You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Dragonbone Chair

The Dragonbone Chair is a fantasy novel written by Tad Williams. It has largely a standard structure for high fantasy novels. The protagonist is a young man with an unknown parentage. He becomes apprentice to a wise older man, seeking wisdom and possibly secrets of magic. A disaster thrusts him out on his own, where he must take his hidden knowledge and learn the ways of the world. He is aided by a mysterious helper and they make their way to the refuge of a noble where they are treated as honored guests. Then he must continue to take part in a larger quest.

The boy is Seoman, known as Simon. A hapless servant in the castle, he becomes apprenticed to Morgenes, the local wizard or teacher. Simon sneaks around the castle and becomes familiar with its hidden passages and hideouts. This leads to another trope where Simon overhears a bitter conversation between the two princes, Elias and Josua. When King John dies, Elias becomes king and soon Josua disappears. Simon discovers that he is imprisoned by Pyrates, Elias' evil wizard. With the help of Morgenes, Simon helps Josua escape, but Simon barely escapes when Pyrates attacks and kills Morgenes.

Thrust out on his own, Simon struggles northward towards Josua's home of Naglimund. After many missteps, he is befriended by Binabek, a small troll who later reveals that his own dead master was a colleague of Morgenes. There is a long chase when Elias' hunters chase down the wayward youth through the dark forest of Aldheorte. They find another helper, a powerful witch, and a young man Simon recognizes from the castle who is also fleeing Elias' hunters. The three of them leave the witch and flee towards Naglimund.

There is other intrigue going on in the kingdom as the new king's subjects chafe under his rule. The whole kingdom starts to break apart. Evil creatures from the north invade the land. The kingdom's struggles are well illustrated. I found the civilization believable as well as the wilderness in the forest and nearby. The blend of monotheism and paganism is interesting, including the political ramifications. The biggest critique I have is that all the characters seem completely earnest to the point of being naive. It can be excused in Simon who if after all a raw youth, but all the others seem a bit flat, having no life outside the plot.

Throughout the story I was wavering between recognizing an old formula and enjoying the newness. The tropes are all there, from the mysterious elven creatures to the quest for an ancient magical sword. The plot does build well with its foundations. The world is fleshed out, and the narrative is well written and at times literary. I found myself caring about Simon and his companions, and the whole land. But at the same time it didn't quite measure up. Perhaps it could have used some editing--the first hundred pages or so were a bit drawn out. In the end it turned out to be a good story but barely worth the effort. B


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