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on 21 August 2005
Though the paperback weighs in at 766 pages of text I wasn't bored or plodding through the story at all--rather I was racing towards the end, hoping that it would never come. Williams has crafted a fine tale set in a believable world. Follow the adventures of Simon (originally Seoman) the castle scullion. He lives in the Hayholt, capital castle for King John the Presbyter, High King of Osten Ard. Unfortunately King John is dying and his son Elias will inhereit the throne--however, not all is well with Elias and Pryrates, his mysterious counselor. Simon is thrust unwillingly into these tumultuous times and has to make the best of it.
Simon is definately the main character of the volume, yet as the story progresses you are introduced to a host of other characters and occasionally you'll see chapters and scenes from their perspective. Really everything weaves together in a tale that holds the imagination and attention while leaving you in anticipation of the next volume. I was also appreciative that the story stayed believable without falling into too many "fantasy cliches," and because of its length the development could go slowly (but not too slowly)--that is to say many things on the back cover weren't revealed for several hundred pages, :-). Don't expect to see characters who've never fought before suddenly wield a sword like an expert and become the kingdom's champion--Williams is more realistic than that, ;-).
The different cultures are well thoughtout, and the history of the world is anything but stagnant or "stuck in the Middle Ages." Rather there is a real sense of history and the rise and fall of nations. Don't expect to find a "typical fantasy" with humans, elves, and dwarves. Instead you'll find multiple believable human cultures, the mysterious Sithi, and diminutive Trolls.
Of worthy mention is the cover art and the maps. Michael Whelan produced the paperback cover art--and I have always enjoyed his work--true to the text as it is and wonderfully rendered. Additionally the maps were created by Tad Williams himself, and several enlargements appeared throughout the volume.
If you are looking for epic fantasy and a well crafted tale then look no further than <i>Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn</i>'s first volume <b>The Dragonbone Chair</b> to start you off.
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on 7 May 2013
not really. I mean, Tad Williams' 3/4 volume saga is truly engaging, especially once you get to the final volume. Unfortunately, for the first two books, you really do spend a great portion of your time screaming blue murder at Simon, knowing that even in the end, he'll most likely still consider himself a bloody Mooncalf.

No, what really got me through all three (four?) volumes was realising early on that this book was released in 1991, and George R.R. Martin didn't get around to releasing A Game of Thrones until 1996. I realise that one should be flattered to be copied, but the level of plagiarism exhibited by Martin borders on the obscene. Red comet heralding impending doom? Check. Hand of the King? Check. White Walkers? Sorry, White Foxes? Check. A devastating winter descending from the North? Check. The list goes on...

Don't get me wrong. I love Ice and Fire. GM has delivered on the promise of what Memory, Sorrow & Thorn could've been. With swearing. And nudity. And a unique point-of-view literary device which keeps the reader guessing what'll come next. But Tad Williams deserves immeasurable credit for creating such a grand beginning, middle and end. For me, I just wanted loads more chapters focusing on every other character.

And it's worth it just for Simon and the Wheel...
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on 13 August 2009
Not the most encouraging title for a review, perhaps, but the most apt I can think of. I'll explain shortly.

The plot has been well summarised by others here, so I won't waste your time repeating it, except to say that this is pretty much your standard tale of reluctant young hero taking on a dangerous mission for the good of the world. If that sounds formulaic, that's because it is, but fortunately this story is in the hands of Tad Williams, a writer who could write about tax law and come up with something enjoyable to read.

The length and pacing of the book have presented problems for some, here and on the American Amazon. Unlike the one-star "i red one page and got board" (sic) reviews given by some to bestselling thrillers, it's fair to assume that most people who take on a 700-page fantasy novel are serious readers and so their opinions are worth listening to. Length and slow pacing also figure in the comments by readers who clearly loved the book, so it is obviously an issue which should be drawn to the attention of the potential reader.

I found the book slow, maddeningly so, at times in the early stages. There were even times when I wondered whether to carry on. I am very glad that I did. As I read on, I found myself warming to the characters, the story, the fantasy world Williams creates and even the slow-paced style. The pace does speed up at the end, or perhaps it appeared to as I got more involved, and when I reached the end I felt as if I'd lived through a moving, epic and above all worthwhile experience. It was a bit like how I feel at the end of a performance of Wagner's Ring - those who appreciate that wonderful work will know what I mean.

If the foregoing is a bit pretentious, then I'll compound the sin with the following: I believe that in art, as in life, you get out what you put in. Listening to bland, three-minute pop songs, watching soaps and reality TV, or reading books with sex or violence on every other page (and six-word sentences) does provide instant gratification, though I can't see it in the case of reality TV. The problem is, such things are immediately forgotten and provide no long-lasting pleasure. Great works of music, cinema and literature require effort to be put in, and the rewards for doing so are as great or greater than the effort invested. This book is a good case in point. I'll illustrate this by saying that after finishing Dragonbone Chair I decided on a bit of lighter reading in the form of a Dean Koontz novel before moving on to Stone of Farewell. Now I like Koontz and his book was very enjoyable on its own merits, but after the Williams it seemed shallow and corny.

Four stars, not five, for two reasons - first, for the above mentioned longueurs, and second, for the constant repetition of various oaths based on the gods of Williams's fantasy world (Aedon be blessed, etc). It becomes annoying after a while.

Sorry if I've been a bit preachy - I hope this will be of help to potential readers.
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on 7 July 1999
This book begins the quartet of "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn," and is one of the better fantasy series currently available for reading. Well written, with a developed mythos, good characterization, and solid plotting, this series must stand as one of the better, if not among the best, of the fantasy series availble for reading. Much of the story and world are freshly rendered, and rarely does the reader encounter the overly familiar or implausible contrivances that plague so much of contemporary fantasy fiction. Nor are the characterizations idealized or juvenile. While this series does not rise, for me, to the imaginary involvement of works such as "Lord of the Rings," the first three "Chronicles of Thomas Covenant," Bradley's "Mists of Avalon," Kay's work since "Fianovar," and Martin's or Jordan's (despite its flaws) ongoing series, nonetheless, I cannot recommend this quartet highly enough.
One note of caution: Action addicts may have difficulty with the "Stone of Farewell" as the first 150 pages are devoted to establishing background and character development of the main protagonist, but I believe if they perservere, only the true adrenelin junkie will feel short-changed. And for you, there is always Eddings or Brooks or comics.
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on 24 January 2016
I am thrilled this book is finally available on kindle. I read them years ago and i have reread the whole saga 4 or 5 times, now I am re reading them on my kindle. They are absolute jewels in the fantasy book market and I speak as a Tolkien fan. The world that Williams creates is rich and very believable. It is the characters that will win you over though and it is such a pleasure watch the characters grow and develop over the course of the series. I cannot rate this highly enough so if you love well written fantasy then look no further.
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on 5 November 2015
Just excellent, amazing. I love this series of books. The kindle version is so convenient and the new reading of the audiobook (nearly 34 huge hours) is just brilliant. I'm thoroughly enjoying revisiting a loved book. Can't wait for the others to come out on audiobook.
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on 28 September 2001
I won't tell you about the story, I'll tell you how it made me feel...
I bought it years ago, when it was first published, simply because it had a nice picture on the cover and because I wanted a big fat book that I could lose myself in for a couple of months.
It's a bit like a roller-coaster; the first hundred pages are like the climbing of the first hill, but once past them, you're hurtling along at break-neck speed, being thrown from side to side and hanging on for the thrill of the ride.
It's one of those books that makes you late for work in the morning. I found myself devoting every spare minute to reading the thing. I laughed, I cried and I raged, but most of the time I thanked my lucky stars that I bought this book. I love it, it's my favourite novel.
If you like epic fantasy, it simply doesn't get any better than this.
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Prester John is the unchallenged High King of Osten Ard, the ruler of all the lands from the Nornfells to the southern deserts. He has ruled wisely and well - but not without bloodshed - for seven decades. Now his health is failing and his son Elias prepares to inherit the throne. Elias is strong and a canny general, but is also mistrusted for his close relationship with the sinister priest Pyrates. There is also a growing rift between Elias and his younger brother Josua Lackhand that threatens the peace.

Simon, a simple kitchen boy in the High King's castle, the Hayholt, is drawn into events beyond his understanding. A cold winter is coming, things are stirring in the far north that have not been seen for centuries and the fate of the world will turn on three lost swords: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.

The Dragonbone Chair is the opening novel of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, a massive trilogy written by American author Tad Williams. First published in 1988, the novel was an important milestone in the development of epic fantasy. Previous fantasy novels had been split between easy reading versions of Tolkien (Brooks, Eddings) or insanely dark reactions to it (Donaldson, Cook), but Williams's novel was arguably the first to really engage with Tolkien on the same kind of playing field. It's a huge book (over 900 pages in most paperback editions, and only the first part of the story) filled with a complex backstory, numerous ethnic cultures and different races, lots of made-up names and maps. Lots of maps. And an appendix, just to show you that this author means business.

Of course, epic fantasy is a very different field in 2015 to what it was like in 1988, so does the novel hold up?

The answer is a qualified yes. This is a big, epic story which Williams tells well, with some colourful prose, some solid characterisation and development and a bit more depth to the story than it just being another Tolkien clone. The (relatively few) action sequences are well-handled and there are some evocative descriptions, particularly of the vast Hayholt and its Green Angel Tower, as well as the forbidding Aldheorte forest. The characters are a fairly diverse and interesting bunch, although Simon himself, at this early stage, is a bit too much of a wet blanket with a tendency to pass out (either from injury or magically-induced visions) every time something important happens. His companions, particularly the "troll" Binabik, are altogether more compelling in this first novel.

The book also constantly develops and restructures the stakes and the scope of the story as it goes on, bringing in more history, factions and people as it develops. This works in both the Tolkien-esque sense of starting small and branching out later on, and also in forcing a constant reappraisal of the world and the situation. It's telling to see how Prester John is viewed by his own people as a mostly just and benevolent ruler but people from other lands remember him as a conqueror.

There are some structural issues. The book can switch POVs several times in a conversation, which is a bit bewildering for those readers used to the modern convention of staying with one POV for a whole chapter, or for POV switches to be marked by at least a paragraph break. This is also not exactly the fastest-paced novel in the world. Compared to Lord of the Rings, The Eye of the World or A Game of Thrones, The Dragonbone Chair (which is only marginally shorter than the latter two) drags its feet a little. Williams is a good enough writer to make lengthy travelogues or conversations between two minor characters hold the attention, but you do realise from time to time that not actually a lot has happened in the previous hundred pages. Finally, the POV structure can be a bit jarring: much of the first half of the book is shown from Simon's POV, but the latter half introduces a ton of other ones, including some who have an important role to play but we only get a few pages with them because so much time is being spent elsewhere.

But these are both standard (for the genre) and forgivable problems, especially given that this was only the author's second novel. The Dragonbone Chair (****) may be slow to get off the mark and occasionally low-key given the scale of the events, but it's a well-written novel that is rather smarter than it first appears (this becomes more apparent in the sequels). It's well worth checking out ahead of the publication of the sequel series, The Last King of Osten Ard, due to start in 2017.
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on 3 July 2008
For all those who are saying that the beginning is boring, or that the final volume is the best - oh how wrong you are. Personally I think that by picking up the pace, the final volume of this trilogy loses some of the charm that makes this series so exceptional.
This series has a very slow tempo, T.Williams writes at his own pace, as he pleases, stopping to describe the most insignificant detail. Yes, at times I found the books tedious, but it was this slow pace which cast a spell on the books and made them special for me. The (first two) books lack plot but have even more content. It's how the characters interact what makes this such a wonderful series. I also like how Williams gives a lot of cliches some small twists.
This series has a lot of characters, I don't know how many dimensions they have, but somehow they feel more real than in your typical fantasy. I think it's because in this series it feels like the characters really have to face and deal with everyday difficulities, which many times occupy their minds more than the actual quest. Also, in the first time in any fantasy book I've read, I found the dialogue intelligent at times. I must mention that when the leader of the Church spoke back to Pryrates, that was just amazing.

One point of complaint is that for 3000 pages Williams makes the reader believe that there is more going on than meets the eye, and that the plot would be somehow deeper than it seems, but in the end it turns out that there are no real surprises and all the foreshadowing and mysteries have been just about that one thing concerning the destiny of the Swords.

A great read for all who are looking for more than action.
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on 3 December 2006
The title says it all. In Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, Tad Williams delivers all the classic elements of fantasy, so freshly brought together with a beautiful narrative and loveable characters that I felt like I was rediscovering everything I loved about fantasy. The Dragonbone Chair is the first book in this trilogy, and as other reviewers have mentioned, the beginning is slow paced, taking 150-200 pages for the story to really get started. But once you've gotten past those first initial and essential chapters, you will find it hard to put down the book. In fact, if you are thinking of buying the Dragonbone Chair, I recommend that you buy the Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower: Siege, and To Green Angel Tower: Storm (the 3 other books of the series) as well, in order to prevent any frustration you may feel when you put down Dragonbone Chair and realize that you just need to read the rest.

In other words, if you are looking for a series of epic fantasy with history, magic, dragons, mystery, a rich and complex plotline, and characters that you can laugh and cry with, then don't hesitate. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn will meet all your expectations and more. Best read I've had since I discovered the Lord of the Rings when I was a wee lad of 9.
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