The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Galen Beknighted, by Michael Williams

First Impressions: The final book in the Preludes series, it’s the return of the Weasel! As I’ve said before, I did not enjoy Weasel’s Luck when I was younger, and so I’ve never read Galen Beknighted before. However, during this read-through, I found Weasel’s Luck unexpectedly enjoyable, and so I was keen to dive into the sequel and find out what Galen Pathwarden and his awful family get up to next! There were two covers to this book: the original 1990s Jeff Easley cover has a hilarious picture of Galen and his lady love Dannelle falling off a rearing horse, which captures the tone of the book perfectly. The reprint cover by Duane O. Myers is more accurate to the plot, but also has much less personality – I much prefer the old cover. (A theme, I’ve noticed!)

Plot Summary: Three years later after defeating the Scorpion, Galen Pathwarden is about to become a Knight of the Crown, although he’s not doing a very good job of living up to his new ideals. During his vigil, he has a vision of his hermit brother Brithelm being kidnapped and agrees to ransom him from Firebrand, the leader of a tribe of underground Plainsmen in exchange for the opals with which the Scorpion had bribed him years ago. He is accompanied by motley companions: his sometimes lady love Dannelle, his brother Alfric, the blind jester Shardos, and the gluttonous Sir Ramiro. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast, led by Galen’s injured mentor Sir Bayard Brightblade, venture into tunnels under the castle to discover the source of the earthquakes shaking the castle. Firebrand wants the opals to complete a magic crown that will give him power over life and death, but everyone is being manipulated to awaken Tellus, a great continental serpent who is responsible for the earthquakes. Eventually Galen defeats Firebrand, Tellus is drowned when the caverns are flooded, and the plainsfolk return to the surface to be reunited with their people.

Review: This is an interesting but ultimately lesser sequel to Weasel’s Luck. While still funny, it’s a much more mature book: this is best exemplified by how several characters die, with considerable emotional impact. Thematically, it’s a story about memory: both Galen and Firebrand are outcasts who want to put their pasts behind them. Several other characters have to grapple with their memories as well: a story about a crazy cat lady becomes truly horrific, while one of the new comedy knights, the greatest marksman in the world, has to deal with the truth of the one shot he missed.  

The central problem is that Galen fundamentally completed his story arc in that book: he went from being a cowardly rogue into a (somewhat) more altruistic character. Here, the book is keen to point out that he hasn’t changed entirely, but he’s trying to be a good person. The problem is that he’s simply a less interesting protagonist as a result. I wonder if Michael Williams found that too, since a large part of the book drops Galen’s first-person narration and instead uses the third-person to follow different narrative threads, giving us Firebrand’s perspective and the characters back at Castle di Caela. I found this switching of narrative person and voice awkward and didn’t care for it. 

As for our look at diversity, the Plainsmen were quite stereotypical and in need of a white saviour, but they were generally cast sympathetically and had a complex society, so I think we’ll call it a wash. I was a bit surprised what so many Plainsmen were doing up in Solamnia, when they’ve previously lived further south in Abanasinia, but that’s not a big deal. Women didn’t do so well this time around, though: I had high hopes when Danelle insisted on accompanying Galen on his quest, but she was a bit of a straw-man feminist, all talk and no action. The new character of slutty cousin Marigold was fairly awful too, but also quite funny with her obscene pastries and ridiculous hairstyles. I did laugh out loud when she emerged from the caverns hair (in the shape of a sailing ship) first – it was a great image.

Continuity: Galen Beknighted is set in 231 A.C, 120 years before the main series. Its plot is a reference to The Legend of Huma: at the end of that book, the evil gods and dragons were banished ‘as long as the world is whole.’ Sargonnas, the evil god of vengeance, wants Tellus to cause a giant continental earthquake that would leave the world broken. It’s a little odd, because the whole point Richard A. Knaak wording the oath that way is because in between Huma’s time and the modern day, the world was broken during the Cataclysm and Takhisis has already re-entered the world and is slowly getting ready for the War of the Lance.

Shardos the blind bard has a lot of similarities with Fizban from the Chronicles trilogy. While Fizban liked to reference twenty-four-gun salutes and other things outside of Krynn, Shardos references future events that haven’t happened yet, like the events of the Chronicles and Legends trilogies. Although it’s never made explicit in the book, I think it’s safe to infer that Shardos, like Fizban, is secretly the avatar of one of the Gods of Good.

Final Summary: Galen Beknighted is a deeper book than its predecessor, but less charming in the process. I liked it, but I think people who didn’t like Weasel’s Luck won’t care for it either, and those who enjoyed the humour of Weasel’s Luck may be put off by the more serious tone here. I give it two disks of Mishakal out of five.

In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, this was the final Dragonlance book printed by Penguin Books, so this feels like an appropriate place for me to stop for now. Next time, I’m going to do a retrospective of the first year of reading, spanning twenty-one novels, three pick-a-path gamebooks, thirty-four comics and one almanack. See you then!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Gates of Thorbardin, by Dan Parkinson

First Impressions: First published 1990, this book is unique amongst the Heroes II trilogy for being a thematic rather than literal sequel to Stormblade, its corresponding book in the first Heroes trilogy, and the only one by a different author. Was TSR unhappy with Nancy Varian Berberick or Stormblade, or was she just busy and unable to return? 

Once again there are two covers to this book. The first, by Jeff Easley, is my favourite for actually showing things from the book, the helmet and the ghost, though Chane’s weird non-beard is strange. It’s actually a plot point that he has a beard! The second by Duane O. Myers, is a lovely picture of a gate to a dwarven kingdom, but I find it unlikely that a hidden secret gate would have giant statues guarding it! Let’s call it a tie.

Before we get started, a note: I’m going to try a slightly different style this time. I’ve noticed that my plot summaries have been getting quite long, so I’m going to give a much more general overview of the plot from now on. Also, I’ve been finding it hard at times to split my thoughts into what I felt about a book into positives and negatives. Sometimes I’d like to start with the negatives (Flint the King!) while sometimes I’d like to be able to talk about good and bad all at once. So I’m also going to be collapsing both those sections into one Review section from now on.

Plot Summary: Chane Feldstone has been having strange dreams all his life, but now they’re telling him to leave the dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin and go find the lost Helm of Grallen. This magical macguffin headwear, worn by the prince who died during the Dwarfgate Wars (and was also Chane’s secret ancestor) reveals the location of a hidden entrance to Thorbardin. He needs to find it to stop Kolanda Darkmoor from leading an army of goblins to invade Thorbardin through the same secret entrance. Chane finds the hidden Waykeep Valley, where in ancient days the magic Greygem was imprisoned and a war was fought over it. He assembles a band of followers, including his strangely deadly fiancée, a kender, a gnome in a flying machine that can’t land, an unexploded spell, a mysterious wizard, and a mountain man. They find the Helmet and the tunnel, which collapses during their final confrontation with Kolanda’s forces. The goblin army is defeated, Kolanda dies, and everyone returns home to live happily ever after. 

Review: This was another rather mediocre book, but to my surprise I quite enjoyed it! The plot was rather simple – ‘find the thing’ – but it worked. None of the excessively large cast had much depth, but they all worked too. I quite liked Bobbin, the ‘mad’ gnome who has built an aircraft that can fly but can’t land, who spends the whole book stuck up in his airplane, occasionally flying by to lower a basket and ask for raisins to eat. The love interest, Jilian, was at turns enjoyable and ridiculous. Once again, she’s the most beautiful woman ever, but her can-do attitude and improbable fighting skills (she holds a sword and spins out of control really, really fast) made her the most proactive and capable female Dragonlance character not created by Weis and Hickman so far. The villains, Kolanda and Caliban, had a fascinating relationship too, with the lich-like Caliban leeching life from Kolanda in exchange for helping her achieve her goals. The image at the end of her riding into battle bare-breasted, so that Caliban’s withered heart can sit over hers and draw power directly from her heart in the final battle, was bizarre but oddly effective. I did feel like they didn’t have much development or personal stakes with what was going on. Zap, the sentient unexploded spell, was also a fascinating concept, though just annoying for most of the book. Likewise, the different plot elements with the Greygem and the Dwarfgate War really tied what was going into the mythic history of Krynn, although at times they could feel disjointed from the main narrative. I also found some of the jokes didn’t really land, especially some of the anachronistic ones like the reference to the chicken crossing the road, or the dwarven women’s aerobics club – but then I liked the airplane, so go figure.

Continuity: According to the Dragonlance wiki, this book is set in 339 A.C., twelve years before the War of the Lance. It’s inspired by events in Dragons of Hope, the third Dungeons & Dragons adventure. In it, the Heroes of the Lance have to find the Helm of Grallen to reveal the hidden way to Thorbardin. That story was left out of the original Chronicles trilogy, leading to its adaptation here. Eventually, Weis and Hickman would cover the missing part of the story in Dragons of the Dwarven Depths (2006). In it, Sturm finds the Helm of Grallen, and in the process renders this entire book non-canon.

The Greygem of Gargath is a fairly prominent part of Dragonlance’s mythology. It is, as originally conceived, the means by which magic came to Krynn, and many of the various peoples and monsters created. It last appeared in Wanna Bet!, Weis and Hickman’s short story in Kender, Gully Dwarves and Gnomes. It will appear again in the backstory of Kindred Spirits (1991), before being central to the plot of Dragons of Summer Flame (1995).

Meanwhile, this book must have been well-received at the time, because Dan Parkinson was soon brought back to write the Dwarven Nations Trilogy in 1993.

Final Summary: The Gates of Thorbardin is objectively not a great book, but it’s endearingly not great. Many of its ideas are better than their execution. It gets 2.5 Disks of Mishakal, but it’s a high 2.5 Disks, almost a 3. 

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas. I’ll be starting the new year with Galen Beknighted, the last book of the trilogy. I’ve never actually read it before, and after I found myself thoroughly enjoying Weasel’s Luck, I’ve been looking forward to this ever since. See you then!

(Editor’s Note – Apologies! James actually had this written up two weeks ago, but between finishing the alpha build and running after a toddler in Auckland’s hottest summer in ages, it’s been at the bottom of the list. But now we’ll get back to it, as James has another one coming soon, and a retrospective on a year of Dragonlance! – Claire)

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Kaz the Minotaur, by Richard A. Knaak

First Impressions: When I was 10, we had a family trip to the UK. I was absolutely blown away by how many Dragonlance books were in the bookshops! That was when I first read and loved The Legend of Huma, so much that we found a copy of Kaz the Minotaur later in that holiday. It was a favourite back then – will it still hold up? Not much to say about the covers this time around – the classic cover by Jeff Easley and the new cover by Duane Myers are both excellent and dramatic, with Kaz and his magic axe Honour’s Face. I think I prefer the drama of the giant stone dragon, even if it is a minor spoiler. 

Plot Summary: Five years after the end of the Dragon War, Kaz is still wandering, accompanied by the kender Delbin Knotwillow. He is being hunted by a group of minotaurs from his homeland, who want him to face justice for his defection. Kaz finds a proclamation from the Knights of Solamnia, declaring him an enemy of the Knighthood, and decides to return to Vingaard Keep to confront his former friends and find out what’s going on. He’s betrayed by a village and delivered into the hands of his minotaur pursuers, and discovers that they’re tired of hunting him, and several of them have begun to sympathise with him. Kaz escapes, and is rescued by an elf, Sardal Crystalthorn. Sardal gives Kaz a magical axe, Honour’s Face, and asks him to take a message to Argaen Ravenshadow, another elf, at Vingaard Keep. Kaz reunites with Delbin and two new companions, Tesela the cleric and Darius the knight, and they head to Vingaard Keep together. As they travel, they discover more evidence of the madness of the knighthood, as well as the devastation caused by what appears to be a dragon, even though all the dragons have left the world. Kaz also starts having nightmares of Huma’s ghost, confronting his feelings of inadequacy at living up to his friend’s legacy.

Kaz and his companions arrive at Vingaard Keep, which is largely abandoned, and the remaining knights have gone insane. They meet Argaen Ravenshadow, who is initially friendly, but drugs them and uses Delbin to break into a locked vault containing relics of the renegade magician Galan Dracos. Dracos’s crystal sphere, which was shattered by Huma, has reconstituted itself, and the dead sorcerer is trying to return to the world with Argaen as his dupe. Kaz and his friends recover and fight Argaen, but they’re unable to stop him from escaping with the sphere on the back of his giant stone dragon.

Kaz, his friends, and the knights (who have been released from their madness now that the sphere is gone) team up to go after Argaen. The renegade elf has many veterans of the dragon armies in his service, and a huge battle erupts. The stone dragon kidnaps Kaz and takes him to Argaen. The renegade wants Kaz’s help against Galan Dracos. Kaz escapes with the help of Sardal Crystalthorn, who then dies saving Kaz. Argaen and Dracos struggle for control of the body, while Kaz fights the stone dragon. He finds his magic axe can hurt it, and kills it; as it dies, its falling body crushes Argaen and Dracos and shatters the crystal sphere once and for all. Just when everything seems over, the minotaurs catch up with Kaz again. Kaz tells them the truth of what happened when he defected, and most of the minotaurs refuse to fight him. He defeats the one minotaur who still believes in his guilt, and spares his life, before departing on his adventures again, this time with two of the minotaurs accompanying him and Delbin.

The Good: What a welcome change of pace from the Preludes books! I’ve always liked it when this sort of book starts with a mystery – why have the Knights turned against Kaz? – and it gives the plot strong momentum. Kaz is a strong, likeable, proactive character. It’s great seeing how he’s evolved from The Legend of Huma, as he tries to live up to his friend’s example. It’s probably no surprise though that my favourite character was Delbin. Delbin really felt distinct to Tasslehoff, but quintessentially a kender – or more specifically, a child. His tendency to ask too many annoying questions, and being told to take a breath, felt very honest to childhood. He also had the unshakeable courage and loyalty to his friend. Finally, unlike (for instance) Earwig Lockpicker from Brothers Majere, Delbin is thematically essential to the book. He shows how, just how Huma could look past stereotypes and befriend a minotaur, Kaz could do the same with Delbin.

The Bad: My problems with Kaz the Minotaur isn’t that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s that I wish there was more right to it. Many of the characters are not quite developed enough – Darius, Telesa, Argaen and Sardal all could have done with more fleshing out, and Galan Dracos doesn’t have anything new to add from his last appearance. Darius in particular felt completely irrelevant to the plot. It never felt like Kaz had to work very hard for his victories either. Kaz struggles with self-doubt, which manifests itself in his nightmares, but he never really struggles to do the right thing, and in the climax, he triumphs just through strength of arms against the stone dragon and the minotaur leader Scurn. The many special abilities of the axe Honour’s Face made it a deus ex machina as Kaz keeps finding new abilities that get him out of scrape after scrape.

The Neutral: This book set in 2640 P. C. – five years after The Legend of Huma, and about three thousand years before Dragons of Autumn Twilight. As a direct sequel to The Legend of Huma, it continues with many of the characters and loose ends from that book. Kaz returns in Kaz and the Dragon’s Children, a short story in The Dragons of Krynn (1994), before  concluding his unofficial trilogy when he returns home to the Land of the MInotaurs (1995).

Final Summary: Kaz the Minotaur isn’t really that good or that bad. It’s a fine book, but not better than fine. It gets 2.5 Disks of Mishakal. 

Next time, we’ll be venturing into The Gates of Thorbardin. See you then!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Tanis, The Shadow Years, by Barbara Siegel & Scott Siegel

First Impressions: Here we are at the end of the Preludes series at last with Tanis, The Shadow Years. First published in 1990, it’s the final book about what happened to our heroes in the five years that they were apart before the original trilogy. Tanis gave a few hints about what he did, most famously growing his iconic beard. Will this be the tale of how Tanis ‘grew the beard?’ Of course not.

I’ve been waiting to show Claire the cover art for this book, which is the most hilariously cringe-worthy cover art on any D&D book I’ve seen. (Do you know something worse? Let us know!) Tanis looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his ridiculous looking sword, while a dark-haired Bonnie Tyler clings to him. The modern cover, for once, is infinitely better, with a character that actually looks like Tanis on the front cover, and the ghostly face of the woman carved into the mountainside behind him.

Plot Summary: Tanis is approached by Clotnik, a dwarven juggler, who wants him to help his friend Kishpa the wizard. Tanis agrees to help because Kishpa knew Tanis’ father, and the half-elf is desperate to find out who he was. Kishpa is being pursued by lizard-like sligs, who are after a magic quill that he carries. He escapes them by accidentally causing a forest fire, which leaves him on the brink of death when Tanis and Clotnik rescue him. Kishpa wants Tanis to travel to the past in his memories before he dies to find his lost love, Brandella, and to hide the magic quill where the sligs will never find it. However, if Kishpa dies before Tanis escapes his memories, he will be lost forever.

Tanis travels a hundred years into the past, to an elven village called Ankatavaka. In the wake of the Cataclysm, an army of humans is trying to force out the elves who live in the area. Tanis immediately meets Scowarr, a travelling comedian, and together they join the defence of Ankatavaka. Thanks to them, and the magic of Past Kishpa, the attackers are driven off. During the fighting Tanis crosses swords with his father, who’s as awful as he’d imagined. Tanis meets some dwarves who live in Ankatavaka, Mertwig and Yeblidod, and Kishpa’s lover Brandella. Tanis falls in love with Brandella himself, but he manages to convince her to come back to the present with him to meet with Future Kishpa. 

However, it’s too late: Future Kishpa has died, and so Tanis and Brandella find themselves in the Land of the Dead. They learn that when Kishpa came to the afterlife, he started teaching everyone the spell that Tanis and Brandella would need to return to the land of the living. However, the only wizard they can find is the infamous Fistandantilus, who will only help them in exchange for them helping him escape as well. They agree, but Tanis betrays Fistandantilus, trapping him in the Land of the Dead.

Tanis and Brandella return to the present day, where they meet Clotnik again. He turns out be the son of Mertwig and Yeblidod. Brandella fades away, because she was only a memory, but she tells Tanis to return to Ankatavaka, where she buried a message for him. The sligs follow, to find the magic quill, and Tanis fights them and destroys the quill. Then Fistandantilus tries to get his revenge by reanimating their bodies and making them look like Tanis’ friends; he fights them too, and only survives due to Kishpa’s help, because he’s still alive in Tanis’ memory. Finally, Tanis decides to take up stonemasonry and carves the giant faces of Kishpa and Brandella into a mountainside so their love will live forever.

The Good: I quite liked the setting of Tanis, The Shadow Years. The quiet desperation of the siege of Ankatavaka is well communicated. While the action in the siege could be quite overblown, with flaming swords and giant spiders, the best moments were the quiet ones when characters were waiting for the inevitable, trying not to dwell on their uncertainty about it. The Siegels have an underlying message of wistfulness, love, loss and memory, and while I’m not sure that it worked, I appreciate the effort!

Tanis, The Shadow Years had an extensive cast of supporting characters, and I appreciated seeing people that we don’t normally hear from. There are jugglers, jesters and weavers. Fantasy can have a tendency to focus on Heroes and Great Deeds. Even the Heroes of the Lance, nobodies that they are to start off with, are basically professional adventurers. So I liked these more day-to-day characters. 

The Bad: After the dumpster fire of Flint the King, it was a relief that Tanis, the Shadow Years was just mediocre. Firstly, I didn’t feel that any of the characters in the book were very interesting. Even Kishpa and Brandella don’t have much personality or explanation for why they’re in love, or what they love about each other. Kishpa’s love of obscure and useless spells is probably the most interesting personality trait. Tanis himself isn’t very in character. Tanis wants to do or make something worthwhile, which he then doesn’t think about until the very end of the book, where he becomes a sculptor – a skill he’ll never display again. With neither of his usual love interests appearing, Tanis immediately falls for Brandella, and spends most of the book lusting after her. Tanis’ love for Kitiara and Laurana has always been a metaphor for his conflicting half-elf nature, so it felt strange that here he instantly falls for someone who looks just like Kitiara. It looked like Tanis’ arc would be about meeting his father, but this plot thread, which was Tanis’ entire motivation for embarking on this quest, gets resolved bizarrely quickly. He meets his father about a third of the way into the book, and it’s never relevant again. This leads into the second problem with the book, which is its structure. It’s very episodic, but it feels disjointed as a result. The majority of the book is set in the past, but it’s followed with the bizarre sequence in the Land of the Dead, and then there’s a very drawn-out and anticlimactic resolution with the sligs and Fistandantilus. The side-plot with Mertwig stealing, and Clotnik being his son, also felt fairly irrelevant. 

My other major problem with the book is with the execution of the time travel. It doesn’t make any sense! Tanis doesn’t actually go back in time, he just travels into Kishpa’s memory. That’s why Brandella disappears when he returns to the future. But Tanis can bury the quill in the past, and Brandella can bury a note for Tanis to find in the future. So which is it – is it the past, or is it a memory? It’s very detailed with things that Kishpa never saw if it’s just a memory, but there’s no reason why Kishpa dying would send them into the Land of the Dead if it’s the past.

Finally, and this is just a quibble, but there are a lot of really bad names in this book! Yeblidod, Zarjephwu, Behobiphi…Need I say more?

The Neutral: This book is set in 346 A.C., with events in the past taking place in 248 A.C. Tanis himself is born in the following year, 249 A.C. The story of Tanis’ birth will be told in The Inheritance, which doesn’t really fit in continuity with this book – Tanis’ father is presented far more sympathetically there, and he’s a bandit leader rather than a mercenary. This book also has trouble with continuity for its portrayal of the Land of the Dead. It’s a major plot point in The War of Souls Trilogy (2000-2002) that no one really knows what happens to the dead. 

Fistandantilus has a fairly complex story as well. He is, of course, a major figure in Raistlin’s life, until Raistlin travelled back in time to defeat him and take his place in Time of the Twins (1986). His ghost also appears in Fistandantilus Reborn (1997), which features yet another attempt by the archmage to return to life. He appears in many other books as well, but since he’s only a minor character here I’ll leave it at that for now. Tanis also encounters someone claiming to be the legendary knight Huma Dragonbane. Huma’s life is described in The Legend of Huma (1988), and a different account of what happened to Huma after his death can be found in the short story The Son of Huma, which is in The Dragons of Chaos anthology (1998).

Final Summary: It’s sort of appropriate that the Preludes cycle ends not with a bang but with a whimper. Tanis, the Shadow Years isn’t great or terrible, it’s just sort of lacklustre. It gets one and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. But cue the song from The Wizard of Oz, because I’m out of the woods! Up next is the Heroes II trilogy, with two direct sequels to the first Heroes trilogy and one thematic sequel. I quite liked the first Heroes trilogy, so I’m excited for to start Kaz the Minotaur!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Flint the King, by Mary Kirchoff and Douglas Niles

First Impressions: Lockdown is over, but I’m trapped here with Flint the King! I had bad memories about this one going in, and, TLDR summary, I was right to be apprehensive. Anyway, this is the fifth book of the Preludes series, and this time it’s the turn of the party’s crusty old dwarf grandpa, Flint Fireforge, to get his backstory explained. This is going to be ‘interesting’ because we learnt about Flint’s past in Dragons of Autumn Twilight. When the group met gully dwarves for the first time, Flint says that he had been imprisoned by them for three years, and has sworn to commit genocide against them! What a cheerful backstory to explore!

The first cover by Clyde Caldwell does a better job of telling the story than the book does. Flint has a hilarious look on his face, there’s a good contrast between Flint and the gully dwarves, the medieval scene-dressing has some great detail. It sells the humour of the situation, but you can also see why Flint would be mad after three years of this. The second cover’s not so good. It shows the final battle, but Flint and the other dwarves are all pretty indistinguishably grey, and against the brown background it’s not a very interesting cover. 

Plot Summary: When all the companions separate to have their separate adventures, Flint decides not to go anywhere and do anything interesting at all (what a great levelling strategy!). But then he hears that there’s trouble back at Hillhome, the imaginatively named home of the hill dwarves. When he gets there, he finds that Theiwar mountain dwarves have started coming to Hillhome, making the town rich and prosperous as a result, and that his brother Aylmer has died mysteriously. Rather than be happy that people in Hillhome are making money, Flint is angry that everyone’s forgotten that hill dwarves and mountain dwarves went to war hundreds of years ago, and investigates. He discovers that the Theiwar are secretly shipping weapons, a secret that Aylmer discovered and for which he was killed. Flint goes to Thorbardin, the mountain dwarf kingdom, to dig deeper, but he’s captured by the Theiwar and thrown into the Beast Pit along with the Theiwar guard commander, Perian Cyprium, who stands up for him to her creeper wizard boss Pitrick. 

In the Beast Pit, Flint and Perian are rescued by gully dwarves, who immediately make them their king and queen because of a prophecy (or ‘property’ as they call it.) They get in touch with Flint’s alcoholic nephew Basalt and tell him about what’s going on. Then Pitrick attacks, because he’s a creeper over Perian. They beat him, he retreats, and decides to destroy Hillhome because Perian likes Flint more than him. 

Basalt gets the hill dwarves ready for action, while Flint and Perian train the gully dwarves for war. Perian gives Flint his old magic axe which he’d lost in the backstory, which she happened to find in a rubbish dump, and they have sex. Then everyone goes to war and she dies. Flint kills Pitrick and saves the village, and his axe turns out to have been a holy relic (the Tharkan Axe) which melts after being used to kill another dwarf. Without Perian, Flint is deposed as King of the Gully Dwarves.

The Good: I’ve been critical of how Dragonlance has faux-medieval trappings over an essentially American Wild West mindset before, but I changed my opinion here. I quite enjoyed the exploration of hill dwarf society. It felt like an insular Amish community, except centred around the tavern instead of the church. We discover the dwarven words for men and women (harrns and frawls) and see a range of different personalities with the large Fireforge family. 

And that’s it. That’s everything I enjoyed.

Wait, no, there’s one more thing. Anyone who wants to write their own books, remember that if even Flint the King got published, then you can get published too!

The Bad: Oh boy. Where to begin?

Let’s start with the plot. It’s simply not very good. The secret of what the Theiwar are transporting is initially the main arc of the story. It’s a secret so important that Aylmer Fireforge was murdered to protect it. Flint discovers the truth about a fifth of the way through the book, and then it’s never important again. We the readers know that the weapons are going to the Dragonarmies, but it’s of no importance to the hill dwarves at all. The Theiwar have no reason to conceal what they’re doing, or murder hill dwarves to cover it up. They’re paying so much money to the hill dwarves as it is! No one ever discovers who’s buying the weapons, or why. The Theiwar decision to destroy Hillhome is also incomprehensible. Pitrick decides to attack it basically out of spite against Flint. Finally, the resolution of the book. The actual climax is fairly bad – Flint regains his lost axe in a way thanks to incredibly convenient luck, the Theiwar veterans are humiliated by the plucky hill and gully dwarves, and Flint beats Pitrick simply by being better with an axe than him. After the battle, there’s virtually no resolution to loose ends. How did the Theiwar react to their defeat? What about a final scene with our secondary protagonist Basalt? What does Flint himself do next? None of this gets explained.

I’d expected to hate this book for its treatment of gully dwarves, and I did. An entire race of idiots played for comedy is a terrible, terrible idea, but Flint the King manages to make things even worse. Was it the racial slurs? Flint, our protagonist, calls them ‘tunnel apes’ at one point. Was it their miscegenatory origin story, where dwarves and gnomes living together results in gully dwarves? Was it the implied comparisons to the colonisation of indigenous peoples, with the credulous tribe and their shaman waiting like children for racially superior dwarves to be their king and queen and teach them how to contribute to society? For some reason, I’m actually willing to give Kirchoff and Niles the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe they didn’t do this stuff intentionally. A lot of these tropes were already floating around in Dragonlance and other fantasy fiction of the time. I think the awful gully dwarf origin story was actually from somewhere else altogether. But they certainly used a lot of awful story beats without any sort of critical awareness. The treatment of the Theiwar is just as bad. Every single Theiwar is irredeemably, genetically awful. They also get racial slurs – ‘white-bellied scum,’ for instance. The only exception is Perian Cyprium, and that because she’s half Hylar, a ‘better type’ of mountain dwarf. 

As bad as the racism is, there’s also a side order of sexism in the awful character of Perian Cyprium. Perian feels like the love interest in an 80s action movie. She’s the Captain of the Guard, but Kirchoff and Niles never miss an opportunity to remind us how good looking she is. Despite her high rank, she’s not actually good at her job. She’s unused to discomfort, and unable to train the gully dwarves, while Flint succeeds instantly. The real conflict in this book is that between Flint and creepy sexual predator Pitrick to see who’ll ‘get’ Perian at the end. Pitrick is a very disturbing villain. I hate how the plot is driven by his sexual appetite. It makes for uncomfortable reading (and I hate how his name is Pitrick). Flint and Perian’s relationship is also messed up. They flirt and argue a lot, and he says they can’t be together because they’re of different races, but after she cooks him dinner he finally relents and they sleep together. And then she dies! Of course, Perian can’t stick around after this story, since she’s not in Chronicles, but did she have to be murdered just to give Flint some dwarf-feels and more of a motive to kill Pitrick?

The final problem is Flint himself. In the Chronicles trilogy, he was always a supporting character, never the protagonist. His irascibility was balanced by his ridiculous humour, and he was part of a fairly effective comedy duo as the straight man to Tasslehoff. I’m not convinced that he works as a stand-alone protagonist. Stripped of his comedy, he’s a pretty unlikeable person. He’s grumpy and argumentative. He’s casually racist towards the Aghar and Theiwar. He’s a loner who neglects his family. When he gets called out on his faults by his family members, he demands respect from his brothers, and hits his drunk nephew Basalt to teach him a lesson. Flint’s portrayed as being in the right for still hating mountain dwarves when the rest of his village has sold out in the face of Theiwar gold, but by keeping his grandfather’s grudge alive, he’s like someone today still hating the Japanese because of the Second World War. Flint undergoes some character development here, as he learns to become less racist towards Perian and the gully dwarves, but it’s all forgotten in his subsequent appearances.

The Neutral: This book is set in 346 A.C., five years before Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It certainly doesn’t take three years, it only felt like it. I can’t really blame the authors for going for a ‘comic’ story rather than the dark tale of imprisonment and desired genocide that was implied there!

Thane Realgar, the leader of the Theiwar, is a supporting character here, with a fairly convoluted history. He originally appeared in the adventure module Dragons of Desolation (1984), where the Heroes of the Lance enter the dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin; he’s one of the pro-Dragonarmy leaders. However, when this was skipped in the novels, he then appeared as the main antagonist in Stormblade (1988), where he dies just before the Heroes reach Thorbardin. However, when Weis & Hickman finally covered the missing chapters of the story in Dragons of the Dwarven Depths (2006), Realgar is back as a major villain, ignoring his death in Stormblade. 

Flint’s references to the feud between the mountain dwarves and the hill dwarves is a reference to the Dwarfgate War, which took place after the Cataclysm. It was all part of Raistlin’s time-travelling hijinks in War of the Twins (1986).

There would also be an adventure module that was a sequel to this book: Flint’s Axe (1992), in which the players look for the destroyed Tharkan Axe. In another interesting and overly complicated twist of continuity, that adventure reveals it to be the same as the Axe of Brotherhood that Caramon and Raistlin gave to the dwarves in War of the Twins – it has that name because it was paired with a Sword of Friendship given to the humans to make an alliance between dwarves and humans before going off to fight together. Of course, that war was the Dwarfgate War and lots of dwarves were killing other dwarves. Since that’s what destroyed the Axe in this book, I’m not sure it really works.

Final Summary: So far, my least favourite Dragonlance book has been Darkness & Light, for being ridiculous and boring. Flint the King replaces those problems with sexism and massive, massive racism, and takes its place as my least favourite Dragonlance novel! I’m going to award myself five Disks of Mishakal for getting through Flint. The book gets none.

Next time, I’m finally going to finish the awful Prequels series. Looking at my shelves, there’s so many good books coming up… I just have to make it through Tanis: The Shadow Years first!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Riverwind the Plainsman, by Paul B. Thompson & Tonya R. Carter

First Impressions: Life goes on, so does this lockdown, and so does the Preludes series! Riverwind the Plainsman (1990) is the fourth book in the Preludes series, featuring Riverwind and Goldmoon’s backstories. By which I mean Riverwind’s backstory – Goldmoon is barely in this book. Of all the Heroes of the Lance, Riverwind’s quest for the Blue Crystal Staff is the one we know the most about already, since it was so important to the plot of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Do Thompson and Carter manage to add new context to what we know? Let’s find out!

There are two covers again. The 1990s cover is by renowned cheesecake artist Clyde Caldwell, with an improbably sexy Riverwind on the cover. It’s a pretty good cover though – there’s lots of nice detailing on Riverwind’s costume, the snakeman is very pulp (and also sexy), and the ruins of Xak Tsaroth are characterful and iconic in the background. It looks like a fun pulp fantasy adventure. The Matt Stawicki reprint cover is a lot darker, with a black dragon with serious overbite! Riverwind looks a bit more realistic, the other principal characters are present, but it’s all a bit obscure and unfocussed and not fun.

Plot Summary: Riverwind departs on his Courting Quest to find proof of the true gods. He takes with him the eccentric hobo Catchstar, who’s better known amongst his people as Catchflea. Soon thereafter, Riverwind narrowly escapes wolves with fingers, and despite foreshadowing they never return. Riverwind and Catchflea fall down a hole and discover a subterranean society of outcast elves called the Hest. They befriend a slave-girl, Di An, and take part in revolution to overthrow the evil queen Li El, using biological warfare – throwing pepper in her soldiers’ eyes. Riverwind, Catchflea and Di An continue underground until they reach the ruins of Xak Tsaroth, where they meet the local gully dwarves are captured by the occupying draconian and goblin army. Riverwind meets Krago, who is attempting to make super-Draconians out of snakes. He’s made an ophidian warrior, Thouriss, and is working on making him a mate, Lyrexis. Riverwind kills Thouriss in a duel, and Lyrexis dies as the party makes their escape. Riverwind finds the Blue Crystal Staff, the holy relic needed for his quest, and escapes with a black dragon close on his tail. But according to a prophecy, one of them will go mad, one of them will die, and one will find glory…

The Good: I enjoyed this book considerably more than Darkness and Light, Thompson and Carter’s previous book. The strange subterranean kingdom of Hest is tied to Krynn’s history, and I liked the brief encounter with the petrified elves who’re hunting them down. Once the story reaches Xak Tsaroth it picks up its pace considerably. There’s a strong gothic undertone to Krago, Thouriss and Lyrexis which I appreciated, and the imagery of Lyrexis as an unshapen monstrosity in her quicksilver bath, and the scene where she first wakes to terrify Di An, are very striking and horrific. 

I also really enjoyed the character of Catchflea. He’s a sort of John the Baptist figure, a precursor to the return of the true faith. I like how he looked for falling stars as a symbol of the true gods, and his interpreting of acorns as a method of divination is novel. He’s humble, resourceful, and even takes over as the main character during the Hest revolution, where he’s responsible for the rebels defeating Li El’s troops. Sadly, he’s not fated to reach the promised land. 

The Bad: This book shares many of the constructional problems with Darkness and Light. The two halves of the novel are poorly connected. Thompson and Carter have Riverwind fall off a truly improbable number of cliffs as a way of advancing the plot and having him literally land in whatever situation they need. Riverwind’s sojourn in Hest has no bearing on the rest of the plot, and it may as well have been an entirely different book. There could have been a link between the ancient outcast sorcerer Vedvedsica and the Dr. Frankenstein-esque Krago, or the wolves with fingers could have come back in the second half of the book to tie the two halves together. Speaking of which, were the fingered wolves ever explained in this book, or the lack of children in Hest? Finally, I can’t stand the authors’ tendency to use reported speech rather than direct speech, which sucks the energy out of the prose any time it occurs. 

The biggest problem of this book is its superfluity. Like the other Preludes books, we already know where all the characters have to end up at the end of the series, so no one can display any character growth. We already know all the broad strokes details of Riverwind’s quest from Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and this book adds very little meaningful extra context, which is what a good prequel ought to do. The Ophidian draconians exist only to give Riverwind a challenge to overcome in this book, and are meaningless for the greater story – even the dragons and draconians aren’t upset when Riverwind destroys Thouriss and Lyraxis! There is one piece of effective dramatic irony, where Riverwind discovers that the dragonarmies are planning to attack his home and tries to warn his people. Due to his fever, he forgets and doesn’t deliver the warning, which leads to the destruction of Que-Shu in Dragons of Autumn Twilight.

Normally, there’s a few unfortunate characters to dwell upon. In this case, there’s one I want to mention, but sadly it’s Riverwind. He’s simply not a very interesting character. Beyond being stoic, not liking bullies and being in love with a character who barely appears, he’s got very little personality. His struggles are all external until the very end of the book, where he’s finally forced to make a difficult decision to heal himself and complete his quest, or save his companion Di An. (This sequence, however, I thought was the best part of the book.) He doesn’t show his superstition and mistrust of outsiders that he had in the Chronicles trilogy, which makes him a bit more likeable but a lot more bland.

The Neutral: This book starts in 349 A.C., immediately after the short story Heart of Goldmoon from the anthology Love and War, and ends immediately before Dragons of Autumn Twilight in 351 A.C. The dangling plot threads from this book – Vedvedsica and the wolves with fingers – would recur throughout Thompson and Carter’s future Dragonlance books, to be finally explained (if I remember correctly) in the Elven Exiles trilogy (2005-2007), set seventy-five years later. 

The story of what Goldmoon got up to during the Preludes story has been alluded to but never told – a sadly common trend for Goldmoon.

Final Summary: There are a few good moments in Riverwind the Plainsman, surrounded by a lot of filler. I think this story would have been better served as a short story or a novella. I’ll award it two Disks of Mishakal out of five. Next week, it’s time to check in with Flint Fireforge in Flint the King. See you then!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Brothers Majere, by Kevin Stein

First Impressions: I remember Brothers Majere (1990) far more than the other books in the series. With an introduction by Margaret Weis that situates it in time relative to other Dragonlance stories, it’s certainly being taken more seriously than the other books in the Preludes series. I guess this was always going to be the case, because this is the book about Caramon and Raistlin’s adventures.

The original Jeff Easley cover is one of my favourites so far, a real classic. Rather than showing a scene from the book, it’s a study of the two characters. They look similar enough that you can tell that they’re brothers, but the fire casts light over Caramon, but shadows over Raistlin. Raistlin is connected to the Tower in the background, while Caramon is connected to the trees. There’s a strong colour contrast between the warm fire, and the cold tower. By contrast, I’m less fond of the new art by Matt Stawicki: it makes Raistlin look strong, but shows off Caramon very poorly, and their expressions seem unfortunate. The gothic stylings of the background are much more in keeping with the book.

Plot Summary: Raistlin, Caramon and their kender companion Earwig Lockpicker find an advertisement for a job in the city of Mereklar. Shortly thereafter, they’re attacked by assassins who don’t want them to take the job. The trio track their attackers back to the Inn of the Black Cat, where they learn more about the mysterious city and the prophecies about how its cats will one day save the world, and are watched by a mysterious dark man. Continuing to Mereklar, they meet Councilwoman Shavas, who hires them to find the city’s missing cats. Raistlin perceives lines of power running through the city and discovers that the Night of the Eye is coming, a rare conjunction of all three moons of magic. Meanwhile, councilmen are being murdered, and Earwig is slowly being possessed by a magic ring. Shavas attempts to seduce Caramon and Raistlin with mixed results. Raistlin meets the dark man, who is revealed to be Bast, the Lord of Cats, who has been killing the councillors. The city covers a portal to the Abyss, and the councillors are actually demons in disguise trying to open the portal with Shavas’ help on the Night of the Eye, so that Takhisis can escape the Abyss. Caramon, Earwig and Bast close the portal, while Raistlin confronts Shavas, who’s actually a lich and the secret mastermind of everything that’s been happening, and tricks her into destroying herself.

The Good: This is a classic example of a pulp fantasy adventure. More so than the other Heroes of the Lance, the brothers are well set up for the sort of classic Conan the Barbarian adventure that unfolds here. This is a mystery in which new clues and twists keep on piling on top of each other, and I couldn’t help but feel that it’d probably make a wonderful Dungeons & Dragons adventure. Kevin Stein is blessed with having the two best-developed Dragonlance characters as his subject, and so while he doesn’t change anything about their relationship, he is able to display the toxic blend of love and hatred between the two brothers. 

Raistlin gets to play the role of the detective in this book, which is a fun use of his intellect. We see his jealousy and insecurity. He also falls in love with Lady Shavas, who offers him everything that he wants in exchange for giving up his magic. He is deeply tempted by her but rejects the offer: Stein implies that what Raistlin truly desires isn’t power or even magic, which are means to an end, but control over himself and over others. Since that’s the case, he would never accept an offer that would make him subservient to another.

We spend less time getting into Caramon’s head. He’s happy to let Raistlin take the lead, and to look after his brother. He mostly ignores Raistlin’s insults, but returns them with devastating accuracy when he’s pushed too far. He’s also depicted as a massive slut; this is the book where he has sex with a lich. Ewww!

The Bad: I felt that the plot got incoherent towards the end of the book. With so many plot threads introduced, Stein does not have enough time to resolve them all satisfactorily. The cats’ return to save the city seemingly came out of nowhere, and the resolution to closing the portal was very convenient with a magical ring in the Abyss closing it and returning our heroes home. In the end, Raistlin has to explain what happened to Caramon, and also to readers who missed anything. Stein also struggled with making his mystery too obvious: he sets up Bast as a red herring, but it’s clear immediately that Shavas and the lords are the secret villains, which robs the book of some of its tension.

My bigger gripes were with two characters: Earwig. Earwig is another carbon copy of Tasslehoff, but without the empathy that makes Tasslehoff an enjoyable character to me. He was just a stereotypically annoying kender. Earwig’s turn to the dark side by way of Shavas’s ring didn’t help. I wish Dragonlance could rely on individuals rather than archetypes – the Gnome, the Kender, the Knight, the Wizard, and so forth – many of whom are basically identical and interchangeable characters. I think, or perhaps hope this might be more a trend of the earlier books. 

I also didn’t like Shavas’ over-sexualisation. At the end of the book, she strips to tempt Raistlin, which seemed ridiculous. For an ageless lich, she was very good at committing psychological warfare against our heroes, but very bad at making sure that her plot actually worked. 

There were also some strange references that took me out of the book at time. At one point, Raistlin asks for his tea shaken not stirred. In another, he sees the Oxford English Dictionary for sale. I’m not sure what the point was; it was jarring and not funny.

The Neutral: Brothers Majere takes place in the year 347 or 348 A.C., three or four years before the Chronicles trilogy. It references several earlier adventures of Raistlin and Caramon in its introduction and throughout the test. It follows on from Test of the Twins and Raistlin’s Daughter, which we’ve already visited in the Tales anthologies, and Raistlin and the Knight of Solamnia, which was originally published in Dragon magazine and was reprinted in the Tales II anthology The War of the Lance (1992). It also references another adventure in which Raistlin exposes a fraudulent cleric in Larnish, but this adventure exists only as backstory for Brothers Majere. Like many of these early stories, this story would later be ‘overwritten’ in canon. In this case, Margaret Weis’ Brothers In Arms (1999) would also tell the story of the Twins immediately after Raistlin’s Test – though in this case, I believe that Brothers Majere is still considered canonical, and has simply been shifted in the timeline to make space for Brothers In Arms. The Cat Lord would return in many guises throughout Dungeons & Dragons’ history, though to the best of my knowledge never again in Dragonlance. Other cat lords appear in the Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and Planescape campaign settings, with too tangled a history of heirs and successions to go into here. Earwig Lockpicker never returns but is referenced in the short story Voices in the anthology Relics and Omens (1998). Finally, Mereklar would only ever return on maps – but that’s more than can be said for many of these one-shot settings.

Overall Summary: Not a great book, but an enjoyable one, despite its flaws. I would put it at three Disks of Mishakal out of five. This actually makes it tied, with The Legend of Huma, for the best Dragonlance book that I’ve read so far that’s not by the original authors. Next time, I’m starting the Preludes II trilogy, with the backstories of the other Heroes of the Lance. Coming up next, it’s Riverwind the Plainsman!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Kendermore, by Mary Kirchoff

First Impressions: Kendermore (1989) is the second book of the Preludes series, which is about some of the adventures of the main heroes before the original Chronicles trilogy. This book is about Tasslehoff Burrfoot, who to my surprise has become my favourite character during this re-read. It’s by Mary Kirchoff, an editor at TSR, who was also responsible Leaves From The Inn Of The Last Home. 

The 1980s cover by Jeff Easley is surprisingly dark, with Tasslehoff (in eye liner?) overreacting extremely to the presence of Takhisis. But hey, it’s Takhisis, that implies something serious is going to go down! Denzil the assassin is crawling across the floor, but Claire thinks he looks like a drag queen doing a floor show. There’s easily space for him on the other side of Takhisis, and he hardly looks menacing where he is. The reprint cover by Mark Zug is much more dynamic and brightly lit. Tas looks a bit odd, but Denzil is much more menacing on his evil horse. Overall I think this cover gives a much better idea of what the book is like!

Plot Summary: Tasslehoff Burrfoot is confronted by Gisella Hornslager, a sexy dwarf merchant currently moonlighting as a bounty hunter. Tas has forgotten to return home to Kendermore for his arranged marriage, so she’s been contracted to bring him back! Tas agrees to go when he learns that his beloved Uncle Trapspringer is being held prisoner by the Kendermore Council to ensure his compliance. Meanwhile, Phineas Curick, a quack doctor in Kendermore, meets Trapspringer (Kender have a very lax idea of what imprisonment entails.) Trapspringer has one half of a treasure map, and Tasslehoff has the other half, so Phineas is suddenly very keen for Tas to return home so he can get his hands on the map! Another of Phineas’ patients, Denzil the half-orc assassin, also learns about the treasure, and sets off to find Tasslehoff and get the map.

Tas, Gisella, and Gisella’s assistant Woodrow (a runaway Solamnic squire) have various adventures on the road. They sail across the Newsea with a crew of gully dwarves and are shipwrecked. Tas gets abducted from a dwarven Oktoberfest celebration by a magic carousel by two gnomes, who want to taxidermy him for a museum. He escapes on the back of a woolly mammoth called Winnie. Denzil arrives and tries to murder him but kills Gisella instead. Tas and Woodrow have further misadventures crossing the Bay of Balifor with a dead owlbear, before Denzil captures Tas.

Meanwhile, Tas’ fiancée Damaris has vanished, and Phineas wants to find her so that Tas has to return with his half of the map. He and Trapspringer head into the Ruins, where they find Damaris in the abandoned Tower of High Sorcery there, along with Vinsent, a friendly ogre. They escape through a portal in the Tower. There they find a village of candy, and hundreds of obese kender. One of the kender found the treasure, a necklace that grants wishes, and used it up to create the candy village. At this point Tas and Denzil enter the Tower and Tas tries to escape through the portal. In an interdimensional tug-of-war with Tas as the rope, the portal is kept open and the kender are able to escape. Another resident of that dimension tries to escape too: Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness! However, Damaris breaks a lever and the portal shuts, returning Takhisis to the Abyss. Just before the portal closes, Denzil jumps through for the ‘treasure.’ Takhisis is angry, so she creates storms to destroy Kendermore. Tasslehoff is able to organise all the kender to put out spreading fires and save the city. Trapspringer and Damaris get married, and Tasslehoff decides to find where his parents have gone.

The Good: This is an light-hearted little adventure story. The actual plot winds up being just a MacGuffin hunt, with both Tas’ map to the treasure and the wishing amulet being ultimately irrelevant – it’s much more about the journey than the destination. Mary Kirchoff captures Tas well: he’s curious, personable, compassionate, and funny. Some of the adventures along the way were quite amusing as well. I laughed at the explanation of how Gisella became a bounty hunter. The anarchy of Kendermore, its geography and society were amusing, and Phineas the quack doctor and how the kender reacted to him was all very amusing. At its best, Kendermore was like the whimsy of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. At other times, though, it felt just silly – the candy village being the prime example. 

I did appreciate the Tower of High Sorcery plot as a fairly clever bit of Dragonlance lore. I’m not sure if it had already been established that one of the ruined Towers was near Kendermore, or if this book decided it, but it was a nice bit of world-building, and the portal is clearly the same as we saw in the Twins trilogy, but gone a bit haywire after the Tower’s destruction.

The Bad: This whole book felt slightly… pointless. At the end of the book, no one has changed as a character. No one has learnt anything, or overcome any great obstacle. Even Takhisis  is defeated perfunctorily with a broken lever! This is the dilemma of the Prequels series – each of the main characters has to be recognisably themselves already, and ready for their character arcs in the Chronicles series. But even if Tas can’t develop, there are lots of other characters here who could have. The prime offender, to my mind, is Phineas Curick. He’s our main point of view character for almost half the book, in all the scenes set in Kendermore, and he’s the main mover of the ‘treasure hunt’ plot. But he has no role in its resolution, and learns nothing from his experience. Even the other characters don’t really like him! Woodrow is another character who stays pretty much static throughout. He goes on all these adventures with Tasslehoff, but at the end of the book, while he says he’s learnt that life’s too short not to be enjoyed, he simply takes over Gisella Hornslager’s importing business.

Gisella’s a character about whom I had mixed feelings. A sexy dwarf bounty hunter / merchant is a pretty original character. At times, she’s a strong woman who takes what she wants, and isn’t slut-shamed for her sexuality. At other times, she feels useless, letting other people do everything for her, and like her hyperactive sex drive is the butt of a joke. I feel like she could have been handled much better. 

And gully dwarves are still awful.

The Neutral: This book is set in 346 A.C., five years before Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It’s infamous for making some mistakes with canon: Denzil the assassin is a half-orc, but there are no orcs in Dragonlance. It’s not a problem that I really cared about, honestly. Similarly, in later Dragonlance canon Uncle Trapspringer becomes a legendary kender figure rather than Tas’ literal uncle. In any case, Uncle Trapspringer will return in Tales of Uncle Trapspringer in 1998. The story of the destruction of the Tower of High Sorcery would be told in Divine Hammer in 2002. Mary Kirchoff had already written the short story Finding the Faith in The Magic of Krynn; her next book will be Flint the King, which I’ll be reading shortly: it’s the fifth book in the Preludes series.

Overall Summary: Not great, but not terrible either, Kendermore gets 2 out of 5 Disks of Mishakal. I didn’t hate reading it, but I wouldn’t bother to recommend it to anyone either. 

Next time, we have newcomer Kevin Stein with the fan-favourite characters, the Brothers Majere. See you then!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Darkness & Light, by Paul B. Thompson and Tonya R. Carter

First Impressions: Back to novels again, and it’s time to start a new trilogy! The two Preludes trilogies cover the stories of the Heroes of the Lance in the five years that they were separated immediately before the original Chronicles trilogy. Darkness and Light (1989) is the first book, about Sturm and Kitiara. I remember this series being fairly mediocre, and this one particularly so. I did like Thompson and Carter’s later work, though. I showed Claire the covers; here’s our thoughts.

Darkness and Light (Dragonlance Preludes #1) by Paul B Thompson, Tonya R.  Carter | eBay

Original Jeff Easley cover: It’s Evil Bonnie Tyler and Ringo Starr! This cover looks so drab. Medieval people’s clothes would never be so dull looking. Kitiara needs to put on some pants if she’s going to run around this brambly forest or her legs are going to get scratched up something fierce. While she’s at it, she should probably get a bra too. It’s very typically impractical clothing.

No description available.

2003 Matt Stawicki cover: Kitiara has gone from Evil Bonnie Tyler to Evil Soccer Mum! Her armour is much better now, and looks a lot like her Dragon Highlord armour. Sturm still looks a bit like Ringo Starr, but he’s almost lost in the background. This cover is too busy!

Plot Summary: Sturm decides to head home to Solamnia to find out what happened to his father (when Sturm was young, there was a peasant revolt; his father sent Sturm and his mother away for safety, and then vanished.) Kitiara tags along, since her own father was also Solamnic. They have some minor adventures on the road before they encounter the Cloudmaster, an experimental gnomish flying ship. They hitch a ride and are carried away to the red moon Lunitari. Their ship crashes and goes missing while they are exploring. Sturm, Kitiara and the gnomes travel through a forest that magically grows and vanishes every day. They develop superpowers based on their desires: Kitiara becomes extremely strong, while Sturm starts seeing visions of his father. They encounter the local tree-men and their insane king Rapaldo, who was blown to the moon on a waterspout. Then they meet Cupelix, a brass dragon imprisoned in an obelisk, and his crystal ant servitors. Cupelix stole the Cloudmaster to get the gnomes to help him escape; they are able to destroy the obelisk and repair the Cloudmaster. However, Cupelix is unable to fly from the moon to Krynn, and is forced to remain on Lunitari while the others escape. After returning to Krynn, Sturm and Kitiara have more minor adventures, but decide to part company due to their different ideas about honour and expedience. Sturm goes to the ruins of his family’s estate, where he encounters dragonarmy forces preparing for the upcoming war, and Kitiara returns to save his butt one last time.

The Good: I didn’t enjoy this book at all, so I struggled to come up with something to say here! Even if I felt it was done in a ham-fisted manner, I liked how Sturm and Kitiara were contrasted with one another. I also liked the imagination of the moon sequences. Sometimes I feel that fantasy gets stuck in a post-Tolkien rut and loses sight of being fantastical, so having this Lucian of Samosata-esque sequence was quite different, even if it felt atonal for Dragonlance. And that’s about all that I liked.

The Bad: Where do I start? Let’s start with Sturm, who’s our ostensible protagonist. In trying to portray Sturm as honour-bound, he comes across as intensely unlikeable. He’s variously judgemental towards Kitiara, sexist to Kitiara and later Tervy (a bandit girl that he captures at one point), racist to dragonkind and to Tervy when he tries to ‘civilise’ her, and dogmatic in his condemnation of magic. It doesn’t help that he’s demonstrably wrong these things – any D&D player knows that dragons are colour coded to let you know if you can trust them or not. He undergoes no character development during the book. The closest is when he eventually uses a magic item to save Kitiara’s life, but he regrets it so vocally that he drives Kitiara away. The events of the book are equally pointless: his time on the moon has no lasting consequences. Sturm and Kitiara developing magical powers also has no consequences, and could be removed from the story without changing it at all. It really feels like Thompson and Carter were given an extremely brief outline of what they had to include (Sturm, Kitiara, Sturm finds his armour and sword) and complete freedom about how to do it, so the moon episode is forced into the book, and the rest is just an afterthought. Darkness & Light is also plagued with continuity errors. Never mind that Sturm never told anyone that he went to the freaking moon: he also meets dragons and draconians, despite being unaware of them in Chronicles. Lots of characters reference or invoke the forgotten true gods. Many of the references to places seem like they were randomly chosen from a map. At one point, Kitiara talks about the siege of Silvamori, a city of elvish refugees that won’t be founded for another five years. The actual craft of the writing of the book is also lackluster. It’s an episodic book, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s very little connection between the episodes, which can range from a chapter or two (the haunted boat, Sturm becoming a cattle drover) to the lunar episodes, which are hundreds of pages. I also felt like the chapters on the moon dragged in places, especially during the initial exploration and while figuring out how to rescue Cupelix the dragon. Finally, the prose is quite poor. The gnomes of the Cloudmaster are introduced in list form. In some sections, the point of view shifts dizzyingly from one character to another. In others, the authorial voice will tell us rather than show us things about the characters. This section serves as a good example:

Cutwood was dazzled by his colleague’s understanding of human behaviour. “Where did you learn so much about humans?” he asked. 

“I listen and learn,” said Sighter, very ungnomishly. Though he didn’t yet realise it, that was the change wrought in Sighter by the magic of Lunitari. From an intuitive, impetuous gnome, he had become a logical, thoughtful, deductive gnome, a creature that had never before existed.

I also realised while reading this book that none of the characters in Dragonlance actually feel like they’re living in a medieval society. Instead, they feel like they’re ren-faire actors living in the American West. The casual attitude towards weaponry and horses, the prevalence of bars, the lack of civic authority figures, the ‘barbarians’ on the outskirts of society… Did everyone else realise this long ago?  It’s perfectly valid idea for a fantasy world, but I don’t like the anachronism. 

The Neutral: This book is set in 346 A.C., five years before Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I’m not sure if it counts as canon, since a different story about Sturm and Kitiara’s travels together would later appear in The Second Generation (1994). For a long time, the whole plot about going to the moon was never talked about again, but I think it may be referenced in an RPG adventure that I haven’t read. The elvish ship-captain Tirolan Ambrodel’s ancestors appear in the Elven Nations Trilogy (1991), and I believe that family members reappear throughout Thompson and Carter’s work. The Cloudmaster has a cameo appearance in Destiny (2007), also by Thompson and Carter. 

Overall Summary: The major redeeming feature of Darkness & Light is that it’s not actively bad, just… passively bad. Aggressively mediocre, perhaps? I know there’s worse coming. Darkness & Light wins one Disk of Mishakal, the worst score so far. Next time I’ll be reading Kendermore by Mary Kirchoff. It’s about Tasslehoff, so it’s got to be more fun than this one… right?

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Dragonlance Comics, Issues 26-34, by Dan Mishkin and Ron Randall

First Impressions: The end of the Dragonlance comics is here! I’m not sure why this run wasn’t collected like the first four, but maybe it has something to do with the ever-changing writers on this final stretch. Mishkin, who wrote the entire series bar the one filler issue last time, only has one more story here in issue 28; the others are done by Charles and Lisa Moore (issues 26, 27 and 29), Maddie Blaustein (issues 30, 31 and 32) and Paul Kupperberg (issues 33 and 34). I also found that Maddie Blaustein is the voice actor of Meowth from Pokemon, which Claire and I have been watching for her review series. Small world! 

Since there’s so many stories this time around, I’m going to give my thoughts on each one individually, as if it were a short story anthology. 

The Gathering (2 issues): Riva‘s bronze dragon friend Ktarrh flies off. The companions hire a boat to follow him over the Glass Sea. However, they themselves are being pursued by Karranus of the Minotaur League and his soldiers, who wants to capture Griffin and Skrum as deserters. To escape Karranus, Riva’s ship sails into mysterious glass caves. They find mysterious writing inside and are attacked by strange illusions. When they leave the cave, Karranus’s ship is waiting for them. At that moment a deadly shardstorm blows up. Far away, in the lands of Thenol, the Dark Bishop Trandamere talks to his god Hith (better known in Ansalon as Hiddukel, the god of greed and lies.) He’s found a nest of silver dragon eggs and intends to corrupt them to make more draconians to help Hith conquer Taladas. Meanwhile, Riva wakes up back inside the cave to find Ktarrh there! He, and other good dragons, were summoned to defend the dragon eggs, but returned to rescue Riva’s ship from the shardstorm. Karranus survived as well, and he followed the others; a battle breaks out. Hester, a minotaur sailor on the glass rider ship, challenges Karranus to single combat and kills him. Meanwhile, ogres attack the silver dragon eggs, and the dragons fight them off, but the eggs are shattered. I found this story pretty forgettable. Our main characters don’t have a lot to do – they’re sidelined in favour of showing us impressive things. I liked the glass sea, but it’s all pretty pointless to the actual story being told: the shardstorm particularly is thrown in just to be a cliffhanger between issues, and then it’s gone with no consequences whatsoever! This story also starts a trend in this run of failure: our main characters escape from the minotaurs, but fail to save the dragon eggs. The stakes being the dragon eggs also ends up with no one winning, so there’s no lasting results there either. I found the hints of a greater story about the struggle between Hith and Erestem’s followers for Taladas interesting; it’s a pity that this never got developed further.

The Path to Power (1/2 issue): Cantavian the minotaur gladiator and cousin of Axantheas from the Landfall story arc wants the power of Erestem (better known as Takhisis back on Ansalon.) He bullies his way into a temple of Erestem and communes directly with a five-headed dragon statue, and it kills him. What a loser. Well, you can’t expect much from these filler stories.

The Perilous Power of Feh (1/2 issue): Feh, a stupid hobgoblin in a tribe of stupid hobgoblins, makes a deal with Erestem (a.k.a. Takhisis) to become leader of his tribe. He gets magic powers and a magic ring, but doesn’t bother learning the last part of the bargain. After years of being leader and getting with the lovely and desirable Olob (it’s funny because she’s neither of these things. No, wait. It’s not funny.)  Erestem demands that Feh goes and kills Riva Silvercrown. When he’s gone, the other hobgoblins promptly overthrow him for their former leader. They also learn the last part of the deal – his powers only work on things in front of him. Feh never learns this, and he’s eaten in the swamp by a monster. This story is actively awful and I hated it. It’s a ‘comedy’ relying on laughing at how ugly and dumb all the hobgoblins are, and I hate that sort of race-essentialist, eugenics-based thinking. 

A Sort of Homecoming (1 issue): Riva, her companions and their ship arrive at the Glass Sailor keep during a shardstorm. The doors nearly don’t open for them, and they’re saved only by the magic of the two elves in the party. The other Glass Sailors, especially their mage Krey, are unhappy about the presence of outsiders, when suddenly horax (big angry bugs) attack their fields! Riva and co. go fight the horax. Krey uses fire magic against them which defeats the horax but sets the whole field ablaze, and he’s exiled by the other glass sailors. Riva is upset and rescues him on Ktarrh, then fights her way back into the keep. Krey is killed in the fighting, and Riva decides to leave the Glass Sailors. Another filler story! I guess that there was some chaos behind the scenes getting a writer after Mishkin left, and this story feels like spinning wheels until a permanent writer can be chosen. This story is actually about Riva’s destiny as the emissary of Paladine in Taladas, as she tries to influence the Glass Sailors to show mercy. However, it’s mostly about how she’s not very good at doing her job! She’s not listened to as she tries to get people to change their customs, she winds up attacking them and gets into a sword fight with her only friend in the Glass Sailors, and ultimately she fails and decides to leave. 

Sword of the Kinslayer (3 issues): Flashback time! Just before the War of the Lance (the comic actually says after, but it’s clearly meant to be beforehand), Lord Silvercrown is holding his annual Yuletime tournament. After Riva’s not allowed to take part, she decides to go find a missing shipment of dwarven weaponry. The hill dwarves have been ambushed by Uurthrym Thane of the Wolf Clan, a mountain dwarf who believes in old dwarven tribalism and poor oral hygiene. He also has a mysterious mountain mentor who is obsessed with Silvercrown. Uurthrym delivers the weapons to Lord Silvercrown so he can show him his cursed magic sword, the Sword of the Kinslayer, with which Lord Silvercrown becomes magically obsessed. Riva finds the dead dwarves and Andvari, the caravan guard, who’s still alive. Riva takes Andvari back to the hill dwarf villages, where she learns about Uurthrym. Meanwhile, Uurthrym’s sponsor is upset because he wanted Riva, not her father. Uurthrym attacks the hill dwarf village to find her and captures Riva and Andvari. Andvari is sacrificed to the patron, while Riva escapes. Uurthrym manages to catch her and bring her back but refuses to hand her over – he’s fallen in love with her – so his patron kills him.  Just then, Lord Silvercrown shows up and claims the sword for himself. The patron is revealed as a white dragon (no surprise – it’s been using its ice breath this whole time!) Riva falls into the dragon’s lair, where she discovers its nest of eggs, all about to hatch. Theolin, the priest of the hill dwarves, is there too, with a magic Horn of Blasting which he uses to destroy the nest. The dragon tries to rescue the eggs but is buried too. Meanwhile, Riva rejects the enchantments of the Sword of the Kinslayer herself. Her bewitched father tries to kill her, but loses the sword saving her from a white dragon hatchling. The white dragon itself emerges, not dead. It knows about Riva’s destiny, and wants to corrupt or kill her before she can accomplish it. Riva faces it down, and it dies of its wounds. All the knights are impressed with her valour, and Lord Silvercrown says he’ll reconsider her becoming a knight. It’s really hard not to interpret this story as a metaphor when I learned that the writer was transsexual. It’s all about how Riva wants to be accepted as a knight, rather than follow traditional female gender roles. She’s pretty brash and inexperienced, and consistently gets called out for making stupid idealistic choices. At the same time, she’s the only person who can resist the Sword, even when it offers her everything she wants. I also liked young Riva’s costume way more than her modern one. She’s in bright colours and armour and looks way more like a knight than adult Riva does, in her drab low-cut leather. That said, there’s a few problems that I have with the story. When isn’t there? I really don’t like how the white dragon babies were innately evil and had to be killed. This alignment essentialism is a big topic at the moment, of course! There’s the problem that I’ve spoken about before of having stories set before the War of the Lance, in that none of the iconic Dragonlance elements exist, and so everyone has to break canon by having dragons show up too early, like this one does. I’m also not sure that this one fits well with Riva’s introduction, where she’s back to being chastised for wanting to be a knight. She faced down a dragon! Which also means she should have been less surprised when they showed up again in the first story arc. Also, her initial interactions with her father are pretty negative, but they don’t seem to reflect on how he tried to kill her! This family needs therapy! Still, continuity aside, it’s a pretty good story, and the big money shots of the white dragon are awesome. It’s the best story this time around.

The Legend of the Blackgem (2 issues): Back in Taladas, Griffin’s been wounded by a minotaur attack. Riva and company find a ruined village with only Tykel, a mysterious old healer of Mislaxa (better known as Mishakal). Tykel tells them the story of Miisia Genyei, the founder of the Mislaxan healers. Miisia grew up in a farming community shortly after the Cataclysm. One day, she met a dying traveller and found that she could feel the pain of others and cure them. His name was Marsval Solarzz, and his family had been protecting the Blackgem. Now it was in the hands of the warlord Bylarr, who wanted to use it to conquer Taladas. Miisia wanted to be rid of the healing powers, which brought her such pain, so she and Marsval travelled up to a hidden temple in the mountains. Bylarr went there with his followers too. At the top, Bylarr summoned an elemental of the temple to kill Miisia and Marsval, but she was able to heal it – killing Bylarr and purifying the Blackgem in the process. As a result, she learned how to control her powers and decided to keep them, and inspired others to follow in her footsteps. This final story really ends the Dragonlance comic not with a bang but a whimper. It’s a pretty tiresome story, since Miisia spends the whole time in pain or complaining about her powers. The wider conflict between Bylarr and Solarzz doesn’t have time to develop, so our villain is never more than a lame Warduke knock-off. It doesn’t really have much payoff for Riva either: she’s interested because she’s also the chosen of a god, but she doesn’t really learn anything from it, and it doesn’t really relate to her situation greatly.

Overall Summary: That’s the end of the Dragonlance comics! I wish they’d had more time to develop. The early stories were too closely tied to the novels, but the later half of Dan Mishkin’s stories were pretty good – High Sorcery, A Winter’s Knight, and Landfall. I feel like the story was in an interesting place: it had changed from an anthology story to following a main character, their companions, and their ongoing adventures. There were a range of interesting antagonists: the League of Minotaurs, and then the developing conflict between the followers of Hith and Erestem. However, once Mishkin left, no one seemed to want to continue this story, so we’ll never know what happened next. Until their recent reprinting by IDW, these stories were pretty obscure. Riva Silvercrown returned in Dragonlance: Fifth Age, the roleplaying game, where she was the veteran commander of a garrison of Solamnic Knights in Southern Ergoth. She finally dies of old age – I think in the adventure The Price of Courage, which I haven’t read. Anyway, this final collection of stories is pretty lackluster. I’d label this one ‘for completionists only,’ and give it a rating of 1.5 Disks of Mishakal, just like the first collection. 

Next time, I’m done with the comics at last! Calloo callay! It was fascinating to read them for the first time, but I am well and truly ready to return to the novels. So I’m starting the first book of the Preludes trilogy: Darkness and Light! See you then!