Empire of Grass

George R. R. Martin teached me one thing: Nobody is save from death. I wasn’t sure if “A Song of Ice and Fire” stands single in this. Tad Williams proved the truth. Noone is immune against death. Neither mortal man, nor elves. But in contrast to Mr. Martin there’s hope left in Mr. William’s tales. It’s a deceiving hope but it’s there. At least until “The Navigator’s Children” will conclude the story.

It begins…

…where “The Witchwood Crown” ended. Seamless and with a revalation. Treason! Allright, we already know about the treason. It’s been shown at the end of part one. But how deep does it go?

So the queen is on a diplomatic mission, the heir to the throne missing, the Norns make evil plans and are making progress in said plans and the Grasslanders are going to war against the High Ward led by their new Shan. That’s the story in short. In very short.

Of course there is more happening. Schemings are made which are putting the queen into a lion’s den and a new people are coming to light. It’s been there all the time but the most didn’t know how big and manifold it is. And in between a bit of the Sithi’s and the Norn’s history is told, some background that might be interesting but not too useful now but important in the third part.

The book…

…cannot be read for its own. That is to be expected of the second part of a trilogy.

By the way: Did you notice, that often in trilogies happens a lot to establish characters and places, in the middle the story slows down to make things more dramatic (it’s always darkest in the moment before dawn) and to move the figures at the chess board onto their places and at the end there is the big showdown and finally all’s fine again.

The Last King of Osten Ard is different. While the first part is starting smoothly and raising the pace steadily, “Empire of Grass” is picking up the tempo of the prequel and speeding up itself. There are moments of rest, breaks to take a breath, not really giving the story progress but bringing characters from A to B where they’re needed. Those breaks are important to the reader because of two reason:

  1. Only very few people can run a Marathon at full speed. One needs to lean back from time to time.
  2. Certain characters, who have been separated in the past, have to be brought together again. Whether they truely meet again or not is still uncertain. Noone is save from death and it may be, that the separated lovers come as close as five yards from each other but are split up again before they even see each other and the one finds the other dead in the end. But the romantic in myself is hoping for them and they have to be brought together, to meet again.

Beyond those interludes the story is going on and on, becomes ever faster without becoming chaotic. Even at the last few yards the story remains clear. While chaos spreads in Osten Ard I never had the feeling, that chaos is overwhelming me as it does with poor Simon.

Rising suspense

It’s not only important in a continuing series of books to drive on the story itself. It’s important to develope the story and the characters. I’ve read to much series with only little (if not even no) developement, especially in the characters. The late works of R. A. Salvatore are such a bad example. Does Tad Williams do it better? He does. He definetly does.

There is Unver, the new Shan of the Thrithings, the riding folk of the Grasslands. Being an outcast in part 1 he survives the martyrdom of the trials, which shall prove his (unwanted to himself) status as the leader of all Grasslanders, like a messiah. At least it’s the “official” version, that it is a trial.

There is Pasevalle, the Lord Chancellor of the High Throne. His part in “Empire of Grass” is comparitivly small but his works are to be seen unexpectedly at places, where your aim is at somebody completly different.

And there is finally the most intriguing character to me: Viyeki, a Norn of high nobility and that way potentially one of the bad guys. But he showed up to be non typical to his race already in “The Witchwood Crown” and this time he even appears to be a kind of Oskar Schindler who doesn’t want to see women, children and old people killed and declares them important to the work, he has to accomplish for the Norn Queen, through his power and his state.

Here Tad Williams is telling multiple seemingly independent story lines which have just in common, that they are going onto the same goal. Things happen here and things happen there and some details, a name, an item or the appearance of Norn Warriors are the only connection. This way the author manages masterly to unite single fates to political situation encompassing the whole world and to create a global threat the reader can feel, but that at least I cannot name exactly. There are than only two parties and I am not sure, which party is enemy and which ally.

And exactly that is the difference to the works of Tolkien and Martin. In the “Song of Ice and Fire” it is finally about defeating the White Wanderers, a somehow abstract threat along most of the story. All the other quarrels are peanuts. In Tolkiens works Man, Elves, Dwarfs and Halflings are standing against Sauron and his orcs. Even in Battle of Five Armys the lines are quite clear. In Tad Williams tales even the “Lightelves” (to make an analogy to common High Fantasy) are an ambivalent people. And the appearance of some other creatures combined with something mentioned by a Norn about some non human slaves lets me question, whether the dark elves are truely the enemy in the end or maybe unintentional allies. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, an arabic prince said. It cannot absolutly be left out, it seems even quite sure, that finally some alliance has to be made in the sense of this quote.

A good series of books is mostly recognized by one thing: There is a status quo at the end of part but you cannot see, where the story truely ends. Tad Williams leaves a lot of space for speculation. He creates a potential even though unwilling ally for the Mortals in “Empire of Grass” and leaves some doubt at the same time, who will show up as the true enemy in the end. This makes me long for “The Navigator’s Children”. I want the conclusion. On which side are those children standing? What happens to Morgan? Why “the Last King of Osten Ard”? Is the world ending anyway?

Remarkable details

Maybe I should read the Last King of Osten Ard again in German. Of course I read the English version again. For one I didn’t want to wait. Furthermore I believe to grasp the writer’s thoughts better reading a non translated version. There’s always something missing in a translation.

Exactly that feeling I had again with “Empire of Grass”, the feeling that translations are too inaccurate, because a word might have different translations for different meanings.

An example for this is Star Wars. In the German Translation the Empire is always the “Imperium” even though this translation in not accurate. The better translation would be “Reich”.

Tad Williams is all too aware of that difference, though he is talking about the “Nabbanai Imperium” instead of the “Nabbanai Empire” when it’s about the history.

Why is that so important to me? Because that difference, the use of the specific word gives me a better picture of ancient Nabban than 200 pages could do. This single word together with latin sounding names are making the picture of something like antique Rome. Looking at the status an power of the different families and houses I would even guess it was more like the Roman Republic, not like the Roman Empire.

But not all those remarkable details are in the master’s choice of words. Like in part 1 Tad Williams doesn’t give a too detailled description of the landscape. Such descriptions are giving many details only when absolutly needed to make some specific image before my inner eye.

Some of these remarkable details aren’t even helpful but lead to the questions I mentioned above.

Until now I thought, there are two people of the Garden, one people that split up later, to be correct. Now I’ve learned that there are not only the Sithi and the Norns, the Sida’ya and the Hikeda’ya but also the Tinukeda’ya, and the they appear in manifold shapes. That made me stop sometimes and say: “Oooops!” And sometimes it made me go pale in my mind and whisper: “Holy shit!”

To provoke such a reaction one thing is needed: immersion

I’m not really sure whether that word is used in this context but it hits the core. To dive in. Tad Williams lets me dive into the world of Osten Ard. To take a reader into the middle of the storie’s world is the highest art of writing. Tolkien did it neraly always, Martin mostly. Tad Williams did never fail to draw into his worlds.

Story:5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
Style of writing:5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
Reading fun:5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
Average:5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.