o, The Heart of What Was Lost (or HOWWL – I just love this acronym) hit the shelves. Tad Williams’ long anticipated return to Osten Ard is finally out for everyone to read and cherish.
This review is written by me, ylvs, and represents my view of the book. Other contributors to the site might add their own later. I was a beta reader of this book, following its development from first draft to final manuscript and I am delighted to finally be able to share my thoughts.
This is a must read for fans of MS&T. It is amazing how perfectly Tad manages to match the flavour and texture of the original. It just takes a few pages and you’re right back in Osten Ard. For someone loving this story as much as I do it feels like coming home …
It is also a fine starting point for those unfamiliar with Osten Ard. You never read MS&T and shy away from the sheer mass of it? Try this and find out if the world is to your liking. Of course the story has less depth without the background provided in the old books, but it is self contained and makes sense on its own.
When I first heard that Tad was writing a novelette (which finally became a short novel – anybody surprised?) about the aftermath of the final battle of MS&T I was not that excited. The victorious humans chasing their beaten fairy foes back to where they came from – that sounded more like “a story for the guys” than one for me. I do not mind reading about war and battles and people suffering but a book which is prominently about that? Nah, not really. But alas, it is a sequel to my favourite story of all time so of course I did read it and yes I do love it.
Why? First because it features one of my favourite characters from the old books: Sludig already was the hero of many deeds and battles and here he keeps doing the right thing although there never seems to be a reward or promotion for him. This is actually a sort of running gag in the novel, mentioned more than once – poor old Sludig.
Secondly HOWWL finally throws a floodlight on the Norns and their culture. In MS&T they were the unknown faceless enemy (apart from their queen Utuk’ku), here they are real people with hearts and souls and their enmity to humans and the century old hate for them becomes much more comprehensible. On a meta level this can be interpreted as a parable for us all: you cannot continue to blindly hate or fear the foe/stranger/immigrant you became familiar with. Little by little I felt my allegiance shifting from the human army seeking revenge and attempting to “root out evil for once and all” (which can also be called genocide) to the Norns trying to survive as a people and save their home.
And third and lastly what really makes this shine is the aliveness and humanity of the characters. Amidst war’s horror and desolation there is also loyalty, friendship and hope – on both sides.
Tad Williams is a master of ambivalence and changing perspectives and if a fantasy novel manages to make one question one’s view on the world it does deserve a label usually denied to genre fiction: literature.