Sometimes, when I’m writing back-to-back reviews within the same series, I find that I don’t have enough to say about each book, specifically, especially while reserving series-wide thoughts for the series review. That isn’t a concern here, because Stone of Farewell is plenty distinct from The Dragonbone Chair, for all that it flows directly from where the predecessor left off the story.
While the writing is beautiful, the plot is interesting, the characters are full-fleshed, and the world-building is intriguing, I think a significant component of what keeps me intrigued by Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is its ability to subvert my expectations as a genre fiction writer. When I learnt in The Dragonbone Chair that there were three magic swords and a prophecy about them, and that the trilogy was named after these swords, I thought that each book was more or less going to be about Simon’s adventures going after the three swords. This was borne out in the first book…and didn’t happen at all in the second.
Instead, we spend most of the second book trying to get the first magic sword to a sanctuary called, alternatively, the stone of farewell, the farewell stone, and the leave-taking stone. The difference in who refers to it as what is more than just semantics and synonyms; it conveys volumes of world-building information in a masterful example of the old axiom “show don’t tell.” Perhaps most interestingly, we finally learn more about the mysterious sithi and their origins, and what role they play in the larger events that are unfolding.
Simon’s arc continued with his very, very slow maturation process. I found that, by a little past halfway through Stone of Farewell, I was ready for him to grow up a little. The slow build is still enjoyable, but he had so many missed opportunities, especially in his time amongst the sithi, that it was hard not to become frustrated with him. Fortunately, Williams has earned enough literary credit with me that I am willing to assume that there will be payoff for these frustrations in To Green Angel Tower.
Perhaps recognizing that parts of Simon’s plot can be slow and frustrating for readers, Williams gives us new storylines and develops other characters further. Nor does he shy away from give those characters significant dynamism. I hesitate to refer to them as having arcs, since it seems unlikely that they are following a standard, predictable character path, but several characters are sent in surprisingly dark directions. Not gritty and gratuitously dark like in some modern fantasy, but realistically dark based on their experiences and personalities and contributing to the development of the story and them as people. These decisions feel both unexpected, and completely inevitable, and I’m eager to find out where Williams takes them in the final installment.
If I have a significant critique of Stone of Farewell, it is the pacing. I’m not sure where I would have chosen to conclude the second book, but the ending felt premature to me. Not rushed – it was properly developed and the groundwork was well-laid – but premature, like there should have been more story. I assume that the “more story” will be told in To Green Angel Tower, but already knowing that the final book is almost twice as long as the previous two it seems like perhaps some of it should have been included. It is just one of the reasons that I hesitate to publish any book in a series if I haven’t finished the other books yet, at least in rough draft form.
There are probably more things that I could talk about with regards to Stone of Farewell, but I’d like to get back to reading To Green Angel Tower. And if that’s not a testament to the fact that you really should read this series, I don’t know what is.