Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn
, is a fantasy trilogy written by Tad Williams, author of Tailchaser's Song
, and the Otherland
series. MS&T is considered to be his masterpiece and one of the top fantasy series of all time.
MS&T begins with The Dragonbone Chair
published in 1988. At Castle Hayholt, the old king of Osten Ard, Prester John lies dying. His sons, Crown Prince Elias and younger brother Prince Josua, have become bitter enemies because of a tragic accident that took Elias' wife and Josua's hand. Elias brings an evil sorcerer, Pryates, into the castle and things take a change for the worse.
Our hero, fourteen year-old orphan, Simon "Mooncalf" Seoman, so called because he constantly daydreams, finds himself drawn into valiant Prince Josua's rebellion against his increasingly despotic and magically deranged brother. In this terrifying scene Simon, searching for a way to avoid work as usual, finds an open hatch door, and unable to resist his insatiable curiosity decides to climb down and investigate. What he stumbles into has far greater implications for his future.
"The hatch-door above him was a gray square in the wall of darkness. By its faint light he saw with disappointment that this area was little more than a closet: the roof was far lower than that of the upper room, and the walls extended back only only a few arm's lengths from where he stood. This small room was crowded to the rafters with barrels and sacks, with only a small aisle that reached back to the far wall separating the leaning dry goods.
As he surveyed the closet with disinterest a board creaked somewhere, and he heard the measured sound of footsteps in the blackness below him.Oh, God's Pain, who's that?! And what have I done now?
How stupid of him not to think that the hatchway might be open because someone was still down in the rooms below! He had done it again! Silently cursing himself for an idiot, he slid into the narrow aisle between the packed goods. The footfalls below approached the ladder. Simon wedged himself back off the aisle into a space between two musty plaincloth sacks that smelled and felt like they might be full of old linen. Realizing that he would still be visible to anyone who stepped away from the hatch and into the pathway, he sank into a half crouch, resting his weight carefully on an oak-ribbed trunk. The steps halted, and the ladder began to creak as someone climbed up. He held his breath. He had no idea why he was suddenly so frightened; if he was caught it would only mean more punishment, more of Rachel's hard looks and peppery remarks--why then did he feel like a rabbit scented by hounds?
The sound of climbing continued, and for the moment it seemed that whoever it was would continue up to the large room above ... until the creaking stopped. The silence sang in Simon's ears. There was a creak, then another--but he realized with a heavy feeling in his stomach that the noises were coming back down. A muffled bump as the unseen figure stepped off the ladder onto the floor of the closet, a again there was silence, but this time the very stillness seemed to throb. The slow tread moved closer down the slender aisle, until it halted directly across from Simon's hastily-chosen hiding place. In the dim light he could see pointed black boots, almost close enough to touch; above hung the black-trimmed hem of a scarlet robe. It was Pyrates.
Simon crouched back among the dry goods and prayed that Aedon would stop his heart, which seemed to be beating like thunder. He felt his gaze drawn upward against his will until he stared out between the sagging shoulders of the sacks that hid him. Through the narrow gap he could see the alchemist's bleak face; for a moment it seemed Pryates looked right at him, and he nearly squealed in terror. An instant later he saw it was not so: the red priest's shadow-shrouded eyes were focused on the wall above Simon's head. He was listening.Come out.
Pyrates' lips had not moved, but Simon heard the voice as plainly as if it had whispered in his ear.Come out. Now.
The voice was firm but reasonable. Simon found himself ashamed at his conduct: there was nothing to fear; it was childish foolishness to crouch hear in the dark when he could stand up and reveal himself, admit the little joke he had played ... but still ...Where are you? Show yourself.
Just as the calm voice in his ear had finally convinced him that nothing would be simpler that to stand and speak--he was reaching for the sacks to help himself up--Pyrates' black eyes swept for a scant moment across the dark crack though which Simon peered, and the glancing touch killed any thought of rising as a sudden frost shrivels a rose blossom. Pryates' gaze touched Simon's hidden eyes a a door opened in the boy's heart; the shadow of destruction filled that doorway.
This was death--Simon knew it. He felt the cold crumble of grave soil beneath his scraping fingers, the weight of dark, moist earth in his mouth and eyes. There were no more words now, no dispassionate voice in his hear, only a pull--an untouchable something that was dragging him forward by fractions of inches. A worm of ice clasped itself around his heart as he fought – this was death waiting . . . his death. If he made a sound, the merest tremble or gasp, he would never see the sun again. He shut his eyes so tightly that his temples ached; he locked teeth and tongue against the straining need for breath. The silence hissed and pounded. The pull strengthened. Simon felt as though he were sinking slowly down into the crushing depths of the sea.
A sudden yowl was followed by Pryates' startled curse. The intangible throttling grip was gone; Simon's eyes popped open in time to see a sleek gray shape skitter past, leap over Pryates' boots and steak to the hatchway, where it bounded down into darkness. The priest's surprised laughter scraped out, echoing dully in the cluttered room.
'A cat... ?'
After a pause of half a dozen heartbeats, the black boots turned away and moved back up the aisle. In a moment Simon heard the ladder-throngs squeaking. He continued to sit rigidly, his breathing shallow, all of his senses alarmed. Chill sweat was running into his eyes, but he did not lift his hand to wipe it away--not yet."
Here is what others have to say about Tad Williams’ MS&T series:
Ash Silverlock calls Tad Williams The American Tolkien
and writes that George R R Martin claims that his Song of Fire and Ice
was heavily inspired by MS&T. Silverlock also states that:
"Although much of Williams’ writing itself owes a debt, inevitably, to J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, it is in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, perhaps for the first time, that we truly see an adult take on the genre of epic fantasy. Expectations are turned over, beloved characters suffer (and die, over and over again) and the fantasy world that is presented is every bit as gritty, believable and sometimes unpleasant as our own. Echoes of Williams’ work can also be seen in the books of those other giants of the fantasy genre, Robin Hobb, Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordan, as well as those of Martin."
From: http://ashsilverlock.com/2011/12/01/tad-williams-the-american-tolkien/As far as trilogies in fantasy are concerned, the worldbuilding here is second only to Lord of the Rings.
~ ATG Reviews, http://atg-reviews.com/books-and-comics/to-green-angel-tower-part-two-book-review/
Charlie Jane Anders calls Tad Williams one of the "10 Authors Who Wrote Gritty Realistic Fantasy Before GRRM."
From io9 here: http://io9.com/10-authors-who-wrote-gritty-realistic-fantasy-before-g-1695063524
And if you can't get enough MS&T, Tad Williams will be writing The Last King of Osten Ard
, a sequel trilogy.
Michael Whelan, the artist of the cover of Green Angel Tower
, book 3 of MS&T, shown below, will also be returning to illustrate the covers of the new trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard
If you love exciting and beautifully written high fantasy like I do, I highly recommend MS&T.