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!