I'm always a little bit wary of titles like 'The Best of', 'The Very Bestof…', 'Even Better than the Very Best of…' (well, you know what I mean)because it always feels like the book is either setting itself up for a
fall or, perhaps even worse, setting the reader for a fall. It's a nice thing to put in a title but it just feels like asking for trouble. Even with a writer like Tad Williams, I found myself looking at the table of
contents and thinking to myself, 'No 'The Burning Man'? Really?'
It's a good thing then that this particular book is all about work by Tad Williams because even if it's missing a favourite or two you're still pretty certain of coming across some very good storytelling. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a fan (so take my words as you will) but it's hard not to be when the quality of what I've read is so consistent and
also that Williams is prepared to turn his hand to anything. I came to Tad Williams through his 'Osten Ard' books and, as a result, I've always kept an eye open for anything of his that is fantasy based. Not only was 'The Old Scale Game' the first tale in the collection but it has dragons and all sorts of monsters in its eighteen pages. I was sold right from the start.
'The Old Scale Game' takes a simple premise and shows the reader what could happen if a scheme is a little* too* successful and everyone wants in on it. What originally begins as a 'one man, one dragon' operation leads to any number of mythical beasts wanting to get involved, resulting in depression and spiralling alcoholism for one of the original conspirators. I found myself in the position where I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Guldhogg and Sir Blivet, even though a blatant lack of forethought had led them to this in the first place. Everything works out though (it had to, given the note of gently humour that runs through the piece) and all credit to Williams for taking a thoroughly twentieth century concept and having it sit very comfortably in a tenth century setting (although if the reader is asked to believe in dragons then it's not a huge leap to believe in a dragon that… that would be telling).
I'm still not sold on the title of this collection but I bought 'The Very Best of Tad Williams' with the sole intention of having a lot of fun with the stories inside. 'The Old Scale Game' ended up being a great way to kick
that off (I knew it would).