Thursday, 6 August 2015

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

Is there such a thing as The Day That Changed Your Reading Life? Maybe not for everyone but there certainly was for me. I've been a reader for as long as I can remember (there's even a rumour that I was born a day late because I had one more chapter to read) and fantasy was always my favourite genre but it was always stuff like Eddings and Brooks until one fateful day (it was a Thursday - I'd just got paid) in 1988. I finished work, and, like most Thursdays I ended up in Waterstones.

Usually a trip to Waterstones would have involved wandering round the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section dithering over what to get but not this day. There, on the display table was The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams - a book I'd never heard of by an author I'd never heard of. The cover art (boy, wolf, small eskimo like person) got me even before I'd read the back of the book, and it was huge (trade paperback edition). So, saw it, bought it, started it on the way home. Up to that point no book had gripped me, transported me to other lands quite the way TDC did.

The story started off well enough, bringing the land of Osten Ard and it's inhabitants to life but where it stood out was the actual feeling of being there, being a part of it. What really sealed it though was the character of Pryrates, quite possibly the most evil person in fantasy fiction for me. One scene in particular, where he killed a puppy just because he could, just to make a point, still bothers me to this day. I hate Pryrates and I always will. The fact that he is just a character in a book is testament to how good the writing is. Through the first book our hero Simon goes from scullery boy to hero in waiting and is put through the mill a bit in the process. The cast of characters grows and young Andy (well, I was 21 but still, that's kinda young) gets to the end of TDC and is listening to the radio when Phillip Schofield interviews Tad Williams. He finished by dropping out that he'd loved the book and had somehow managed to get his hand on (what I guess was) an uncorrected proof of book 2. To say I was jealous would be an understatement.

Anyway, time went by and eventually (1990) The Stone Of Farewell (TSoF) appeared and it was all I had hoped for and so much more. Another trade paperback edition and another amazing cover. The story picked up just where it had left off (with a helpful little synopsis of what had gone before at the front). Our heroes were spread around, new characters appeared and it did what it needed to do - namely getting everyone and everything set up for the grand finale that was to be book 3. Slightly older Andy finished TSoF and started looking out for Book 3.

It was to be a long wait. Tad was making readers wait long before Robert Jordan and George R R Martin even considered it.

I remember that Waterstones in those days used to have a board of some sort behind the tills where they would put up release dates of books. I used to ask when book 3 would be out and it was always 'no date yet' until one day in 1991 the board was changed. The magic words were there for all to see

              To Green Angel Tower - Tad Williams (date I can't remember) 1993

Being my useful, helpful self I pointed out they'd put the wrong year. They pointed out that they hadn't - it really was 18 months + away. Time dragged.

But eventually the day came and I turned up at Waterstones with my pennies expecting a big book - but not that big a book. It. Was. ENORMOUS!!!! The artwork was the best yet and it was a hardback copy. The thing weighed the same as a medium sized dog, the print was quite small, but oh, the story! Quite possibly the most engrossing, absorbing and, at times, emotionally moving book I have ever read. The one point that really sticks out for me though is that this was the first time I had experienced 'properly being there'. When Elias met Josua at the foot of The Stone Of Farewell for the declaration of battle (if that's what it was) I felt I was watching events unfold, spying if you like, from a hiding place behind a bush. Not just reading about it, living it. It is an experience I have not often had since.

That series still holds up today, so if you haven't read it yet do so the first chance you get . You won't be sorry

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