With only one earlier novel under his belt, a young Tad Williams burst onto the epic fantasy scene in 1988 with The Dragonbone Chair, the opening volume of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, now recognized as a modern classic within the genre. Written in a post-Tolkien world, where newly minted authors like Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson had reinvigorated reader interest in long-form fantasy, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn delivered a vast world, an intricate cast of characters, and a labyrinthine plot of old magic, betrayal, honor, and perseverance. It had everything that readers loved about Brooks and Tolkien, while introducing a world that was wholly unique—a rugged place that lived and breathed. It isn’t without its flaws—the first 150 pages move at a glacial pace—but, almost 30 years later, its legacy lingers (it inspired George R.R. Martin to sing A Song of Ice and Fire).
After the final volume, To Green Angel Tower, came to a close, Williams stepped away from the land of Osten Ard, returning only once with the novella “The Burning Man” (also adapted into a graphic novel of the same title). Despite fans clamoring for more adventures with Simon Snowlock, the princess Miriamele, and mysterious Jiriki, the author turned to novels in completely unrelated universes. His answer to those begging for just one more book was always the same: “When I find a story I need to tell in Osten Ard, I’ll return there.”
Finally, to the shock and delight of many, Williams announced such a return, with not just a sequel trilogy (which will begin in April with The Witchwood Crown) but a bridge novel that connects the events of the two trilogies. The latter volume, The Heart of What Was Lost, is a slim novel (by Williams’s standards, at any rate) following the armies of King Simon and Queen Miriamele as they chase the Norns—the fey people who followed Ineluki, the Storm King, villain of the original trilogy—through the north towards their impenetrable home at Stormspike.
Williams risks much by exposing the Norns. The mystery surrounding them in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is alluring and powerful, but delicate; returning over 20 years later challenges the author to recapture that magic, that otherworldliness, without fumbling. Happily, he never falters. Instead, The Heart Of What Was Lost feels like a long-lost (novel-length) epilogue to the trilogy—Williams writes as though he never left Osten Ard at all. In tone and style, it remains true to the earlier books, and retains the air of melancholy that remains one of the trilogy’s most unique identifiers.
Familiar faces return, including the irascible Duke Isgrimnur and the seemingly invincible Sludig, but the true stars are newcomers Suno’ku and Viyeki, Norns both, and Porto, a reluctant soldier with a big heart. While the trilogy took place set on an enormous stage, with worldwide stakes, this “interquel” is much more personal. Even as Duke Isgrimnur’s army threatens to wipe the Norns from the face of Osten Ard, the dreams, emotions, and desperations of those fighting on the front lines (for survival or destruction, depending on which side of the battle lines they fall on) are examined in intimate detail.
Prequels are always a tricky business, but, far from tainting what came before, this novel adds a new level of heartbreak to the ending of To Green Angel Tower, which is sometimes criticized by those too cynical to accept a happy ending. With the skill and subtlety he’s known for, Williams expands on his classic trilogy, adding layers and layers of complexity to events that seemed very black and white by the end of the trilogy. Even better, it offers tantalizing hints at what’s to come in The Witchwood Crown, a full-fledged sequel sure to rewrite much of what we thought we knew about Osten-Ard, its new monarchs, and the tumultuous relationship between the Sithi and their northern cousins, the Norns. It’s a book I can’t wait to read, but The Heart of What Was Lost eases the pain of anticipation just a bit.