Books You Might Not Have Tried #1

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

One thing I’ve noticed, now that I’m immersed in the online reading community, is that most (certainly not all, but most) book recommendations tend to be for titles published in the last few years, if not the current year.

It makes sense, especially when considering how young social media sites can skew–older books aren’t necessarily jumping off the shelves at teens when they have such a wealth of current YA titles at their fingertips. And a lot of people want to read the hot new thing that everyone is talking about. (Hell, I’ve succumbed to plenty of book buzz myself.)

But I often find myself wanting to recommend my favorites from years past, so I decided I’d start a new series for it. These are all going to be books from my collection that have stood the test of time (and multiple shelf purgings) to be read and re-read often.

So I decided to start with my #1 high-fantasy recommendation, the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, by Tad Williams. (Yeah, there are four paperbacks because To Green Angel Tower was a hefty-hefty hardcover. I saw one once, you could do some serious damage with it.)

What It Is: A coming-of-age story, paired with a fairly standard Hero’s Journey arc you often see in fantasy and adventure stories. The protagonist, Simon, starts out as a scullery drudge and ends up…well, decidedly not a scullery drudge. That would be spoilers, but he gets to do a lot of interesting things along the way, with interesting friends, in fascinating places. Oh, and the world gets saved, of course…sort of.

What It Does Well: Characterization, world-building, political wrangling. All the major characters, good and “evil” alike, are well-rounded with more than just a token flaw or two to give them depth–our protagonists are actually deeply flawed, which I love.

While some of the recognizable non-human trope races are present (the Sithi are basically elves with a twist or two, and the Qanuc are small-folk that aren’t quite dwarves or hobbits), the world isn’t just a Tolkien rip-off. The central conflicts seem big and obvious to begin with (royal succession, wars both human and otherworldly, etc.) but part of why I love this series so much is the way some of those tropes get subverted in the end…again, can’t talk about why that’s so great without spoilers. Trust me, it’s not going where you think it’s going.

Where It Might Lose You: The world is big. Really big. And the story doesn’t follow Simon the entire time, sometimes ducking into alternate POVs. While that’s not a flaw itself, some of those characters have more interesting story lines than others, and you might find yourself itching to get back and see what Simon’s up to.

Who Will Probably Like It: Any high-fantasy fans should give it a try. A Song of Ice and Fire fans might find the political aspects and the level of violence a bit tame (most of the time, comparatively), and Tolkien fans will discover a livelier, less-sterile world where the bad guys don’t look nearly as evil–in fact, they pretty much look like the good guys. If you’re coming into it off of fantasy-lite, like I was back in my teens (I had just read The Belgariad and The Mallorean series, both by David Eddings, before finding this), it’s definitely a jump upward in the level of sophistication of story-crafting.


I’d love to hear feedback on what you think of my older-book-recommendation idea in general, and what else you find yourself wanting to know about these books that I can talk about. (As this is an experiment, I may end up playing with the format, we’ll see.) Thanks for reading, and I hope I made the series sound intriguing!

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