The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – War of the Twins, by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

First Impressions: The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and that there’s more Dragonlance books to review! It certainly helps that I’m in the middle of the Legends trilogy, the high watermark of role-playing tie-in fiction. Before I get into it, we have the covers, though there’s not much to say about them.

  • Original and Reprint Larry Elmore cover: These are so similar that we’ve bundled them together this time. Claire says: “My thing with the first two covers is that these two people are dressed and look like they should be on a romance novel cover. But of course they aren’t romantic, so it’s just awkward.” Haha! This book almost is a romance novel in places. I like the first one the most: Crysania might be more cheesecake-y, but there’s more emotion and a stronger composition. The revised cover looks too static for me.
  • Penguin UK Larry Elmore cover: Claire says: “I sort of love this but even with how little I know of Dragonlance, I’m fairly sure that these are not the two main characters in the book, and I’m willing to bet money on this scene not happening in the book.” She’s right – it’s Laurana standing over Sturm’s dead body, from Dragons of Winter Night. It’s a massive spoiler for the first trilogy, with two characters who don’t even appear in this trilogy! That said, it is a fantastic piece of art.
  • Matt Stawicki cover: “As usual I like the greater dose of action posing in the fourth cover, and I appreciate the Tasselhoff cameo for once. Pretty cool!” I like Matt Stawicki’s art generally, but I’m not a fan of this one myself. I find the characters a bit too small, and the scene is just generic posing, with a griffon that barely features in the book in the background.

Plot Summary: Caramon, Raistlin and Crysania travel through time and return to the Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas. Raistlin is very weak from casting the time-travel spell, and Caramon is still blind (Crysania cast a spell on him to stop him killing Raistlin at the end of the last book, you may remember.) It’s now several decades after the Cataclysm, but still hundreds of years before their own time. Raistlin plans to use the portal to the Abyss that the wizards have stashed there but finds that someone moved it for safekeeping. Oops! 

Side note – the portal is back there in the modern day. Given that no one can enter the Tower, how did it get back there? The only person who could have moved it is Raistlin, but if he did, he’d know it wasn’t here now. I wonder if this will be addressed in the next book, or if it’s just a big old continuity error.

Anyway, the gate is in an old wizard stronghold called Zhaman, in the land of the mountain dwarves. And ever since the Cataclysm, the mountain dwarves aren’t accepting visitors. The three travel south, picking up an army of renegade knights, plainsmen and hill dwarves who want to attack the mountain dwarves and steal their hoarded food and treasure. The mountain dwarves themselves know that there is no food or treasure, not that the invaders believe them, and so the Dwarfgate War begins.

Our heroes, coming from the future, are pretty upset because they know how this is all going to end. According to the rules of time travel, no member of a race created by the gods can change time – all they can do is change the details. So they know that Raistlin is going to fail to open the gate, causing an explosion that will kill them and their army. They all wrestle with this, and Crysania even tries to change destiny by bringing back worship of the true gods. Unfortunately, she goes to a plague village, and only manages to convert the last survivor, who dies that night. The past cannot be changed.

At least, not by them. Tasslehoff the kender is able to change the past. (Kender were created by a magical accident, not by intelligent design.) He wakes up in the Abyss, where the Temple of Istar got transported after the Cataclysm. Tas meets with the Dark Queen Takhisis, who plans to use him to change the outcome of the Chronicles trilogy. He also meets with Gnimsh, the gnome who invented the time travel device that Tas broke at the end of the last book. Gnimsh repairs it and the two escape. Raistlin finds them and murders Gnimsh. Raistlin is convinced that this means he’s averted fate. Tasslehoff finds Caramon and saves him from being murdered, and then the two escape with the time travel device back to their own time, as Raistlin and Crysania go through the portal into the Abyss. The spells still interfere with each other, causing the explosion that destroys Zhaman and the armies fighting outside, but this time Raistlin survives to continue his quest…

The Good: For all that Raistlin was the driver of the plot in the last book, we never had a chance to see inside his head there. War of the Twins finally puts the archmage, and his relationships with the other characters, centre-stage. There’s a reason why Raistlin is such a fascinating character. This book portrays him as a complicated set of contradictions. He’s at turns tender and ruthless, empathic and heartless, vulnerable and indomitable, caring and callous. His evil deeds are never excused, and his motives remain consistent regardless of what facet of his character he’s demonstrating. While I didn’t enjoy his relationship with Crysania (more about which, below), this book more than any other really shows us the deep bonds of caring and abuse between him and Caramon, which is the heart of this trilogy. I also found the scene with the gully dwarves – who are usually just the butt of every joke – extremely affecting. Raistlin, finding an army of gully dwarves dead after a battle, briefly believes that time can be changed because none of the history books ever mentioned them taking part. He quickly realises that the reason that the gully dwarves weren’t mentioned was because no one cared enough about them. 

While the last book was about free will – how Raistlin could choose evil, Crysania could choose to follow him, and Caramon could choose to destroy himself with alcoholism – this book is about predestination. The characters grapple with the fact that their destinies are written, and no action they can take can change them. This gives a great sense of dramatic irony to the events of the Dwarfgate War, as they hurtle towards seeming destruction.

The Neutral: War of the Twins was released in May 1986. This book is set in 39 A.C., almost three hundred years before the Chronicles trilogy. Weis and Hickman use this to give us characters who are like precursors to the original cast. Darknight the Plainsman is a proto-Riverwind, Michael the ex-knight is repeatedly compared to Sturm, and Flint Fireforge’s grandfather Reghar Fireforge is the leader of the hill dwarves. Reghar also has a weak heart, and the authors note that this runs in the family – it’s this heart condition that killed Flint in the Chronicles trilogy. 

The ruined fortress of Zhaman, since renamed Skullcap, and the hidden gates to the dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin, were a major plot point in the original DL3 and DL4 modules. This story was omitted from the original Chronicles trilogy but was finally detailed in Dragons of the Dwarven Depths.

The Bad: As much as I enjoyed this book, it definitely suffers from being the middle book of a trilogy. I came to realise that nothing important happens in this book. Caramon, Raistlin, Crysania and Tasslehoff end this book in fundamentally the same place that they began it, and the whole plot with having to chase down the portal to the Abyss is really just spinning wheels. Raistlin and Crysania could have entered the Abyss at the end of Time of the Twins, while Caramon and Tasslehoff headed back to their own time, and the outcome would have been fundamentally the same.  

I also continue to dislike Crysania as a character. This time around, my problem is more about her sexualisation. Both Raistlin and Caramon are sexually attracted to her, she’s attracted to Raistlin, she almost gets raped by bandits, and she gets physically assaulted by Raistlin when she attempts to seduce him. We also have the tiresome trope of her virginity being the source of her virtue. It’s not pleasant, and it’s a problem when she’s the only female character in the book – save for brief cameos from Kitiara and Takhisis, both of whom have their evil thoroughly intertwined with their sexuality. I smell Tracy Hickman’s Mormonism behind this! I did, however, like Crysania’s doomed attempt at proactivity, when she tried to change time by bringing back worship of the True Gods.

Conclusion: As I write this, I’m ripping through the final book in the trilogy, so I feel confident in saying that I feel this is the weakest book in the trilogy. Still, it does sterling work with the characterisation and relationship of Caramon and Raistlin, and earns three and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five.

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