Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is Tad Williams' sophomore venture into epic fantasy, and it's a long read that, despite its length, will grip you and keep you on the edge of your chair for every last one of its nearly three thousand pages. The characters are deep and nuanced, the world itself is extremely real, and the plot: simple heroes fighting an impossible struggle against an overwhelmingly powerful supernatural foe, is a refreshing break from typical Airport Fantasy. The emphasis here is simple; these guys aren't epic heroes. The heroes of ages past have come and gone, and it's the "ordinary" folk that must solve the problems they left behind. Moreover, those shining examples of humanity are revealed in the end to have been deeply flawed. Although Simon follows a fairly standard Hero's Journey, and there's very little originality in the fantasy archetypes, what sets the story apart for me is how deeply the characters suffer. Williams takes Anyone Can Die to a new level, killing off key characters with a seemingly gleeful indifference as to how deeply the audience identifies with them, and making life hardly any better for the ones that do survive. Reading this story, you understand why people in such times might wish for death. At the same time, Simon's Character Development is one of the strongest elements, epitomizing the Little Hero Big War archetype. And if there were ever a villain deserving of the name Complete Monster, Pryrates is it. Perhaps most impressive is how consistent the plot remains throughout. It's clear that the land of Osten Ard is well-lived in, and this is one chapter among many. Yet at the same time, each plot thread, every element that's introduced that may have made you wonder, "Hmm, what's that about?" gets used. The heroes' only chance for victory comes at the long end of an incredibly thin thread of fate and chance, and by the time the reader gets there, all the classic tropes of prophecy in fantasy works have been so thoroughly subverted that it truly does surprise and astonish. There's a Reveal that comes about three quarters of the way through To Green Angel Tower that frankly floored me and made the final chapters into a page turner that didn't release its grip until the very end. Highly recommended.
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