REVIEW: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

Tad Williams said that when he finished Memory, Sorrow and Thorn he thought he was done with the world. The hints of prophecy for things to come were just to imply that, while this particular story had ended, Osten Ard was a living world and more things would happen, off-page. Two decades later, he opted to amend that, with his The Last King of Osten Ard quadrilogy and a few stand-alone novels.

The Heart of What Was Lost The Heart of What Was Lost is an interquel novel, one that is intended to bridge the gap between Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and The Last King of Osten Ard. It takes place in the aftermath of the attack on the Hayholt, or Asu’a in the language of the Sithi and the Norns. The Norns are forced to retreat after their defeat, and are heading back towards their home in the mountain of Stormspike, but are being harried by Duke Isgrimnir every step of the way.

In Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, the Norns are viewed as threats, and while we get occasional references to their past and the separation of the Sithi and the Norns, we never really understand them. Williams begins to change that here, with one of the points of view being a Norn engineer, of the Order of Builders.

The Norn customs and castes are laid out with far more detail, grounding them into this world in a way they never had been before. Their numbers have dwindled and continue to do so, and each one who falls is one who cannot be replaced. They have greater skill, cunning, and magic, but the humans just keep coming. We see how their society is structured, around a combination of lineages and various Orders, including the Builders, or engineers, Sacrifices, or soldiers, Song, or magic, and more. Viyeki is being groomed to take over the Order of Builders from his mentor Yaarike.

We also see the machinations of other Norn leaders while their Queen Utuk’ku, who spent much of her energy, is unconscious and recuperating in a deep magical slumber. Even though the Norns are dwindling in numbers and the humans are pursuing them with every intent of destroying them, many still act as if everything is as it always has been, playing political games and worrying about bloodlines.

We also see Duke Isgrimnur, a major character in the original trilogy, as the main point of view of the human’s side of things. He’s dealing not just with the threat of the Norns, but the responsibility of leading a large army against them. The army is haphazard, and plenty of the groups are less concerned with maintaining order than they are with getting revenge. He’s trying to force people used to small, direct attacks into the more orderly and structured plans of a large army, with mixed results. The humans might have the numbers, but they lose more than necessary because of groups seeking glory or revenge for themselves.

The other point of view is Porto, a Perdruinnese soldier a long way from home, who befriends another soldier from his hometown. Their plotline is to show the attack from the points of view of regular soldiers, and it also maintains more heart than either of the others.

As the attack goes on the Norns do eventually retreat into Stormspike, at which point the story changes to a siege. Williams’ prose is at its usual level of excellence, making Osten Ard feel like a lived-in world. The plot fleshes out the Norn’s culture and what happens to them in the aftermath of the battle of the Hayholt. As an interquel novel, it is likely not a necessary read before The Last King of Osten Ard, but it’s absolutely worth it to spend more time in this world.

Read The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

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Ryan is a mid-30s nerd, married, with two kids. Also two cats–Cathulhu and Necronomicat. He likes, in no particular order, tabletop gaming, board games, arguing over books, ancient history and religion, and puns. You can find him as unconundrum on reddit.