The Dragonbone Chair: A Review

Cover art by Michael Whelan

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
672 pages, DAW 1988

The Dragonbone Chair is pure and simple: perfect fantasy.

One book into the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy I’m a fanboy. Williams hooked me with his prose—something that doesn’t happen as often in fantasy as I’d like. Its not lyrical like Patrick Rothfuss, isn’t a pastiche like Susanna Clarke, and isn’t whimsical like Bradbury. Instead its… for the lack of a better term: immersive. My friend deemed it slow, but what he took as drudgery I saw as deliberate pacing and a superb construction and explosion of tension.

The world of our hero Simon, more than Roshar, Westeros, or Annares, fills my head and tickles my imagination. Williams is meticulous in his rendering of Osten Ard. (Notice, the blatant absence of the term ‘worldbuilding’. Recent pieces like Electric Literature’s Against Worldbuilding and responses such as Emily Temple’s on Lithub In Defense of Worldbuilding have cast doubt on my usage. I’ve found points of merit in both but am still working out a cogent reconciliation.)

I’m not alone in proclaiming The Dragonbone Chair‘s mastery. The cover of my edition is emblazoned with blurbs from three of my favorite fantasy authors. George R. R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and Christopher Paolini all sing its praises. I know, I know, I can see it now. “Paolini?” you say. “The Eragon author? A favorite?” Yes. Him. The sword Brisingr and dragon Saphira provided some of my happiest reading.

Okay, back on track. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn had a clear influence on all three author’s famous series. Don’t believe me? Here’s a few off the top of my head…

-The dragon slain (Well, supposedly. Let’s see what Morgenes’ history reveals about the fight.) by a young Prester John in The Dragonbone Chair is named Shurakai. In Eragon the evil Galbatorix’s twisted dragon is Shruikan.

-As in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire the true threat to the realm of Osten Ard comes from an immortal, long-forgotten foe from the wintry north.

-Thorn (Memory, Sorrow, Thorn), Dawn (ASOIAF), and Brisingr (Inheritance Cycle) are all forged from fallen stars.

Maybe I’ll make a list of parallels when I get to the next doorstopper in the series. That’ll be a bit yet. I’m forcing myself to take a break before jumping into the sequel Stone of Farewell. Not to expand my horizons or try something new; no, nothing so stimulating. This imposed hiatus serves only to reset my brain and pull it out of Osten Ard, to make sure I bathe, eat, and drag myself into work instead of devouring the entirety of the series in one go. When I’m not daily pondering whether the Ice Worm survived or imagining Morgenes life before the Hayholt I’ll know its time to return to the magic of Osten Ard.

Rating: 5 out of 5 White Arrows

Up next: Nutshell by Ian McEwan


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