Like most people who grow up to be writers, I was a pretty weird kid. It will perhaps not entirely surprise you to learn that I was not a popular child; I spent the majority of my elementary-school recesses looking for dragons in the woods alone. I dressed as Raistlin three Halloweens in a row. I was certain that magic slumbered within me—not sleight of hand, but the real weather-altering enemy-smiting fireball-hurling stuff—waiting patiently for me to find the key to unlocking it. Other children were not kind to me, so I kept reading. There’s not a single doorstop-sized fantasy epic published between The Sword of Shannara and Sunrunner’s Fire that I haven’t read at least once (when I realized, belatedly, that this predilection was not endearing me to my peers, I took to disguising the telltale sword-and-naked-lady covers of my preferred reading material with a reusable cloth book cover; this concession, however, did not make me popular).
Tad Williams’ first novel, Tailchaser’s Song, was published in 1985. It follows the adventures of Fritti Tailchaser, a young feral cat whose love interest, Hushpad, disappears suddenly and mysteriously. Fritti’s search for his beloved takes him through multiple cats’ societies, a magnificently creepy underground city ruled by a diabolically Rabelaisian cat-god whose throne is a mountain of dying animals, legendary cat heroes in disguise, a kingdom of squirrels, and a complex and extensive cats’ mythology complete with creation stories and a family of cat deities. I read it so many times as a kid that my copy’s covers literally fell off. I can still quote parts of it from memory. When Williams’ next book came out in 1989, I was more than ready. I was obsessed.
The Dragonbone Chair isn’t about cats, but it’s so marvelously complex and vivid that my ten-year-old self was willing to overlook this flaw.