing much for not having read the original trilogy. Williams deftly lets you know the world exists, hints at what has come before and characters who were central to those stories, without relying on what has come before to tell the current story. I believe I have a pretty good idea of the world in which I’m now reading and am looking forward to reading more – and soon, considering that I already have The Witchwood Crown on my shelves.
The book itself was, as mentioned, relatively short – pretty much novella-length – and so definitely doesn’t dig into the larger world too much. There’s a lot there, I suspect, for readers of the original trilogy who may have forgotten things, but there was a lot there for me as I begin to read this world as well. Fast-paced, but with a lot of time to learn about the different races and characters, and using character- and time-jumps to speed the story along, with a chronicler’s one-sided account of the events to fill in any of the skipped gaps. Williams writes so well that, even jumping around as he did, it didn’t come across as laziness, just efficiency in telling a short story.
I was a little frustrated at times at the stubbornness and dim-wittedness of the men in the story – perpetually unwilling and unable to understand or comprehend what was being told to them. I also walked away almost entirely siding with the Norns, the Hikeda’ya. Stupid humans!
Regardless of my anti-human tendencies, however, The Heart of What Was Lost is a great read for fans of Tad Williams and newcomers alike.
Review by Joshua S Hill
7/10 from 1 reviews
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