The shelf-bending second installment in Williams’ Last King of Osten Ard saga (after The Witchwood Crown, 2017) exemplifies the very best—and worst—that epic fantasy has to offer.
The novel begins with Osten Ard—which is inhabited by mortals and a variety of fantastical races—in flux. Although the kingdoms and factions are seemingly at peace, increasing political tensions and deep-seated animosity have turned the continent into a powder keg about to explode into all-out war. When King Simon’s grandson and heir to the throne, Prince Morgan, is thought to be kidnapped by savage “grasslanders” and his wife, Queen Miriamele, is caught up in a violent uprising while attending a wedding in far-off Nabban, he is left alone to deal with the chaos closing in around him. The nomadic grasslanders have a new leader who is uniting the clans for war, and the near-immortal Norns are inexplicably gathering and following their ageless queen into Hayholt, King Simon’s home. Williams initially braids together the multiple plot threads adeptly—an impressive feat when considering the multitude of characters he's following. The grand-scale storytelling, however, does become unwieldy in extended sequences, and that narrative bloat negatively impacts the book's momentum. Additionally, the ending is not a conclusion at all but a respite. Readers who have spent countless hours immersed in this story may be less than pleased with the abrupt stoppage. But the inconsistent pacing and unsatisfying ending are more than counterbalanced by deep character development, impressive plot intricacy, and rich worldbuilding. The extensive histories and mythologies that Williams has created in this realm (beginning in 1988 with The Dragonbone Chair) are comparable to fantasy’s most meticulously rendered realms, like Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Martin’s Westeros.
Pure, unadulterated epic fantasy—this 600-plus-page doorstopper will leave readers simultaneously satisfied and frustrated knowing how long they’ll have to wait to find out what transpires next in the sprawling realm of Osten Ard.