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The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
Book Name: The Dragonbone Chair
Author: Tad Williams
Publisher(s): DAW
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: November 7, 1989

I picked up The Dragonbone Chair at a second-hand bookshop a few weeks ago, twenty years or so after I first journeyed to the land of Osten Ard. I recalled it as a pleasant enough voyage, but I’d only ever made it through the first two books of the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy before heading back for home. Nothing wrong with it as such; a decent read, but nothing memorable or spectacular.

With age comes wisdom, and as soon as I began the book, I knew I was onto something special. I’ve been immersed in this novel; it’s taken me less than two weeks to read over 900 pages (and the writing’s not too big, I can tell you), snatching time to do so whenever I could. When not reading, I was thinking about it, looking forward to the next time I could sit down in silence and follow the adventures of Simon Mooncalf. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way about a book.

Tad Williams is a superb writer, even more so considering this is his first novel. His prose verges on the poetic at times and, even creeping towards 1000 pages, no word feels excessive, no description too long or trite. The plot, while not flying along at breakneck speed, never drags and there isn’t a scene that feels superfluous to the story, nothing tagged on just to ensure the weight of this tome.

All this talent is put to use creating a living and breathing fantasy world. It’s fairly archetypal – complete with mighty warriors, dragons and mysterious elf-like beings that hunt in the forests – he’s done so from the grass roots level, imbuing this world with a deep history, its own myths and legends, religions that aren’t too far from our own. However fantastical it may be, it somehow remains believable and devoid of cliché.

Despite all that’s going on in the grand scheme of things – the death of a king and the impending conflict between his two sons – the main focus of the book is Simon, a scullion in a castle built on the site of an ancient fortress. Simon is like many of us; he has a job to do, but wishes he was doing something much more interesting. He’s a daydreamer, and is treated as such, until he begins work for Doctor Morgenes.

It’s here that the plot begins in earnest. Simon’s no illegitimate heir or unknowing battery of wizardly power (although Morgenes seems to know something about his parentage, nothing is given away, so I may be proved wrong on that regard), but he’s an integral part of the story – our eyes and ears, if you will – more a victim of circumstance than a Chosen One.

We follow Simon as he flees his home, only to bear witness as the heir to the throne makes a pact with ancient evils. It’s one of the books genuine chilling moments as Simon cowers in terror from demons from the past, now taking terrible form in the present. As his journey continues, Simon makes friends and enemies, meets with members of the Sithi race (Osten Ard’s distant elves), and the grand scheme of things is slowly and tantalisingly revealed. The book ends with a gripping climax, one that makes the reader yearn to read more.

Yet, it’s not just about Simon. Williams has not only created an amazing world, but he’s populated it with rich and interesting characters, ones we care for just as much as we do with Simon. He’s the core, for sure, but what surrounds him is equally as fascinating. Different races, different languages; the work that has gone into the writing of this book is nothing short of overwhelming.

I’m impressed, you can probably tell, and I’m not the only one. A friend told me that a certain George R. R. Martin said that there would be no Game of Thrones if not for The Dragonbone Chair. Misquote or not, it shows; there’s a comet boding ill times, while one character is appointed the position of King’s Hand. Minor coincidences of course, and the series are very different, but I can’t help think that if The Dragonbone Chair was written ten years ago, then it would be the fantasy TV show that has been a hit with critics and viewers alike.

This is a book that appealed to me on every level. It’s amazed the writer in me, while the reader who once shunned such epic fantasy has been completely won over by both plot and characters. Can a book be perfect? Does it have to be liked by everyone who reads it to gain such hallowed status? I’m not sure, but as I have nothing to criticise, there’s no reason not to give it top marks and to make the bold statement that The Dragonbone Chair has become my favourite fantasy novel.



  1. There’s a reason why I started buying books in hardback, and the final part of this series, To Green Angel Tower, is it. I couldn’t wait for the next book to come out in paperback.

    Whenever I’m asked about my influences, I keep banging on about Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and people keep looking at me with the same expression: they’ve never heard of it. The poor benighted fools.

  2. Avatar Eric Storch says:

    I love M,S & T and have read it four times. Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors – one of those that I read everything they write. In fact, a copy of Dirty Streets of Heaven is right here next to me on the desk.

  3. Funny that you posted this today. I’ve had the trilogy sitting on my shelf since it first came out when I was in High School, and I just now got around to reading it. (I’m 40 now.) I just finished it today, and to be honest I was pretty disappointed. The denouement felt like a huge let down to me. I honestly felt cheated a little.

    I’m happy others liked it. I sort of feel like I wasted my time. I’ve got the Otherland series sitting on my shelf. Should I bother giving it a try?

    • Otherland is nothing like MS&T. If you’ve already got the book on your shelf, why not give it a try?

      • I’m fairly sure I will, I just need to give myself enough time to let MS&T get clear of my head so it doesn’t prejudice how I approach Otherland.

        I like to give authors a fair shot, regardless of whether I enjoyed their previous works or not. They pretty much have to turn me off two or three times before I give up on them. 😉

  4. Avatar Elfy says:

    All of Tad Williams work is wonderful, and I would strongly suggest reading Otherland as well. I agree with Elspeth it is nothing like Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Just a small nit to pick with the article, The Dragonbone Chair was not actually Tad Williams first novel, that honour goes to Tailchaser’s Song, which was a whimsical little thing about the mythology of cats.

  5. Avatar J. says:

    Love these books. Tailchaser’s Song was my first experience with Tad Williams writing, it hit a sweet spot, especially since I’d just finished reading Watership Down for the umpteenth time around then.

  6. Avatar Alister says:

    I forgot about Tailchaser’s Song, darn it! 🙂

    Just finished Dirty Streets of Heaven (so my plan of eventually reading all of TW’s books in chronological order is already up the spout) and, while urban fantasy isn’t really my thing, I was quite impressed.

    The Otherland series is fantastic; the others are right when they say it’s nothing like MS&T – it’s had many labels, including cyberpunk, but it’s quite unique.

  7. Avatar Dee Blood says:

    I’ve read Dragon Bone chair & M,S, & T at LEAST 4 times! I LOVE this series. I’m wondering if he (Tad) ever thought about approaching Peter Jackson to do a movie series on it? He did a beautiful job on the Lord of the rings & in my opinion, is the only one that could do his series justice! I can’t seem to find a place to send comments to Peter Jackson either, but somebody needs to have him read these books & put a bug in his ear as it will be an instant hit!!!! If anyone agrees with me, send the message out there. Sincerely, Dee

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