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The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams
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Book Name: The Heart of What Was Lost
Author: Tad Williams
Publisher(s): DAW
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: January 3, 2017

Author’s Note: As we prepare for the imminent release of The Witchwood Crown, we now look at The Heart of What Was Lost, Tad Williams’ “bridge” novella. This review is spoiler-free in the sense that I don’t spoil the novella. However, the premise of the novella itself necessarily spoils certain aspects of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. However, I’m of the opinion that none of the ostensible “spoilers” herein would ruin one’s enjoyment of either the new novella or Williams’ original trilogy.

The Heart of What Was Lost, released in late 2016, is Tad William’s official return to the world of Osten Ard. Weighing in at slightly over 200 pages, it lives comfortably in novella territory. Bridging the 20+ year gap between the release of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and the forthcoming Last King of Osten Ard series, The Heart of What Was Lost is an intimate triumph. A snapshot of the world of Osten Ard six months after the end of To Green Angel Tower, Williams’ novella assumes no prior knowledge of his seminal trilogy, bringing new readers quickly up to speed while rewarding longtime fans with a fascinating bit of “what happens next.”

On its face an account of the Siege of Nakkiga, the Norn stronghold of legend, The Heart of What Was Lost is, in reality, a poignant character study and history lesson. Nary a word was written without careful consideration of its weight and effect on the reader. The level of craft on exhibition is staggering. Packing so much story, worldbuilding and character development into so few pages is nothing short of astounding. Williams quickly and efficiently allays any fears that his return to Osten Ard may be ill-advised.

Williams chooses MST’s beloved Duke Isgrimnur—along with new characters Porto of Perdruin and Viyeki, a Norn Builder—as the POV characters for the novella. Isgrimnur’s return to the Northern wilds of Rimmersgard in pursuit of the fleeing Norn remnant provides an excellent re-entry point that doesn’t hinge on knowledge of the first trilogy. Isgrimnur is the thread connecting the old with the new, and as always his gruff but noble demeanor endears itself to readers almost immediately. There is, however, a new weight to Isgrimnur that is rooted in personal loss and a grim acceptance his new task.

Porto, a soldier-for-hire and carpenter’s son from the isle of Perdruin, serves as the voice of the common man, such that there is in an army at war with the Fae. Porto gives voice to the soldiers’ struggle with the horrors of war and the weight of duty. Porto, and his friendship with the young Endri, grounds a story that is rooted in the magical, mysterious and fantastic. He lends a decidedly human perspective to a story that, by and large, revolves around the literal inhumanity of the Norns.

And then there is Viyeki. Loyal second to the leader of the Order of Builders, Viyeki is a window into the complex, alien world of the Norns. Through Viyeki’s eyes, his voice, his desires and his insecurities, Williams draws back the curtain on the Hikeda’ya, the Cloud Children, the fearsome and inscrutable Norns. It should come as no surprise that Viyeki’s portions of the story are—by far—the most fascinating. Williams uses Viyeki not to “humanize” the Norns, but to underline the subtle but irrefutable differences between the near-immortal Hikeda’ya and their human pursuers.

The initial pages of the book focus upon Isgrimnur’s pursuit of the Norn remnant as they attempt to retreat en masse to their mountain stronghold, Nakkiga. The actual pursuit only lasts just over 50 pages, but in that time Williams is able to deliver a near-constant stream of fascinating information regarding the Norns. Whether teaching the reader about Norn funerary customs, or laying out the caste system that is the backbone of Norn society, Williams never succumbs to the dreaded “info dump.” Instead, the cultural and political subtleties of Norn culture are subtly woven into the narrative of the Norns’ flight north and their diverse opinions regarding exactly how to handle Isgrimnur’s pursuing Rimmersmen.

At the same time, Williams introduces the reader to Porto and manages to drop innumerable tidbits of heretofore unknown information about Perdruinese culture, army life, and the general mood of Isgrimnur’s forces. Again, Williams manages to educate the reader whilst keeping the plot on course.

Williams uses his three main characters in the same manner a conductor utilizes the various sections of an orchestra. Much as strings, brass and woodwinds combine their distinct melodies to elevate the main theme of a piece of music, each of Williams’ main characters provide variations on the themes of loss, duty, honor and courage that permeate the book.

The last two thirds of the novella detail the protracted Siege of Nakkiga—Isgrimnur and Porto on the outside, and Viyeki behind Nakkiga’s walls. Williams doesn’t shy away from detailing the actual siegecraft involved, but his focus remains fixed on fleshing out the Norns. By the end, the reader has a near-complete picture of the ruthless and complex reality that is Norn life. Those that have read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn will gain a new appreciation for the Norns’ motivations in that trilogy.

New readers will find the plot to be engaging. Even discounting the subtle character work and worldbuilding, the on-its-face plot of the novella is riveting. Fans of fantasy will no doubt enjoy Williams’ narrative of a dark, magical mountain stronghold under siege. Living fire, clever subterfuge, political machinations and even zombies and giants await the reader around every corner. There are numerous short bursts of action, dire stretches inaction, and bold bravado. There is humor. There is heart. And underneath it all is the pervasive sadness that accompanies inevitability.

I deliberately held off reading The Heart of What Was Lost until the weekend prior to The Witchwood Crown’s release. I’m glad I did, as it serves as a wonderful primer for what is to come. Whether you are a new visitor to Osten Ard or a longtime fan, The Heart of What Was Lost will captivate you. Short but deceptively dense, it proves that Williams’ return to Osten Ard has all the makings of another legendary run. I finally know what happened after. Now I’m dying to know what happens next.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (6 votes cast)
The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams, 10.0 out of 10 based on 6 ratings
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2 Comments

  1. Marcus says:

    Question – does this recap Memory, Sorrow and Thorn at all? Or does Witchwood (if you’ve read it)?

    I ask as this was one of my favourite series of all time but i can barely remember the plot or specific characters these days as it’s been like 20+ years since I read it.

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