- File Size: 8512 KB
- Print Length: 684 pages
- Publisher: DAW (May 7, 2019)
- Publication Date: May 7, 2019
- Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07GD526PH
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,598 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Empire of Grass (Last King of Osten Ard Book 2) Kindle Edition
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“Groundbreaking.... Changed how people thought of the genre, and paved the way for so much modern fantasy. Including mine.” —Patrick Rothfuss, New York Times-bestselling author of The Name of the Wind
"Tad Williams is a master storyteller, and the Osten Ard books are his masterpiece. Williams’ return to Osten Ard is every bit as compelling, deep, and fully-rendered as the first trilogy, and he continues to write with the experience and polish of an author at the top of his game." —Brandon Sanderson, New York Times-bestselling author of Mistborn
“Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is one of the great fantasy epics of all time.”
—Christopher Paolini, New York Times bestselling author of Eragon
"Building upon the revered history of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Williams has outdone himself by penning a 700-plus page novel that is virtually un-put-down-able.... Williams’ grand-scale storytelling mastery is on full display here. Not just utterly readable—an instant fantasy classic." —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Readers who delight in losing themselves in long complex tales of epic fantasy will be in their element here, and there is the promise of much more to come in future volumes.” —Locus
“Panoramic, vigorous, often moving.... Williams adroitly weaves together the tales...heralding a suitably epic and glorious conclusion.” —Publishers Weekly
“Highly Recommended. [Williams] draws on many mythologies for the background of his fantasy epic...story spiced with political intrigue and strong appealing heroes.” —Library Journal
“A grand fantasy on a scale approaching Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.” —Cincinnati Post
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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, 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 The 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, you might like him a lot more here. I did. (More interestingly, his arc is more about the ways he is not like Simon - the hero of the first trilogy and his grandfather. ) 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 The 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.
And so, after several weeks I meandered to the end, better for it and saddened that there’s a delay until the third and concluding tale is done.
Somewhat an anathema, Tad Williams is in this day of modern fantasy - tales told for the mind and the imagination. Words dripping with import, still held fast by a plot unerring. So too does the Empire of Grass move forward.
Not without quibbles, though: assuredly I found challenges in the multi-vignette style was told. Deep, brief dives in perspectives/glimpses of Unver, Morgan, Miriamele, with dashes of Norn, Sithi, Jarnulf and on and on. To the authors credit, I likely could’ve read an entire novel set in anyone of the seeming-dozen perspectives. To his detriment, to my detriment, the many mini-perspectives precluded deep, long looks at characterizations.
Nonetheless, the book rewards with an exceptional- perhaps horrifying- ending with multiple open endings and misdirection and one huge unleashed ‘evil’.
And behind much of this misfortune, Simon's trusted adviser, Parcelleus, plots Simon and Miramele's deaths and the end of their rule.
The characters are thrust into new danger. Everything is in upheaval. The past of the last three decades is crumbling. Treachery and betrayal are undoing everything Simon and Miramele had achieved in their youths while the Queen of the Norns has reawakened after the wounds she took at the end of the war. Competing interests clash and clatter. Events are spiraling out of everyone's control.
Chaos threatens to destroy all.
It's a great followup to the Witchwood Crown. It's full of twists and turns, misfortune and misunderstanding sparking new conflicts, disrupting plans on both sides. The plot is engaging, keeping you reading to find if Simon and Miramele can hold their life's work together and protect their grandchildren.
Will Prince Morgan survive being lost in the forest? Will Parcelleus treachery lead to Miramele's death in the chaos of Nabban? What will happen to Count Eolair as he surrenders to the men who attacked and butchered his men? The Norn are descending on the world of men while they're torn apart by petty conflicts.
Williams prose and story structure are engaging. The cast of characters is engaging, especially the trolls. They again are a favorite of mine. His plot has more pieces going than the original series, but he's keeping it going so far.
Things have never seen bleaker. I can't wait for the next book in this series!
Top international reviews
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.
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.
Regular readers, read on.
Six hundred and thirty eight pages of story.
It's divided into three parts, with a foreword, an afterword, and fifty five chapters.
There's a map at the start. More at the start of each part.
And nigh on thirty plus pages of casts of characters and various appendices at the back.
This is everything you would expect from a volume of epic fantasy.
You would expect the second book in such a series to end on a huge cliffhanger to set up the final one, and this does deliver in that respect also.
What you won't expect it to have, although it does, is rather small print.
So this, because of that and all the made up names and place names and words in it, mean this is a book that you need to take slowly and give your full attention to.
I did. And I felt fully rewarded because of that. I liked but didn't quite love book one so gave that four stars, but this is really worth the effort. There are multiple viewpoint characters. Frankly some are more interesting than others, but the ones that were really did hold me with their storylines. It is masterfully plotted, as although it's a bit of a slow burn to begin with, action and conflict are eventually forthcoming, and where it leaves everything is as mentioned, one big cliffhanger that will make you desperate for the next book.
All involved do get some excellent development as characters as things go along also.
Highly satisfying reading, and a book that will really reward you if you give it the care and attention it deserves. Great stuff.