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

First Impressions: Here we are! This really is the end of the story that began all the way back in Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It’s got the best covers too:

  • Original Larry Elmore cover: Epic, and so moody! Good composition with lines and triangles structuring it. There’s good use of colour, and clear linking of the two brothers, but they’re also in opposition.
  • Reprint Larry Elmore cover: Not as good as the original, but still moody and good linking and contrasting of the twins Caramon and Raistlin. They look really similar here.
  • Penguin UK cover: A Penguin cover that actually shows something from the book! Totally badass, but after the composition and theme of the last two, I’m disappointed.
  • Matt Stawicki cover: This is a LOT! I don’t mind it. The composition’s not as strong as the first two, but it’s still very interesting looking. But it’s totally over the top!

A word of warning for Dragonlance beginners: since this is the last book of the second trilogy, you might want to read the plot summary of the previous books here and here before continuing, as it can get a bit hairy from here!

Plot Summary: Caramon and Tasslehoff use the time travel device as Raistlin and Crysania open the portal into the Abyss. The two spells interfere with each other, and Caramon and Tasslehoff find themselves two years ahead of their ‘present day.’ But the world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Everything is dead, lightning storms tear apart the sky, and the rearranged stars are going out. They find Tika (Caramon’s wife)’s funeral monument, and Caramon’s dead body at its foot. 

Caramon sees a new hourglass constellation and realises that Raistlin has won. He has overthrown the gods, and this devastation is the result of his victory. The two make their way to the Tower of High Sorcery at Wayreth, where this quest kicked off. They find the last two living beings there. Astinus, the immortal historian of Krynn, is recording how the world ends. Meanwhile, the archmage Par-Salian, who manipulated Raistlin into becoming a weapon to save the world and instead drove him to become a monster, is being tortured by Raistlin by making him watch the end of the world. Caramon and Tasslehoff take the history of the end of the world from Astinus, and go back in time two years, to the present day, to stop Raistlin.

Back in the present day, Lord Soth, Dragon Highlord Kitiara’s death knight ally, has decided that he wants Kitiara for himself. Kitiara has become the lover of Dalamar, Raistlin’s elven apprentice. Soth convinces Kitiara that Dalamar has betrayed her, and is planning to help Raistlin. He then tells Dalamar the same thing. As a result, Kitiara prepares to attack the city of Palanthas to stop Raistlin and Dalamar, while the forces of Good ally with Dalamar to stop Kitiara and Raistlin. If they’d just talked to each other, they could have worked this all out! Then again, even when they get the opportunity later on, no one trusts anyone else. The wages of evil… 

Also caught up in the final battle is Tanis Half-Elven, hero of the last trilogy, who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tanis, the knights and the good dragons go to fight Kitiara’s army at the High Clerist’s Tower, where Sturm Brightblade died fighting her during the last war. It controls the only road to Palanthas, but everyone is surprised when the evil armies arrive on a flying citadel and bypass the High Clerist’s Tower entirely! Tanis jumps on a dragon and races back to Palanthas, arriving just before the final battle starts.

Meanwhile, Raistlin and Crysania make their way through the Abyss. Raistlin’s magic has failed him, and the Queen of Darkness is torturing him with scenes from his life. Crysania acts as his shield, protecting him again and again. Raistlin manages to regain his magic, but Crysania is overwhelmed by the constant attacks. As she dies, she asks for Raistlin to stay with her as she dies. He abandons her without a thought.

Caramon and Tasslehoff arrive in Palanthas. They look at the book of the future and find that in only a short time, Lord Soth will kill Tanis Half-Elven. Tasslehoff saves Tanis, while Caramon attempts to break into the Tower of High Sorcery here, but its magical protections are too strong. (It occurs to me that people who haven’t read Dragonlance might be getting confused here. There are two Towers of High Sorcery. One’s in a magic forest, with the Conclave of High Sorcery; the other is in the middle of Palanthas, and is owned by Raistlin. There were three more, but they’re gone. Now you know!) The three heroes capture Kitiara’s flying castle and use it to fly to the Tower, bypassing its defences.

Meanwhile, Raistlin is exhausted from fighting the Dark Queen, but is winning. He is now making his way to the Portal, where he will return to this world with Takhisis in pursuit. In this world, Raistlin will be the stronger, and will be able to defeat Takhisis. His apprentice Dalamar is waiting to stop him. Kitiara manages to break into the tower, and fights Dalamar. The two of them nearly kill each other, and Dalamar is only saved by the arrival of the heroes. Lord Soth appears and claims the dying Kitiara for himself.

Caramon is the last person left who can stop Raistlin. He enters the Abyss and finds Crysania, who’s slowly dying. He then meets Raistlin, and tells him that he’ll succeed, but that he’ll destroy everything in the process, until in the end he consumes himself, and even then will still be an empty voice screaming in the void for eternity. Raistlin realises that his victory is empty, and that he’s destroying the people that he cares about in the process. Raistlin hands his staff to Caramon and tells him to escape with Crysania, and then holds off Takhisis himself, saving everyone at the cost of being tortured forever at her hands. But even as he is torn to pieces and does not die, he is protected by the memories of his brother. 

The battle is over. With Kitiara dead and Lord Soth departed, the armies of evil have been defeated, though the city is destroyed. Crysania is healed of her injuries, although she has permanently lost her vision. At the same time, she has gained wisdom, and becomes the new leader of the Church. Caramon returns home to Tika, having gained self-actualisation, and they live happily ever after. Tasslehoff finds that he’s still got the time travel device, and sets off on a new adventure.

The Good: I enjoyed this one immensely! Every dangling plot thread is brought together into a rousing climax. While Chronicles ended with a Frodo-esque attempt to infiltrate the land of the enemy to undo them from within with a cursed artifact, Legends takes its cue from the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Even then, Weis and Hickman are reluctant to waste time on meaningless sequences of violence and keep the focus firmly on our characters. 

Lots of characters and locations from throughout the six books to date return – Tanis, Lord Gunthar, Kirsah the bronze dragon, the High Clerist’s Tower, the flying citadel, the Tower of Wayreth – which ties together all the books so far.  This book’s key theme seems to be self-knowledge. Crysania’s fate has been extremely telegraphed, but she finally finds wisdom as she is broken. Caramon learns how to become his own man, neither dependent on Raistlin or wanting to murder him. Raistlin finally accepts that his quest for power is pointless and self-defeating. 

I don’t really have a lot to say here. Everything is good, and it all works well. 

The Neutral: This book is mostly set in 357 A.C., apart from Caramon and Tasslehoff’s visit to an alternate 357 A.C. While it mostly wraps up all the loose ends, there’s a few sequels. The short story The Legacy, from The Magic of Krynn continues the story of Raistlin, and I’ll be reading it next time! Meanwhile, Lord Soth’s story continues in Knight of the Black Rose, which takes him out of Krynn to the world of Ravenloft! Although Weis and Hickman aren’t fond of it, it is canon, so I’ll be reading it further down the track. There are also some tie-in RPG books that have been published over the years. The original campaign setting, Dragonlance Adventures, assumes that your players will want to play out the plot of this trilogy, so it details the characters and gives some ideas about how to do this. Much later on, the Legends of the Twins book uses this trilogy as a starting point to explore time travel and alternate timelines.

I also found the answer to my question from last time. How did the Portal get from Zhaman to the Tower in Palanthas? This book implies that it moved itself. That’s magic for you!

At the end of the book, Tasslehoff finds a map with the city of ‘Merilor’ marked on it. This is the setting of Weis & Hickman’s next series, The Darksword Trilogy. It’s not a D&D tie-in, however, so it’s outside the scope of this series.

The Evil:

…I’ve got nothing. Sure, it’s not Tolstoy, but then it was never meant to be. I could criticise it for still using problematic Dragonlance elements like gully dwarves, but it feels a bit unfair to penalise every single book for that, and they’re handled better here than in other books. 

Maybe we could have had more Raistlin and less Tanis?

Actually, one thing I would have liked – and this is true for the entire trilogy, not just this book – is more showing how powerful Raistlin was, rather than just telling us. There was a lot of focus on his weaknesses, but mostly his strength was communicated by how other characters reacted to him. I’m remembering Lord Soth bowing to him in Time of the Twins as one example of this. Most of Raistlin’s big magical feats, such as his battles with Fistandantilus, Takhisis, and her minions in the Abyss, take place off-stage; the only real demonstration of his immense strength is when he incinerated the plague village in War of the Twins. Then again, action scenes are pretty pointless and boring if they’re just an excuse for an omnipotent character to show off, so I’m very happy with the focus on characterisation, thoughts, emotions and relationships over Hollywood-esque pointless spectacle.

Final Rating: 5 Disks of Mishakal out of 5. This is about as good as D&D tie-in fiction will ever get, and better than it has any right to be. 

I found it hilarious that the end of this book has a postscript saying goodbye to Dragonlance. This is the last Weis & Hickman book – for now! – but the massive success of the first six books led to the publication of hundreds more books in the series. First up, we have the Tales trilogy of short story anthologies, so I’ll be reading the first of these, The Magic of Krynn.

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