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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Book Review: The Heart of What Was Lost (Book #0.5 in the The Last King of Osten Ard series) by Tad Williams



Right off the bat, I feel like I should mention that The Heart of What Was Lost is the first book by Tad Williams that I’ve ever read, and I absolutely loved it. I have numerous reasons for why I decided to check out Williams’ books, but as strange and as random as it might seem to some people, one of the main reasons is because I’ve read the first three books in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords), and while I absolutely loved A Game of Thrones, I honestly ended up finding A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords to be rather disappointing and difficult to get through. I’m definitely a big fan of the TV show Game of Thrones, but I’ve found myself having a lot of complaints with George R. R. Martin’s writing for the A Song of Ice and Fire series, especially when I read A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords.

If I’m being completely honest about my thoughts regarding the A Song of Ice and Fire series, my disappointment and frustration with the series has gotten to the point where I’m not entirely sure that I even want to continue reading the series now. My disappointment with A Storm of Swords, and my desire to find some good adult fantasy books that I like since I’m a huge fan of YA fantasy books is ultimately the main thing that prompted me to look into Tad Williams’ books after seeing copies of The Witchwood Crown on display at Barnes & Noble. After reading this book in preparation for reading The Witchwood Crown, I have to say that I’m really glad that I decided to read The Heart of What Was Lost, because while I do have a couple of complaints about this book, it’s still the best fantasy book that I’ve read since I read A Game of Thrones back in 2015.

The Heart of What Was Lost is written from the point of view of three different characters, and it’s definitely a very rare example of a book where I honestly like all of the P.O.V. characters. Plus, I became very invested in each of their lives, which is something that I really loved about this book. There’s the mortal Duke Isgrimnur, who is the leader of Rimmersgard, and he’s leading an army in pursuit of the Norn; determined to end the their attacks, and defeat their ageless Queen Utuk’ku for good. There’s also Porto, along with his friend, Endri, who are two southern soldiers that joined the mortal army in order to help defeat the Norn. Finally, there’s Viyeki, a leader of the Norns’ military engineers, the Order of Builders, who’s desperately seeking a way to help his people reach their mountain, and prevent the destruction of their race.



While I loved Duke Isgrimnur, Porto, and Viyeki, Viyeki definitely stood out as my favorite character in the book. The Heart of What Was Lost as a whole is great, but the parts of the book that focused on Viyeki, and the other Norns, as they were dealing with the defeat of Queen Utuk’ku really stood out as some of my favorite parts of the book. Even though I think it’s pretty safe to say that the people who read this book are supposed to view the Norns as the villains of the series; I felt like Williams wrote this book in such a way that I was able to really understand both the humans’ view of the war that they had fought against the Norns, as well as the Norns’ view of the war. By getting a great deal of insight into Viyeki’s and the other Norns’ lives throughout the book, I felt like I was able to really see why they felt like they were the victims of the war that they had had with the humans. That ultimately led to me feeling at least somewhat sympathetic towards the Norns since they’re clearly suffering now that the Storm King, Ineluki, has been defeated, and Queen Utuk’ku isn’t around either, because she’s currently in a deep sleep. The fact that the Norns ultimately came across to me as being very complex, and well written villains is definitely one of the many things that made me fall in love with Tad Williams’ writing for this book; and it’s also one of the many reasons why I’m even more excited to read The Witchwood Crown than I already was before I read this book.

The parts of the book that focused on Porto and Endri definitely did a truly fantastic job of providing the reader with the prospective of common soldiers fighting in a war, and I felt like they served as an excellent counterpart to the sections of the book that focused on Viyeki and the other Norns. By featuring two soldiers who are at very different points in their lives, with Porto being an older and more experienced soldier who’s also a husband and a father; whereas Endri is a young and more inexperienced soldier, Williams was really able to show how every soldiers’ outlook on fighting in a war is going to be different. Williams’ writing for the parts of the book featuring Porto and Endri definitely contributed a lot to The Heart of What Was Lost having a very intimate feel to it, despite the fact that the story takes place in a grand and incredibly well thought out world. Plus, the sections of the book focusing on Porto and Endri were one of the first things that really pulled me into the overall plot of The Heart of What Was Lost; and made me become truly invested in everything that was happening throughout the book.

The fact that I became very invested in each of the characters’ lives is definitely one of the main reasons why I ended up liking this book more than the first three books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Even when it comes to my favorite characters in the A Song of Ice and Fire series and on the show Game of Thrones, the level of emotional investment that I feel for them definitely isn’t quite on the same level of emotional investment that I felt for Duke Isgrimnur, Porto, Endri, and Viyeki; and I think that’s a real testament to Tad Williams’ talent as a writer. That being said, even though I definitely liked Isgrimnur as a character, I do feel like he was kind of overshadowed by the writing for Porto, Endri and Viyeki. I enjoyed the parts of the book that focused on Isgrimnur, but at the same time, I don’t think they were nearly as memorable as the parts of the book that focused on Porto, Endri and Viyeki.

In the past, I’ve read novellas where I felt like the author was trying to do too much in a short amount of time, and it really caused the overall plot of the novella to suffer. For example, Stephenie Meyer’s gender reversed version of Twilight, Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, which she wrote for the tenth anniversary edition of Twilight, is for the most part the same as Twilight in terms of the plot; with some tweaks here and there to account for changing the genders of most of the characters in the book. However, towards the end of the book Meyer pretty much crammed a bunch of plot points from the last book in the series, Breaking Dawn, into the plot of Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined. Meyer doing that ultimately led to the ending of the book feeling very chaotic and rushed, and it simply just didn’t work for a book that’s supposed to be a novella, as far as I’m concerned. Fortunately, despite the elaborate setting for this book, the writing for The Heart of What Was Lost doesn’t come across as if Williams was trying to do too much in terms of the overall plot of the book. The Heart of What Was Lost ultimately works very well as a novella, in the sense that it’s full of enough action to keep the reader interested and engaged in the plot from beginning to end; and yet I also never felt like Williams was trying to do too much in terms of the book’s plot, since the page count for the book without the appendix and Williams’ short essay “An Explanation…” is only 197 pages long. If you include both the appendix and Williams’ essay, the book is 210 pages long.


  
Despite the fact that The Heart of What Was Lost is pretty short, I still feel like Williams was able to accomplish a variety of things with this book very effectively. As someone who hasn’t read the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy yet, I think that Williams did a great job of writing The Heart of What Was Lost in such way that even though it’s pretty short for a fantasy book; it still works very well as an introduction to the world that both this series and the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy takes place in for people like me who haven’t read the first trilogy. Personally, I feel like The Heart of What Was Lost is a great way for new readers to kind of dip their toes into the water, and get sense of the very complex and well thought out world that this series takes place in. While I admittedly felt like I was having a lot of details and information thrown at me to the point where it did feel somewhat overwhelming when I first started reading this book, I ultimately didn’t feel too overwhelmed by all of the details and information that were given in this book regarding the series’ setting, and the overall premise of the book by the time I finished reading it.

In terms of how effective The Heart of What Was Lost is at serving as a bridge between Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, and his new The Last King of Osten Ard series; I’m probably not the most qualified person to critique this aspect of the book, but I still thought that this book did a good job of giving people like me who haven’t read the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy a sense of what happened at the end of the trilogy. At the same time, I felt like Williams also did a really good job of using this book to set up the Last King of Osten Ard series. Plus, reading this book definitely heightened my excitement to read The Witchwood Crown.

When it comes to my thoughts on the fact that the events that take place in this book take place six months after the end of the third book in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, To Green Angel Tower, I thought that it was really interesting to read a fantasy book that shows the characters dealing with the relatively immediate aftermath of a war. Aside from the last book in a fantasy book series typically having one to three chapters to show the characters dealing with the aftermath of the series’ villain’s or villains’ defeat, as well as wrap up other storylines that the series might have had; I feel like the majority of fantasy books that I’ve read over the years don’t really go into too much detail about the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the villain or multiple villains at the end of a series, and I oftentimes think that’s a real shame. The fact that only six months have passed since the events that take place at the end of To Green Angel Tower is something that I really like about this book, especially since To Green Angel Tower was published back in 1993. Even though I haven’t read the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy or The Witchwood Crown yet, I still think that only having a fairly short amount of time pass between the events that take place at the end of To Green Angel Tower and the beginning of The Heart of What Was Lost is one of the reasons why this book works so well as a bridge between the two series. Personally, I’m really glad that Williams didn’t try to write The Witchwood Crown in such a way where he simply jumped ahead thirty years at the start of the Last King of Osten Ard series, without writing and publishing this book first.

The only complaint that I really have about The Heart of What Was Lost is with the book’s nontraditional chapter structure. The book is split into five different parts, but aside from that, it’s not divided into actual chapters. Whenever the book switches to a different character’s point of view, the changes in point of view occur at section breaks. I often found the shifts from one storyline to another rather confusing, especially at the beginning of the book when I was still getting a sense of who all of the characters in the book were. The fact that the book isn’t broken up into anything resembling a traditional chapter structure that most books have, and it’s only broken up into five different parts really caused storylines, plot details, and my ability to keep track of which characters were involved with each storyline to blur together when I first started reading the book. I definitely feel like most of that confusion could have been prevented if Williams had written this book with it having a more traditional chapter structure, especially when it comes to moving from one storyline to another storyline throughout the book. That being said, while I definitely have some major issues with the way the plot of The Heart of What Was Lost is structured, I still think that Williams definitely did a great job of picking the perfect moments throughout the book to end a section on, and move onto a different storyline.

As someone who hadn’t read any of Tad Williams’ books prior to reading The Heart of What Was Lost, I really appreciate the fact that he included his supplemental essay, “An Explanation…” along with all of the other information that he included in the appendix of this book. I’ve also found all of the background information regarding both his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, and his new Last King of Osten Ard series that he has on his website very helpful as I read this book; and have slowly immersed myself in the rich and elaborate world that Williams has created for the two series. On a related note, I also really appreciate the author’s note that he included at the beginning of The Witchwood Crown, which was primarily geared towards people like me who haven’t read the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy yet. The author’s note that Williams included in The Witchwood Crown is honestly one of the reasons why I decided to buy the book when I saw it at Barnes & Noble, even though I hadn’t read any of his books before. In my opinion, writing all of the supplemental material that Williams has written regarding the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy and the Last King of Osten Ard series really helps a lot when it comes to making his books accessible to people like me, who haven’t read any of his books before. I’ve definitely read fantasy and science fiction books that I felt weren’t entirely accessible to the reader; which is something that can be very frustrating at times when it comes to those two particular genres of books.

For example, I read and reviewed the first book in Neal Asher’s Transformation trilogy, Dark Intelligence, last year. Dark Intelligence and the Transformation trilogy as a whole, is set in Asher’s Polity universe, which a lot of his books are set in. While I really liked Dark Intelligence, as someone who hadn’t read any of Asher’s books before, I was definitely rather frustrated by the fact that it was pretty obvious as I was reading the book that Asher was referencing things that had happened in some of his previous books that are also set in his Polity universe. Considering the fact that Dark Intelligence is the first book in a trilogy, I really think that Asher could have done more to write the book in such a way that it could be a good starting point for people who are interested in getting into his books like I was trying to do. Given my frustrations regarding Dark Intelligence not being entirely accessible to people who are unfamiliar with Neal Asher’s books; I can’t help but really appreciate and praise Tad Williams for all of the work and effort that he has clearly put into making the Last King of Osten Ard series, as well as his other books, accessible to new readers.

All in all, I absolutely loved The Heart of What Was Lost for the most part, and I’m definitely even more excited to read The Witchwood Crown now than I was before. Tad Williams definitely made a fantastic first impression with me when it comes to the writing for this book, and I’m already incredibly fascinated by the world that both the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy and Williams’ new The Last King of Osten Ard series take place in. The various storylines in The Heart of What Was Lost were all very interesting and engaging. All of the characters were very enjoyable to read about, especially Viyeki, who’s definitely my favorite character in the book. I don’t know if Duke Isgrimnur, Porto, and Viyeki are featured in The Witchwood Crown, but given the fact that I really liked all three of them, I would love it if they were featured in the book. If Duke Isgrimnur is featured in The Witchwood Crown, I’m hoping that he’ll get more of an opportunity to really stand out and shine as a character since I personally felt like Porto, Endri, and Viyeki overshadowed him in this book. The Norns in general as the villains of the series really fascinated me, since I felt like Williams portrayed them in a very complex and fairly sympathetic manner throughout The Heart of What Was Lost. I’m definitely anxious to learn more about them, and what their society is like in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, and the Last King of Osten Ard series.

As I said earlier in this review, the only legitimate complaint that I really have about The Heart of What Was Lost is the fact that it isn’t written in a traditional chapter structure; which definitely caused the characters and various plot details to blur together at times as I was listening to the book on audiobook. I looked at my copy of The Witchwood Crown to see if it’s also written in what I would consider to be a nontraditional chapter structure. Thankfully, The Witchwood Crown is written in a more traditional structure, and the overall plot of the book is broken up into actual chapters. I’m really hoping that will make The Witchwood Crown easier to follow, and an even more enjoyable reading/listening experience than this book was for me since I’ll be listening to it on audiobook like I did with this book. Speaking of the audiobook, I thought that Andrew Wincott did a really great job of reading The Heart of What Was Lost and bringing the book to life. If people decide to check out The Heart of What Was Lost, I highly recommend listening to it on audiobook.


That being said, my final score for The Heart of What Was Lost is 8 out of 10.

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