The Witchwood Crown, Continuity, and Chuck Cunningham

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his coming week marks the long-awaited return of bestselling author Tad Williams to his fictional world of Osten Ard. The Witchwood Crown, the first volume of the ominously-named “The Last King of Osten Ard”, will finally see release on Tuesday next week, after a year of delays and over 20 years of readers’ requests for this book.

The Witchwood CrownI already have my copy, of course. It arrived in the mail just last week, courtesy of Joshua Starr over at DAW Books (thanks Josh!). It is actually the fourth version of the novel I’ve seen, for I previously read and reviewed three earlier versions of the book: an early, very rough manuscript which Tad Williams kindly sent me in May 2015; a heavily-revised manuscript from June 2016; and an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) in January 2017.

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Beautiful new Osten Ard maps!

I received these early versions of the book because it was my rare privilege to be asked by Tad to be part of the team reviewing The Witchwood Crown manuscript for mistakes, a process I very much enjoyed because I absolutely loved the previous novels ever since I first read the first Osten Ard novel, The Dragonbone Chair, in November 1988. I also later helped as a consultant for the new Witchwood Crown maps. A pictorial map I drew back in 1992 served as the basis for the beautiful new maps created by mapmaker Isaac Stewart. And near the end of the process, I also worked on the Appendix in the back of the book. That itself was an adventure. I also served on the team that reviewed the shorter Osten Ard novel The Heart of What Was Lost in 2016.

I was quite honored to serve as a beta reader; I also feel I did a good job pointing out continuity errors in the manuscripts. The truth is, I had plenty of practice: for 40 years, I was an avid television-watcher, and I grew up in an era (the 1970s and 1980s) when American television writers weren’t always so careful about the continuity of their worlds.

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Chuck Cunningham disappeared without Joanie or Richie ever noticing their brother was missing.

As a television viewer, it always bothered me immensely, for example, when on The Cosby Show Cliff and Claire Huxtable claimed they had five children when previously they had stated they only had four, and when oldest child Chuck Cunningham suddenly disappeared from Happy Days without his family, or anyone else, ever noticing he was gone. “Why didn’t someone on the show say something?” I wondered. “How hard would it have been to mention Chuck was away at school?” As I grew older, I realized that most television writers of that era didn’t care about continuity. But my past irritations about the limitations of fiction helped me become a better continuity-checker, I think. You won’t find any examples of Chuck Cunningham Syndrome in The Witchwood Crown, I promise.

The Witchwood Crown is large, say those who have held it, though not quite as heavy as a small child. The 721-page volume now sits proudly on my shelf, its onyx cover a stark contrast to the gleaming white covers of the earlier novels in the Osten Ard saga: The aforementioned The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell (1990), and of course To Green Angel Tower (1993), which holds the distinction of being one of the longest novels ever written.

In 2016, in the throes of writing two novels at the same time, Tad wrote:

Been a really interesting last couple of days for me, work-wise, although nobody would have known it to look at me, since I spent most of it on my back, staring into space or with my eyes closed. Thank God Deb and the kids know that I’m actually doing something when I look like that, and I am not dead so nobody has to call the EMTs.

I have about eight or nine plot/history/worldbuilding issues that I have to commit to before I finish the rewrites on the first new Osten Ard novels (one short and one long), but all eight or nine or eleven or whatever are such broad and complex and interrelated clouds of ideas that I have to focus at a much more granular level than I did earlier in the process, nailing things down in their final forms instead of “I’ll figure that out later”. I have to know how all the details actually work because these nexes or point-clouds I’m considering all affect each other and the whole rest of the story, plus the invented world history behind the whole thing.

For regular Tad readers, when I say that I have to work out the entire history of the Sithi and Norn people from back in the Garden up to the present moment of the new story — some fifteen thousand years’ worth, probably — and integrate it with not only what is going to happen in the new books (The Witchwood Crown and The Heart of What Was Lost, which will come first) but of course everything that happened in a million words of MS&T, you may understand why although I’m lying on my back, I’m also clenching my teeth.

15,000 years of history, Tad wrote. This is an interesting number, for several reasons. The Sithi and Norns, Williams’ near-immortal characters, live for thousands of years. Clues peppered throughout the text of the original Osten Ard novels indicate that the main Sithi characters, Jiriki and Aditu, are less than 500 years old: they are youngsters among the Gardenborn. And yet their great-grandmother, Queen Amerasu, was born on one of the great ships which brought the Gardenborn to Osten Ard. And Amerasu’s great-grandmother, Utuk’ku, is still alive in The Witchwood Crown.

Williams previously stated that Queen Utuk’ku Seyt-Hamakha was around 10,000 years old during The Dragonbone Chair (for those doing the math, this would make the Norn queen roughly 10,037 in The Witchwood Crown). Almost nothing is known of a time prior to Utuk’ku’s rule of the Gardenborn in Venyha Do’sae, the immortals’ lamented Lost Garden, outside of a short, strange passage in The Heart of What Was Lost, which states:

“When Hamakho was dying,” the magister said, “he drove his great sword Grayflame into the stone threshold of the Gatherer’s Temple in the very heart of the Garden. But when the time came to board the ships, no one could pull Hamakho’s blade from the threshold, so it was left behind, another sacrifice to the Unbeing that claimed our homeland. But my forefather Yaaro-Mon prised this gem from the sword’s pommel […] The carving depicts great Tzo, our beloved city on the shores of the Dreaming Sea, lost with all the rest to Unbeing when the Garden fell.”

The appendix of The Heart of What Was Lost lists Hamakho Wormslayer as the “founder of the Hamakha Clan and ancestor of Queen Utuk’ku”. It is clear that Tad Williams is not just writing a sequel to the original Osten Ard books, he is carefully examining the roots of the Gardenborn, and expanding his mythology. It is possible that by the end of the new series, the mythopoeia of Osten Ard will cover the 15,000 years Williams mentions.

He also writes:

And of course, as everybody knew was going to happen, I’m already troubling those few, kind, long-time readers who are giving me feedback on the early drafts, because nobody is going to agree with me on every explanation of something that already existed, or new developments for my old Osten Ardians. These are characters that have been in people’s heads for thirty years in some cases, so anything unexpected is going to feel like a violation.

As one of those draft-readers, it is gratifying to see the changes Tad made to The Witchwood Crown (and The Heart of What Was Lost) based on our feedback: storylines revamped, lands renamed, bird species revised, characters renamed, and histories re-examined. Williams is an author who truly cares about preserving his old mythology while still expanding his world. He says:

[E]ven if one comes up with solutions everyone likes in these situations, there’s always the struggle to not let the cracks show. I remember reading the follow-ups to Dan Simmons’ Hyperion and (maybe because I’m another writer) feeling pretty certain that I could see places in the later volumes where he was trying to explain discrepancies between what he was doing now and what he’d done earlier; in fact, I felt pretty sure he was trying to retcon a lot of stuff that he hadn’t expected to ever touch again. (“Retcon” means retroactive continuity — it’s when you explain something later in a way that might not have been anybody’s original intention. A good example of this is how they keep trying to come up with believable reasons why nobody recognizes Superman when he puts on a pair of glasses and calls himself Clark Kent.)

Anyway, the What in this case (trying to retcon my own work in a believable way) is not as interesting to me right now as the How, because I’ve found that the only way to work with all these issues at speed (since I can’t get on with the rest of my work without solving them) is simply to grind away at it. That means clearing my mind as much as that cluttered mess can be cleared, then pursuing all different configurations and possibilities through as many ramifications as possible, examining them, reworking them, refitting with different combinations and emphases, all in detail. Then trying another set of possibilities, and another, and so on, over and over, through each nexus-point where plot and history come together. And doing that is very much like trying to meditate, at least for me. Trying to make a clear space. Trying to follow a single idea (however ramified) through until I’ve exhausted its possibilities, without being distracted.

So Tad Williams is aware of the damage an author can cause by expanding a mythos in writing sequels; while he mentions Dan Simmons, perhaps the most obvious example of sequels causing damage to a beloved world is George Lucas’ ill-advised Star Wars prequel abominations, which introduced Midi-chlorians and talking rabbits into a once-beloved franchise. But it is my opinion, after reading four different versions of The Witchwood Crown, two versions of The Heart of What Was Lost, and having read the previous Osten Ard novels The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower, and The Burning Man countless times, that Tad Williams has been successful in expanding Osten Ard without damaging the existing mythos, in a way that George Lucas wasn’t able to do with his own sequels.

After 24 years of readers’ expectations, Williams had a Sisyphean challenge in front of him: how could he write for new readers, while still trying to please existing readers who had spent over two decades wondering what had happened to the characters at the end of the story? Not everyone will be pleased by the answers the author provides, some of which may prove very unpopular, but at least there are no flat-out contradictions, such as George Lucas’ strange decision in Revenge of the Sith to kill off Padme just after Leia’s birth when previously Leia said she could remember her mother.

Ultimately, I believe The Witchwood Crown will please most readers. I’m certainly pleased by the result, and I’m already looking forward to reading the next volume, Empire of Grass.

Rejoice – Osten Ard is truly back

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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.

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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.

Tad Williams discusses New! Osten Ard! Novels! (Part 1)

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his week, we have a new video interview; the questions were submitted by readers from TadWilliams.com and Westeros.org forums.

In this interview, legendary fantasy and science fiction author Tad Williams discusses his new Osten Ard novel project, including his thoughts on Tolkien and George R. R. Martin, and news about his new Osten Ard novels. The first new Osten Ard novel in 23 years, The Heart of What Was Lost is being released this week; reviews have been positive. The Daily Mail called this novel a “thrilling, pitch perfect mini epic” and added:

There are bloody battles, back stories and, most interestingly, sympathetic characters on both sides to give insight into the conflict and add fascinating layers of complexity to the story.

Fans of Tad Williams will delight in this new addition to his work — new readers could not have a better introduction.

The Heart of What Was Lost will shortly be followed by The Witchwood Crown this summer.

 

The Heart of What Was Lost is released; The Witchwood Crown is delayed (again!)

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oday writers Tad Williams and Deborah Beale confirmed rumors that The Witchwood Crown has again been delayed, this time until June 2017. According to their latest newsletter:

Note from Deborah: We’re less than a week from publication, US and UK territories, for ‘The Heart of What Was Lost’.  I truly hope you enjoy it, and see what I see, which is that it’s one from the heart (as well as see all the things you see, of course).

We’ve just heard that publication of ‘The Witchwood Crown’ has been delayed two months to June.  We’re not entirely clear on all the details.  Partly it’s this: it’s a big book, the copy-editing was complex and took a gargantuan amount of time, and other aspects of the book’s production were affected too; and partly it’s because sales and marketing want more time to more effectively sell the book.  We don’t know anything more than that at the moment, but will tweet or facebook when we do.

This confirms earlier rumors that the date for The Witchwood Crown had been pushed back. (We at Treacherous Paths have been involved in the review process, and are glad for the extra time to gear up.)

Heart_of_what_was_lost_Tad_WilliamsThe good news is that The Heart of What Was Lost, another new Osten Ard novel, will still be released on January 4th, 2017 (a few days from now!), and is available for purchase at all major bookstores: Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, Powell’s Books, Amazon, Alibris, The Book Depository, or your favorite independent bookstore.

The Heart of What Was Lost is set shortly after Williams’ last Osten Ard novel, 1993’s To Green Angel Tower. According to press releases (and without too many spoilers for the new books), this is the plot summary of the new novel:

 Ineluki’s loyal minions, the Norns, retreat north to Nakkiga, an ancient citadel which holds a priceless artefact known as The Heart of What Was Lost. They are pursued by the army of Duke Isgrimnur who is determined to wipe out the Norns for all time.

Meanwhile, enjoy this rendition of Marya’s River Song (the song Marya sings as she, Binabik, Simon, and Qantaqa sail down the River Aelfwent in The Dragonbone Chair) by Osten Ard fan Sebastian Barwinek:

Here are the lyrics to the song:

“…Now those who sail the Big Pond
Will tell you of its mystery
They’ll brag of all those battles
And all that bloody history
But talk to any river-dog
Who sails upon the Gleniwent
He’ll say God made the oceans
But the River’s what he really meant
Oh, the Ocean is a question
But the River is an answer
With her rollicking and frolicking
As fine as any dancer
So let Hell take the shirkers
For this old boat won’t carry ’em
And if we lose some crew or two
We’ll drink to ’em at Meremund…
Now some men go away to sea
And they’re never seen again
But every night we river-dogs
Are found down at the inn
And some may say we drink a bit
And punch it up a mite
But if the river is your lady
That’s just how you rest at night
Oh, the Ocean is a question
But the River is an answer
With her rollicking and frolicking
As fine as any dancer
So let Hell take the shirkers
For this old boat won’t carry ’em
And if we lose some crew or two
We’ll drink to ’em at Meremund…
In Meremund! In Meremund!
We’ll drink to ’em in Meremund
If we don’t spy ’em floating by
It’ll save the penny to bury ’em… !”

 

 

Geekiest of Geeks reviews Tad Williams’ “The Heart of What Was Lost”

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he first review is in for The Heart of What Was Lost, the new novel by fantasy author Tad Williams, and it is very good. Set in the Osten Ard universe, the novel continues the story told in Williams’ now-classic “Memory, Sorrow, Thorn” series, one of the inspirations for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books.

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Douglas Croft from YouTube channel Geek In has reviewed The Heart of What Was Lost, calling it “a fantastic book”; he reveals that the story centers around the Norns, the embittered immortals of the far north, after the end of To Green Angel Tower. Croft states that readers who are curious about the ancient Norn society will finally have some of their questions answered, after an excruciatingly long 23-year wait, and that the novel “adds a whole layer of subtlety and meaning to what [readers] saw in the first three books.”

Mr. Croft also opines that The Heart of What Was Lost is likely setting up characters which will be important in upcoming Osten Ard novels The Witchwood Crown, Empire of Grass, and The Navigator’s Children. (The Witchwood Crown will be released in April 2017). The Witchwood Crown and The Heart of What Was Lost are both listed on Goodreads’ 2017 Highly Anticipated Epic Fantasy Novels list, near the top at #2 and #3, respectively.

The Heart of What Was Lost is scheduled for a January 2017 release, and the novel is now available for pre-order from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other retailers. Doug Croft received an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of the novel.

Doug’s full video review, with major spoilers for “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, and some mild spoilers for The Heart of What was Lost, is below:

(Bonus points for Douglas Croft correctly pronouncing Jao e-Tinukai’i).

 

Tad Williams’ “The Heart of What Was Lost” available for pre-order on Amazon

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ig news today, as Amazon has added Tad Williams’ The Heart of What Was Lost to its website as an item which may now be pre-ordered from Amazon. The new novel, a sequel to the original classic “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” books, takes place sometime shortly after the events of the original series.

Amazon gives the length of the novel as 368 pages in hardcover, with a publication date of January 3rd, 2017. Amazon also lists the Kindle edition as available for pre-order. Williams, the international bestselling author of more than twenty speculative fiction novels, including The War of the Flowers, Caliban’s Hour, and the “Otherland”, “Shadowmarch”, and “Bobby Dollar” series, talked a bit about some of the plot details of the new novel, including a few spoilers:

[R]eturning characters from MS&T are Isgrimnur and Sludig […] There are also a few others such as Akhenabi (a Norn magician) who had brief appearances in MS&T.

So two of the characters will be the returning Rimmersmen Isgrimnur and Sludig; readers of the original series will recall Isgrimnur, the aging Duke of Rimmergard in “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, a major point-of-view character who throws his lot in with the rebel Prince Josua Lackhand of Erkynland in their quest to remove Josua’s brother, the treacherous King Elias, from the Dragonbone Chair.

Sludig was Isgrimnur’s lieutenant, and he was a dynamic and important character in the original trilogy. It is Sludig who accompanies Simon, Binabik and Binabik’s wolf companion Qantaqa north from Naglimund Castle, skirting around the western and northern sides of Aldheorte Forest in a desperate, cold attempt to retrieve the lost sword  Thorn from the “Rhymer’s Greate Tree.” Sludig and Binabik eventually return to Prince Josua with the Great Sword Thorn, but it is Simon who is knighted by the prince.

The Heart of What Was Lost is Williams’ first new Osten Ard novel since 1993’s bestselling To Green Angel Tower, and this first new novel will be followed by four additional novels. The second novel, The Witchwood Crown, is already scheduled for an April 2017 release.