I've had Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn novels sitting on my to-read shelf for years. They are so long that I always put them off in order to read shorter things first. I was really looking forward to them, though, since I had read a short story by Williams set in the same realm of Osten Ard. This short story was called The Burning Man, and it is one of my favorite shorts ever. I even read it twice and plan on reading it again soon. It can be found in the Legends short story collection.
I'm almost finished with the first book of the series, The Dragonbone Chair. It is slightly disappointing to me, in that the short story really highlighted so many elements that I love in fantasy, while this novel has mixed those elements that I love with other elements that I cannot stand. For instance, changing trolls into tiny people. Sorry, but for me trolls are big, hulking monsters. We already have tiny people, whether they be gnomes, dwarves, or leprechauns. Also, I really didn't enjoy him using Inuit-sounding names and words for the trolls. Finally, he has elves in his book, but decides that it is somehow more original to call them Sithi rather than simply call them what they are. I don't mind the word 'Sithi', but it always bugs me when someone decides to simply give a new name to something we are already familiar with.
It doesn't bother me at all that relatively little happens for the first hundred pages or so. I am one who enjoys world building and character development, so this was fine with me. Reading this book, I keep seeing elements that I saw in Martin's ASOIAF series, and since this came out shortly before Martin began writing his series, I can't help but think that Martin was influenced by Williams to a degree. Martin does it all much better, though.
What elements do I see as similar between Martin and Williams? Some may seem farfetched, but here they are:
1. The coming of an unusual winter is a strong theme in the story.
2. A very unusual throne, i.e. made of blades with Martin, made of dragon bones and skull in Williams.
3. Major lord character losing a hand.
4. Wolf character playing a major role.
5. A character that is the 'Hand of the king' in both stories.
6. A sword named 'Needle' in each.
There are other similarities that kept striking me as I read, but none as clear to me as those listed. (Some are simply standard fantasy tropes, so no big deal that they are in both.)
I don't mind if Martin got ideas for his epic from Williams. The stories are very different, and Martin took everything to a much higher level. I'll always be grateful he wrote his series. Now, I may have only given Williams three stars so far at Good Reads, but I will continue on and hope that he gets better as the series progresses.