First Impressions: Hello everyone and welcome to another Dragonlance review! This fortnight I’ve been reading Time of the Twins, the first book of the Legends trilogy. I have very fond memories of the Legends trilogy. I showed Claire the covers and she was pretty positive about them this time too:
- Original Larry Elmore cover: I actually sorta like it, Raistlin looks like a freak but that’s the point. The colour choices all work for me, it’s old school, sure, but it works.
- Reprint Larry Elmore cover: I don’t like #2 as much with the lady looking more vulnerable. I liked her looking normal but like… oblivious? Whereas vulnerable just sort of amplifies Raistlin’s sense of evil more. Colour choices aren’t as good for me as #1, but it’s fine.
- Penguin Books UK Keith Parkinson cover: What is even going on? Who are these people? It’s the revenge of the frickin’ UK covers again. (James – at least this one actually happens in this book!)
- Matt Stawicki cover: #4 My line of sight goes ok, Raistlin, looking tender, that’s weird…. ok, girl looking all cheesecakey, sure…. WHO THE F IS MAN-BOOBS IN THE BACK?!
Plot Summary: It’s been two years since the War of the Lance ended, and Raistlin (since his massive and as-yet unexplained level-up at the end of the first trilogy) has decided to conquer the gods. Conquering the world is too easy and too passé, so he’s going to go into the Abyss and throw down with Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness herself. He needs the help of a good-aligned cleric to get there, so he’s started flirting with Crysania, a naïve and arrogant young priestess who isn’t sure if she wants to convert Raistlin or get her hands on his Staff of Magius. Raistlin’s sister, the Dragon Highlord Kitiara, finds out what he’s planning and vows to stop him.
Crysania decides to seek the help of the assembled wizards in their Tower of High Sorcery, and is escorted there by two Heroes of the Lance – Raistlin’s brother Caramon and Tasslehoff, the kender. However, during the last two years, Caramon has become an obese alcoholic to cover for his severe mental health problems, and Tasslehoff is, well, Tasslehoff. Crysania gets attacked by Kitiara’s undead henchman Lord Soth and puts herself in magical time-out to survive. Caramon and Tasslehoff take her to the Tower. There, the wizards reveal that Raistlin has been possessed by an ancient wizard called Fistandantilus – this is how he managed to level up so quickly – and he’s gone back in time to learn from Fisty as the next step in his plan. Caramon and Crysania get sent back in time too, so that the ancient clerics can heal Crysania, and Tasslehoff hitches a ride with them as well.
Istar, in the days of the Kingpriest! Great holy city of Goodness and self-righteous hypocrisy, just before the Cataclysm when the gods will get sick of the Kingpriest’s nonsense and drop a nuke on him – along with everyone else in the world. Bit harsh, Gods! Caramon and Tasslehoff are immediately arrested and sold as slaves to the arena. Here, it turns out that the clerics have banned bloodshed, so the gladiators are doing Roman-themed WWE instead. Caramon sobers up and gets back into shape. Crysania is healed and decides that this is the Best. Place. Ever!
Caramon sneaks out of the Arena at night to murder Fisty, so that he won’t be able to get his hooks into Raistlin. However, he finds that Raistlin actually beat him to the punch already, and has taken Fisty’s place as resident Evil Wizard. Awkward! Crysania’s even more thrilled, while Caramon gets upset about whether free will means that people can do stupid and/or evil things. Tasslehoff decides to use their time travel device to stop the Cataclysm. Raistlin thinks this is a great idea, and gives him pointers.
The Gods start sending mystic signs that they’re on the verge of losing their temper with the Kingpriest. Why they couldn’t just send him a firmly worded letter, I don’t know. It might have been less open to misinterpretation, maybe? Crysania gets disillusioned with Istar, and Raistlin uses this to sway her to his side. They also get the hots for each other. That’s going to be (even more) awkward! Caramon wins the grand finals of the arena and breaks out to murder Raistlin, but Crysania stops him and Raistlin teleports them all away as the Cataclysm strikes.
Meanwhile, Tasslehoff uses the time travel artifact to stop the Cataclysm. The artifact promptly breaks. Raistlin had lied to him. And now he’s at ground zero as the sky starts raining fire…
The Good: This is so much better than Chronicles in every single way. There’s a vastly reduced cast, and far less stuff happens than the last trilogy. As a result, we have a much tighter story. We spend more time in the heads of our main characters, and get to watch them grow. In particular, Caramon gets a lot of attention. Sometimes his problems were played for laughs (especially his muffin dream), but generally, I feel like Weis and Hickman made a real shot at portraying the horrors of addiction, and the psychological wounds underlying it. It didn’t always ring true, but I credit them for trying to tell a complex story like this in the Eighties in a Dungeons & Dragons novel. Caramon’s relationship to Raistlin also gets a lot of attention, as he grapples with the realisation that his brother is irredeemable.
I also found the set-pieces and world-building more fun this time around, since the authors had a bit more time to breathe. Istar is a fun setting – it’s like going to Vesuvius just before the volcano explodes. I really enjoyed the Great Games, and how the gladiators use fake weapons and have silly costumes and backstories. Then Caramon discovers that the rich and powerful use the Games as part of their political manoeuvring, by arranging for ‘accidents’ to befall their rivals’ gladiators, and it adds a sinister and deadly undertone for the rest of the book.
Tasslehoff continues to be my favourite character. Capital-G Good characters like the Kingpriest and the elves continue to be awful, but Tasslehoff’s character development in the last book has made him compassionate, empathetic, and loyal, without taking away his sense of childish wonder at the world. I liked how much he enjoyed being teleported by Raistlin into a duck pond.
The Neutral: This first half of the book is set in the year 355 AC, until the character travel back in time to 1 PC. It’s the first book not to be based on any existing adventures. The city of Istar will be revisited in the future in the short story collection The Reign of Istar, and the full story of the rise and fall of the Kingpriest will be told in the Kingpriest Trilogy, but I won’t be getting to read that for a few more years. There is also an excellent short story in the anthology The Dragons of Chaos which shows an alternate reality where the Cataclysm never happened and the Kingpriest successfully forced the Gods to do his bidding. It’s pretty dystopian.
The Bad: Even though I enjoyed this book very much, it’s got its share of problems – more than I remembered from when I was younger. The writing style is still not great in places. Once again, I blame Tracy Hickman, since he himself has admitted to a tendency towards purple prose. There was one section that stood out as particularly bad: a cleric reflecting on the importance of the city of Istar.
‘One might have supposed…the cleric was insensible of the fact that he was walking in the heart of the universe. But Denubis was not insensible of this fact. Lest he should, the Kingpriest reminded him of it daily in his morning call to prayers.
“We are the heart of the universe,” the Kingpriest would say…’
I get what Weis and Hickman are trying to do here; use the repetition to imply how often the Kingpriest has repeated that Istar is the heart of the universe, but it just comes across as clunky. There are also some overused adjectives. Crysania is like ivory, Raistlin is cynical and sarcastic.
Crysania herself, I felt, was underwritten. She’s presented to use initially as a very unlikeable character. Not that there’s anything wrong with an unlikeable character – quite the opposite, it gives her considerable room to grow, and that’s a wonderful thing. However, there are frequently large gaps between her appearances, where the writers rely upon the reader’s knowledge, rather than Crysania’s knowledge, to drive her character development. When she first arrives in Istar, Crysania is enraptured at how Good (seemingly) has triumphed and is convinced that the Kingpriest cannot be to blame for the coming Cataclysm. When we next see her, six chapters later, she’s disillusioned by what she sees. In that time, we’ve seen Caramon exploring the hypocrisy of Istar, but not Crysania.
I’ve said before that I have issues with Dragonlance’s Old Testament theology, and that continues to be the case here, as we see the Gods send the Cataclysm to kill millions of people. Good, unchecked, becomes just as awful as Evil – but doesn’t that make it not Good any more? The Good Gods seem to promote the balance of Good and Evil more than they promote Goodness, and their chosen children, the elves, are just awful – look at Quarath, the Kingpriest’s second-in-command, for another example of self-satisfied ‘Goodness.’ The true believers amongst the clergy are taken away to avoid the Cataclysm, but I cannot believe that everyone in Istar, everyone who suffers during the Cataclysm, is actually deserving of what happens.
Conclusion: I remember this being one of the best fantasy books I read – not just for tie-in fiction, but in general – during my youth. Revisiting Time of the Twins, I can see that part of that was nostalgia talking, but it’s considerably better than it needed to be. For all that the execution could have been improved, this is an ambitious character-driven drama. I was happy to re-read it, and I’m looking forward to the next book. Four Disks of Mishakal out of five.