half love letter, half review: “The Witchwood Crown”

I received a complimentary advance copy of The Witchwood Crown; all opinions are my own. Mild spoilers within.

Before I dive into the review portion I should explain a little about my history with the original Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. I first discovered it when I was in high school: one spring evening after dinner I complained loudly “I’VE READ ALL THE BOOKS IN THIS HOUSE, I NEED A NEW BOOK TO READ” and my parents bundled us all into the car to head down to the bookstore. I wasn’t sure what book I was looking for, but I knew I wanted it to be fairly long, a fantasy novel, and NOT part of a series. In hindsight I remember seeing the paperback of The Dragonbone Chair and rejecting it for being the part of a series when I was looking for a one-and-done book. When I didn’t find what I wanted at the bookstore we next headed to the library, where after searching the shelves I picked out… The Dragonbone Chair. BUT WAIT TANIE, I THOUGHT YOU REJECTED THAT BOOK FOR BEING PART OF A SERIES. I did, I rejected the paperback edition, which said right on the front cover “Book One of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.” The library had the HARDCOVER, which said nothing of the sort on the front cover. NOTHING. I was tricked, y’all.

I started reading my new book as soon as we got home and I was instantly captivated by the world of Osten Ard. I loved that book with my whole heart. I loved the setting, I loved the characters, I loved the maps and made up languages. Plus the main character Simon was an annoying teen, and I was an annoying teen. So. You know. SYMPATICO. I couldn’t put the book down. I tore through the 600 pages in just a few days. Nearing the end of the book a bunch of chapters ended in cliffhangers, and I turned the page eagerly expecting to find the next chapter only to find instead an appendix???? With lists of characters and places, and a glossary of all the made up words? WHERE’S THE REST OF THE STORY?????? Yes, I didn’t realize I was accidentally reading a series until the very last page of the book.

About six month later the second book, The Stone of Farewell, was released in paperback and I used my allowance to purchase a copy. Again, I finished it in just a few days, and after that The Long Wait began, because the third and final book of the series, To Green Angel Tower, didn’t come out for TWO YEARS. When it was finally released there was a waiting list for it at the library of another six months, and I was LITERALLY DYING to read it. I couldn’t wait any longer! In the end my high school boyfriend bought it for me, with the caveat that I could only read 100 of the 1,000 pages a day. I showed major restraint and finished it in a week.

In the 24 years between then and now I’ve reread the series probably a dozen times. I know the stories by heart. I’ve bought all the books and lent them to friends and never gotten the back and bought them again, more than once. I recommend them to everyone I know. I have them all on my kindle and find myself returning to them over and over. And I’m not saying I married Taylor because he reminded me of Simon at the end of To Green Angel Tower, but he’s tall and has a beard. You do the math. When I found out about The Last King of Osten Ard, a whole new series of books set in the same world with some of the same charcters, I FREAKED OUT. BIG TIME. So I’m not coming at this as a person who likes to read or enjoys fantasy novels, I’m coming at it as an OSTEN ARD SUPERFAN.

I started rereading the original series last summer and finished a few weeks after the release of The Heart of What was Lost, a novella set immediately after the events of To Green Angel Tower that partially sets up the events of The Witchwood Crown. I read the novella next and enjoyed it a lot, but when I received my copy of The Witchwood Crown I was actually kind of terrified to start reading it. What if I hated it? What if it was awful? What if I waited two and a half decades for my favourite series to continue and it sucked??

Well, I’m happy to report that once I started the book (only after my mom told me I was being ridiculous) my fears were allayed and it does not suck at all. I will admit that at first I was a little unhappy with it, but I realized that after the end of the original series I just wanted everything to be ok and for my beloved characters to live happily ever after. That would make for a boring as hell book though, and this book is NOT boring. There are intrigues and mysteries galore. The depictions of the heretofore unexplored Norn culture & society (which is also touched on in The Heart of What was Lost) is fascinating. The story introduces new characters without shuffling all my old favourites off to the sidelines, but makes those new characters interesting enough that I want to know more about them, their history and where their stories are headed. Some characters were almost TOO interesting and now I’m frustrated that I don’t know more about them already!

This book had me crying in the first 100 pages and yelling WHAT THE HECK throughout the last third as secrets were revealed, some characters turned out to be duplicitous, and the fates of others were not what I expected. Some of the twists were so surprising to me I had to go back and reread what I’d just read because I almost couldn’t believe it! I think if I have one complaint about this book it’s that there are a few too many parallels between it and events in the first series, but at the same time I understand the motivation behind the parallels, so I kind of go back and forth on whether this is actually a complaint. A theme of this story seems to be “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” so I get it, but did we really need another long lost creepy old book full of mysterious and evil secrets? I guess time (and the rest of this series) will tell.

All in all I definitely recommend this book. If you were a fan of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn but haven’t read it since the 90s you might want to refresh yourself, and if you haven’t read them at all before then then you should do it now! The Witchwood Crown comes out in late June so if you start reading right now, you have just enough time to read the original series and the novella. Altogether it’s only about 10,000,000 pages, you’ll do fine.

Book one of The Last King of Osten Ard, The Witchwood Crown will be available June 27, 2017. Thank you to DAW Books for providing the advance copy, and THANK YOU to Tad Williams for writing it.