Over the past year, I had the pleasure of returning to Osten Ard with two novellas that book-end the original Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series: The Heart of What Was Lost and Brothers of the Wind. Once again I am astounded by the greatness that is Tad Williams. I know, I know, I’m a total fangirl, but I can’t help but argue it’s with good reason! For fans of Tad Williams, getting the opportunity to return to the rich and sprawling world that is Osten Ard with a targetted, short-format purpose that nonetheless delivers his style of prose, world-building, and characterization (twice!) is beyond satisfying to say the least. For me, it’s like wrapping myself in a warm blanket and drinking a cup of tea – pure comfort through the written word. Although these novellas vary significantly in terms of their themes and objectives, they are both quintessentially Tad Williams and fit perfectly into and expand upon the experience of Osten Ard. All opinions are my own.
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Rating: 5/5 ✶
Summary: The Heart of What Was Lost takes place in the half-year after the end of To Green Angel Tower, and tells of the attempt by Isgrimnur and a force largely made up of Rimmersgard soldiers to destroy the remaining Norns as they flee back to their homeland and their mountain. It also answers some questions about what actually happened in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Green Angel Tower.
Publication Date: November 2, 2021
Rating: 4/5 ✶
Summary: Set a thousand years before the events of Williams’s The Dragonbone Chair, Brothers of the Wind tells the tale of Ineluki’s tragic boast to destroy the deadly dragon Hidohebhi and what it brings from the POV of Pamon Kes, Hakatri’s faithful servant. Kes is not one of the Sithi but a member of the enslaved Changeling race, and his loyalty has never before been tested. Now he must face the terrible black dragon at his master’s side, then see his own life changed forever in a mere instant by Ineluki’s rash, selfish promise.
The plot of The Heart of What Was Lost focuses on Duke Isgrimmnur’s pursual of the retreating Norns and epic siege of their home Nikkiga (siege fans – this book is for you!) after the human and Sithi victory at Asu’a. The plot forms the basis for not only delivering page-turning action and world-building, but also two main themes: the tendency the de-humanize an enemy in war, in this case the Norns, and a reminder that the atrocities and brutalities of war exist on a personal level and represent its true cost.
Williams’s use of multiple POVs is strategic and perfectly executed to support the book’s themes. First, he presents part of the story through the contrasting viewpoints of Duke Isgrimmnur, who leads the charge on Nikiiga, and Viyeki, a noble-born Norn working to protect his race from being exterminated at the hand of the human invaders. After witnessing the atrocities of the Norns throughout Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, this fascinating juxtaposition in POVs requires an empathy from the reader that is unexpected and yet very real. The Norns are a noble people in their own right, simply fighting for their existence. Experiencing their way of life within their home “humanized” the Norns and further deepened the world-building of Osten Ard in a way that changes your view on the war.
Williams pulls on your hearstrings in an entirely different manner with a third POV, that of Porto, a mercenary conscribed to help finish the war in the North. The care-abouts of an average soldier and his young comrade-in-arms, e.g. wanting to return home to family, questioning why they are there, hunger and cold, provide a stark contrast to the “noble endeavor” of eliminating the last vestiges of their land’s mortal enemies. Here the reader is reminded of the brutal realities of war, and for me, the reminder was poignant.
Finally, and as always, Williams is adept at weaving the stories of these myriad characters in such a way that the ending is both powerfully unexpected and thoroughly satisfying; all loose ends are tied.
Brothers of the Wind tackles entirely different themes using the single POV of Pamon Kes, Prince Hakatri of the Sithi’s armiger servant of the enslaved Changeling race. The book is split into two main quests, the first of which is to slay the dragon Hidohebhi, and the second to find a cure for the pain and madness plaguing Hakatri who has been burned by Hidohebhi’s magical blood. Aside: It was a delight to visit all my favorite locations in Osten Ard during Hakatri’s quest for a cure – the Wran, Sesuad’ra, Aldheorte, to name a few. It was like a mini-recap of Simon’s journey through Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Again, in true Williams fashion, the plot serves the themes, which are twofold and strikingly disparate. First, he explores the slippery slope that is unchecked hubris and anger. Readers are finally presented with the backstory of Prince Ineluki’s seduction by the Norn queen. She manipulates Ineluki’s anger with himself and his love for his brother into hatred for the humans, thereby providing him an outlet for his tumultuous emotions and ultimately gaining his allegiance. At the same time, Williams tells this entire story through the POV of Hakatri’s devoted servant. The reader is not only given a deeper understanding of the Changeling race, but also the sacrifces Pamon has made with respect to his identity – both through his own choice and unintentionally through racism and social constructs – because of his blind devotion to his master Hakatri. The noble Sithi are not without fault, and once again the world-building of Osten Ard is deepened through the exploration of this unsettling relationship between the Sithi, Norn, and Changeling races.
There is a heart-warming end for Pamon Kes; he is released of his servitude to live his own life and learn the history of his people. But, surprisingly, the reader does not learn the ultimate fate of Hakatri. Does he ever find his relief across the sea? Who was the mysterious woman in his visions, and what was the choice she foretold he might make? How will this affect Osten Ard? Williams has left the door open for these questions to be answered in the final two installments of The Last King of Osten Ard, but the conclusion of the story did not suffer because of it.
It was a pleasure to return to the world of Osten Ard and several of its characters in these two novellas. The stage is set for the follow-on series, The Last King of Osten Ard. Although you don’t have to read Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn to enjoy either of these short books and get a feel for Williams’s manner of writing, the context is key to experiencing the full impact of their objectives. Highest of recommendations!