Book Review: To Green Angel Tower (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #3) by Tad Williams

Book Review: To Green Angel Tower (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #3) by Tad Williams

This review is a copy of the transcript of my video review on To Green Angel Tower

Cover art illustrated by Michael Whelan

To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn (Book #3 of 3), The Osten Ard Saga (Book #3 of 7)

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Classic Fantasy

Pages: 1960 pages (eBook edition)

Word Count: 533,000 words

Published: 1st March 1993 by DAW Books

It is done… At 530k words long, To Green Angel Tower is the largest single-volume novel I’ve ever read. It is a mesmerizing slow-burn epic fantasy tome imbued with high-stakes pulse-pounding final chapters.

“Sorrow needed its brothers. Together they would make a music greater still.”

With that large word count accounted into consideration, I am feeling at a loss on how to unwrap my thoughts into a coherent review. But I shall try my best. I spent 18 days inside the world of Osten Ard reading To Green Angel Tower. For several years now, I have wanted to finish Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams, and now I’ve done it. I feel satisfied. Not counting The Veiled Throne and Speaking Bones by Ken Liu as one, because they were one 700k words book divided into two volumes, To Green Angel Tower is, as I said, the biggest single-volume novel I have ever read in my life so far. And before you proceed to hear my review, I will first apologize now in case I end up sounding like I am rambling. But I have a lot of thoughts, and I want to deliver them. Like usual, this will be a spoiler-free series review, and my thoughts on whether To Green Angel Tower stick the landing.

“Good stories will tell you that facing the lie is the worst terror of all. And there is no talisman or magic sword that is half so potent a weapon as truth”

To Green Angel Tower is the third and final book in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. The story picks up from where Stone of Farewell ended. The evil minions of the undead Sithi Storm King are beginning their final preparations for the kingdom-shattering culmination of their dark sorceries, drawing King Elias ever deeper into their nightmarish, spell-spun world. As the Storm King’s power grows and the boundaries of time blur, the loyal allies of Prince Josua struggle to rally their forces at the Seduadra. There, too, Simon and the surviving members of the League of the Scroll have gathered in a desperate attempt to unravel mysteries from the forgotten past. For if the League can reclaim these age-old secrets of magic long buried beneath the dust of time, they may be able to reveal to Josua and his army the only means of striking down the unslayable foe. The novel tackles the heavy themes of life, death, leadership, friendship, suffering, war, and redemption, to mention a few. As you can probably tell from the enormous word count, I do not count To Green Angel Tower as an easy read. If, or when, modern fantasy readers tell me they feel burned out from the writing due to its length and slow pacing, I would actually understand. This is not the kind of fantasy tome you can read through quickly. The way to Green Angel Tower is slow and rewarding, and to get there, you have to really pay attention and be able to appreciate the wording. I will, however, maintain my notion if you love the characterizations, writing style, and pacing of The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb, there is a good chance you will love reading Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy.

“The punishment for being born . . . no, perhaps that is too much to be calling that. The punishment for being truly alive—that is fair to say. Welcome, Simon, to the world of those who are every day condemned to thinking and wondering and never ever knowing with certainness.”

Picture: To Green Angel Tower by Michael Whelan

I am late to the party of Osten Ard. To Green Angel Tower was first published in 1993; that’s 30 years ago! It was impossible for me to attain or read Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn back then, but it is better late than never. And if you are a reader who is late like me, meaning Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn have not been read by you yet, I want to help set your expectations accordingly. When people talk about Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn now, you will hear this series sparked the inspiration in numerous modern epic fantasy authors’ stories. The most popular ones are A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin and also The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. These authors explicitly spoke about the importance of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn to their writing craft and series. And you will find a lot of connections between Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and A Song of Ice and Fire. I cannot deny I have a newfound appreciation for not only Tad Williams for writing this series, but also for George R. R. Martin in the way he used his inspirations and implemented them into his series without them ever feeling like copycats. But that is another topic for another day. Otherwise, this review will end up longer than it should be. More importantly, there is most likely one other thing you have heard from many other readers about the series: the first 200 pages of The Dragonbone Chair are slow-paced. This is true, but it is not the entire truth behind the pacing of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. It is not just the first 200 pages of The Dragonbone Chair, but the entire trilogy is a slow-burn epic fantasy series.

“A man who will not listen carefully to advice honestly given is a fool. Of course, a man who blindly takes any advice he receives is a bigger fool.”

For better or worse, the slow-burn narration of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn will be the crucial determining factor on whether you will like the series or not. I can safely say this. If you dislike The Dragonbone Chair due to its slow pace, I do not think the rest of the trilogy will work better for you. You cannot start reading this trilogy with the expectations the second half of The Dragonbone Chair, or the entirety of The Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower, would have a faster-pace narration accompanied with many action or battle scenes. You will be sorely disappointed. I am a fan of reading slow-paced fantasy series, and even then, I still would have loved to know about this before I started reading Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower. Other readers might feel differently about this, but I found the pacing in The Dragonbone Chair to be the most balanced of the trilogy.

“When you stare at something too long, you lose sight of other things that are just as important.

It needs to be mentioned, though, the slow-paced narration was not a prominent detrimental point in my reading experience. Not at all. For several reasons I will discuss soon, it always feels good to be reading Tad Williams’ storytelling and prose. And I sincerely hope you do not misconstrue my statement. For a trilogy this large, the number of vast pivotal battles or action sequences that occurred is less than ten times. That is relatively few, especially compared to many modern epic fantasy series. But the impact these scenes have is nothing short of tremendous. Each book in the trilogy ended with a bang, and the climax sequence in To Green Angel Tower is one of the best I have ever read. The convergences at Hayholt were insane. The intensity was fully charged, kept, and escalated for the last—more or less—200 pages of the book. The battles and the race against time were absolutely breathtaking. The scenes of decimation and the crimson light that shines in the darkness of the storm were so vivid in my imagination. Add all the revelations and answers regarding the three great swords and the character’s motivation we witness in the climax sequences to every fantastic point I just mentioned, and it is no longer a surprise how To Green Angel Tower catapulted itself into becoming one of my favorite books. It was crazy how great the final few chapters were.

“To fight a war, you must believe it can accomplish something. We fight this one to save John’s kingdom, or perhaps even to save all of mankind… but isn’t that what we always think? That all wars are useless—except the one we’re fighting now?”

Picture: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Djamila Knopf

I won’t lie. There was a part of me that felt To Green Angel Tower was too long for its own good as I read my way through it. And at the end of the journey, I still think there were some parts that could be cut off from the book to strengthen the pacing. But the immensely impactful payoffs at the end of To Green Angel Tower were worth reading every page of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. I have become attached to a lot of the characters, too. The trilogy is filled with a relatively extensive cast of characters. And the character-driven narration allowed me to easily care and be inside the POV character’s mind. Hearing their thoughts. Understanding their reasons. Simon, Binabik, Josua, Miriamele, Eolair, Tiamak, Isgrimmnur, Maegwyn, Eolair, Jiriki, Cadrach, and more. I can’t get into all the fine details on why many characters in the series were likable, flawed, and well-written. But, of course, this doesn’t mean I like all of them. In my opinion, Hernystiri’s story, Maegwyn, and Eolair’s POV chapters could have fewer spotlights, and it would hands down make the books better for me. I started to feel invested in these two POV characters only from the middle of To Green Angel Tower. Before that, it was a struggle to read through their chapters.

“Each one of has our own sorrows, Princess… It’s no shame to take them to heart. The only sin is to forget that other folk have theirs, too—or to let pity for yourself slow your hand when someone needs help.”

And were there other frustrating parts with the characterizations or their decisions? Totally. Several life-changing important secrets were purposefully hidden by a few main characters for a long time with similar reasons along the line of… “I can’t talk about it. I want to tell you. But I can’t. It brings me much pain.” And obviously, they always end up telling their secrets anyway. Without spoilers, although the reasonings were understandable, these scenes certainly tested my patience. I am not a fan of this trope. The Wheel of Time is notorious for it. And for a while, this trope plus the slow burn narrative of To Green Angel Tower made me briefly sure I would not give this book a 5 stars rating. Until I was proven wrong, as I said, by how much groundwork Tad Williams has prepared. Everything exploded brilliantly in the final 200 pages of To Green Angel Tower. It was utterly incredible. Even though I have some issues with To Green Angel Tower, the immersion of the world-building, the lore, the flawed characters, the prose, and the climax sequences more than made up for them. Tad Williams stuck the landing.

“You see what I am saying. Everything that has happened to us is madness, but when we look back, it all seems to have followed logically from one moment to the next.

Picture: The Norns by Donato Giancola

What I’m going to say next will be subjective. But for me, there’s something about the world of Osten Ard that makes me want to go back to it again. I already felt this when I was reading The Dragonbone Chair, and now that I’m done with the trilogy, I can already feel the pull of the world drawing me back in. The world-building and lore in this trilogy are intricate and extraordinary. You will feel like you’re really in Osten Ard. Escapism is one of the main reasons readers love reading fantasy novels and series, and Tad’s writing can conjure that kind of vivid imagery and melancholic transportation. This pull and immersive reading experience is an irresistible charm of The Osten Ard Saga. I lost count of how many readers have mentioned reading The Dragonbone Chair always feels like coming back home. I can already feel that even though I just finished reading the series. The world of Osten Ard may brim with treachery and perilous times, but the beauty of the landscape and the calm before the storm moments were, in a contrasting way, as impactful as the devastating battles. Being back with the characters and the world of Osten Ard can bring comfort. I definitely would love to read what happens next after the end of To Green Angel Tower. To be back with all the surviving characters again. Fortunately, I will get what I wish for in the sequel series: The Last King of Osten Ard.

These old stories are like blood. They run through people, even when they don’t know it or think about it. He considered this idea for a moment. But even if you don’t think about them, when the bad times come, the old stories come out on every side. And that’s just like blood, too.

Lastly, I cannot end this review without briefly discussing our main character: Simon Mooncalf/Snowlock. I have read many fantasy books now. A lot of fantasy main characters with a similar background as Simon. But Simon does stand out from the rest. I loved reading his story and his character development. Do I want to slap him at times? Oh, you bet. Simon reminded me of Fitz on several occasions. Fitz from The Realm of the Elderlings is another flawed and beloved character I want to slap multiple times throughout the series. Simon is not an exception to this. And yet, I cannot help but still like him. His friendship with Binabik is so cherishable. His frustrations and tantrums with the state of the world felt believable. His feelings for Miriamele never felt out of place. He is a teenager, and he behaves like one. And it is refreshing to see how much luck played a part in Simon’s role and story. He is not a mega-powerful character, but his kindness and willingness to do what is right despite his fear supported the construction of his luck. Despite all the development and his feats, Simon said it himself, he still has the heart of a scullion. And this is evident throughout the narrative. It makes his character development realistic and genuine.

“For John Presbyter knew that in both war and diplomacy—as also with love and commerce, two other not dissimilar occupations—the rewards usually do not fall to the strong or to even the just, but rather to the lucky. John also knew that he who moves swiftly and without undue caution makes his own luck.”

Picture: Simon Mooncalf by Alex Chen

For its rewarding ending, satisfying reading experience, and irreplaceable achievements in the genre, I cannot give To Green Angel Tower anything less than a 5 stars rating. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a classic epic fantasy that needs to be remembered and talked about more often by modern fantasy readers. Tad Williams clearly cares about the beauty and flow of his prose, and the storytelling, the lore, and the writing are worth savoring. Take your time. Appreciate the magnificence of Osten Ard. The Last King of Osten Ard is not as popular as Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, but I heard from the fans of the series who continue their journey in Osten Ard that the sequel series is even superior. I am incredibly excited to read them. I already own the remaining available books in The Osten Ard Saga, and I will read them all next year in 2024. Until then, reading Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn together with my friends have been a precious memory. And I want to close this review by thanking everyone who joined me in reading or rereading Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.

“Your days will be long together. Remember these moments always, but do not ignore the sad times, either. Memory is the greatest of gifts.”

Series Review:

The Dragonbone Chair: 5/5 stars
Stone of Farewell: 4/5 stars
To Green Angel Tower: 5/5 stars

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn: 14/15 stars

Picture: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Michael Whelan

You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions | I also have a Booktube channel

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