Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams
|Book Name:||Stone of Farewell|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||August 6, 1991|
After being overwhelmingly impressed with The Dragonbone Chair, I was a little reluctant to pick up its sequel, Stone of Farewell. Sequels can often fall into the trap of the law of diminishing returns; not quite as good as the first one, sometimes a huge disappointment.
There are exceptions – the movie Empire Strikes Back and Joe Abercrombie’s Before They Are Hanged spring to mind – but I didn’t think this book was going to be one of them. From what I could remember, Stone of Farewell was 800+ pages of history and legend – backstory, if you will – interspersed with the journeys of our heroes on their way to meet at the titular location. Stone of Farewell was, I’m saddened to say, the reason I didn’t continue with the series; overblown books like this were why I fell out with fantasy and didn’t pick up another for many years.
It’s taken a while to read, almost twice the time it took for The Dragonbone Chair, which is a longer novel. This review doesn’t flow as easily from brain to fingers to keyboard as the last one did. Ask me if I’m disappointed, my answer would be a vague ‘yes and no’.
Yes, because Stone of Farewell feels bogged down in plot. There’s plenty going on, but some of it does feel somewhat forced. For example, we have many pages featuring Maegwin and Eolair as they stumble across an ancient underground city, where the mysterious dwellers spend even more pages explaining the legends behind Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, the three swords needed to defeat the Storm King. A similar event happens to Simon, trapped in the Sithi land of exposition.
While it’s rich and in-depth (and, admittedly, necessary), such encounters can feel somewhat forced, and I found myself at times wishing for something exciting to happen. Tiamak’s boat journey is another example, frustratingly long at times, yet it does serve a purpose and contributes towards giving the reader and insight to the character. It’s for reasons like this that I suspect the trilogy has been called fantasy’s version of War and Peace. Patience is the key; savour the book like a fine wine, rather than try to down it like half a cider. I gave up all those years ago, and was determined not to do so this time.
Ultimately, my perseverance paid off. I’ve possibly painted too harsh a picture, made the book sound boring, when it isn’t. The plot doesn’t rattle along at the same pace as The Dragonbone Chair, but neither does it stall. There are some glorious set-pieces; evil Pryrates’s visit to Mother Church is particularly outstanding, as is Simon’s encounter with a sinister girl and her charges in the forest, the latter of which I could still remember from my original read.
What remains in this book as much as the last is Tad Williams’s obvious love for his characters. He’s taken great care in their creation, ensuring that they are individuals in their own right rather than Dungeons and Dragons classes given dialogue. We’re genuinely concerned for the welfare of Princess Miriamele when she wakes up on a ship, while we can also laugh at Duke Isgrimnur’s irritation at having to shave his beard; they feel human, from the highest king to the lowliest pawn.
For me, Williams’s triumph is Simon. Described by another character as “fate-battered and chance-led in many curious ways, but he is no spell-wielder or great hero”, he remains almost an innocent abroad, the scullion boy who is sometimes literally dragged to where he needs to be. He’s foolish, makes bad decisions, but is brave and decent, he has that normality to him (my fingers remain crossed that his vague parentage won’t mean he’s the son of a god or something) that we can all relate to.
There’s nothing at all wrong with this novel, which is a worthy sequel to its predecessor. All that I loved about The Dragonbone Chair is here: a wonderfully-realised world populated by rich and interesting characters; villains to hiss and heroes to cheer; the eternal conflict between good and evil with – like the aforementioned Empire Strikes Back – the heroes being on the back foot. I didn’t continue all those years ago, but Green Angel Tower is calling, and this time I’m looking forward to getting there.