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To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams

To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams
Book Name: To Green Angel Tower
Author: Tad Williams
Publisher(s): DAW
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: April 1, 1994

To Green Angel Tower is literally a book of two halves. Following a hardback heavier than a house brick, the publishers made the decision to release the paperback version as two books, Siege and Storm, so as not to compromise on quality – a 1600 page novel would need pages as thin as tissue paper – or as a clever marketing ploy?

Whatever the reason, it still makes the full book a daunting read. Midway through Siege, with 400 pages left, there’s still another 800 pages to go after that. It took a while to read that first book, not much under a month, my progress slowed by the thought of how much was still to go. There’s plenty happening, so much so that I couldn’t help wonder if the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn ‘trilogy’ couldn’t have been a bigger series of books, much like A Song of Ice and Fire or Wheel of Time. While there’s nothing superfluous in either Siege or Storm, it can sometimes feel like the author is trying to cram so much in, like trying to pack a suitcase that’s just too darn small.

It’s all good, though, as our characters are inevitably drawn to the titular Green Angel Tower, back to where the story began at the Hayholt with the death of the king, Prester John. Full circle, but each character has faced victories and defeats through the story; if they haven’t changed, then they’ve developed. There’s plenty of action, yet there is beauty in the quieter moments that will stay longer with the reader. The final conflict with the Storm King happens quickly – there are ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ deaths of some characters, cast aside by the evil Pryratess magic. When it looks like evil will be victorious, though, it’s good that prevails.

It’s a fitting end to the series, yet Tad Williams doesn’t finish here; the denouement that follows ties up any loose ends, one of which is the revelation of Simon’s parentage. If it’s a little bit neat and tidy – years ago, it may not have been the near-cliché that it is now – it’s apt, no less than he deserves. There’s also a scene where two characters meet after not seeing one another since the early pages of The Dragonbone Chair, and it moved me to tears. Still gives me a lump in the throat just thinking about it. Now breathe…

Tad Williams has created an intricate plot in a rich world, yet that tapestry would be bland without its characters; the emotion felt by the reader – whether it be joy or sadness – comes from knowing them, their thoughts and desires. For me, Simon’s the core of the novel, the hero any one of us could be. He’s the scullion boy who fell in love with a princess, the mooncalf who – through as much fortune as common sense – became a knight. He’s as filled with self-doubts (and sometimes self-loathing) as any of us, but his goodness shines through and eventually triumphs. His relationship with Miriamele is filled with ups and downs, yet the final outcome is entirely appropriate, given we’ve shared both their thoughts. We have that advantage in knowing what both of them are thinking, so when one doubts the other, the reader wants to shout at them and tell them they’re wrong.

It’s not all good news. Victory comes at a price, meaning not everyone survives. There are two particular deaths, both Point Of View characters, each handled very differently, yet both pull at the heartstrings. In the first, the character is alive one moment, talked about in a later scene, then his body is revealed. It’s subtle, yet no less emotional for it. A friend of mine, having read the book when it was first published, tells me that death has stayed with him for over two decades; very underplayed, but it packs a mighty punch. In the other death, we are with the character (through Simon’s eyes) as they surrender to their fate. In this instance, it’s their words, their acknowledgement that death is inevitable that fills the reader with emotion; the character was lost, and when they find themself, it’s only to realise the end of their life is so close.

Looking back, I’ve enjoyed my time in Osten Ard. I won’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone, but be prepared – it will draw you in, and you’ll spend time reading for hours without realising it. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is epic fantasy of the highest order, the writing is poetic but never overly so, the world populated by characters that the reader will attach themselves to, feel their pain, their joy and their love. It won’t be for everyone – what book is? – but it’s difficult to find fault with the series. While I’m sure it could have been stretched into double the number of books, doing so may have meant it outstayed its welcome. My one regret? I should have read it sooner.



  1. Avatar Halhan says:

    These books sounds interesting (though daunting). May have to check them out. Thank you for a great review.

  2. Avatar arhazade says:

    I just finished reading this series to my boys (9&11) and it was fully as wonderful as I remembered (I had bought the hardcovers back when it first came out.) I usually read to them before bed, and it was very hard to stop at the allotted time. Instead of badgering me to let them do their ‘screen time’ after school, they would drop “To Green Angel Tower” in my lap (ouch!) and demand that I continue the story (“Read more! Read more! Read more! Read more!”) Age-appropriateness-wise, it worked out pretty well for them, mostly. They were all “Ew, is this a kissing scene? Can we skip this part?” at a couple places, and I had to gloss over the bit with Aspitis Preves a bit (not entirely ready for that conversation yet), but the only real difficulty we had was with a scene in the first book, “The Dragonbone Chair”, where Simon first encounters Pyrates and we get an all too vivid example of the latter’s cruelty. My younger son was very upset with that part and it almost derailed our entire reading. I had to reassure him that the bad guy does get what’s coming to him in the end. Once we got past that, though, they were both enthralled with the tale and we all enjoyed it very much. Even at 1600 pages it went by very quickly, and we would have loved to keep going.

  3. Avatar Jared says:

    I’m a surprisingly big fan of this series – the bad guys are a believable range of evil, from flawed and deluded to 100% pure sinister badness. And some bits, like crawling around under the castle, are just flat out amazingly written.

    (It has some flaws, but, hey, for proper epic high fantasy orphan-dragonslaying-high-king stuff, this is a great one!)

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