Wednesday, August 29, 2018

To Green Angel Tower is a beautiful book whose point seems to be to get into the head of the characters so as to find a home there.

Artist Michael Whelan did the cover for all of the Osten-Ard books, including the newest one released this year called
The Witchwood Crown. This is his rendering of themes in the book. I think "Green Angel Tower" is in the
background on the right (far away) over what looks like the Hayholt, which is the setting for much of the book
as it is also the ancient Sithi city of Asu'a. On the left are Sithi who might be Jiriki and Aditu? Not sure to be honest.
On the right must be Miriamelle and Simon, although I think they look a bit old for their characters.
I finally finished the mighty and complex To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams. At 1066 pages, it may be the biggest book I have ever read. It's twenty pages longer than George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons. It's also an infinitely better book because it concludes everything, every last dangling end, that is left in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn (the trilogy/quadrilogy) that this novel belongs to. I say "quadrilogy" only because my copy (which is over twenty years old) is just one book. It has since been split into two novels, because it should have been two books to begin with. It's incredibly awkward lugging around a book that is over a thousand pages. It's awkward to hold, awkward to read, and just an overall pain in the ass. I guess that's "score one" for ebooks.

I actually loved this series, and at one point at the end, I cried a bit because the reunion between Rachel "the Dragon" and her adopted son, Simon, was so touching. Rachel was the most minor of characters. As head of the chambermaids in the Hayholt (the epicenter of the story), her sole reason for existing was to leave food in the many tunnels and caverns of the old Sithi city called Asu'a that exists beneath the Hayholt. All so that her adopted son, gone on an adventure to retrieve some mystical sword in the far north, and then to lend himself to the "good" side of an ancient civil war, would find nourishment when he was lost beneath the castle on his quest for "Bright Nail," one of three swords that used to be called "Memory" before it was remade.

The plot of this overall story is super simple, and as I finished this immense book I asked myself why this worked and didn't work for me. I asked myself why Tad Williams's style both fascinated and infuriated me, but in the end was something that I loved. These books are so long because Tad Williams spends so much time in his character's heads. Simon got tied to a water wheel as a torture that was meant to kill him. But it ended up being tortuous for me because Simon in a kind of "state of delirium" was in a dream-like sequence for over a hundred (if not hundreds) of pages. It was chapter after chapter after chapter of Simon trying to make sense of things that he was seeing in this dream-like trance (which was overall important to the book). But holy crap did it go on forever.

There is so much dreaming in these books. So many characters are wandering in absolute darkness for chapter after chapter, and in such conditions, Mr. Williams goes inside the character's thoughts and that's where you reside...thinking on things for endless amounts of time (hundreds of pages). But the payoff for all of that long and drawn out detail to the point of choking on it was that there was an incredible emotional catharsis when Simon was reunited with Rachel. All the things that happened at the end of the story felt like they had been earned. Everything, in fact, felt earned and the ending left me so satisfied that I have immediately purchased the sequel, which just came out a month ago (the start of a new trilogy) called The Witchwood Crown (book 1 of The Last King of Osten-Ard).

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is one of those trilogies that I think everyone should read, and then no one should read. Not everyone is capable of picking up a single book of a thousand pages, much less three of them (the other two are slimmer at 600 to 700 pages). So if you are one of these people, you really should never touch these books. They also lack the spine-tingling moments that George R.R. Martin seems to be able to create in his narratives of similar length. But it has been more rewarding to spend time with Williams's characters than it has been to spend time with Martin's (maybe because Martin just kills all of them off). Williams too has a high body count, but he seems to be ready to invest in the ones that consistently control the narrative in a way that says "there will be a nice payoff to all of this suffering." And by the end of To Green Angel Tower, I was deeply in love with the characters that survived the apocalyptic events that passed at the Hayholt (which is the most important setting of this book). In a word, it was beautiful.

These epic fantasy novels that I'm exploring break the mould on every other kind of writing that I'm familiar with. They don't seem to care about word count, nor do they seem to care that certain tropes are repeated. For all these pages, the point seems to be to get into the heads of the characters and find a home there. Tad Williams says as much through Simon and a minor character called Morgenes. "Make your home inside your head," he tells Simon. It's good advice considering that (for a boy as young as Simon) leaving his childhood home is the most frightening experience of all.

So that's your audience when it comes to this stuff. Most people probably haven't even clued into this, thinking that they need to spin stories of complexity and magic in order to write epic fantasy. Nope, it's all about the character and getting it to fit like a glove on the reader. I wonder how I could use that to my own benefit, without writing myself into the weeds.


  1. 1000 page books are easy to lug around in ebook form. I still have Infinite Jest on my Kindle nut I doubt I'll ever read it.

    You should read this book I'm reading now called Less (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) it's about a neurotic middle aged homosexual writer with a lot of internalization. I don't think it's anywhere near 1066 pages either. 😉

  2. I say write yourself into the weeds. Then edit, edit, edit.

  3. If the reader has no connection to the characters, the book gathers dust.

  4. I think the only thousand page book I've gone is Gone With the Wind, but obviously there's fantastic character development and a whopping story (and yes ugly racism). It sounds like however good Williams' books are, he needs an editor.