The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams (Last King of Osten Ard #1)

Tad Williams is a master, a true master of epic fantasy. I can only think of perhaps a handful of novels that are this well written in the genre. 

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that I’ve not read Tad Williams’ original trilogy, but after this I feel like I ought to. I want to see more of this world. I need to see more of this world. It’s flawless and bleak and magical: it’s easily one of the best fantasy universes created. Why? Because it’s vast and finely crafted, resting on years of history and lore. My lack of experience with the world of Osten Ard didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book. It’s very friendly to new readers. And that’s important for me because fantasy is nothing without rich history to help cement the world building. It acts as a platform for the characters to develop. And I wasn’t overwhelmed by it despite not reading the first three books. The balance is just right. 

There’s no reason not to make this your next fantasy read!

Central to the plot is the on-going struggle between men and Norns. The world of men is ruled by kind-hearted King Simon who is utterly overwhelmed by his burdens. He is surrounded by betrayal (though he doesn’t know it) and his ancient enemies have returned to plague his kingdom. He is beset by petty politics and frustrating courtiers. His son is dead and his heir, his grandson Prince Morgan, is a useless drunkard. And this is where there is the biggest room for growth, Morgan has big things coming his way and he needs to step up because King Simon seems like a man ready to break. I think Morgan is more than he realises. 

Despite the apparent evilness of the Norns, and the maniacal will of their Queen, I found myself quite invested in their side of the story. They are not all bad. They do not all want to rid the world of men; they are forced to do so by their monarch whose thoughts leech into their brains and drive them forward into battle. And this made the novel real compelling, going forward into the rest of the series, I’m really intrigued to see how this will develop. There’s much more to this immortal race. I find them quite mysterious, and as such their sections of the novel were some of the best. 

It is a slow book, and it will certainly appeal to readers who like careful fantasy. By careful fantasy I mean books that take their time, slowing letting the plot build up as the characters are revealed in good time. And because of this I think it will directly appeal to readers of Robin Hobb. Like Hobb, Williams has not rushed but has laid the groundwork for something quite grand. There are some big surprises in here, and the next book is sure to take an interesting direction. 

It’s a book driven by cultural clashes and racial wars. The world is stark and grey, and I’m not entirely sure who to root for. It’s highly compelling fantasy, go read it! 

10/10 A highly compelling fantasy driven by cultural clashes and racial wars.

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