Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams

Young Simon is in the middle of the biggest adventure his land has seen in years, but if he and is friends fail their mission, the wicked Storm King will prevail. Book Two of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.

I know it sounds like Lord of the Rings, but it’s all in the details, people. (Though he does team up with a dwarf and spend some time with some Elf-like folk.) I found the first book in the series, The Dragonbone Chair, a bit of a slog, but this book picked things up considerably. Williams has no great facility with dialogue, but by the end of the book I’d forgiven him because he’d come up with some wonderful set pieces and had deepened the mythology to a suitably intriguing point.

My biggest beef with this books is with Simon, the boyish main character. In the first book, he was a wide-eyed innocent, but as Book 2 begins, he has slain a dragon and a beard is appearing on his face. Yet he still acts like a wide-eyed innocent. His passivity got really annoying, the point where it made him seem like he had mental disabilities. I wanted to see him show some initiative, or at least some energy, but all he does is sit back and let things happen to him. The fact that the other characters baby him does nothing for the impression that he’s got special needs. If that were truly the case, that would be a fascinating story in its own right, but because the effect is created by Williams’s sloppy character building it tarnishes the whole book.

By this point in a trilogy, I should be aching to start the next book, but I feel like I can wait, and that’s not a good thing, either. There’s something juvenile about these books that makes it difficult for me to become invested in them. Specifically, I never get the feeling that anything of true, lasting consequence is going to happen to the main characters. While it might seem like this safety would make it easy to attach to characters, because there’s no fear that they’ll be taken away, it actually has the opposite effect. Risk is an important story element because it provokes sympathy and ultimately empathy–the pity and fear described by Aristotle. (Need I mention that Robin Hobb does this incredibly well?) Having an adventure without risk is like a crucible without fire. Change can’t happen–so what’s the point?

2 thoughts on “Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams”

  1. I didn’t see any mention of age-group in the Amazon page. Do you know if it is juvenile or young-adult or adult fantasy book? Sounds like a fairy-tale retold to me.

  2. With the exception of the length, it has a YA feel to it. But it’s extremely long–each book has been around 700 page, and book 3 is actually split into 20 800 page books. I would say it’s suitable for anyone who liked The Belgariad and isn’t afraid of a long read.

    Williams uses a lot of elements from other legends–the villain is known as the Storm King, and the dead king went by the name of Prester John. Book one had a mention of a fisher king, but that hasn’t shown up in Book 2. Plus it follows the basic epic quest fantasy template borrowed from LOTR.

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