The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a re-read.
Back during the 90s when I first got into Tad Williams for his SF, I thought it would have been great to read the fantasy that put him on the map. My first, second, and third impressions were all about how beautiful I found the language, how I loved the poetry -- in actual verse and structure -- and how it subverted my expectations.
What did I expect? Sword and sorcery, a longer kind of D&D novel. I wasn't really up on fantasy back then. I was an SF fan through and through. What did I actually get?
A sprawling, slow, immensely detailed fantasy world wholly grounded by a lowly scullion boy who isn't a child of destiny, getting caught up in a vast, long adventure. He doesn't become uber-powerful. He is gangly and weak but he takes up a task of knowledge, falling into a small group of scholars trying to unravel the mystery of three swords (perhaps cursed) and the coming of the Storm King.
The tale is so detailed, so grounded, and so realistic, even when we're immersed in this fantasy realm. This book in particular, with its sequels with their huge page counts, proved amazingly popular back in the late '80s and '90s. I think it's not too much of a stretch to say that they revolutionized the whole Fantasy genre toward a new kind of expectation.
Eight years later, GRRM's Game of Thrones, which closely resembles The Dragonbone Chair in grounded but lush detail, mimicked Tad William's success and because it was a bit more grim and unpredictable, it took off, cementing the new epic fantasy style in our minds.
And yet, after all these years, it needs saying.
Tad Williams deserves a great deal of praise for ushering in this style with its amazingly high page counts, its unusual choice of main characters, and its lyrical prose.
Yes, there are others who also did such as this, but I have to say Tad Williams is one of the very best. You might say his popularity made it possible for all those other huge doorstoppers by other authors to hit the market.
I'm looking at you, WoT, GoT, Malazan.
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