Following on from The Witchwood Crown, Empire of Grass: Book Two of The Last King of Osten Ard continues the story of one of the best loved fantasy epics of all time - Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, the inspiration for Christopher Paolini and George R. R. Martin.
Tad Williams is a California-based fantasy superstar. His genre-creating (and genre-busting) books have sold tens of millions worldwide, in twenty-five languages. His considerable output of epic fantasy and science fiction book-series, stories of all kinds, urban fantasy novels, comics, scripts, etc., have strongly influenced a generation of writers: the ‘Otherland’ epic relaunches June 2018 as an MMO on steam.com. Tad is currently immersed in the creation of ‘The Last King of Osten Ard’, planned as a trilogy with two intermediary novels. He, his family and his animals live in the Santa Cruz mountains in a suitably strange and beautiful house. @tadwilliams @mrstad
The Empire of Grass continues the epic story set in the massive world of Osten Ard. It’s fantasy at its finest because it is layered with so much history and lore. This is a world so detailed it could be real.
The very best of fantasy isn’t plain and simple; it isn’t light verses dark: its people fighting for survival in a world where only the most ruthless win. And this world is filled with cunning politicians and conniving backstabbers. There are so many motives, so many agendas and so many factions fighting for control. It’s no wonder Tad Williams has inspired so many great authors of fantasy to take up the pen. His work is, and continues to be, amongst the best of the genre. And as time has gone on it has only become more developed. History continues to be written as new factions rise.
“The world will be ours again, as it once was. We will go out form this empire of grass with our brave horseman and fight until the world bends its knee to the new Shan.”
For me, though, it’s all about the Norns: the ancient race of immortals that live in the frozen north. They have a bloody and dark history and want nothing more than to rid the world of all mortals. They will stop at nothing to get their goal. Nothing is too far, reanimating fallen heroes and sacrificing their own soldiers are necessary means. Their culture is a fascinating one and, as with all previous instalments, I find their chapters the most interesting because there is an undercurrent of secrecy and intrigue. Even high-ranking members don’t know what the Queen’s plans are; yet, they must continue to obey blindly.
There are numerous POVs across the story. High Magister Viyeki narrates much of the Norn side of the war. Eolair is captor to the rising Empire of Grass and witnesses the final stages of their full mobilisation to action and unification under one ruler. All in all, there is never a dull moment as each character brings something interesting to the story with their backgrounds and endgame. One of the most interesting for me is Jarnulf, a human hunter who plans on assassinating the Norn Queen, a dangerous path to walk.
Amidst it all is the genuinely good-natured King Simon who is completely out of his depth. He does not possess the brutal nature that is necessary to control his subjects and force loyalty amongst his peers. He is surrounded by foes and his kingdom is about to fall unless he can work a miracle, forge new alliances, and put the pieces of a shattered realm back together. Simon has a lot to do and not much time to do it in. The next book will be explosive, I can just tell. Tad Williams has spent a lot of time building up the groundwork. I just wonder if Simon is up to the task that is coming his way or perhaps a new hero will step forward. Uncertain times ahead.
So, this is another solid instalment, if a little on the slow side in the beginning, but I have no doubt Tad William’s fans will be rewarded for their patience as this trilogy ends.
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Honestly, I think I enjoyed it better the second time. :) I really enjoy the full immersion of reading ALL of these books in order. Revisiting them is quite rewarding.
Some books are simply hard to judge because it is written to its own drummer. It all becomes clear and epic in the end, but getting there can sometimes be something of a chore.
In comparison to other epic fantasy books of this nature, it Tad Williams has always (and I mean, long before the modern trend,) been a slow and methodical storyteller. He takes a long, long time to build up characters' histories, developing them in such a grandly detailed way that there cannot be any doubt in our minds that he is a SERIOUS writer.
But by the same token, the BIG stuff doesn't come around quickly. Indeed, the meandering wilderness (some literal, some not,) takes up 90% of these pages. And there's a LOT of pages. As is most of his epic fantasies. And that's just it: they're all RICH with detail. Plot is almost secondary. It is definitely secondary to character building.
What we do have here is a long complicated and real-feeling build-up of tensions within the immortal Nords, the cold-weather fae that are willing to sacrifice amazing numbers of their own to summon amazing monsters in order to fully wipe out the mortals. That is, us. Why? Oh, it's all here. In detail wrapped in secrecy wrapped in politics and subversion and crazy hope and the willingness to care between species... and this is just on the Nord side. :) The humans, and in particular, Simon, the old king who used to be the young commoner hero from the original Dragonbone trilogy, is completely out of his depth and his kingdom seems to on the verge of collapse.
This book is definitely all about the journey, the build-up for the next blowout book. It isn't as big, as in awe-inspiring, as some epics, but the richness more than makes up for it.
This series becomes better and better with every page. The richness of writing, the world created, every word meticulously selected, every little detail thoroughly thought, every action carefully planned, every character strong, main or secondary doesn’t matter, all are so masterfully crafted and developed, with their own contribution to the story and not a single moment or word wasted or boring - Tad Williams, I’m in awe at your skills; Osten Ard is one of the marvels in fantasy realms.
With Queen Utuk’ku growing more powerful every day through her minions, the world is in chaos. Erkynland is surrounded by enemies; the Norns are roaming everywhere killing everyone in their path, Nabban is in civil war, The Thrithings-men are planning to get rid of the stone-dwellers once an for all.
On top of that, Simon’s family is divided all over the world with no knowledge of what happened to each other; Binabik’s too. Somebody thought loyal to the kingdom beyond doubt turns out to be a traitor.
Horrors beyond imagination are being born from the evil mind of Queen Utuk’ku that even some Norns are now questioning the sanity of the Mother of All.
The last 20% kept me breathless. The climax is gradually constructed, as I got used by now, but with every page things are getting more and more complicated.
There are also the multiple PoVs which continue the threads from previous volume, making it one of the most intricate novels I read so far. And I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. I wished it was thrice this long and mind you, this is no short novel.
What more can I say? I loved it to pieces. I love every character, even the ones I hate. They all add so much depth to this story and I cannot wait to see how will events unfold in the end. I expect a battle that will make the Storm King’s war a petty skirmish.
There is no date set for the third volume, however, at the beginning of this book it is said that The Navigator’s Children is ‘coming soon from DAW’. It can’t come soon enough…
🌟 As you may have noticed, I'm a Tad Williams fan girl. Needless to say I was very impressed by this installment. The ending - it was intense, powerful but also sad. Without spoiling, I really feel for the characters. Mr Williams returns to the kaleidoscopic writing again in this book, and it's executed perfectly, like the Witchwood Crown was. A few new characters are introduced, but not too much. And if you're confused, there's a list of people at the end of the book. This is around 650 pages, which may seem daunting but they flew by for me. There's a short summary at the beginning of the book, so you don't have to reread the Witchwood Crown to enjoy this one! Can't wait for the Navigators Children, which will be released October 2020. (Omg, such a looong wait!)
The second book in the 'The Last King of Osten Ard' series. As with much of Tad Williams's work, this is less of a series book and more like the continuation of a really long story.
Where as the first book in this new series (The Witchwood Crown) set up all the new characters, factions and political situations, Empire of Grass moves all of these plots and sub-plots, forward and there are a few surprising revelations. We finally find out just what the Norn queen is up to and generally things all go from bad to worse in many parts of the world. Some of the multiple POV's converge as the pace of the book and the action heats up. The previous book was a slow burn but this one gets into the action on several fronts and, as a result, I found it a much faster read . Because of this pacing I was wanting more when I got to the end. The end is not exactly a cliff hanger but it does leave a couple of the main characters is states of physical or emotional distress. All in all a great book that lives up to expectations and slightly better than 'The Witchwod Crown'. I would rate this as 4.5 stars out of 5. Not 5 stars just yet because it's an unfinished story.
I really hope Mr Williams gets the next book out in a year or so as I really need to know what happens next. On that point I am wondering if this will be a trilogy, and wrap up in the next book, or go on for another two books like most of his series.
A big thank you to the publishers, via a Goodreads Giveaway, for providing me an Advanced Reader Copy to read and review. Even though it's a big book, I managed to finish it 2 weeks before the publishing date:)
Middle entries in trilogies are hard. There is a reason why "Middle Book Syndrome" exists.
In Empire of Grass, the second installment of The Last King of Osten Ard (itself a sequel to the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn “trilogy” that inspired writers from George R.R. Martin to Patrick Rothfuss), Tad Williams manages to kick the syndrome through the cure of sheer obsessive planning and some crafty edit work.
It is a good book. More: it is a great book, a stand out for me in what could be a packed year. So, if you wanted the most spoiler free review possible, that is it—It Is Good, Very Good, click the red X. But lend me your eyes a bit more and I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible.
How did a good-or-great middle book happen, let alone one with such expert pace? Williams’ own first trilogy has a good second book, the Stone of Farewell, but one that suffers from a slow opening and a mind-boggling amount of locations and characters after a first book mainly focused on a single character whose naive eyes slowly reveal the world. Like most second entries, Stone of Farewell is character and world heavy, but only moves the overall story forward at the end.
In Empire of Grass, there are no new POVs. There are no new plots that require chapters of setup to establish locations and players. It just picks up, sometimes moments after the end of Witchwood Crown, and moves on.
This gives the trilogy the feeling of an actual trilogy, of what that used to mean in the genre: it’s a single story in three parts, not three stories that form an even bigger story.
Keeping it spoiler free, some scattered reactions:
If you didn’t like Morgan in Witchwood Crown, you might like him a lot more here. I did. Two characters traveling with each other begin to flip characterization until each seems to become more like the other person, and it's left completely to the reader to realize instead of being obnoxiously sign posted. There are sad, personal little betrayals of trust that feel as heavy as any other fantasy novel's thousand man massacre. Humor, too.
The themes of volume one are just as present as before. The past repeating itself, the young taking up old vendettas, and the same old mistakes being made are most notably crystalized in a line where a character sees destruction that gives them deja vu about events in the original trilogy that "the past had returned to burn the future." But the broader ideas also expand to new directions, including the role of women in the world, both as heroes and villains and everyday women. There are other big ideas, too:
"Saying peace never lasts, or that an empire must grow or die, is like saying that only birth and death matter," she told him. "Most of life is not part of either, but what comes between--the simple hard work of living."
The overall thrust of the narrative has more adventure than book one. Even in the final action set piece that plays us out, Williams simultaneously sets the stage for a new mystery that could lead to a huge, huge twist. This volume ups the stakes considerably, its ending pages effectively conveying how totally overwhelmed from every angle, internal and external, the cast is to the point where the final pages hit me with a tangible feeling of how beaten down some of them are, enemies at every turn and doom behind every door.
Of course, this being a true trilogy that feels like one story sliced into three more bindable volumes, it ends with a series of cliffhangers for each POV, and if you found the twists at the end of Witchwood Crown making you wish you could pick up a second book, they pale to the ones here as the book builds to an apocalyptic panorama approaching a Hironymous Bosch painting in scope and fury and strange beauty.
It reminded me all over again of how much I had loved, and lived and breathed Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn back in high school when I discovered those books. Williams' writing is so glorious. His world is so complete and unique and beautiful, you just want to settle in and live there. The action scenes are glorious, the characters quickly become so beloved, even the ones you hate feel so real that you're upset when they die.
And now . . . I have to make it another YEAR until the last one? After what has happened to Miriamele? Are you MESSING with me?!
*I picked this one up on audiobook so please ignore any spelling typos*
This is the sequel to the Witchwood Crown, a new series by Tad Williams which is set in his Osten Ard world. This would be fine to read as a standalone series, but as it's set many years after the end of the first Osten Ard books you will spoil yourself for the events within the first series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
I really enjoyed Witchwood but it had been a little while since I read that so I wasn't quite sure if I was going to be able to get back into the world. Turns out that I did recall my knowledge of the first series and book in this series quite easily when the narrator began, and I quickly fell back into the pattern of the Oasten Ard world. It's a slower read than many of those I like to dive into, and it's another huge great book much like many of Williams' others, but I have to say I felt like this one suffered a little from middle-book-syndrome. I do think some significant sections of this one could have been cut down/streamlined, but equally, I enjoy the leisurely plod and patter which these characters follow and it does seem to suit the world.
Some of the plotlines I most enjoyed in this one were those of Mirriamelle, Simon, Morgan, Binnabick and the overall plots of the Sithii and the Norns. It seems to me that the majority of this book is so sprawling and spans so far that you are constantly shifting characters and I would have liked to get a bit more time with each before swapping to the next. I did enjoy seeing Miri have to fend for herself and Simon tackling politics. I also think that the story of Morgan was good as it forced him to grow a lot in a short amount of time, although he is still as much of a mooncalf as Simon ever was!
Overall, I enjoyed the book and particularly the later half where everything built up to a crescendo it was a lot of fun. However, there were some very slow parts which I think took me a little bit out of the story and made me want to get to the action again. 3.5*s for this one, still very much excited for the third one as there is a lot still to come and the stakes have never been higher!
Look, I've loved the Tad Williams books I've read, I know there is a such a thing as middle-book-of-a-trilogy-syndrome, and there are many, many things to like in EoG. There are, really. But.
But this book is damn near interminable, and gives the reader mere trickles of each story line stretched out over 600+ pages with but few small satisfactions to delight over. I was tired of reading it long before I got through it, and then was faced with the anticipated only-the-second-book delayed pay-off. Maybe, after the finale appears and I've re-read the work as a whole, I'll reevaluate EoG and find it better, but right now I am just disappointed. The Hikeda'ya and the Thrithings tribes are even more cartoonishly dysfunctional than before, Simon is left to be ineffectual, Morgan is just more lost than he was earlier, and everyone hates everyone else. Six hundred pages for this?
Also, DAW needs to look into its editing and proofing rooms more often; this expensive and well-marketed edition is rife with errors. Typos and omitted words are bad enough, but there are continuity errors: for instance, on p. 617, we have Viyeki wondering at the presence of both Ruyan Ve's armor and the dragon . . . six paragraphs before the appearance of the dragon and Viyeki's knowledge of it. Come on, guys; I demand more of my students and I paid for this book.
So… I nearly gave this three stars. Nobody throw any poison-tipped darts at me, I had my reasons. However, the last 100 pages definitely yanked it up a star and then SOMEBODY managed to make me burst into tears on literally the last 5-line page, which I’m nearly sure should have been impossible.
Let me start with the good stuff: Simon and Miri pretty much destroyed me this book. I spent a large portion of The Witchwood Crown trying to settle into these older versions of them and reconciling the mature adults they had become with the teenagers we left behind at the end of MS&T. It clicked eventually but it wasn’t until this book that they really fully worked for me as middle-aged people and I no longer had their younger versions popping up all the time to distort the image. Possibly it helped that they spent the entire book apart, because that way we get to experience them as independent adults apart from their married monarchs identity, and also because the frequent mentions of them missing each other acted as a sweet, achy throwback to their early days, to offset the comfortable(ish) contentment of their matured relationship in Witchwood Crown. At any rate, I really loved all their scenes, especially Miri’s political manoeuvring in Nabban and her growing frustration as things just continued to spiral out of control.
There’s a continued thread of parallelism tying this new series to the first one, both in a larger sense (Morgan & Tanahaya’s Aldheorte trek mirroring Simon & Aditu’s, Miri’s reboot of Trying to Sort Out Nabban’s Shit [it never works, Miri! Give it up!], Naglimund Besieged 2.0, etc.) and in smaller reflections of individual scenes, like Never Use A Witness because those things seriously have the worst anti-spy software ever, and other throwback scenes (I have to say I did NOT enjoy Morgan & Tanahaya’s “cuddling for warmth” moment turning into him groping her in her sleep – it was borderline creepy back when Simon did it to Miri even though he was completely innocent about it, and I’m just not sure I needed this re-enactment to make it all the way icky? Ugh.)
I continue to enjoy most of the younger generation, particularly Morgan and Nezeru. With sequel series like this, there’s always a danger of relying too much on reminiscing and rehashing beloved/successful elements of the original series – I think on balance, this one manages pretty well, but I do very much enjoy the recent additions to the cast who don’t have all that personal history yet and who are just adding new and exciting threads to the overall tapestry. I am SO chuffed these two finally met, and I can’t wait to see how that plays out! Nezeru with all her conflicting heritage/ background is one of my fav new characters and I am so looking forward to where she’ll go from here.
Morgan remains fascinating to me because the wastrel/womanising/cynical/world-weary prince is such a well-worn stereotype and Tad is doing such a great job subverting the trope, and never by telling instead of showing. We’re told by every character who’s ever thought they knew Morgan that he’s a useless bratty disinterested self-indulgent teen, and while that’s not entirely untrue, experiencing him inside his own head makes it so clear that he’s also a chronically depressed youth with a severe drinking problem and deep-seated abandonment issues. I thought Cadrach was one of the fundamentally loneliest characters I’d ever come across, but honestly, Morgan is up there and he makes my heart hurt. I don’t usually have much use for Poor Little Rich Boy issues, but in this case they really do work.
I remain a bit on the fence about the twins and a) just how accurate this prophecy is turning out to be and b) how I feel about it all, especially Unver, so I’ll reserve final judgement on that until the final book comes out. It was definitely cool to spend more time in the Thrithings and see things building there.
Another thing I loved is the careful expansion of the world-building and mythology – there is so much awesomeness and satisfaction to the slow rolling back of ancient scrolls and curtains to reveal additional information about the Keida’ya’s origin story and the many layers of crucial events that motivate both mortal politicians and ancient vengeance-driven immortals. I loved the reveals about John Josua’s death (Thelía won my heart forever with her casual admission to having hacked bits off the Dragonbone Chair FOR SCIENCE, lol) and the thickening of the plot regarding the witchwood groves and Utuk’ku’s delightfully twisted brain. The world-building is intricate, terrifying and wonderful as ever.
(I mean, though. Since Tzoja asked about Utuk’ku’s bodily fluids. DO YOU STILL NEED TO PEE WHEN YOU ARE 10,000 YEARS OLD. AND HOW HEALTHY IS YOUR PEE. I just need to know, you guys! For Science.)
The slow and careful introduction of the Tinukeda’ya as presumably major players in the final book delights me to no end. The seeds for their grievances and hopefully eventual rise against oppression have been laid back in the day, and I long to see them come to fruition. I’ve always loved the uneasy triad of the unequal branches of the immortal peoples in this world, and much as I love and/or am fascinated by the Sithi and Norns, they are seriously due some come-uppance from their oppressed cousins. BRING IT.
Despite all the tasty goodies, I did struggle with this book a bit and I’m not sure how much of it to put down to Middle Book Syndrome vs. things I perceived as genuine issues. For one thing, the pacing felt really plodding through a large portion of the book. There is just so much trekking in circles and being lost and spending time with people I didn’t really care about. Like I said, it does pick up massively in the final 100 pages, which had me hanging on the edge of my seat with every word, but until then, there were loooong stretches where I just really wasn’t that invested.
A part of this ties into my other issue, which is that I was not comfortable with the gender inequality in this book: there are nearly twice as many male POVs as female ones (and of those very much fewer female ones, only 3 or 4 are actually what I’d call major characters), and to be honest, I just didn’t really care about half these freaking dudes. Aelin? Bland-as-porridge Eolair stand-in, pass. Etan? Frankly interchangeable with any of the previous priestly characters from the first series. Cuff? Mental disability equals psi sensitivity, got it. (Spells M-O-O-N.) Porto? Eeeeh. Tad seems really fond of Porto but I can’t say I share the sentiment. He comes off as a bit of an Isgrimnur replacement with his whole “I’m Too Old For This” shtick. The problem is Porto is entirely devoid of Isgrimnur’s depth of character, cranky boisterous self-riffing amusement, or genuine charm. He has no profile or sense of humour. He’s a straight man without a comedic partner to contrast. He’s dour and sad, but both are without substance. He’s dull. He’s Eeyore and Davos Seaworth’s unfortunate lovechild. My eyes glazed over in every Porto scene, which was problematic whenever they were actually important plot-establishing scenes. He just drags everything down. I would include Pasevalles in the list – he’s an interesting depiction of a sociopath but I’m not entirely ready to swallow his over-the-top motivations as a villain yet – except I do at least find him intriguing to read about.
But meanwhile, genuinely interesting female players get either no POV at all (Turia), act as a basic spyglass device (Jesa) or as the long-suffering comic relief counterpart to yet another puffed-up, self-important dudebro (Qina), and I’m just a little grumpy about it.
(Side note while I think of it: I also sense an active struggle to insert some LGBTQ rep into this series after having none of it in the orig trig. That’s great but it feels… a little laboured? There’s Sangfugol’s retconning as bi, which I’m fine with, although let’s be honest, there was NO canon acknowledgement of same in the original series. There’s Aengas, who just made me cringe with the over-the-top endearments and blatant ogling of strapping dudes and oversexualisation of everything. Like, I get it, he’s gay because he acts… promiscuous, flamboyant and theatrically cynical? Really? That’s the coding you wanna go with? It felt really tired, like “the 90s called and want their lazy queer stereotypes back” tired. I think my favourite nods to LGBTQ inclusion in this world are Simon’s occasional acknowledgements of it, complete with the blushing and hemming and hawing of a kind-hearted but somewhat prudish and not very well-informed straight man who knows these things exist but doesn’t quite know what to do with this knowledge. King Simon for Osten Ard’s Gay Alliance, please.)
This brings me *casts knucklebones* via Balking Ram, Clouds in the Pass, and Slippery Snow, to my biggest impediment to loving Empire of Grass wholeheartedly:
I didn’t like how it treated women.
Bear with me, because I actually think Tad Williams is one of some very few male fantasy authors who write strong (read: genuine, layered, complex) female characters, but there were things here that tripped me up. Basically, there’s a whole lot of frickin’ rape, past and present, and I’m not on board with how it’s presented. When I read the Witchwood Crown, I kind of just accepted certain aspects of what certain female characters’ stories entailed. I was anguished for Tzoja’s struggle for survival in Hikeda’ya society; I was devastated for Vorzheva’s diminished state; I was appalled at Nezeru’s potential Norn brood mare role but itching to move forward and away from it. It wasn’t until this book, with its wealth of detailed flashbacks into Tzoja’s past and its implications about Vorzheva’s, along with other casual mentions of sexual violence against women, that I had several fridge moments and consequently grew first uncomfortable and then angry.
By way of example, let’s look at three women in these books who have absolutely been shat on by life.
Vorzheva: Betrayed, embittered, still railing against injustice but ultimately without purpose or hope of improvement. There is no doubt that I am biased because Vorzheva was my favourite character of the original trilogy – caustic, uncompromising, unapologetically herself – and I can’t help feeling like her fate in the new trilogy so far is a punishment for the very character traits that I cherish in her: too loud, too brash, too demanding, too angry? You get abandoned. You get put in your place. You lose everything you love, everything you fought for. You lose all semblance of agency or self-determination. You grow old and bitter without any power or anyone to appreciate you for who you are. Did she get raped as well? Well, I’d like to believe that anyone who tried to sexually assault Vorzheva would end up with their nadgers sawed off, but then the story does go to some lengths to establish that she has no power left, and the Thrithings men seem pretty comfy with rape, so yes, probably she was. Oh yeah, and all happened was before she was manoeuvred into nearly killing her own sister, one of the only three people she still cared about. Great.
Derra/Tzoja: Dude, where do I start. Abandoned by her dad at 10. Borderline-molested by her grandfather at 13. Ran away. Abducted. Raped. Brief sanctuary in a women’s refuge. Abducted again. Raped. Raped. Given as a slave to Hikeda’ya nobility, raped and brainwashed until she thought it was love. (I’m sorry, I am utterly incapable of considering her and Viyeki as a consensual pairing because she literally has no choice about it. She doesn’t have the option of refusing him. The power imbalance is enormous and utterly prohibitive to the concept of consent.) At best considered an enjoyable pet and brood mare, at worst a slave. Worse, she has been conditioned to this sort of treatment from a young age, to the point where there is no true hope of escape or self-government for her. In every scene we’ve seen her in throughout two books, she has been a pawn, a victim, a slave.
Nezeru: Raised to believe in the very standards that hold contempt of mortal blood as a central tenet, so basically raised to hate and despise half of her own identity, do her very best to erase that heritage, and internalise a whole lot of bullshit about racial purity and absolute loyalty. Oh yeah, and raised to be casually raped for breeding purposed by literally any full-blood who feels like it. They don’t even have to announce their intent, it’s basically just grab and mount. And she’s raised to not so much as blink an eye at it. Just… drop trou, endure while you get raped, then get on with your day. That is some Clan of the Cave Bear levels of rapitude right there.
In terms of all the sexual violence, we have here three generations of women who have been exposed to so much sexual assault that not only do at least two of them consider it pretty much normal, but we also have only one of them who has ever had a consensual relationship with a man. ONE consensual relationship, out of THREE GENERATIONS of women, and all the rest is rape. There are frequent mentions of the risk and/or reality of sexual violence in the rest of this book, but these three women is really where it struck me the hardest, because they are direct descendants of one another, and their fates are so strongly dominated by men’s power over their bodies and their very lives.
Which leads me to the question… why the fuck? It’s just a lot of rape, man. And don’t tell me it’s for world-building or cultural purposes or to demonstrate the brutality of this world. We already know that Osten Ard is an inherently sexist world, and the attitudes of some of its peoples (particularly olden-timey Rimmersmen and Thrithings, as well as Norns towards lower-caste and human women) to sexual violence towards women and/or mortals was already established in the previous books – without having it hammered home in specific examples of repeated sexual violence perpetrated against on-page characters. I really, really dislike comparisons between this series and that other popular medieval fantasy series, but I will say it just this once: Osten Ard ain’t Westeros, and Tad has never seemed to need to rely on this kind of ham-fisted blatancy when it came to showing that yes, this is not a world where the idea of women’s rights is a particularly celebrated one. It feels really weird to me to encounter this almost gleeful insistence that “hey look, these women are all having an absolutely SHIT time on account of being women” in an Osten Ard book. It might have been a different matter if it was an occasional thing, but the specific example above – these three generations of women whose entire lives consist of oppression and sexual violence, over multiple decades – does not feel like a mere world-building consideration to me. It feels deliberate and targeted, and not in a good way. It feels like each of these women was being punished, repeatedly and extendedly, for daring to want things for herself – for reaching out, for fighting hard, for speaking up. It also felt icky because gender politics in a generational context matter; because we look to how things have changed in the struggle for gender equality since our grandmothers’ day, we look to what we can learn from the women who have gone before us and what we can do to make things better for ourselves and our daughters and the generations following after us. So to see something like this, multiple generations of women being brutalised, abandoned, raped, without hope or progress, felt like a punch in the gut.
Now, of course, this is the middle book of a series set in a world where prophecy is real, symbolism matters and family patterns are often found to have ultimate meaning. So there is every chance that the third book will turn things around for Tzoja and Nezeru (Vorzheva, at this point, cannot really hope for anything better than some sort of sad closure, and yeah, I AM bitter about that one) and that everything will culminate in triumph and empowerment and sweet, sweet revenge.
But here’s the thing: even if it does, these things are part of canon now. They cannot be undone. The inherently sexist structures of Osten Ard’s culture(s) were always offset by the fact that all of Tad’s female characters were either actively defying, questioning or breaking out of those structures (Miri, Vorzheva, Geloë), made them work to their own advantage (Nessalanta, Rachel) or provided an alternative perspective from very different cultures where women did hold equal power (Aditu, Sisqi, Likimeya, Amerasu, Utuk’ku). There was hope that with women like these in places of influence, these structures might eventually change. But here we are, 30+ years later, and those structures don’t seem to have changed; they seem to have grown worse, with normalised sexual assault and a notable lack of bodily autonomy when it comes to child-bearing. Does that ring a bell? Sure, and maybe that’s even intentional. But I’m not here, in one of my favourite fantasy worlds, looking for social commentary on ours. I’m here to see the complex female characters I know and love being awesome and every bit as empowered as the dudes. Instead, there’s Miri, holding up her lonely flag of badass ladies (why exactly this series is not called The Last Queen of Osten Ard, I have NO idea, because she is seriously rocking her shit). And whatever redemption the third book may bring, I am, in this particular aspect, not thrilled with this one. I didn’t even go into ALL the issues I had with the way women were treated in this book: like, Josua’s disappearance really needs to involve a woman driven nuts with love because bitches be crazy, right? Hyara, despite the intriguing hints at an older woman/younger man romance with Fremur, still gets absolutely no say or agency in her own personal future; Turia, an interesting rising star on the political canvas of Nabban, not only doesn’t get a voice, but is solely defined by a simplified Borgia-esque standard of angry-vengeful-chick; Thelía, clearly her husband’s superior in terms of scholastic and investigative achievement, is belittled and mocked by said supposedly-sweet husband at every turn; Tanahaya, centuries-old Sithi scholar and accomplished warrior, needs to de-escalate an incident of sexual assault from an idiot mortal teenager for some reason because it just wouldn’t do to confront him with any actual liability about his shitty groping ways, I guess??; Qina, tracker extraordinaire and owner of a singularly useful level head, is constantly reduced to a foil for her insufferable fiancé’s massively inflated ego; etc. etc. ad nauseum. It got a bit much and I don’t feel generous enough to give it the benefit of the doubt because… why the hell should I. It’s on the page, it felt gross and it’s not my job as a reader to make it feel less gross.
On a related note, Empire of Grass felt almost too bleak in general. Where Stone of Farewell had a sense of levity to offset the darkness, some sense of hope, however shitty things might be right now, Empire of Grass just was relentlessly grim. It wasn’t until those final 100 pages that both the pace and perhaps the overall sense of gloom picked up a bit.
I’ll wrap this up because I’ve gone on long enough. I’m aware that these seem like a lot of bones to pick with what I do genuinely consider a 4-star book. These are my views fresh off a first read and they might change in the context of the full series; but for now, my feelings remain complicated and if there’s a knucklebone throw that says “emotionally invested but also wrapped in the scratchy wool hoodie of apprehensive feminist grumpiness,” that would be me.
“Saying peace never lasts, or that an empire must grow or die, is like saying that only birth and death matter,” she told him. “Most of life is not part of either, but what comes between–the simple hard work of living.”
So what’s the book about?
Danger lurks on all sides in Osten Ard. King Simon and Queen Miriamel’s allies in Hernystir have made a pact with the cruel Queen of the Norns. Now nothing stands in the way of the Elven armies invading the kingdoms of Osten Ard. Meanwhile, Prince Morgan wanders the forests of Aldheorte. Hunger and homesickness torment him, and wild animals are a constant danger. Moreover, the laws of nature do not seem to apply in the Sithielben forest. But to whom does the voice that haunts his dreams belong?
“The strong never need to silence the weak, or they prove that they are the truly weak ones.”
These aspects attracted me the most while reading.
There is a lot happening in Osten Ard and all the plot lines are getting more and more complex, making it even more exciting than the first volume, because you notice how now finally the story really starts and intrigued me like no other Osten Ard before – I wouldn’t have expected such complexity from Tad William’s more character-driven story. There are several different characters to keep up with, as well as the various intrigues of the different factions involved. The Nabbanai fighting the Thrithingsmen fighting the Hernystiri conspiring against the Erkynlanders fighting the Norns fighting the Sithi and so on until it is almost impossible to keep track of who is stabbing whom in the back. Yet despite the complexity and confusion, Williams guides us through each twist and turn like a seasoned tour guide, showing us exactly what we need to see to understand the lay of the surrounding land. Small details that seem superfluous in one chapter reappear as the narrative progresses, and at the end of the book there are still many unanswered questions. Since time has not stood still in Osten Ard either, the protagonists of the first series naturally fade more and more into the background due to their age, but Tad Williams has succeeded brilliantly in filling the voids they leave behind with new characters. Thus Little Snenneq, Binabik’s future son-in-law, easily succeeds in following in his footsteps. And Prince Morgan, the grandson of Queen Miriamel and King Simon, also manages to develop more of a profile as the narrative progresses. And new characters like Jarnulf and Nezeru also fit seamlessly into the story. Although, as a supporter of Simon from the original series, I naturally find it difficult to let new favourites into my heart, I have to say that I now find it difficult to keep Simon as my only favourite. Nezeru and Jarnulf are characters that have such a dynamic of their own that it is of course fun to read all the other stories as well, but that I would love to skip chapters sometimes to read about them again. And don’t get me wrong, every chapter is pure perfection and it would be a shame to say that the other characters are not as good as this team, but there are hardly any stories that could captivate me more than these two. There is something magical about these characters. I suffer with them, understand their doubts, have my own doubts about this world – I don’t want to be in their shoes, but I find it interesting to read about them. I hope that the two of them manage to go their own way, without paying attention to their origins, but only to themselves. “I hope not, but hope makes a flimsy armor.”
Those who think that this book has a typical middle book syndrome are very much mistaken. Normally I love beginnings in a story and there is hardly anything better to read than the beginning of a fantasy series and the end of it, but Tad Williams has changed my mind here, because this book is worlds better than the first volume, although that was already terrific. I can’t put into words how exciting this book was – yes, my pulse was at 180 the whole time and I could hardly read a few pages where my pulse could calm down. In this volume, Tad Williams also manages to make the magic of Osten Ard even more intense and to hold you captive in a way that no other book by Tad Williams has done before. Small points of criticism that I had with the first volume could be eliminated here and a middle book was delivered to me that no other series has ever created. I am crazy about this series and now I really want to read more, because I can’t imagine that this series can get worse. “If you spare a dog he will never bite you, but men are not so trustworthy.”
So what are my final thoughts about it?
It is almost impossible to summarise so much plot and inventiveness in a few sentences. Tad Willimas has once again created a well-structured volume of his sequel to Osten Ard. Anyone who thinks that the author is past his prime and has run out of fantastic ideas is very much mistaken. This volume is another stroke of genius. It is fascinating that Tad Williams has once again succeeded in making each of the storylines both varied and versatile as well as exciting. Apart from the interesting new friends of the heir to the throne, Morgan, the plotline about the half-blood girls especially captivated me and made me curious for more. Apart from these preferences, however, I can only say that the book was not long-winded at any point and every scene was excellently thought out. Tad Williams is, in my eyes, a luminary of the fantasy genre and is able to weave a complex construct of parallel plots into each other and finally bring them together in a meaningful way like no other. I love his mythical creatures and their abilities and characteristics, have really enjoyed this one to the fullest, and can’t wait for the other two volumes.
Wonderful second part of the Last King series. Many adventures, loads of travelling. True Tad Williams epic fantasy, so buckle up for a long read. Some really interesting things happened that got me totally surprised!
Damn you, Tad Williams! Damn your evil brilliance!
If you’re reading this, then you have probably already read The Witchwood Crown (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...), part 1 of The Last King of Osten Ard. If not, go and do so right now! Why? Because this is the most epic fantasy, with a massive scope, awesome adventure, and the deepest and darkest mysteries you get to experience in reading!
Now then, Empire of Grass. There is so much going on in this book, and all the characters are caught up in their own epic tales, that the scope seems quite daunting. If you have made it through The Witchwood Crown, of course you’ll make it through Empire of Grass. Sometimes it’s just a bit mind-boggling what Tad Williams is trying (and succeeding) to accomplish. I loved every page of it. These days, not many books can make me forget time, force me to sit up late at night, and actually bring tears to my eyes as I turn the last page.
The book picks up the story immediately after the end of The Witchwood Crown. We find out who Morgan’s long-fingered face-groper is, and get to follow on an adventure through the Aldheorte. My impression after finishing the book is that Morgan has gotten the largest share of the story, and he goes through quite the journey. Some readers may not be too fond of the first half of his story, which is largely pensive (and beautiful), but there is a lot coming of a different nature.
Queen Miriamele goes to Nabban to try and sort out the political trouble brewing there. This was the hardest part for me to read. The dangers to Miri are tangible, and I feared greatly for her life at every turn of the page, until her very last chapter!
You might think the main story would be that of Unver, considering the title. But though a lot of things happen with or near Unver, and the plots thicken, it’s not so much about Unver and the Thrithing Clans, yet. I believe there must be more to come.
Jarnulf and Nezeru’s story take a turn in this book, and none of them will be happier where it goes. Actually, a lot of characters will be less happy at the end of this book than at the beginning… Jarnulf is still trying to disentangle himself from the Norns, but Nezeru poses a problem and a test for his faith. In the previous book, Jarnulf was prodding Nezeru’s beliefs, trying to cause a reaction, and this continues in part, as Nezeru too starts to wrestle with her faith. They also see a lot of adventure, and you might be quite surprised where they end up!
Tzoja treads lands, or at least paths, that have never known a mortal woman’s step, and comes across creatures previously unknown to us. But that is only the beginning, for she is drawn into a much more critical position later on.
We follow the trolls we know as they try to deal with Morgan’s disappearance and Simon’s need to find out about it. They have solid chapters, but they're a bit disconnected from the rest in this book.
We also gets some more insight into Pasevalles, and learn whether his treachery goes deeper than we guessed or not. I’ll not say more about that here.
High King Seoman sits in his Hayholt, with news of new tragedies reaching him, trying to be king to a world that does not want his peace. But what can he do?
What I miss from this book is more from King Hugh and Tylleth. They’re mentioned, but it doesn’t feel like their part of the story has advanced by much. Maybe in the last book, then. I’m also wondering what some of the Sithi are up to during this time, that we don’t hear about.
We do get a closer look at the origin of the Norn and the Sithi, as well as the Tinukeda’ya in their various forms, we find out more about unbeing, and there are hints at some characters’ origin... and others’ end. Meanwhilst, a summons is being called out for those who can hear the whisper, Utuk’ku reaches out her deadly fingers to lay claim to the artefacts she needs to set her dreadful plan in motion, the Norns are everywhere, dealing death and bringing monsters, while the Sithi seem to be breaking up… how could anything possibly turn out well, for anyone?
4,25 Un tome 2 dans la lignée des Williams. C'est lent, très lent mais nos héros vivent de sacrés événements Avis Lecture 🧐📖 "Empire of Grass", The Last King of Osten Ard tome 2, Tad Williams 👑
J'ai terminé ce 2ème tome, lu en partie en audiobook et en partie en physique et franchement, replonger dans cet univers me fait un bien fou. 😁 Alors, je serai honnête : je ne peux pas enchaîner les tomes tous les mois, le rythme de Tad Williams est très très lent, j'ai appris à faire avec et c'est aussi un point positif pour l'univers au final, car on connaît et on peut s'attacher plus facilement à tous les personnages... Et dans ce second cycle, on peut dire qu'il y en a ! 😱🤩
Le tome 1 signait un très bon retour et ce tome 2 valide la suite des aventures en Osten Ard. On plonge avec plaisir dans les mythes anciens de l'univers de Williams, on en apprend plus sur l'arrivée des races sur cette terre également. Les antagonistes (dont je ne peux citer le nom pour ne pas vous spoiler le 1er cycle) sont superbes. Il y a enfin de l'action de ce côté là, dont un personnage que j'adooooore depuis le début et qui me fait frissonner de peur et d'horreur... 😱 A contrario, il y a un personnage qui m'énervait un peu dans le 1er cycle et que j'adore ici. Le personnage est psychologiquement bien mené. Bref c'est un vrai petit plaisir que cette lecture et cet univers, qui a inspiré autant d'auteurices! 🤩
La fin est pleine de tension, sans forcément être une surprise, je suis resté béat devant cette scène 😂 Je me pose plein de questions sur la suite des aventures de nos héros. Heureusement le tome 3 est déjà sorti et le 4eme volume, le final, sortira l'an prochain... Affaire à suivre 😇😅
Et vous? Vous êtes vous déjà lancé dans L'Arcane des Épées, ce grand classique de Fantasy ?
First of all, if you liked the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, go and get this book too (along with the first volume of course). In this second book, many of the characters from the first book are undergoing rapid changes. Where I didn't like young Prince Morgan very much in the first book, he is forced to grow up quickly during his adventures in the second book. But be aware, the world is falling apart and the book ends in several cliffhangers. But then, if you've read Tad-books before, you're used to that.
The kingdoms of Osten Ard are in turmoil. A resurgent Norn threat in the north threatens Rimmersgard and northern Erkynland. The tribes of the Thrithings are in turmoil, a conflict that threatens to spill across the borders into Nabban and Erkynland. Hernystir is in danger of falling under the power of a dark cult. Civil war threatens in Nabban. The High King Simon and the High Queen Miriamele both try to tackle these issues, but the number of their reliable allies is falling and their grandson and heir is missing. But the threat is greater and closer than they think, as for the first time in thousands of years, the deathless queen of the Norns prepares to leave her stronghold.
The Witchwood Crown marked the start of The Last King of Osten Ard, a fresh trilogy picking up thirty years after the events of Williams' break-out work, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. It was a slow-paced novel but one that had to set up an awful lot of plot points, as well as revisiting characters from the first trilogy and introducing new ones. At the end of the book things kicked off, with Prince Morgan fleeing into the Aldheorte Forest, Unver beginning his unification of the Thrithings tribes, Miriamele setting off on a dangerous mission to Nabban and a band of Norns confronting a dragon.
Empire of Grass picks up on these plot points and expands on them, ticking along at a faster pace than the first novel (helped by it being a slightly shorter book), with us rotating between events in Nabban, the Hayholt, Aldheorte, the grasslands, Nakkiga, Naglimund and other locations quite rapidly. The key difference between the two trilogies is that Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was focused very tightly on Simon with occasional cutaways to other characters, but Last King is a broad-spectrum, multi-POV, multi-location, full-on epic fantasy series with a lot more going on in different places. The loss of tight focus may be bemoaned by some, but it does at least present us with a really epic story told on a huge scale.
Empire of Grass is also important in that it identifies the long-missing children of Josua and Vorzheva, whose identities and destinies have driven a lot of discussion by fantasy fans for well over a decade. We learn more about the twins and where their paths have led them, with a real sense of mythic power that both may hold the fate of the world in their hands, despite not being primary POV characters. We also learn more about Vorzheva, but Josua remains missing, with a hunt for him by agents of the crown forming an intriguing subplot through the novel.
As usual, Williams' gifts remain in atmosphere, with his stately worldbuilding and measured prose, and characterisation. I've seen criticism of the first book stemming from Simon's apparent lack of success in being king, but I see this as Williams simply furthering his subversion of epic fantasy tropes that began way back in 1988 with The Dragonbone Chair: it turns out that a kitchen boy with no background in statecraft might not be the best person to make king. It's made clear that the more experienced Miriamele is a far better ruler and the real power on the throne, which helps better explain why things get worse once she leaves for Nabban. The assumption that the guy who saved the world in the first series would automatically be a greater ruler who never did anything wrong is a bit odd, and is Williams' exploration of the question George R.R. Martin asked of Tolkien about Aragorn: yes, he may have been a great warrior, but does that mean has great insights into tax policy and crop rotation techniques?
If Williams does have a slight weak spot it's political intrigue: Nabban sets up the facade of being a hotbed of double-crosses and Xanatos gambits, but the final revelation of what's going on in Nabban is more than a little simplistic and lacking, with the villain explaining why they are doing everything and might as well have twirled a moustache in the process. There's also a decided lack of explanation as for why the powers in Nabban think they can win a multi-pronged conflict against multiple enemies simultaneously, which is what they seem to be setting up at the end of the book.
There's some great battle scenes, as the Norn invasion gets underway in full, and some excellent character beats (particularly among the Norns and half-Norns of Operation Dragon Retrieval, probably the best storyline in the new series). There's also some decided repetition stemming from Williams' decision not to expand the story to new geographical areas. The big battle takes place on the site of an already massive battle from the first trilogy, and seeing Morgan struggle through Aldheorte Forest for dozens of pages on end might have been more compelling if we hadn't seen Simon do exactly this in the first trilogy, even visiting many of the same exact places along the way.
Where Empire of Grass is most successful is furthering the themes that The Witchwood Crown explored so thoroughly: ageing, losing loved ones and the younger generation not listening to its elders and making the exact same mistakes all over again. There's a melancholy strain in this trilogy which recalls Tolkien at his best.
Empire of Grass (****½) is a somewhat tighter and better-paced book than its forebear, developing the first book's stories, characters and themes well, and setting things up splendidly for the final novel in the series, The Navigator's Children, which I would be expecting to be published in 2021.
The first part of this series was more of an introduction where we met our beloved heroes again with the younger generation, we met some others at a time when the great threat was slowly coming into play. In the second our heroes and their opponents are extremely active and the conflict begins and escalates, as it is revealed that the plan of the enemy of men is much more complex and involves not only the use of powerful magic but also acts to divide people and their allies. So the betrayal comes from where our heroes aren't expecting it and things seem to be going pretty bad and when we get to the end of part two all hang on to a thread, though the hope for agreement between the various groups remains despite the prejudices.
All of this in a particularly fascinating book that, unlike what is usually the case in the middle part in fantasy trilogies, is not loses interest and prepares us in an ideal way for a much better third part. You see, the author has the necessary experience to be able to avoid this obstacle and progress the plot gradually, gradually escalating the tension. This, of course, does not mean that there are no more relaxed and tender moments and some more humorous dialogues, there are present and complement the book. So, as in the first part, here too, the author teaches exactly how to write an epic fantasy work.
Το πρώτο μέρος αυτής της σειράς ήταν περισσότερο μία εισαγωγή όπου συναντήσαμε ξανά τους αγαπητούς ήρωες μας μαζί με τη νέα γενιά, γνωρίσαμε κάποιους άλλους την ώρα που έκανε σιγά-σιγά την παρουσία του η μεγάλη απειλή. Στο δεύτερο οι ήρωες μας και οι αντίπα��οί τους μπαίνουν στα βαθιά και η σύγκρουση αρχίζει και συνεχώς κλιμακώνεται, την ώρα που αποκαλύπτεται ότι το σχέδιο του εχθρού των ανθρώπων είναι πολύ πιο περίπλοκο και περιλαμβάνει πέρα από τη χρήση ισχυρής μαγείας την πρόκληση διχασμού στις περιοχές των ανθρώπων και των συμμάχων τους. Έτσι η προδοσία έρχεται από εκεί που δεν το περιμένουν οι ήρωες μας και τα πράγματα φαίνονται να πηγαίνουν πολύ άσχημα και όταν φτάνουμε στο τέλος του δευτέρου μέρους όλα κρέμονται από μία κλωστή, αν και η ελπίδα για συνεννόηση ανάμεσα στις διάφορες ομάδες παραμένει πα��ά τις προκαταλήψεις.
Όλα αυτά σε ένα ιδιαίτερα συναρπαστικό βιβλίο που σε αντίθεση με όσα συμβαίνουν συνήθως στα μεσαία μέρη στις τριλογίες φαντασίας δεν χάνει καθόλου σε ενδιαφέρον και μας προετοιμάζει με έναν ιδανικό τρόπο για ένα τρίτο μέρος που αναμένεται ακόμα καλύτερο. Βλέπετε, ο συγγραφέας έχει την απαραίτητη εμπειρία για να μπορέσει να αποφύγει αυτό το εμπόδιο και να προχωρήσει την πλοκή σταδιακά, κλιμακώνοντας σιγά-σιγά την ένταση. Αυτό, φυσικά, δεν σημαίνει ότι δεν υπάρχουν και κάποιες περισσότερο χαλαρές και τρυφερές στιγμές και κάποιοι περισσότερο χιουμοριστικοί διάλογοι, υπάρχουν και συμπληρώνουν το βιβλίο. Οπότε, όπως και στο πρώτο μέρος, έτσι και εδώ, ο συγγραφέας διδάσκει πώς ακριβώς γράφεται ένα έργο επικής φαντασίας.
After mulling this one over, this is a novel (series) that will stick with you, with its cloying melancholy and thematic depth upon reflection. Never let it be said that Tad Williams is not a deliberate, careful author which allows for well wrought world building and mythopia. While he luxuriates in his pace, the prose is delightful enough to enjoy and the world is beautiful and striking that it reads like a nice vintage or comforting coffee.
This story continues the Last King of Osten Ard trilogy and it is a series that grows on you the more you think on it...if Tad can stick the landing with the next volume, I'll consider this to be an improvement on the previous trilogy and a series that can stand toe to toe with LotR or ASOIF in terms of epic fantasy. This has it all: diverse cast, colorful locations, political intrigue, maniacal villains that have motivations and drive, epic monsters and scenes, nuanced character work, and plenty of speculation for what is to come.
Perhaps my favorite portions is the world created. The Gardenborn Norns and Sithi are very compelling here with large hints to extraterrestrial travel. I find the culture to much developed and it drips with hints as to the overall past of the elf-like races and the expansive history therewithin. That's not to say the mortals of the world aren't interesting either; you have believably flawed characters and Tad wonderfully continues to spin well worn tropes such as the farm boy turning prophecized king maybe isn't the greatest king and doesn't have the criteria to rule or characters questioning there beliefs and direction of life.
Yes there are slow portions, particularly at around the 60% mark as Tad Williams loves his travelogues or having characters repeat plot lines for characters to catch up but in the sum total it is something I will be speculating on for days.
Moment of smugness: I received an advanced copy of this book from a Random House giveaway.
Short review: Even better than The Witchwood Crown.
Longer review: Empire of Grass goes up to 11. Every devious plot laid out in The Witchwood Crown is worse than you think in Empire of Grass...in some cases way worse than you think. A good thing for the reader; a bad thing for the characters. And these characters get smacked around like a flyweight facing Muhammad Ali. (Writing a spoiler-free review, it turns out, is hard...as this unlikely and somewhat awkard simile shows.)
Morgan is still a bit dickish (as a spoiled child of royalty is wont to be), but in this book he begins to shed some of that dickishness and, while still obviously self-centered, is beginning to grow. (Note: YMMV. You may not feel the overwhelming urge to smack Morgan upside the head like I do.)
Characters march into trouble or are thrown into it. Trouble abounds.
Hernystir and Nabban are political ghants' nests.
the Sithi are reticent about leaving their woods. The Norns not so much about leaving the Nornfell.
The Thrithings folk are unhappy. Really unhappy.
This book has everything you'd want and some stuff you weren't aware you wanted but it's in there and, yup, you wanted it: secret Norn fortresses; dragons (note the plural); Sithi isolationists (in two flavors); things living in trees; a really big something; kilpie (maybe you expected those, but just you wait); and a bunch of spoilery stuff I won't mention.
If you've been hanging out in these parts for a while, then you know that I've always been a big Tad Williams fan. Regardless of the shortcomings that certain readers find so annoying and/or off-putting about the author, I've always managed to overlook them and enjoy Williams' books/series. Seriously, I'm aware of these perceived weaknesses, but Williams has always found a way to scratch my itch, no matter if it's epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, or everything else in between. Having read To Green Angel Tower when it originally came out, I'd been waiting for a very long time to find out what happens next. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn turned out to be a seminal work of fantasy, one of the very best of its era. Like countless readers, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into The Witchwood Crown.
The Heart of What Was Lost was the perfect companion book for anyone who loved Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, as well as the perfect setup book for The Last King of Osten Ard trilogy. Understandably, expectations were extremely high for this new trilogy. Given how long it took for the author to finally elect to write this sequel, we could expect nothing less.
Needless to say, The Witchwood Crown had big shoes to fill. And just a few chapters into the book, I realized that something was wrong. It was a veritable chore to go through. The slog of slogs, no doubt about it. And although it did get a little better toward the end, in my humble opinion The Witchwood Crown was by far Williams' weakest work to date. Which did not bode well for subsequent installments.
Early reviews opined that Empire of Grass was better than its predecessor. Keeping my fingers crossed that it was the case, I jumped into it with renewed enthusiasm. Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived and it soon dawned upon me that the novel suffered from the same shortcomings that sunk The Witchwood Crown. Ultimately, it's more of the same for the most part, with very little improvement to speak of. There is no way to sugarcoat the fact that Empire of Grass was another disappointing read.
Here's the blurb:
Set in Williams' New York Times bestselling fantasy world, the second book of The Last King of Osten Ard returns to the trials of King Simon and Queen Miriamele as threats to their kingdom loom...
The kingdoms of Osten Ard have been at peace for decades, but now, the threat of a new war grows to nightmarish proportions.
Simon and Miriamele, royal husband and wife, face danger from every side. Their allies in Hernystir have made a pact with the dreadful Queen of the Norns to allow her armies to cross into mortal lands. The ancient, powerful nation of Nabban is on the verge of bloody civil war, and the fierce nomads of the Thrithings grasslands have begun to mobilize, united by superstitious fervor and their age-old hatred of the city-dwellers. But as the countries and peoples of the High Ward bicker among themselves, battle, bloodshed, and dark magics threaten to pull civilizations to pieces. And over it all looms the mystery of the Witchwood Crown, the deadly puzzle that Simon, Miriamele, and their allies must solve if they wish to survive.
But as the kingdoms of Osten Ard are torn apart by fear and greed, a few individuals will fight for their own lives and destinies—not yet aware that the survival of everything depends on them.
As is the author's wont, the superior worldbuilding really shines. In that regard at least, Empire of Grass shows a Tad Williams writing at the top of his game. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was vast in scope and vision and this new series builds on storylines that already echoed with depth. Several new dimensions are added to what has always been a multilayered work of fiction, and on this front the first two volumes of The Last King of Osten Ard delivered. As I keep saying, the Sithi and the Norns are not your typical elf-like race, and for some reason Williams is the only fantasy author who can bring out the darker nature of the fairy folk in such a fashion. To finally get the chance to discover more about the inner workings of the Norn society was undoubtedly the most fascinating aspect of The Heart of What Was Lost. Three decades down the line, the plans that were put in motion in the heart of Nakkiga are now bearing fruit and we learn even more about them. Queen Utuk'ku has awakened and the world is about to find out that the Hikeda'ya are not the vanquished foe so many people believed them to be. Those hoping to find out more about the Sithi will be pleased to learn that we actually discover more about them in this sequel. Tantalizing hints insinuate that the Garden was another planet and that the Norns, the Sithi and the Tinukeda'ya are the descendants of an alien race that reached Osten Ard via space ships or other means of transportation. It will be interesting to see if this is truly the case or not in the final installment.
Geographically speaking, like its predecessor Empire of Grass takes place in various locales all over Osten Ard. Nabban and the Thrithing lands are the stage for what became major storylines. The same can be said of the Aldheorte forest. As you can see, this second volume is another far-reaching novel that covers a lot of ground. And once again, this is something that doesn't necessarily always work in the book's favor. Indeed, the tale is hitting many of the locales and events from Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, often for little or no reason plot-wise, or for reasons that feel a little contrived.
As was the case with the first volume, one of the most important shortcomings of Empire of Grass is the decidedly weak political intrigue. As I mentioned before, Tad Williams excels in many different aspects when it comes to writing novels, but politicking is definitely not one of them. This was true then, and sadly it remains true now. Instead of playing to his strengths in The Witchwood Crown and this new sequel, likely to have more appeal to fans of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and other politically-involved fantasy series, Williams put political intrigue at the heart of a number of major plot threads. Which, due to the clumsiness in execution of such intrigues, put the Hernystir, the Nabban, and the Thrithing plotlines on very shaky ground. Add to that the fact that Simon and Miri continue to make for particularly inept and occasionally dumb rulers who have surrounded themselves with not necessarily the brightest of people at court, and you have an incompetent government so totally unprepared to deal with any sort of crisis that it is second only to the Donald Trump administration in that regard. Ultimately, since a large part of Empire of Grass hinges precisely on political intrigue, it can be quite a setback at times. As I've said before, not everyone can be a politicking master like Martin, Katherine Kurtz, or Jacqueline Carey. Tad Williams took quite a risk when he chose to go down that path. In my last review, I opined that time would tell if he could pull it off. But based on The Witchwood Crown, it would be an uphill battle and the odds were stacked against him. It's now evident that Williams has built a fragile house of cards with political intrigue as its foundation. Which means that the whole thing can come crashing down at any time.
One more, the novel's biggest flaw is the characterization, which is habitually one of the aspects in which Williams truly shines. As was the case with The Witchwood Crown, this second volume is a veritable mess of points of view. I remain convinced that this book would have benefited from a lesser number of perspectives. I lost track of exactly how many POVs there were in the first installment and Empire of Grass features even more of them. While some storylines are engaging, at times some perspectives are downright boring, which bogs down the narrative with pointless scenes that go nowhere. Why Tad Williams elected to introduce readers to so many disparate characters and give them their own POV, I'll never know. But it continues to kill momentum as you skip from an interesting sequence to an unnecessary conversation or info-dump that brings little or nothing to the tale. Plotlines featuring Tiamak, Binabik, Qina, Eolair, Cuff, Vorzheva, Jesa, and Princess Lillia in particular often make you want to throw the novel across the room. This poor characterization precludes any kind of tight focus on any of the storylines, and in the long run it once again hurts this sequel in a myriad of ways.
Like The Witchwood Crown, Williams' latest also suffers from a manifestly poor cast. Simon and Miriamele continue to be only shadows of who they once were in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Middle age has enfeebled and made them fearful. Especially Miriamele, who was such a strong female lead in the first series. She's a little better in Empire of Grass, yet the Nabban storyline shows just how far she has fallen. How such a couple with a deficient court held on to power for so long defies comprehension. How they could remain so unaware of what goes on in and around their kingdom when the writing is on the wall, so to speak, remains shocking. Prince Morgan, heir to the High Throne, continues to be a great disappointment. Yes, I know the author is setting him up as a complete dumbass so that we can experience his transformation and root for him when he finally has his coming-of-age moment. Problem is, it appears that he will not bloom any time soon. Until the second portion of Empire of Grass, when his situation changes and things finally get interesting (though Morgan himself remains an idiot), I came to dread any chapter featuring him. POV protagonists include all the familiar faces from The Witchwood Crown, as well as a number of new ones. Again, that's just too many POVs. And even the most engrossing and thrilling plotlines from the first installment, such as those of Viyeki, Nezeru, or Jarnulf, fail to captivate in similar fashion this time around.
One would have thought that with most of the groundwork already laid out, Empire of Grass would have been a more fluid read. Alas, the pace is atrocious for the better part of the novel. It is a tedious read, every step of the way. Another slog of slogs. The mess of perspectives doesn't help, true. Nor does the info-dumps or all the extraneous stuff that bogs down the narrative in many a chapter. Did we really need the full back stories of both Tzoja and Vorzheva? The pointless bantering scenes featuring Binabik, his wife, his daughter, and Little Snenneq? The 3-year-old princess' point of view? Jessa worrying about everything in every scene she appears in? Simon, acting like a beffudled old man who can't even tie his own shoes and a monarch completely clueless of what goes on at his court? Yada yada yada. A good 150 pages could probably have been excised without the plot losing anything important. All Tad Williams novels are overwritten to some extent, but these last two have been quite problematic in that regard. Everything moves at a snail's pace, with good and exciting sequences few and far between. There are some compelling scenes and storylines, no doubt about it. And yet, it's a chore to get through to them because very little actually happens in most chapters and all the good stuff is buried so deeply under superfluous scenes that it robs them of most of the desired impact. As I said, I've always been a big fan, but I've never had such a hard time reading anything by Tad Williams.
The Witchwood Crown turned out to be little more than a vast introduction to an even bigger and more complex tale. As such, it introduced a panoply of characters, concepts, and plot threads, but it offered very little in terms of resolution. Given the way Empire of Grass was going, I expected something gripping and exciting to close the show. It looked as though Williams had a grand finale in store for his readers and the rhythm picks up in the final portion of the book. Alas, it was not to be. Once more, I reached the last page and could only shake my head in disappointment. There is no showdown. No big payoff. No resolution of any sort. Every single plotline ends in a cliffhanger. I'm so sad that this turned out to be another underwhelming novel.
No sé por dónde empezar, de verdad. Tampoco voy a decir que es el mejor Tad que he leído, porque me queda aún por leer ... y a él mucho más por escribir. Me lo he pasado genial, de alucine. La acción está magistralmente estructurada, recibes en todo momento la "dosis" adecuada de cada personaje. Y el elenco se amplía muuucho más. La guerra está a punto de estallar. Y las piezas han ocupado su lugar , algunas con un plan, otras por puro devenir de los acontecimientos. Los zorros blancos han abandonado la ciudad, hasta la reina viaja reclutando un ejército bastante especial a su paso. He leído toda la saga completa. Si el primero de esta segunda época me dejó algo despistado, mucho tiempo tras el final de la primera, este segundo volumen de la historia (sin mencionar the heart) ,con su excelente resumen al principio, deja bien claro que estamos ante una de las mejores obras de Tad Williams.
I give this 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ His storytelling is one of the reason , I enjoy Tad Williams! His descriptions, world building, pacing, characters and let’s not forget his names for Anything he writes. If you haven’t read Tad Williams give him a try… is he for everyone .. NO . But I don’t think any author can claim that. Best quote: “They are doubtful things, boats. One moment you are upon the water and life is good. Next moment you are under it, and life is less so.”
I know have to purchase the next book “Into the NarrowDark”
I have conflicting feelings about this novel. It’s very well written, of course; Tad Williams knows how to write a story. Yet even though I liked the story overall, I struggled a bit to get through it.
Part of the issue is that it is very clearly the middle book of a series, and the author is engaged in moving his pieces into place for the final act. That’s not to say that the plot doesn’t include any action, because it definitely does. At the same time, a fair amount of the story involves characters moving from crisis to crisis and slowly uncovering bits and pieces of information that will presumably play a role in the next (final?) volume. For example, there’s Simon’s grandson Prince Morgan. He seems to be following in his grandfather’s footsteps in wandering through the mysterious forest of Aldheorte, sometimes finding aid but often encountering danger, until he winds up in the hands of another important character. Then there’s Brother Etan, sent off to find out what happened to Prince Josua. His travels slowly uncover some clues, but readers will have to wait for a resolution to that mystery.
The other thing that made this book difficult to read is that I am increasingly uncertain about how the series will end, and that ratcheted up the tension for me. Forget a happy ending; I’d settle for a bittersweet one. But the series title is The Last King of Osten Ard, and I’m thinking that readers might want to take that literally. The level of chaos just keeps increasing throughout the story, and while part of the conflict is driven by the Norns and their dark magic, part of it is simply humans blindly pursuing their own interests, including a desire for power. Whatever happens, it’s hard for me to see how order could be restored under the rule of a high king. What that means for Simon and his family, I hesitate to guess. Simon never wanted to be king, but kings don’t often get to settle into peaceful retirement, unfortunately. Fingers crossed that I'm just being pessimistic!
Of course, my fear of an unhappy ending won’t keep me from reading on in the series. For one thing, several characters are left in dangerous straits at the end of this one, and I need to find out what happens! Also, where DID Josua get off to? (A whole lot of trouble could have been avoided if that man had made better life choices.) Most interesting to me are the hints that the Tinukeda’ya may have a central role in however the story develops. The shapeshifting folk have been on the fringes of the action in the past, frequently disregarded by humans, Norns, and Sithi alike. I’m just speculating here, but that may have been a mistake.
So, I’m left waiting impatiently and a bit fearfully for the next book. Bring it on!
A copy of this book was provided through NetGalley for review; all opinions expressed are my own.
It's taken me a while to get through this book, though that's not an indication of it being bad in any way. Mostly the slow pace has been down to not spending as much time reading as I normally would, but there's also a hell of a lot going on in this book that really does require that the reader pays attention. It's this level of detail, this level of engagement with the characters, that makes this an excellent mid-trilogy piece.
I make no secret of the fact that I love Tad Williams' Osten Ard books. The first trilogy, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, is amongst my favourite all-time fantasy series and when The Heart of What Was Lost and The Witchwood Crown came out I was excited to see a return to the wonderfully realised land they're set in. Those two titles didn't disappoint, with The Heart of What Was Lost bridging the gap between the first and second trilogies nicely, and The Witchwood Crown providing an exhilarating start to the new trilogy. Empire of Grass builds on the foundation laid so perfectly by the previous book and it builds both high and wide.
As I mentioned above, there's a lot going on in this book. There are several disparate character points of view to keep up with, as well as the various machinations of the different factions involved. The Nabbanai fight the Thrithingsmen who fight the Hernystiri who plot against the Erkynlanders who fight the Norns who fight the Sidhi and so on until it's all but impossible to keep track of who's stabbing who in the back. Yet despite the complexity and obfuscation Williams draws us through every twist and turn like a veteran guide, showing us exactly what we need to see in order to understand the lie of the land around us. Little details that seem superfluous in one chapter come back and haunt us later in the narrative, and yet by the end of the book there are still many questions left unanswered.
Because this is the second book in a trilogy it does end on a cliff-hanger. In fact, it ends on several cliff-hangers, with many of the major characters either missing presumed dead, or in the hands of enemies and miscreants. To some degree this results in narrative that feels rushed and unfinished but that's to be expected. Where some authors would provide at least a sense of completion at this point, Williams very deliberately leaves us wanting more and yet at the same time dreading what may come next. I think it's fair to say he definitely has come into his own as a master storyteller and I genuinely can't wait for book three.
Listen, I'm an aspiring writer, and I've made my peace with the fact that I'll never be as good a writer as Tad Williams. And Tad Williams is never better than in Osten Ard. He doesn't waste time with endless asides about what came before (as per usual, he provides a synopsis of The Witchwood Crown at the beginning of the book), instead dropping us in right where we left off and getting to the good stuff-- the drama, the poetic prose, the fleshed-out characters, and the seriously horrifying twists of fate that make up Empire of Grass
See, The Witchwood Crown did an excellent job of setting the stage for Tad Williams' return to Osten Ard. It was one of my favorite reads of 2017, in fact. But now Empire of Grass is upon us, and Williams gives us one of his signature middle books-- juggling a host of plotlines, characters, and lore-deepening myths, and somehow making it all look easy.
Let's try to keep this vague: Prince Morgan wanders in the woods, making some new friends and coming face to face with some dangerous types. Tzoja gets in way over her head in a harsh environment. Queen Miriamele attends a wedding, but in fantasy, it's never as simple as just attending a wedding. Unver's strength of will is tested. King Simon gets a lot of bad news. Viyeki uncovers some dangerous secrets and is shaken to his core. And Nezeru is caught in the middle of the tumult of power struggles, her duty, and oncoming war.
See? That doesn't really tell you anything! Which is good, because if you've read The Witchwood Crown, you're champing at the bit to get at Empire of Grass, and if you haven't, well, this isn't where you need to start. (Go back to The Dragonbone Chair while you're at it. Enjoy the ride.) Needless to say, Tad Williams knows how to set an eerie scene, convey a sense of rich history, and put you in the heads of his characters. He's always been good at that, and I'm pleased as punch to say he's still every bit as good as he was back in the 1990s. There are moments that thrilled me, lines that haunted me, paragraphs that wowed me with their vivid description.
(And yes, of course, there's a series of cliffhangers by the novel's end that are enticing, horrifying, and heartbreaking, because Williams wants to make sure we grab a copy of The Navigator's Children just as soon as he finishes writing it!)
To make a long story short, Empire of Grass is a worthy continuation of The Last King of Osten Ard and one of my favorite reads so far this year. It even earns that beautiful cover.
8+ The second part of the 'The Last King of Osten Ard' series needs little introduction, I guess. It will only be read by people who have already devoured 'The Witchwood Crown' and who know Tad Williams' writing style from 'Memory, Sorrow and Thorn', the first trilogy (in four parts). So they know what to expect. If you are a fantasy afficionado and have not yet read that first trilogy I really advise you to do so. It's one of the corner stones of modern fantasy, as it deconstructed some of Tolkiens tropes and laid the basis for G.R.R. Martins work. Also, Williams is a great author (even if he tends to ramble and stretches his tales out among thousands of pages). I always think his books worthwile and he is one of the few fantasy authors I still read after moving back to sciencefiction (a genre he also dipped his toes in). His strengths are on display here, with great atmosphere, great descriptions, interesting, complex characters having to navigate a sometimes bewildering landscape of alliances and threats, with a strong buildup of tension. His weaknesses are on display as well, with the sense that this could have been 100 pages shorter (e.g. some of Prince Morgans adventures in the forest could have been cut). Also I noticed an unusual amount of typo's and missing words. The buildup is slow and I found some parts boring, but at the end it picked up, with the tension building and a sense of dread gripping my stomach. I will certainly look out for part three of this series. Also it's interesting to read a series with a couple of older protagonists (Simon and Miriamele and others), and I love how Williams shows that what seemed to be a conflict between good and evil had more sides than that, and at the same time the reader wants the Norns to be defeated, there's something noble in their quest too, or at least, the humans in the past had their part to play in igniting their anger ... So, a lot of grey area's and I think the next book will be unputdownable!
As always, my own favourite aspects are those of the Sithi lore, life, and culture.
I would love it if he could eschew starting sentences with either "Still," or "No,"!
Also, suddenly adding the POV of a sithi midway through part II is not only bad form, but also creates risks: as soon as you go into the mind of one of the characters that has answers or background to secrets or mysteries, there is nothing stopping them from thinking on it in their train of consciousness and the writer no longer has any excuse for keeping it from the reader. Hence the lack of POVs usually from characters who already know what you're trying to reveal gradually or keep vague and mystical and aweing.
Unfortunately, in places the prose remains awkward and prosaic and pedantic as it was in his last book as well as at the end of the origin series. As I mentioned in my prior reviews, it seems as though he is trying to approximate a sort of average or standard mid-line language that often lacks the poetry and fascination of the first two books of the original series.
In the latter half I also did not like the overlapping time of the POV sequences. Of course it's a literary choice he is entitled to make; I just personally feel that it's sloppy storytelling.
However: bizarrely--and thankfully--the characterization, atmosphere, story arc, and dialogue, remains tight, realistic, and near-perfect if not totally so.
Other than those grievances, as always Williams delivers a page turner and deeply enthralling and engaging epic story.