The Stone of Farewell

The Stone of Farewell
Tad Williams

Moving right along through both my epic fantasy fix and my 2013 reading goals, I have now finished volume two of Williams’ acclaimed and lengthy creation. Middle books being what they are, this post isn’t really the place to launch into an in-depth exploration of the series; instead this is more of a checkpoint, an appraisal of how far we have come and how much we have yet to travel. In particular, the following questions presented themselves as I started into the next 700 or so pages of Williams-ian adventure:

1. Is Simon still a pantywaist?

2. Does the second book maintain the momentum of the first?

3. Does Williams wander off on too many tangents for his own good?

4. Can we still spot the ghost of J.R.R. Tolkien marauding o’er the land?

5. On a scale of Errrrghgh to Magically Fabulous, how is this holding up?

And on to the answers.

1. Pretty much, yes. He’s getting better though, and starting to listen to other characters when they tell him to man up. He shows promise as things move forward, but I don’t expect him to ever be anything but completely hopeless with the ladies.

2. For the most part. Much like the first book, there is a certain ebb and flow to the pace that asks some patience of the reader. Williams isn’t doing anything crazy here, this isn’t James Joyce, but there are long periods where he is laying the groundwork for, presumably, later excitement. Even two thirds into the series I am still waiting for multiple payoffs.

3. It may still be too early to tell. That by itself is kind of frightening, but I won’t be able to answer this accurately until the very end. He lays down the terms of the debate quite clearly though – one man’s world building is another’s boredom. I just don’t know yet if there are too many side stories here, or if they will all tie together at the end, with each little bit a critical part of the interconnected whole. At the moment, I have a lurking suspicion that entire character arcs could be excised from the text without any great loss. I am willing to be persuaded however.

4. Yes, clearly. Aside from the whole Dark Lord bringing destruction to us all parts, it is primarily characters and places that I see. Eowyn is definitely present. Helm’s Deep as well, though it fell quite dramatically. Something eerily reminiscent of the Paths of the Dead goes down, and of course the whole Sithi thing is spot on for Tolkien’s elves. None of this is blatant of course, and Williams makes most of it his own, but the master’s shadow lies long upon the land.

5. Fairly well. There’s a lot of ground to cover in volume three, but that’s probably alright because he seems to have a massive page count to work with. If I was the author, I would be uneasy with the amount of heavy lifting yet to be done. There are many plot threads dangling and new characters still popping up at the end of volume two, all of which have to be straightened out in the space of a single book. I expect Williams brings it all off with flying colors, but the possibility of crashing and burning is very real. (I am assured by others that there is no such thing, but I think any astute reader in my position would agree with me.)

So onward we go. In fact, I am just about to download a copy of the final volume from the public library; we’ll know the final answer to all these questions and more in the next few days. It will certainly be exciting.