Book Review: Empire Of Grass (The Last King Of Osten Ard Book 2) By Tad Williams
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Empire Of Grass
The Last King Of Osten Ard Book 2
Hardcover | Kindle | Audiobook
By Tad Williams
Publisher: DAW
Release Date: May 7, 2019

I sat here for several minutes trying to figure out how to start this review. In fact, I am still trying to decide if I liked Empire Of Grass, the latest release from Tad Williams. Not that I hated it, I just did not connect well with it. I have always been hot or cold when it comes to Williams, through no fault of his own. In fact, I have had several conversations over the decades about how I must be crazy to not love everything he has written. This held especially true when I managed a Waldenbooks all those years ago. But, on with the show!

I will be the first to confess that it has been an exceptionally long time since I read the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. And, perhaps, that is what caused me some dismay at this current series Williams has given us. Empire Of Grass is the second in The Last King Of Osten Ard series, following The Witchwood Crown. Before I move on, I think I must point out that this Last King series is really more of an expansion on the previous one. There is a bit of a gap, but it feels natural, reminding me of the revisits that Raymond E. Feist had with his ongoing RiftwarMidkemia stories. Not so much a new beginning, but a continuation. Not that I am comparing the two, but Feist has always been a favorite of mine; however, I digress.

The point of this is that while there are new characters, new quests, and new story plots, you always feel at peace with the backdrop, if not the plots. This is due to the excellent world building that Williams establishes in literally everything I have ever read by him. Rumors abound that a certain Ice and Fire guy was inspired by some his early works, certainly a multitude of others have been. But when you add in his rich character development, you get a great setup for a story. The Witchwood Crown did a spectacular job of introducing all the new to us and this latest release picks right up where its predecessor left off.

The plots and subplots roll out from a vast amount of characters’ points of view, allowing the reader an in depth look at things from a multitude of different directions. But this is perhaps where my issues begin, to be honest. All of these plots writhe and intertwine at various times to keep the reader engaged. But oftentimes, the story gets convoluted or even sidetracked, at least in my perception. I have nothing against complex storytelling but when it feels long winded, I get disengaged. I cannot tell you how many times I had to put the book down whilst reading. And in case you are wondering, this is in no way normal for me. The last quarter of the novel did pick up speed and had me all in for the remainder of the time, but it was tough getting to that point.

As for the story itself, this one is darker than I was expecting. It was much like The Empire Strikes Back, if you know what I mean. I refuse to lay in spoilers, but I felt Morgan was far more likable, though oftentimes slipped backwards as the story progressed. There is much treachery, as seen by Miriamelle and several others. In fact, betrayal runs rampant throughout as political and person intrigue shapes much of this story line. There are both origin stories and new discoveries within these pages, as well. But, and this is a big but, it always felt like a beat down for the characters. So much casual violence in actions and words. But again, maybe it was just me.

It is the middle book and as we all know, these get a bad rap. Whether there is plodding along in the story itself to get characters from one place to another in the plot or a sinking feeling of trying to just wade through more than 600 pages of tediousness, many of these segue books miss their mark. Empire Of Grass hits some highs and some lows, as I have explained. Overall, the plots are pushed forward, characters are moved like chess pieces, and the world is expanded. Could it have been done in half the time? Absolutely. Will people hate that idea? Without question. But until we get the final installment, we cannot truly judge this text. I do not say that lightly, for it feels like fence sitting, but the first book introduces and the second sets up the dominoes to fall, so to speak. There was, I must also admit, a distinct cyclical feeling to it all, as well. Of course, this could have been quite purposeful.

Fans will flock to this, no doubt about it. If anything Williams has gotten more prolific in the decades he has been writing stories within the realm of Osten Ard. There is much to love here for many fantasy readers, but I do believe a little filtering down would have helped the flow. The Norns amass, Simon and Miriamele have grown up, and every kingdom and nation seems to be on the edge of a civilization-ending war. Dark magics and blood run amok, threatening everything and everyone. So yeah, there is much to take in. I do not regret the read, but I find it hard to recommend to everyone, even regular fantasy readers. That said, give it a try and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

The kingdoms of Osten Ard have been at peace for decades, but now, the threat of a new war grows to nightmarish proportions.

Simon and Miriamele, royal husband and wife, face danger from every side. Their allies in Hernystir have made a pact with the dreadful Queen of the Norns to allow her armies to cross into mortal lands. The ancient, powerful nation of Nabban is on the verge of bloody civil war, and the fierce nomads of the Thrithings grasslands have begun to mobilize, united by superstitious fervor and their age-old hatred of the city-dwellers. But as the countries and peoples of the High Ward bicker among themselves, battle, bloodshed, and dark magics threaten to pull civilizations to pieces. And over it all looms the mystery of the Witchwood Crown, the deadly puzzle that Simon, Miriamele, and their allies must solve if they wish to survive.

But as the kingdoms of Osten Ard are torn apart by fear and greed, a few individuals will fight for their own lives and destinies””not yet aware that the survival of everything depends on them.

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