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Like You‘ve Been Here Before (The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams)

June 6, 2017

Where do we begin…

I’m not usually a person who associates books with certain songs – I don’t listen to music much in general – but I must have heard “Pompeii” by Bastille around the same time I was reading the manuscript of The Witchwood Crown, and found myself back in a world and with characters I’ve loved for so many years, and my mind quietly started singing,

But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?

And of course things have changed in the decades that have passed, in Osten Ard as well as in our world, but it’s still Home, the places and the characters’ voices so deeply familiar.

There are new places to explore, too, corners of the world we haven’t seen in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and yet even those places feel Right to me, and as if I have known them forever.

And of course there are new characters, along with our old friends from the first trilogy, but they already feel like friends, too.

Looking at the lyrics now, it seems like almost every line relates to The Witchwood Crown somehow.

I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show

Doesn’t that describe the many years we waited for this, for the return to Osten Ard? So many years without even knowing that we would ever get to return, and feeling like no other book would ever be able to fill the hole that the end of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn had left in our lives.

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love

Is it a spoiler to say that there are no walls tumbling down… yet? Knowing Tad, I would be surprised if there’s no collapsing building at the end of the trilogy.

Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

There are certainly clouds rolling over the hills, once again… because the Norns are back as well, with magic and sinister plans.

How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

This part always reminds me of eating pizza with Tad and a group of other Scrollbearers and Smarchers, talking about how George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was inspired by Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and how Tad wanted to “keep the conversation going” with The Last King of Osten Ard. And more importantly, the part where he talked about his and Martin’s different outlooks – how Martin is more of a pessimist, and Tad has a more optimistic view of humankind.

And as in all of Tad’s other books, this attitude shows in The Witchwood Crown. Like The Heart of What Was Lost, it also has Norns as point of view characters, meaning it’s not divided into “good humans” and “evil Norns” as clearly as Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was, and in that, it does remind me of A Song of Ice and Fire and its many factions that are equally good and/or evil (and of course, many small similarities are still waiting for me to discover them). But where A Song of Ice and Fire feels like “everyone is awful and cruel”, The Witchwood Crown feels like… well, not quite like “everyone is good”, but like “there are good people on every side”, people who love other people and have to make difficult decisions – that faith in the fundamental goodness of humankind (or, even, Nornkind).

And that, ultimately, is what draws me to Tad’s books. And it’s what makes me believe that his books are so important, because how can we ever hope to create a better world ourselves if we subscribe to a black-and-white view of the world or to “everyone is awful”?

The one thing that I struggled with a bit was Morgan, one of the new characters. I think he has become a little more likable since the manuscript, but I still find it difficult to connect with him. It’s not just that I’m older than him, while Simon and Miriamele and me were all stupid teenagers together when I read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn for the first time. I think teenage me would have found him even more difficult, since Morgan’s main interests are the things that did not interest me at all as a teenager, and I think he would have felt far too much like the boys I tried to avoid for fear of bullying or worse.

I’m sure there are teenagers out there who could identify with him, and who would benefit greatly from accompanying Morgan on his journey – wherever it will lead him, how long do we have to wait for the next book again? But are they the kind of teenagers who would read this kind of book? I’m afraid I can’t imagine that.

But fortunately, there’s not just Morgan, and in addition to the many old friends I’m happy to revisit, there are many new characters I’m already falling in love with, and now that I think about them, I want to interrupt writing this just to read the entire book again, which I really do not have time for.

For some reason, this book always finds me when I have so little time to read – both the manuscript and the ARC came at a time when I was quite busy at work, and now I should also be preparing for my final exam. And so I had to read, not like I wanted to, undisturbed and holed up in my home for days at a time, but in brief moments while eating or waiting for the train, or even while walking to the train. And while doing that, doing ridiculous things in public like squeeing loudly , grining widely and pressing the book against my face, tearing up and laughing so loudly that the guy sitting next to me at the train stop asked me what I was reading.

While reading the manuscript, on the other hand, I was still struggling with depression and too exhausted to do much of anything, which was why I ended up not sending much feedback.

But there was one thing early on in the book that bothered me enough to fight through the haze of “everything is too hard and nothing really matters”. And I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see that scene changed, insignificant though it is in the story as a whole. No “apples in Maya” scene in this book, and I can remind my brain, if it starts lying to me again, and telling me that nothing I have to say is important – it is.

Thank you, Tad. For this, and for this wonderful book.


… the rubble or our sins. (Yeah. I don’t know how it got quite that tattered in the short time I’ve had it.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. ylvs laDuchesse permalink
    June 6, 2017 19:54

    Lovely as always, Magpie. I’ll tweet it right now.

  2. lvdpal permalink
    June 7, 2017 07:51

    What an awesome review!

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