The Stone of Farewell: A long rambling middle book

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The Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams epic fantasy book reviewsThe Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams epic fantasy book reviewsThe Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams

Twenty-five years ago I read Tad WilliamsMEMORY, SORROW & THORN trilogy and since that time I’ve considered it one of my favorite fantasy epics. For years I’ve been planning to re-read it when an audio version was published and that happened recently, so here I am. A few weeks ago I reviewed the first book, The Dragonbone Chair, which you need to read before picking up this second book, The Stone of Farewell (1990). If you haven’t, stop right here because there be spoilers (and dragons) beyond this point.

After a quick synopsis of the first book, The Stone of Farewell begins where The Dragonbone Chair left off. Simon has killed a dragon, has been “touched” by the dragon’s blood in some way (which left him with a white streak in his hair so now people are calling him “Snowlock”) and has obtained Thorn, one of the three swords needed to defeat mad King Elias. Binabik the troll, Simon’s best friend, has been caught and jailed by his tribe due to breaking one of their laws and Simon is trying to get him released so they can continue on their quest. Prince Josua, younger brother of King Elias, escaped the besieged castle with only about a dozen followers. They continue to be harried and attacked as they flee through a forest. Miriamele and Cadrach, who had left Josua to seek help from allies in Nabban, are traveling together and Miri doesn’t know if she can trust her companion (and neither do we, but we do learn more about him in this book). Duke Isgrimnur is trying to find Miri and Cadrach when he stumbles upon a legendary hero that everyone thought was dead. Meanwhile Maegwin, now the reluctant leader of the Hernystiri after her father and brother were killed, leads the remnant of her people to underground caves where she attempts to get help from the Sithi, but everyone thinks she’s crazy (and she kind of is).

Eventually all of these folks learn that the allies that oppose King Elias are gathering at the Stone of Farewell, a legendary and powerful Sithi landmark. Most of the action in The Stone of Farewell details the adventures and drama the characters have while trying to get to the Stone. These include various traps, treachery, captures, escapes, duels, battles, magic, romance, a wedding, and even some sexual abuse. And lots and lots and lots of travel. Along the way, Simon develops quite a bit both physically and mentally. He gets tall, grows a beard, learns to use a sword, acquires some leadership skills, struggles with his faith, and develops some ability with visions and prophecy (perhaps due to the dragon blood).

The Stone of Farewell by Tad WilliamsMeanwhile, back at the Hayholt, life continues to degenerate as King Elias becomes more mad and tyrannical due to the influence of Pryrates, his evil scheming advisor, and the sword Sorrow. Guthwulf, until now a loyal retainer, has had enough of Pryrates. So has Rachel, the castle’s headmistress, whom Simon lovingly calls “the Dragon.” They both try to do something about it. Unfortunately, the evil is not only affecting the Hayholt, but throughout the region crops are failing as the weather is affected. The land seems cursed and has spawned various monsters including giants and zombies.

The Stone of Farewell is everything we’ve come to expect from a middle book in a well-written traditional medieval-style epic fantasy trilogy. Depending on your goals, that can be a good or bad thing. If your primary goal is to completely lose yourself for a long time in a fantasy world, this is a great place to do that. Tad Williams’ world-building is second-to-none, he has created some loveable characters, and he’s a great storyteller.

But for me, who hopes to read a few dozen books this year, The Stone of Farewell seems excessively lengthy (768 pages in the mass market paperback) and not nearly as interesting as the first book. It often drags as Williams takes a long time to get his players (and not even all of them yet) to the Stone, the launching place for the next novel. Many of the adventures they have along the way seem unnecessary as they don’t add much value or interest to the story. I got impatient and ended up skimming some of the segments showing the perspective of my least favorite characters (e.g, Tiamak and Maegwin). I hate to say it, but The Stone of Farewell feels like a 768-page waiting room. Fortunately, the story gets a lot more exciting in the next volume, To Green Angel Tower, which is, amazingly, much longer than this one.

The audiobook version of The Stone of Farewell is 32.5 hours long and is nicely narrated by Andrew Wincott. My only complaint is that Wincott’s deep voice doesn’t have the range for many of the characters with higher-pitched voices, so he substitutes a slightly hissing voice for some of the female and non-human characters. It’s noticeable, but not too big of a deal.

Published in 1990. New York Times best-selling author Tad Williams’ landmark epic fantasy saga of Osten Ard begins an exciting new cycle! Tad Williams introduced listeners to the incredible fantasy world of Osten Ard in his internationally best-selling series Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. The trilogy inspired a generation of modern fantasy writers, including George R. R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and Christopher Paolini, and defined Tad Williams as one of the most important fantasy writers of our time. Book two: Stone of Farewell. It is a time of darkness, dread, and ultimate testing for the realm of Osten Ard, for the wild magic and terrifying minions of the undead Sithi ruler, Ineluki the Storm King, are spreading their seemingly undefeatable evil across the kingdom. With the very land blighted by the power of Ineluki’s wrath, the tattered remnants of a once-proud human army flee in search of a last sanctuary and rallying point – the Stone of Farewell, a place shrouded in mystery and ancient sorrow. And even as Prince Josua seeks to rally his scattered forces, Simon and the surviving members of the League of the Scroll are desperately struggling to discover the truth behind an almost-forgotten legend, which will take them from the fallen citadels of humans to the secret heartland of the Sithi – where near-immortals must at last decide whether to ally with the race of men in a final war against those of their own blood.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. I definitely need to read this series. Thanks for the reminder that it’s a great fantasy series.

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