First Impression: The end of Chronicles is here at last! This is the shortest review so far – most of what I’ve said so far is true for this book as well. Once again, I showed Claire the cover art and asked her what she thought about it. Here’s her thoughts:
- Original Larry Elmore cover: This is one of the most 80s things I have ever seen. Happy to see that green dragon is looking a little more threatening than its photobombing predecessors
- Reprint Larry Elmore cover: I don’t 100% know why, maybe it’s the green and red contrasts in these last two covers, but I am liking these covers a lot. The dragon looks way too friendly and calm though. And geez that armour is camp. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
- UK cover by Keith Parkinson: So I am becoming familiar with the pattern of Dragonlance covers through the ages, and I get the feeling like this event depicted doesn’t even happen in this book? I quite like it in terms of an action image, although I also get the feeling that it is weirdly positioned/cropped. It’s nice to actually feel the threat from the dragon for once, and to see a character in an action pose rather than posing for the camera (James: She’s right – it’s the climax of Dragons of Winter Night; terribly cropped, once again. Why are the UK covers so bad?!)
- Matt Stawicki cover: Okay I actually really like this one, I think it’s the mistiness of the background and the detail of the architecture behind the characters. On the negative side, I find the poses really awkward. But their clothing looks way more appealing to my modern sensibilities compared to the 80s stuff
Plot Summary: Tanis Half-Elven sneaks out on his girlfriend Kitiara, the Dragon HIghlord in the middle of the night and he and his companions try to escape. Kitiara chases after him on a dragon, but the ship is sucked into a whirlpool made of blood! Raistlin betrays the party and magics himself away just before the ship goes underwater. Fortunately, passing sea elves rescue the drowning adventurers and put them ashore along with the ship’s helmsman, Berem – an immortal MacGuffin who can win or lose the war. Meanwhile, Tanis’ other girlfriend, the elf princess Laurana, becomes the Golden General, in charge of the armies of Good. With the help of the good dragons, who have finally returned, and wielding the dragonlances, Laurana is able to win a series of major victories. However, she abandons her armies when Kitiara lies and tells her Tanis is hurt, and is captured in a very obvious trap. Our scattered heroes finally reunite and go to Neraka, the HQ of the Dragonarmies, to rescue Laurana and use Berem to win the war. Caramon, Tika, and Tasslehoff have to complete a final dungeon crawl with Berem to stop the dark goddess Takhisis, while Tanis has to choose which girlfriend he likes more. Suddenly, Raistlin returns – but now he’s Super-Saiyan Raistlin (except his robes turned black instead of his hair going golden) Thanks to this Raistlin-ex-machina, the heroes are victorious – but Kitiara takes control of the remaining Dragonarmies, and Raistlin is now free to pursue his own nefarious plans…
The Good: Once again, the characters continue to be the best part of this series. Weis and Hickman make an extremely sensible decision to not make the climax be the defeat of the Queen of Darkness – her brief appearance is impressive, but she’s too abstract a character to be an effective primary antagonist. Instead, the climax of the novel is the resolution of Tanis’ internal conflict, and the confrontation between the brothers Caramon and Raistlin.
I’d forgotten how long it took him to appear, but the most legendarily badass character in Dragonlance finally appeared halfway through this book: Lord Soth, the undead Knight of the Black Rose! He has virtually nothing to do here, but he makes such an impression. I remembered him being more style than substance, but that’s not a problem here, and he’s got so much style!
My favourite character, to my surprise, wound up being Tasslehoff! I think it’s because I now have a toddler, but I appreciate his empathy, his innocence and his curiosity. His character development to become wiser, sadder, and more mature – in other words, his loss of innocence – happens slowly and organically.
The Neutral: This book is set in 352 A.C. It covers material from the eighth, tenth, and especially the climactic twelfth adventures. The eighth adventure, in which Gilthanas and Silvara infiltrate the enemy stronghold of Sanction to discover the secret origin of the draconians and recruit the good dragons to their side, is summarized by them in a single chapter after they return: the story is told more fully in Lords of Doom, a pick-a-path book. Meanwhile, the story of Raistlin’s rise to near omnipotence would not be covered until Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, published twenty-four years later!
The Bad: I got the feeling, reading this, that Weis and Hickman had lost interest in this book even before they started writing it. Their hearts were clearly set on telling their own original story about the wizard Raistlin, and so this book serves more as a bridge to set up the following Legends trilogy than a grand finale to this story. Characters are dropped along the wayside so that the story can focus on those who will be important next time: Raistlin, Caramon, Tasslehoff, and Kitiara. As a result, major revelations like the origins of the draconians are hurried, while the mystery of what’s been going on with Raistlin is deferred to be covered in Legends.
Other major plot points are nonsensical. Laurana’s decision to go running after Tanis is particularly egregious. I was reading the Annotated Chronicles, in which both Weis and Hickman agree that Laurana’s decision is forced and out of character. Berem’s backstory, which is vital for the resolution of the war, also doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. The only thing stopping Takhisis the dragon goddess from conquering the world is getting the gem out of his chest – that she put there herself?
Final Impressions: Three Disks of Mishakal out of five. Weis and Hickman have done an admirable job wrestling twelve D&D adventures into three novels. By modern standards, the Chronicles trilogy doesn’t really hold up. I couldn’t in good faith recommend it compared to some of the amazing fantasy novels out there today. But back in the Eighties, when there was less variety on the shelves, this was excellent. Like all classics, it’s of its time and place. I really enjoyed revisiting Chronicles, and I’m looking forward to the Legends trilogy, which I remember being the high water mark for the Dragonlance saga.
But before I start Legends, there was another series of books that came between them: the Super Endless Quest pick-a-path gamebooks were the very first spinoff Dragonlance books, so I’ll be looking at them next fortnight.