The start of epic fantasy stories often have a pacing problem. The desire to provide lots of background, and root you in an unfamiliar world mean that the plot moves like a freight train. It has a lot of momentum, and won’t stop for anything, and the start of the story is all about getting the wheels to start turning at all.

Meanwhile, space opera is capable of starting with a firefight, pausing just long enough to pull a farm-boy out of his dead-end life, and giving you a roller coaster for the rest of the ride.

To an extent, the prologue of The Witchwood Crown lives in the epic fantasy mode. A character is ambushed and killed; this is a signal that something is very wrong, but the rest of the book moves on without that scene impacting the plot at all. But, our mysterious victim, Tanahaya is not dead, and it’s something of a shock when she shows up halfway through the novel. Not that we get to know her or anything, as she’s at death’s door for the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, instead of the traditional single, or at least limited, viewpoint of epic fantasy, we see fragments of stories from a bewildering array of viewpoints. There is a lot going on, and we get to see a fair chunk of it. This means the plot is going at a fairly good clip the entire time. Now, it’s hard to say just what a lot of it means, and where the central plot really is, but it is easy to have confidence that they all have a bearing on what is going on, and this is all part of one cohesive whole, instead of say, three completely separate stories that happen to be packaged together like Game of Thrones.

Some parts do seem disconnected; I don’t see any connection in them to what’s going on in Nakkiga, the decided source of the big threat, which presumably the action will end up revolving around. But, characters do connect between these plotlines, there is motion from one to another, and so it is part of the whole. And one part got me thinking about series title, “The Last King of Osten Ard”. This may be bigger than a mere metaphysical threat.

Part of the reason for the format is that Tad Williams is coming back to a world that already got that very slow start. All the fragmentary pieces are picking up threads of a world that has already been developed, and he is endeavoring to get new readers up to speed as well as entertain return visitors to Osten Ard. It’s been a bit since the last time I read Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, so the help was appreciated here too, and I have some confidence in saying that this series stands fairly well on it’s own. If you haven’t read the original, I do recommend going back to it, as it is one of the best epic fantasy stories out there. But, you can start here, and may well enjoy this more….