The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Legend of Huma, by Richard A. Knaak

First Impressions: After the second (but not the last!) ‘end’ of Dragonlance, TSR decided that sales of the novels were so good that they wanted to keep going. With Weis and Hickman done, for the time being, they decided on the Heroes trilogy, starring some of the legendary characters of Dragonlance’s history. Well, two random characters and one legend anyway, which is the one that we start with: The Legend of Huma! This book first came out in March 1988 For those unfamiliar with Dragonlance, Huma is the greatest Knight of Solamnia of legend, the first to discover the Dragonlances and save the world from the Queen of Darkness. He’s a bit like Isildur from The Lord of the Rings, except he’s not a prat. Richard A. Knaak got assigned this project, his first novel, on the strength of his contributions to the Tales anthology, two of which were Knight-related and also pretty solid. I’ve heard that this book was extremely successful, thus ensuring the continuation of the Dragonlance franchise. Certainly, it’s the only Dragonlance novel not by Weis and Hickman to ever be adapted into a comic book (which I haven’t read.)

I remember The Legend of Huma being one of my absolute favourite Dragonlance books. When I was 10, we went on a family holiday to England. We went to a bookshop, and I was absolutely blown away by HOW MANY DRAGONLANCE BOOKS THERE WERE! And they were SO CHEAP compared to New Zealand! I can’t remember which books my parents bought me, but I remember the first one I picked was The Legend of Huma. For Christmas that same holiday, I got Tales of the Lance, the Dragonlance campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons, and when we discovered you needed some other books to play it, we tracked down the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, and my first set of polyhedral dice. The rest, you might say, was history.

On with this book! This book has two different pieces of cover art. The original cover, by Jeff Easley, is an absolutely stonkin’ picture of a red dragonrider killing a gold dragon with a stolen Dragonlance. It’s an odd scene to choose, rather than showing our hero on his silver dragon. However, it’s the sort of aerial dragon jousting that Dragonlance always promised me, and while it’s a bit dated, it’s undeniably awesome. Ten-year-old James still gets excited by that cover. The newer cover by Matt Stawicki actually has Huma riding the silver dragon on it. I think Huma’s moustache looks naff, and it’s not as action-packed as the original cover, but there’s nothing wrong with it; I think I just have more of an emotional attachment to that original cover.

Plot Summary: The Knights of Solamnia are fighting a losing war with the forces of Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness. Huma, one of the humblest of the Knights, distinguishes himself when he rescues a minotaur defector called Kaz from the enemy. He attracts the attention of a silver dragon by his mercy. During a rout, Huma and Kaz are rescued by Huma’s childhood friend Magius, a renegade magic-user, who has had dreams of a great treasure hidden in a mountain that might end the war. Huma, Kaz and Magius eventually make their way to Dragon Mountain, where Huma is separated from the others and undergoes three tests to prove himself worthy of the Dragonlances. With the new holy weapons, Huma defeats the evil dragons, foils Takhisis’ magical major-domo Galan Dracos, and finally battles Takhisis in her form as a five-headed dragon, with the help of his silver dragon, who’s been secretly moonlighting as his love interest all along! Huma defeats Takhisis and save the world at the cost of his life, leaving only Kaz to remember him as a man, not as a legend.

The Good: Wowza! This book is pretty slow in its first half, but once Huma starts undergoing his trials, it bounces from action scene to action scene and never lets up. There’s something viscerally exciting to ten-year-old James about knights riding on dragons, going on quests, saving the world from evil dragon goddesses… Sure, it isn’t Shakespeare, but it does have the same vital mythic energy of Beowulf or Le Morte D’Arthur. A more apt comparison might be to movies, actually: one of the three trials, where Huma confronts a traitor in the Knights of Solamnia, felt heavily influenced by The Empire Strikes Back, while the devastation of war and the quest for the Dragonlance felt inspired by John Boorman’s Excalibur and the Grail Quest sequences in there. I found these allusions added to rather than detracted from my enjoyment of The Legend of Huma.

This story feels like a response to Knaak’s short story Definitions of Honour from Kender, Gully Dwarves and Gnomes. Once again, we have a minotaur and a knight, and the interplay between their moral codes. However, here Huma represents a third pole: not the brutal honour of the minotaurs, or the decorous honour of the knighthood, but the honour of goodness and being a decent human being. A minor recurring motif in the book is mirrors, and most of the story, especially the three trials, reflects Huma’s essential humanity back to us (pun unintended). 

The Bad: This book wanted terribly to be a trilogy to itself. Certain side-characters and subplots get short shrift: in particular, Magius. Huma’s childhood friend drives the action of the first half of the book, but he’s unbearably narcissistic. He then vanishes and has a lot of character development off-stage or implied. By his death at the end of the book, he’s implied to have been a wizard of all three orders (i.e. evil, neutrality and good) as well as a renegade, but we don’t see any of this, except as Huma sees it. As it stands, the first half of the book is extremely dull as Huma does what superiors or Magius tell him and travels around without much purpose. This is simply the fault of the sheer quantity of exposition that Knaak is forced to employ to set up the story. To be fair, just about every plot point that he does establish in the first half pays off in the second half, but by dividing the book into three, he would have been able to split that burden, and have more things actually happen in the opening section. 

The fact that this is Knaak’s first book is also apparent. The prose is generally workmanlike, but there’s a few problems. He has a tendency in this book to break the point of view to switch perspectives to an onlooker, and then return to the original point of view after a paragraph. I found it jarring and awkward each time it happened – at least twice, I wasn’t actively looking out for it. A few sections are awkwardly written, like the introduction of Gwynneth: “She wore a gown akin to that worn by healers of Mishakal, save that no medallion graced her smooth, ivory-coloured neck. The gown did not hide her feminine attributes, and Huma forced himself to look away before embarrassment ruined all.” Feminine attributes? Knaak’s also unable to make the two major plot twists – the identity of the traitor and the truth behind Huma’s love interest Gwynneth – at all surprising. The first is hinted at but comes largely out of left field; the second is painfully obvious, though it does still work emotionally for Huma. Finally, I found a continuity error at the end where Bennett, another Knight of Solamnia, is present at a war council where the Knights agree to make fake Dragonlances to confuse the enemy. The fake Dragonlances wind up being real, and Huma tells Bennett, who now was not present at the council and has no idea that the Dragonlances were ever fake.

The Neutral: This story is set in 2645 P.C., approximately three thousand years before the adventures of the Heroes of the Lance. Huma was referred to extensively throughout the original series and was the subject of a short story in Love and War, which this story over-writes. This story also omits the major Huma myth from the books up to this point: the story of Huma and the white stag, which appeared in the Chronicles trilogy, and then again from the stag’s point of view in Love and War. I think this is another casualty of this book being only a standalone novel rather than a trilogy: there’s simply no space for it. 

The introduction of this book also references a strange timeline anomaly. Quite simply, the Dragonlance timeline was ret-conned at some point in 1987 or 1988, which leads to the introduction, in which Astinus blames this error on ‘Paulus Warius’. The same mistake was also referenced in Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home.

While Huma didn’t get the trilogy that he deserved, this book was successful enough that it did lead to an unofficial trilogy. In 1990, Knaak got to write a sequel continuing the story of Kaz the Minotaur as part of the Heroes II trilogy, prosaically called Kaz the Minotaur. Later on, he got to write a third Kaz book in 1996: Land of the Minotaurs, as part of the Lost Histories series, and this would lead to Knaak writing even more minotaur-related books in the future, set in the present day.

My final shout-out is to Rob Bricken’s reviews of old Dungeons & Dragons books over on IO9. They were one of the inspirations for my writing this series. Although he has mostly reread Forgotten Realms books so far, he did read The Legend of Huma, and I basically agree with everything that he’s said (about this book, and the other ones as well). Here’s the link to his The Legend of Huma review: https://gizmodo.com/dungeons-dragons-novels-revisiting-the-legend-of-h-1845938062 

Overall: Rushed and poorly placed, The Legend of Huma is also action-packed and mythic in its best scenes. It’s awkward, but I love it. My head says it’s worth a low rating, my heart says it’s worth a high rating, so I’ll split the difference and give it three Disks of Mishakal out of five. 

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home, edited by Mary Kirchoff, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: This is the first of the four Dragonlance almanacs (for lack of a better word). This one was published in February 1987, just before the Tales trilogy. I guess I got out of order; my bad! Leaves and its successors contain a series of articles on literally any subject at all related to Dragonlance. It seems primarily aimed for readers of the novels, taking a lot of its content from the Dragonlance Dungeons & Dragons adventures. Only one cover this time, and Claire and I quite like it! While it’s got the usual ‘gully-dwarves-are-stupid-hur-hur’ joke that’s painfully not funny, the overall mood is quite peaceful and sweet, with the old friends and the old Inn where it all started.

The Good: This is a real grab-bag of contents, so there’s a few very interesting articles in here. I liked the framing narrative about the Inn of the Last Home. It was very nostalgic, wth lots of familiar faces returning. Some of the basic reprinted information must have been appreciated by people who hadn’t found the adventure modules at the time, although I imagine it would have been frustrating for people who had those and were looking for new information. I really liked the in-character sections from Lord Gunthar, leader of the Knights of Solamnia, about the military history of the War of the Lance, the dragons, and the Knights. Finally, while I normally find the cooking sections in these books ridiculous and loosely themed at best, I must admit that I have made the famous spiced potato recipe on several occasions: it’s dead simple and very tasty.

The Bad: Oh dear.

Firstly, the topics in this book appear to have been chosen at random, with everyone just writing about subjects in which they were interested. There’s no information about the characters or the geography of Dragonlance, both fairly important topics. I can understand having only a few maps, with The Atlas of the Dragonlance World (which I won’t be reviewing) coming out the same year, but information about the cities and cultures would have been appreciated. The religious information is extremely scant, with some gods receiving almost no attention at all. The history of the world, however, is covered twice – once in a four-page overview, and then in an eight-page timeline. One or the other would have done, I think.

There’s a lot I could say about what they did choose to include. There is a truly ridiculous amount of space given to numerology, rune-lore and folklore, and it’s pretty rubbish. If you wanted to include new-age material in here, talking about the Talis cards which came in the D&D adventures would have made more sense than having a page about how to tell if it’s going to rain, or the interminable breakdown of the names of the Heroes of the Lance. I do think there’s a point to some of this sort of thing – tarot cards are a great tool for self-reflection, for instance – but this section is self-indulgent and pointless. Meanwhile, I disliked the poems the first time around. The inclusion of sheet music for them is hilarious – did anyone ever play any of these? Most of the recipes are only tangentially related to Dragonlance at best, with Fizban’s Fireball Chilli being a prime offender.

The reason I decided to include this book in my re-read, which is meant to cover the novels, is the presence of a short story in here: ‘The Manuscript of Dunstan VanEyre.” It’s the story of two young Aesthetics from the Great Library of Palanthas going on a quest around the world, interviewing members of different nonhuman groups. Unfortunately, it’s pretty dull. The majority of the story, as I said, are ethnographic interviews with a draconian, minotaurs, elves, dwarves and finally a dragon. Our main characters are not described very well at all. The interview subjects are generally quite unlikeable as well,  and the overall theme that comes through is that everyone thinks they’re right, but that the ‘good’ elves and dwarves, and the ‘evil’ minotaurs and draconians, are not so different – good and evil are just the names of the teams for which they’re playing.

The Neutral: A lot of material from here is repeated from other sources. “How The Companions Met” is reprinted, with minor expansion, from DL5: Dragons of Mystery. It will soon be superseded by the Meetings Sextet (1991–1993), and then by “The Soulforge” by Margaret Weis (1998). “Bertrem’s Essays on the Races of Krynn” originally appeared in Dragon magazine. Other unspecified sections were taken from the DL series for Dungeons & Dragons – without checking, I’d say the information about the pantheon, the history of Krynn, the magic items, and some of the legends. The poems are, of course, from Chronicles and Legends.

Final Rating: One and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home ambitiously subtitles itself ‘The Complete Krynn Source Book’ but it’s got too much reprinted information, too much superfluous information and too much omitted information. The various Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting guides make this completely superfluous, as far as I’m concerned. One for the completists only.

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Love and War, edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: It was the best of tales, it was the worst of tales… it’s Love and War, the third volume of the Tales trilogy. First released in November 1987, this was once again intended to be the final Dragonlance book – the second so far and counting! Let’s get into it, starting with Claire’s opinions of the covers.

No description available.

Original Cover: If it’s called Love and War they should lean hard into romance novel cover with an oiled up muscly sword guy. I like the balance in the cover but like… to what point? Raistlin looks like he’s responding to the woman, but she’s mugging for the camera instead. Is she the Love and Raistlin’s the War?

Love and War (Dragonlance: Tales I, #3) by Margaret Weis

Reprint Cover: This cover looks like a heavy metal version of Sailor Moon’s Wand!

Here we go with the stories!

A Good Knight’s Tale by Harold Bakst: Aril Witherwind, a collector of stories, is told by an old Solamnic Knight about Aron and his beautiful daughter Petal. Aron is jealous of how many boys are paying attention to his daughter, so he moves into the forest with her. Petal sneaks out at night to visit her unidentified fishy lover in a nearby pool. Aron destroys the pool, but doesn’t realise that she’s in it, so both she and her lover turn into trees. This story is barely Dragonlance at all: it feels more like a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, with an excessively long framing narrative (it’s almost a third of the entire story!) The framing narrative doesn’t actually contribute to the story either, and the authorial voice doesn’t change between third-person narration and Sir Barryn’s narration. I wonder if Bakst had this story already, and wrote the frame just to set it in Krynn, or to pad the story out. 

A Painter’s Vision by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel: A tragic but sweet story about Seron the painter, Kyra the barmaid and Tosch the brass dragon. Seron and Kyra are married and are happy together until Seron dies in a fire. Kyra takes up painting and spends the rest of her life trying to paint a picture of Seron that does her memory of him justice, until she eventually dies of old age, having failed to capture him. Tosch appears throughout their lives, unchanging and superficial, to highlight how the humans change over time. Finally, he sees Kyra dead in front of her final and best picture of Seron, and realises what’s missing from it: Kyra herself. He uses his magic to put her in it, and the two live happily forever inside the painting. This is a very bittersweet and touching story, Seron’s horrible brother was cartoonishly awful, but Tosch made a good counterpoint to the depressing main storyline. 

Hunting Destiny by Nick O’Donohue: The white stag of Darken Wood and the King of the spectral minions that defend that forest encounter the Heroes of the Lance (in Dragons of Autumn Twilight) and reminisce about how they came to be cursed to an eternity of defending the forest and re-enacting their deaths. As draconians enter the wood to hunt the Heroes, they have a chance to finally fulfil their oaths and rest in peace. I quite liked this story. It reminded me of Lord Soth, of all things: how they’re bound in undeath to constantly relive their failures until they learn to set right their ancient wrong. The cursed hunt reminds me of Actaeon from Greek mythology or of something from a medieval romance. I also appreciate how it fleshes out a minor part of the world, and explains something that had happened off stage – Crysania mentions how they’d won their rest during Time of the Twins. 

Hide and Go Seek by Nancy Varian Berberick: Young Keli and Tasslehoff Burrfoot are captured by Tigo the claw-handed bandit and Staag the goblin. Keli’s father cut off Tigo’s hand, and now he wants revenge by ransoming and murdering the boy. Tasslehoff had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tas manages to leave a sign for his companions, keeps Keli and him from being murdered, and then eventually helps Keli escape during the confusion when Tanis and the others catch up to them. Like the other Berberick stories, this is well-written and shows an excellent understanding of the main characters. Tas’ mix of recklessness and responsibility is very well handled, as is Flint’s grumpy blustering masking his deep affection for his young friends. Nothing special here, nothing mind-blowing, just a good, simple examination of character. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

By The Measure by Richard A. Knaak: Sir Garrick, a lone Knight of Solamnia, goes to single-handedly take on an entire Dragonarmy led by General Krynos. He’s captured and tortured for information but manages to hold out, thanks to his faith, without saying anything. Finally, he’s granted death by single combat with Krynos, but he drops dead of exhaustion during the fight. However, his plan was successful: he had contracted the plague, and now the Dragonarmy has it too… I’m really not sure what I think of the twist here! Is Sir Garrick super-honourable for doing whatever it took to do his duty? Even if what he did is germ warfare? That’s a pretty dark tactic! It’s very biblical, it reminds me of the destruction of Sennacherib and God sending plagues to smite people.We’re clearly meant to sympathise with Sir Garrick, since he gets to go to Heaven with Jesus Paladine. The story reads like a Christian hagiography, with his heroic Christian suffering and martyrdom. It’s not a genre of which I’m wildly fond, but it’s fitting for Dragonlance, and I appreciate that it had an ending that made me rethink about everything that had happened.

The Exiles by Paul Thompson and Tonya C. Cook: During a peasant revolt, Lord Brightblade sends his wife and son, a young Sturm, into exile with a few trusted servants. They get a ship to travel to Solace, but the ship is waylaid by Karnaffi corsairs and taken to their island nation. There, Sturm has to escape from the Lord of the Sea, an alchemist who wants to sacrifice Sturm to prolong his life. I remember really liking Thompson and Cook’s books back in the day, but now I’m wondering if it’s just because they wrote about elves, because I did not enjoy this one. It’s a story of two halves. In the first half, I didn’t like the politics of the peasant rebellion. The peasants are portrayed as almost animalistic, and a servant bemoans the horrors of when people ‘rise above their station.’ I would have preferred a story where Sturm had to meaningfully grapple with classism. His mother is particularly insufferable throughout – classist, racist, and just generally awful. However, half way through the story it suddenly changes tone entirely, with the thinly veiled Arabic pirate nation and the effete, fabulously rich and coded-paedophile devil-worshipping ruler… it reminded me of the Narnia stories, but not in a good way. And what’s with the amount of people who know about the true gods before the War of the Lance? I didn’t like this one at all! This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Heart of Goldmoon by Laura Hickman and Kate Novak: Goldmoon, young priestess of the Que-Shu, presides over a contest to see which two warriors will escort her to an important religious event. The winners are Hollow-Sky, a politically important asshole, and Riverwind, a sexy shepherd who doesn’t believe in Goldmoon’s religion. Riverwind and Goldmoon fall head over heels for each other and rescue each other from Hollow-Sky when he makes his play to kidnap Goldmoon. Goldmoon then conducts the ritual and learns that Riverwind is right and her religion is a sham. She undergoes some basic tests, and the two declare their love for each other. This is such an important story that it probably could have been its own novel, and it’s a rare example of Goldmoon being a main character! (Goldmoon’s the most important Dragonlance character and she’s done dirty by the books, people!) This story is mostly a very fun and flirty look at the important backstory for two of the Heroes of the Lance. Goldmoon and Riverwind have very real chemistry here, and Goldmoon’s character development from self-centred would-be goddess to loving proto-cleric is very well done The Que-Shu politics add another layer of depth to the story, which I appreciated a lot. I didn’t enjoy Hollow-Sky’s attempted rape of Goldmoon, but fortunately it’s interrupted by Riverwind very quickly, and I liked how ultimately both of them rescue each other, repeatedly. My main dislike of the story is that just when it feels like it should be over, Goldmoon is suddenly set three challenges to prove herself a worthy future cleric, and it keeps going for another ten pages or so. Were the writers told to make it longer for space considerations? Still, all in all I’d say it was my favourite story from the Tales trilogy. I believe that this book was originally going to be one of the Heartquest pick-a-path romance books to introduce girls to D&D, before that line got cancelled. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Raistlin’s Daughter by Margaret Weis and Dezra Despain: This story is framed as a Krynnish legend. Shortly after passing his Test, Raistlin is at an inn on the outskirts of Wayreth Forest when he meets a strange and beautiful woman. When their eyes cross, their souls link. Raistlin and Caramon leave to find a cave in the middle of a snowstorm, and the woman, Amberle, follows. When Caramon goes to find firewood, Amberle enchants him so he won’t find his way in, and then goes in to Raistlin. She explains that the magic is part of her race’s mating ritual, and that it will kill them both unless they have sex. So they do. In the morning, Amberle erases Raistlin’s memory of the night. Once she gives birth, she dies, and other members of her race come and pick up the baby. Finally, an omniscient narrator implies that the woman was an uncorrupted ogre, from before when the race fell. This story was ridiculous and awful. A super-magical super-beautiful woman shows up out of nowhere just so she can sleep with Raistlin? There’s other awfulness too, in the casual sexism displayed towards the barmaid, and the attempted gang rape of Amberle, which is staged just so that Raistlin can save her life. Weis’ prose is generally pretty good, but this story has one of the worst clunkers I’ve ever seen: Caramon talks about going on a ‘wild swimmingbird chase.’ Even if geese don’t exist in Krynn, is ‘swimmingbird’ really the best that Weis and Despain could do? I don’t even find the plot hook, that Raistlin may have had a daughter, that interesting – especially since when it’s brought up again in Dragons of Summer Flame (1995), it’s shot down as just being a fable. This story was later included in the 1994 anthology The Second Generation.

Silver and Steel by Kevin Randle: The legendary Knight of Solamnia Huma Dragonbane goes to war with the forces of Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness, over a thousand years ago. This is a very mud-and-blood, historical military fiction sort of a story. It’s just a little bit disappointing. Where are all the dragons? Why does Huma beat Takhisis by throwing the Dragonlance at a big obelisk? It’s really hard to read this one and not compare it to The Legend of Huma, the novel that came out the very next year and completely overwrites this story. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember Huma being a much more interesting character there (here he’s a big burly medieval action hero, a generic King Arthur-esque figure, there he’s a virtuous everyman)  the silver dragon gets much more attention, the battles are grander and more cinematic… 

From the Yearning for War and the War’s Ending by Michael Williams: Athelard, a Knight of Solamnia resting from losing his eyesight in a hospital in Palanthas after the Battle of the High Clerist’s Tower (from Dragons of Winter Night) writes a letter to his younger brother to educate him about the reality of war. I have mixed reactions to this one: the setup and tone of this letter feels more like a First World War soldier than a medieval knight. On the other hand, it’s much more truthful to actual experiences of war than any other Dragonlance story so far. I did find the narrator’s voice unconvincing in place, especially in the huge run-on-sentence description of the fighting: it was a good narrative technique to convey the immediacy and chaos of the melee, but I can’t believe that someone would write like that in a letter! You win some, you lose some. In balance, I think it was still one of the stronger stories. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Final Rating: Two out of five Disks of Mishakal. Once again, it’s a very mixed bag. I think this was my favourite of the lot, with the highest ratio of stories that I enjoyed. That said, I’m going to be glad to get away from the short stories, though it’s not time to get back to novels just yet. Next time, I’ll be reviewing Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home, a grab-bag of Dragonlance odds and ends. I can already attest that its recipe for spiced potatoes is pretty tasty!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Kender, Gully Dwarves and Gnomes, edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: Here we are in the second book of the Tales trilogy, first published in August 1987, with more short stories! There’s not much to say here that I didn’t say last time – I remember this being of mixed quality, with some good ‘uns and some right stinkers. The Magic of Krynn didn’t hold up too favourably when I revisited it – will this one be better? One thing’s for sure – the covers aren’t better. Here’s what Claire had to say:

Original Cover: What the @#$%? Can we not get a fully dressed woman around here? I love that dwarf though. I’m not sure why, but the colours are reminding me of 80s movie posters.

Reprint Cover: The other cover was bad; this one is boring. Too much going on in this symbol compared to the cover of the last one with its sick dragon icon.

Once again, because this is a short story anthology, I’ll discuss each story one by one!

Snowsong by Nancy Varian Berberick: Tanis, Flint, Sturm and Tasslehoff are caught in a snowstorm. Tanis and Sturm go out to get firewood, are attacked by wolves, and then get lost in the blizzard and almost freeze to death. Tasslehoff, meanwhile, has been playing with a flute that he insists is magic, although all he can do with it is make a din. Suddenly, he’s able to use it to summon everyone caught in the snowstorm to safety – Tanis, Sturm, and all the animals that were caught out in the storm. In the morning, no one believes what happened except Tasslehoff, who leaves the flute behind for the next person who might need it. This was a simple and sweet story, but I am a sucker for animal stories. Berberick has a very good grasp on the characters, and they all rang very true, which can be difficult for shared-author characters. I liked the younger and more inexperienced Sturm, and Tasslehoff was balanced wonderfully between irritating and caring. The storm itself was also well-written: I could really feel the bitter cold and the isolation of being lost in the storm. I don’t remember Berberick being one of my favourite authors back in the day, but now I’m going to be looking forward to reading her novels!

The Wizard’s Spectacles by Morris Simon: In the days before he becomes Raistlin’s apprentice, Dalamar is on the run, and takes shelter with Nugold, a dwarf hermit. Dalamar gives Nugold some magic glasses in thanks (the ones that Tasslehoff later winds up with), and Nugold uses them and some of Dalamar’s scrolls to build a reputation for himself as a powerful wizard, but he meddles with the wrong sorts of magic and dies. I didn’t like this one that much. Even when Nugold is just getting tormented by the townspeople, I still didn’t find him very likeable. He doesn’t really learn anything, and there isn’t any twist or point to the story – he’s just an idiot who dies. It’s a rather mean-spirited story, now that I think about it.

The Storyteller by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel: Spinner Kenro is a storyteller who’s inspiring the dwarves, gnomes and kender of Flotsam too much, so the Dragon Highlord (clearly Kitiara, complete with a reference to the Heroes of the Lance escaping Flotsam at the same time) has him arrested and sentenced to death. In his absence, the dwarves, gnomes and kender unite to rescue him, and successfully spring him from jail… or do they? I found the characterisation of the demihumans very race-essentialist (one of Dragonlance’s ongoing problems); all the dwarves are just Flint, and all the kenders are less nuanced Tasslehoffs. The continuity tying it in to Dragons of Spring Dawning is also rather gratuitous. However, I did like the theme of the power of stories, so we’ll call this one a wash.

A Shaggy Dog’s Tail by Danny Peary: In this story which is being told by Tasslehoff, Gorath the dragonarmy officer chases after an escaped slave into the Wayreth Forest and falls under the spell of Zorna the black-robed witch. This story feels like a morality piece: Gorath is brought low when he breaks his promise to live with Zorna. However, Gorath is such a horrible character even at the beginning, and Zorna extracts the promise from him under duress… it all feels very squicky, even if it’s no more than Gorath deserves.

Lord Toede’s Disastrous Hunt by Harold Bakst: In Chronicles, the minor recurring villain Toede’s off-stage death was reported at the end of the trilogy. This is the story of how he died, trying to re-enact ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ by hunting two kender who are constantly outwitting him. I quite liked this one. It’s got a simple but effective structure with one of the two kender supplying the framing narrative, a series of clever kender ploys ultimately leading to Toede’s demise, and then a very minor twist at the end of the story. It’s amusing, and it fleshes out a part of the world further. This story leads into the events of Lord Toede (1994).

Definitions of Honour by Richard A. Knaak: Sir Torbin, a knight of Solamnia, goes to fight a minotaur that’s menacing a small village. He discovers that the minotaur is doing nothing of the kind; he’s an exile who’s preparing for his imminent death-by-combat, and invites Sir Torbin to be his second. This is a well-written, thoughtful story in which we see the differences between Torbin’s naïve ideas about honour, the exiled minotaur’s more realistic viewpoint, and the other minotaurs’ very exacting and bloodthirsty code. A good, simple standalone story. Knaak returns to these themes in his later stories, in particular The Legend of Huma (1988) which has a friendship between a Knight of Solamnia and a minotaur. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Hearth Cat and Winter Wren by Nancy Varian Berberick: Rieve the wizard has captured two lovers and turned them into a cat and a bird when the woman, Wren, spurned him. Wren escaped and got Tasslehoff’s help, but now he’s a squirrel, and the cat is getting hungry. Wren escapes and tells the other companions, and Raistlin figures out a plan to defeat Rieve by turning everyone into an animal for… reasons? This is my least favourite of Berberick’s short stories so far; it just seems like an excuse to say what animals everyone would be. (For reference: Tanis is a fox, Flint’s a sheepdog, Sturm’s a falcon, Caramon is a panther, Tasslehoff is a squirrel, and Raistlin gets to stay a human). The supporting cast don’t have much to do and have very little characterisation. I expected more from Rieve after how excellent Gadar was in The Magic of Krynn. Still, I guess it’s cute to know everyone’s fursonas? 

“Wanna Bet?” by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: This is the big marquee story in this anthology. It serves as a direct sequel to The Legacy from the previous collection, with Palin’s first adventure with his brothers Tanin and Sturm. The three boys are shanghaied by Dougan Redhammer, a flamboyant dwarf gambler, into joining the crew of his gnomish ship to find the legendary Greygem of Gargath, the magical stone responsible for the creation of the demihuman races. (Which ones? The canon’s a bit tangled here, folks! It definitely made all the weird hybrid monsters like chimera and manticores, and it may have been responsible for dwarves, gnomes and/or kender, depending on who you ask.) After some misadventures, they find the fabled stone, but Dougan, now revealed as the dwarf god and creator of the Greygem Reorx, gambles it away again. This story has dated really, really badly. It’s meant to be a comedy piece, but we have more gnome race-essentialism, we have (subverted, thankfully) jungle savages who are emasculated by being stay-at-home dads, we have the sexy amazons who guard the Greygem and want to take our heroes for sex slaves who eventually get persuaded to go back to their families and look after their children… none of this stuff has aged well!  This story was later included in the 1994 anthology The Second Generation. The Greygem will be back in The Gates of Thorbardin (1990) and Kindred Spirit (1991), before making a very importance appearance in Dragons of Summer Flame (1995).

Into the Heart of the Story by Michael Williams: This is a strange one! Written in the form of an academic article, this is the story of Armavir (stealth Virgil joke? Love it!), the ‘missing’ gnomish Hero of the Lance, and the elvish conspiracy which led to his role in the war being deliberately erased. He gives a commentary on the ‘Song of the Nine Heroes’ poem, which he claims to have written, and gives his impressions of the other Heroes of the Lance. I found this a pretty funny alternate history, and I liked the alternate takes on the main characters – Tanis as a Hamlet-esque figure, and Tasslehoff as a devious mastermind were particularly funny. I didn’t enjoy how the female characters were handled. Goldmoon and Laurana are portrayed as whining valley girls, while Armavir voyeuristically spies on Tika and Kitiara while they take baths.  A sign of how times have changed, I guess. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Dagger-Flight by Nick O’Donohoe: The last story was strange, but this one I think is even stranger! In Chronicles, Tasslehoff steals Flint’s dagger and then uses it to kill a hobgoblin in the very first fight scene. This story is from the point of view of that dagger! Except it’s not a dagger; it’s actually a dagger-shaped monster called a Feeder, which flies around after the heroes trying to kill them, before it’s inadvertently shattered when Riverwind uses it to stab a draconian. I found the premise of this story preposterous, frankly. It reminded me of an old Star Wars short story, where the second Death Star turns out to have been possessed by the spirit of the robot bounty hunter from Empire Strikes Back. Doing these sorts of alternate-perspective stories ought to increase or change our understanding of the story, but I feel like this one detracts from the original narrative, rather than adding, by being so far-fetched. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Final Rating: I notice that there were no gully dwarf stories in this one! This is an omission for which I’m grateful, since I’m not a big fan of them. Lots of kender, and a fair few gnomes. Overall, this anthology is much like the last one: some wonderful stories by Nancy Berberick, some promising but disappointing stories by Weis and Hickman, and a mixed bag of others, some amazing (Knaak!) and some terrible (most everyone else). I’m going to stick with 2 Disks of Mishakal out of 5 again. 

Next time, I’m reading Love and War, the final volume of the Tales trilogy! See you then!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Magic of Krynn, edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: After the success of the Chronicles and Legends trilogy, the next trilogy was Tales, the first of many short story anthologies. Back in the day, I considered these books to be the third core trilogy, but that was just because of how widely available these nine books were here in New Zealand, and the fact that all three were published in a three-in-one Collector’s Edition by Penguin Books, who had the distribution rights here. I have the Collector’s Edition of Tales, actually, a huge white paperback, well-worn. I think it’s the oldest Dragonlance book I own. I got the Chronicles trilogy first, but my copies wore out over time and I replaced them with the Annotated Chronicles, which is an excellent book. I remember these stories being of wildly varying quality – some really amazing ones; others shockingly bad ones; some covering very important stories; others barely in continuity. 

The first collection, then, is The Magic of Krynn, which was published in 1987. Each of its ten stories based on the theme of ‘magic’. They also tend to tie into existing characters or locations from the earlier books. For once, Penguin Books decided to use the cover art from the US releases, so there’s only two covers this time around. Here they are!

No description available.

Original cover: Claire says, “It’s easy to love and hate those old covers. I’ve grown to love that high contrast block colour style of depicting light and shape in the old covers, even though it is pretty jarring to our modern sensibilities. It’s got a nostalgic quality to it. Another reason why I love/hate it is the composition of the bodies. It makes me feel like it’s an awkward encounter in a bar.”

No description available.

Reprint cover: “Besides the overall cringe at how outdated the second cover’s design and layout are, I really like the five headed dragon symbol, it’s damn cool.”

Because this is a short story collection, I’ll be talking about each story individually.

Riverwind and the Crystal Staff by Michael Douglas: Michael Douglas wrote the poetry in the earlier Dragonlance books. Here, he gets to do a much longer semi-narrative poem about the origins of Riverwind. Raised by cheetahs on the plains, Riverwind undergoes a quest for the crystal staff to win the hand of Goldmoon, the chieftain’s daughter. I don’t like Michael William’s poetry. I feel like it was only included because of all the songs and poems in The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien is a much better poet than Douglas. Douglas’s style is too abstract and metaphorical for my tastes, and lines which are meant to sound profound just sound pretentious or ridiculous to my ears. If you like it, more strength to you. Anyway, this poem gets overwritten by the short story “Heart of Goldmoon,” which is in the third book of this trilogy, and by the 1990 novel Riverwind the Plainsman. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Blood Sea Monster by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel: Duder the elf (Duder? Really?) stows away on the boat of a Captain Ahab-esque old sailor, Six-Finger Fiske. Old Fiske is on the hunt for the mythical Blood Sea Monster. He catches a talking fish, which tells him where to find the monster. The monster eats (?) Fiske and then Duder too. This was a strange and slightly pointless story. It feels barely connected to Dragonlance, with its talking fish and sea monster which are never referenced again or since. Duder and Fiske see the wreckage of the Perechon, the ship that the Heroes of the Lance sail on in Dragons of Winter Night, but that’s about it for its ties to the wider world. There doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the story, and it’s strangely ambiguous (although for my money, I’m guessing the Monster is an aboleth; their psychic nature would explain some of the weirdness.) The two main characters never felt very engaging or interesting to me. This story didn’t offend me, it just didn’t justify its existence. In the end, maybe that’s an even worse crime.

A Stone’s Throw Away by Roger E. Moore: Before the release of the Dragonlance novels and RPG adventures, two preview short stories appeared in Dragon Magazine to showcase some of the new characters. This is one of these, introducing Tasslehoff Burrfoot. Tas has acquired a magic ring that teleports him into the castle of a demon-summoning Magus. What is the secret of the ring? It’s a very simple story, featuring an appearance by none other than Demogorgon, Prince of Demons (although he’s uncredited here). It’s a very simple story, and it doesn’t really showcase anything unique about Dragonlance except for kender, but his innocent kleptomania, happy-go-lucky nature, and fearless wanderlust is on display here. It succeeds at its goal of introducing Tas, but it’s a strangely light-hearted way to sell your new epic multimedia franchise. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Dreams of Darkness, Dreams of Light by Warren B. Smith: ‘Pig’ William Sweetwater, a barkeep in Port Balifor who once met the companions, has strange dreams which may be the result of a coin that Raistlin gave him. He and his friends break into the Dragon Highlord’s jail to free some prisoners. When he gets home, he passes it off as a dream, but then the Dragonarmies come knocking on his door. I didn’t like this story. William’s opening dream, which was supposed to be like something from a horror movie, came across as either baffling or inadvertently hilarious. Why was Takhisis (implicitly) in it? It didn’t connect to anything later on, or have any payoff. The jailbreak was quite run-of-the-mill, and the final twist didn’t work at all. Everything that happened was actually just a dream, except it actually wasn’t a dream? Unimpressed.

Love and Ale by Nick O’Donohoe: Otik Sandath, the innkeeper of the Inn of the Last Home in Solace, and his foster daughter Tika Waylan have a night to remember when a kender accidentally puts a love potion into the night’s barrel of ale, and shenanigans ensue. I really enjoyed the first half of the story, which is just a slice-of-life with Otik and Tika working around the Inn while it’s closed, and it does a great job at establishing their relationship. Once other characters appear, it falls apart a bit. Moonwick the kender and the other bar patrons don’t have enough time to become more than the most quickly sketched caricatures, and while it’s amusing when the love potion leads to mayhem, it’s all a bit pointless. Otik also faces a very small crisis of conscience at the end, when he decides what to do with the last remnants of the love potion ale, and resolves it in a sweet way. An inconsequential story, but pleasant; I liked it. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Wayward Children by Richard A. Knaak: The first appearance of Richard A. Knaak, but far from the last! Towards the end of the War of the Lance, a patrol of draconians encounters a village of very old elves. The elves are unusually helpful and caring towards them, but why are there no children present? This is a story that lives and dies on the twist at the end. It’s not particularly well-written apart from that, and the characters aren’t particularly engaging, but the twist engages well with one of the original core mysteries of Dragonlance (the nature of the Draconians), so it was one of the better stories. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Test of the Twins by Margaret Weis: This is the second of the short stories from Dragon Magazine that acted as previews for the Dragonlance Saga. Raistlin and Caramon go to the Tower of High Sorcery so that Raistlin can take his Test, his potentially lethal magical graduation exam. He succeeds, but at a cost to his relationship with his twin. I was actually slightly disappointed by this one. In Chronicles, we get to see Caramon and Raistlin interacting, and the details of what happened during the Test are slowly teased out. Here, however, the restricted word count means that everything is dropped on us with all the haste and subtlety of a ton of bricks, and Raistlin’s final decision just hasn’t had the build up it needs to really land. It may have been more interesting if it had been read before anything else had been released, but reading it after the fact, it really doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said. I can see why Margaret Weis decided to later retell this story at greater length in The Soulforge in 1998. It’s also covered in The Soulforge by Terry Phillips from 1985, the gamebook I missed when I reviewed the other three. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Harvests by Nancy Varian Berberick: A younger Tanis and Flint do a side quest. They meet a woman called Riana wandering in the forest, who’s looking for her brother and boyfriend. They were captured by the wizard Gadar for nefarious purposes. After defeating Gadar, they discover the wizard’s heart-breaking secret. This is the most classic D&D adventure of the group, and it’s not a bad story either. Tanis and Flint don’t really have any personal stakes in what’s going on, but they’re well characterised. Riana and Gadar are much simpler characters, but that’s okay: the ending is affecting, and the theme of how love can drive people to do extreme things is effective. Next time you need a one-session adventure, throw this one at your players. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Finding the Faith by Mary Kirchoff: Raggart Knug, ice barbarian cleric, tells the story of how he met the Heroes of the Lance and helped them recover the Dragon Orb from Icewall Castle. More centrally, it’s the story of how Raggart becomes a cleric of Paladine. I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, I liked the plot of Raggart’s gradual conversion. He’s been waiting all his life for the moment when a true cleric would arrive, but when one does he’s afraid and disbelieving. He wants it to be true, and at the same time he doesn’t, because it’d be easier to be disappointed. I also liked the hints at the wider adventure, such as Laurana’s polar bear friend and the battle of Ice Reach. At the same time, I found the characters quite annoying here. Derek was even more of an asshole, Tasslehoff even more of a nuisance, Laurana and Elistan even more perfect… I guess this is the pitfall of having so many characters to write about. I also found Feal-Thas a cardboard villain and his sexual advances towards Laurana were just disgusting. This story elaborates on one of the missing adventures from Dragons of Winter Night, though in time it was overwritten by Dragons of the Highlord Skies in 2007. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Legacy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: Twenty-five years have passed since Raistlin’s death at the end of Test of the Twins, and Caramon’s son Palin now wants to be a wizard like his infamous uncle. Caramon and Palin travel to the Tower of High Sorcery, because the wizards are concerned that Raistlin is going to try to possess Palin, the same way that he himself was possessed by Fistandantilus. Palin winds up meeting Raistlin, and having to face his uncle’s legacy. It turns out the whole thing was just an illusion created by the wizards as Palin’s Test, and that Raistlin was never there… or was he? Palin gets given his uncle’s famous magic staff and leaves as a full wizard. I remember liking this story back in the day, but it didn’t hold up well. The prose isn’t great (the description of the sun shining on the Tower of High Sorcery at Palanthas is particularly purple), but what struck me the most was the amount of unnecessary repetition. Dunbar Mastersmate, the swole sailor wizard, gets a full description twice in short order as different characters meet him. Characters constantly repeat key information, such as how much Caramon has suffered, or how Caramon doesn’t want Palin to be a wizard and doesn’t want him to take the Test. It just felt padded. It’s also very melodramatic. Dalamar is ready to take his top off to show the wounds Raistlin gave him repeatedly. Caramon is constantly crying, and Raistlin gets a big old monologue to an empty room at the end of the story. Even when Weis and Hickman kill their darlings, they can’t let go of them. And there’s a lot more post-death returns to Raistlin (and, latter, Tasslehoff) to go! This story was later included in the 1994 anthology The Second Generation.

Final Rating: 2 Disks of Mishakal out of 5. It’s not that it’s (entirely) a bad collection of stories, just a little pointless. With the most important stories here being overwritten by later stories (Riverwind and the Crystal Staff, The Test of the Twins, Finding the Faith) or being collected in other anthologies (The Legacy) there’s very little of substance left to recommend this one.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Impressions: Hello everyone and welcome to another Dragonlance review! This fortnight I’ve been reading Time of the Twins, the first book of the Legends trilogy. I have very fond memories of the Legends trilogy. I showed Claire the covers and she was pretty positive about them this time too:

  • Original Larry Elmore cover: I actually sorta like it, Raistlin looks like a freak but that’s the point. The colour choices all work for me, it’s old school, sure, but it works.
  • Reprint Larry Elmore cover: I don’t like #2 as much with the lady looking more vulnerable. I liked her looking normal but like… oblivious? Whereas vulnerable just sort of amplifies Raistlin’s sense of evil more. Colour choices aren’t as good for me as #1, but it’s fine.
  • Penguin Books UK Keith Parkinson cover: What is even going on? Who are these people? It’s the revenge of the frickin’ UK covers again. (James – at least this one actually happens in this book!)
  • Matt Stawicki cover: #4 My line of sight goes ok, Raistlin, looking tender, that’s weird…. ok, girl looking all cheesecakey, sure…. WHO THE F IS MAN-BOOBS IN THE BACK?!

Plot Summary: It’s been two years since the War of the Lance ended, and Raistlin (since his massive and as-yet unexplained level-up at the end of the first trilogy) has decided to conquer the gods. Conquering the world is too easy and too passé, so he’s going to go into the Abyss and throw down with Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness herself. He needs the help of a good-aligned cleric to get there, so he’s started flirting with Crysania, a naïve and arrogant young priestess who isn’t sure if she wants to convert Raistlin or get her hands on his Staff of Magius. Raistlin’s sister, the Dragon Highlord Kitiara, finds out what he’s planning and vows to stop him.

Crysania decides to seek the help of the assembled wizards in their Tower of High Sorcery, and is escorted there by two Heroes of the Lance – Raistlin’s brother Caramon and Tasslehoff, the kender. However, during the last two years, Caramon has become an obese alcoholic to cover for his severe mental health problems, and Tasslehoff is, well, Tasslehoff. Crysania gets attacked by Kitiara’s undead henchman Lord Soth and puts herself in magical time-out to survive. Caramon and Tasslehoff take her to the Tower. There, the wizards reveal that Raistlin has been possessed by an ancient wizard called Fistandantilus – this is how he managed to level up so quickly – and he’s gone back in time to learn from Fisty as the next step in his plan. Caramon and Crysania get sent back in time too, so that the ancient clerics can heal Crysania, and Tasslehoff hitches a ride with them as well.

Istar, in the days of the Kingpriest! Great holy city of Goodness and self-righteous hypocrisy, just before the Cataclysm when the gods will get sick of the Kingpriest’s nonsense and drop a nuke on him – along with everyone else in the world. Bit harsh, Gods! Caramon and Tasslehoff are immediately arrested and sold as slaves to the arena. Here, it turns out that the clerics have banned bloodshed, so the gladiators are doing Roman-themed WWE instead. Caramon sobers up and gets back into shape. Crysania is healed and decides that this is the Best. Place. Ever! 

Caramon sneaks out of the Arena at night to murder Fisty, so that he won’t be able to get his hooks into Raistlin. However, he finds that Raistlin actually beat him to the punch already, and has taken Fisty’s place as resident Evil Wizard. Awkward! Crysania’s even more thrilled, while Caramon gets upset about whether free will means that people can do stupid and/or evil things. Tasslehoff decides to use their time travel device to stop the Cataclysm. Raistlin thinks this is a great idea, and gives him pointers.

The Gods start sending mystic signs that they’re on the verge of losing their temper with the Kingpriest. Why they couldn’t just send him a firmly worded letter, I don’t know. It might have been less open to misinterpretation, maybe? Crysania gets disillusioned with Istar, and Raistlin uses this to sway her to his side. They also get the hots for each other. That’s going to be (even more) awkward! Caramon wins the grand finals of the arena and breaks out to murder Raistlin, but Crysania stops him and Raistlin teleports them all away as the Cataclysm strikes. 

Meanwhile, Tasslehoff uses the time travel artifact to stop the Cataclysm. The artifact promptly breaks. Raistlin had lied to him. And now he’s at ground zero as the sky starts raining fire…

The Good: This is so much better than Chronicles in every single way. There’s a vastly reduced cast, and far less stuff happens than the last trilogy. As a result, we have a much tighter story. We spend more time in the heads of our main characters, and get to watch them grow. In particular, Caramon gets a lot of attention. Sometimes his problems were played for laughs (especially his muffin dream), but generally, I feel like Weis and Hickman made a real shot at portraying the horrors of addiction, and the psychological wounds underlying it. It didn’t always ring true, but I credit them for trying to tell a complex story like this in the Eighties in a Dungeons & Dragons novel. Caramon’s relationship to Raistlin also gets a lot of attention, as he grapples with the realisation that his brother is irredeemable.

I also found the set-pieces and world-building more fun this time around, since the authors had a bit more time to breathe. Istar is a fun setting – it’s like going to Vesuvius just before the volcano explodes. I really enjoyed the Great Games, and how the gladiators use fake weapons and have silly costumes and backstories. Then Caramon discovers that the rich and powerful use the Games as part of their political manoeuvring, by arranging for ‘accidents’ to befall their rivals’ gladiators, and it adds a sinister and deadly undertone for the rest of the book.

Tasslehoff continues to be my favourite character. Capital-G Good characters like the Kingpriest and the elves continue to be awful, but Tasslehoff’s character development in the last book has made him compassionate, empathetic, and loyal, without taking away his sense of childish wonder at the world. I liked how much he enjoyed being teleported by Raistlin into a duck pond. 

The Neutral: This first half of the book is set in the year 355 AC, until the character travel back in time to 1 PC. It’s the first book not to be based on any existing adventures. The city of Istar will be revisited in the future in the short story collection The Reign of Istar, and the full story of the rise and fall of the Kingpriest will be told in the Kingpriest Trilogy, but I won’t be getting to read that for a few more years. There is also an excellent short story in the anthology The Dragons of Chaos which shows an alternate reality where the Cataclysm never happened and the Kingpriest successfully forced the Gods to do his bidding. It’s pretty dystopian.

The Bad: Even though I enjoyed this book very much, it’s got its share of problems – more than I remembered from when I was younger. The writing style is still not great in places. Once again, I blame Tracy Hickman, since he himself has admitted to a tendency towards purple prose. There was one section that stood out as particularly bad: a cleric reflecting on the importance of the city of Istar.

‘One might have supposed…the cleric was insensible of the fact that he was walking in the heart of the universe. But Denubis was not insensible of this fact. Lest he should, the Kingpriest reminded him of it daily in his morning call to prayers.

“We are the heart of the universe,” the Kingpriest would say…’

I get what Weis and Hickman are trying to do here; use the repetition to imply how often the Kingpriest has repeated that Istar is the heart of the universe, but it just comes across as clunky. There are also some overused adjectives. Crysania is like ivory, Raistlin is cynical and sarcastic. 

Crysania herself, I felt, was underwritten. She’s presented to use initially as a very unlikeable character. Not that there’s anything wrong with an unlikeable character – quite the opposite, it gives her considerable room to grow, and that’s a wonderful thing. However, there are frequently large gaps between her appearances, where the writers rely upon the reader’s knowledge, rather than Crysania’s knowledge, to drive her character development. When she first arrives in Istar, Crysania is enraptured at how Good (seemingly) has triumphed and is convinced that the Kingpriest cannot be to blame for the coming Cataclysm. When we next see her, six chapters later, she’s disillusioned by what she sees. In that time, we’ve seen Caramon exploring the hypocrisy of Istar, but not Crysania. 

I’ve said before that I have issues with Dragonlance’s Old Testament theology, and that continues to be the case here, as we see the Gods send the Cataclysm to kill millions of people. Good, unchecked, becomes just as awful as Evil – but doesn’t that make it not Good any more? The Good Gods seem to promote the balance of Good and Evil more than they promote Goodness, and their chosen children, the elves, are just awful – look at Quarath, the Kingpriest’s second-in-command, for another example of self-satisfied ‘Goodness.’ The true believers amongst the clergy are taken away to avoid the Cataclysm, but I cannot believe that everyone in Istar, everyone who suffers during the Cataclysm, is actually deserving of what happens. 

Conclusion: I remember this being one of the best fantasy books I read – not just for tie-in fiction, but in general – during my youth. Revisiting Time of the Twins, I can see that part of that was nostalgia talking, but it’s considerably better than it needed to be. For all that the execution could have been improved, this is an ambitious character-driven drama. I was happy to re-read it, and I’m looking forward to the next book. Four Disks of Mishakal out of five. 

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Super Endless Quest / Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Gamebooks

Who remembers Choose Your Own Adventure? Pick-a-path books were a huge part of my childhood. Dungeons & Dragons decided to get in on that bandwagon with Endless Quest. This was the spinoff series, proper gamebooks with character sheets and dice and rules and everything. They were called Super Endless Quest, but fortunately someone realised that was a terrible name and it got changed pretty quickly. Four of them were Dragonlance tie-ins, so that’s what I’m reading this fortnight!

A change of format for this one: since I’m reviewing a number of short books, I’ll do a section on each one of them, where I’ll look at them holistically, rather than breaking each one down into good, bad and neutral. I’ll do the same thing when I reach the short story anthologies. 

Also, this is the first time that I’ll be skipping a book! Alas, I don’t have a copy of The Soulforge by Terry Phillips. This book is about Raistlin’s backstory, written by the man who was instrumental in shaping the character during the early playtest sessions. However, since the same story is covered in a short story in The Magic of Krynn, and then expanded out into a full novel, The Soulforge, I don’t feel too bad about missing the gamebook version. If I ever find a copy, I’ll come back and do a review of it.

Prisoners of Pax Tharkas, by Morris Simon: This is the first book in the entire series. I’m not sure if they wanted to use this to get people into Dragonlance, or if they wanted to use Dragonlance to get people into this series. The cover is by Keith Parkinson, who’s usually pretty good, but… oof! I guess everyone has an off day. Awkward poses, cheesecake art, and that moustache! Claire says: “HAHAHAHAHAHA wow, this is beyond 80s! This is some He-Man stuff. It is everything.”

In this book, you are Bern Vallenshield, a ranger, and no one will let you forget it – seriously, everyone uses your full name at every opportunity. It is set just between the two parts of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, in the town of Solace. Somehow, you don’t seem to know about the Heroes of the Lance, even though they’re all adventurers of the same age as you from the same small village. They get mentioned in passing at one point as having just left town. Anyway, you return to Solace one day to find it burnt down by the Dragonarmies, and your kid brother Kegan has been captured and taken to the iron mines at Pax Tharkas! The first time I played, I caught up with the prison wagon and rescued him without too much trouble before they ever reached Pax Tharkas, but the book hinted that this was not the ‘ideal’ ending, so I tried again. The second time, I got captured too, escaped inside Pax Tharkas, met Willow Lighthand the kender and Essa the elf, and then did a little dungeon crawl through the fortress and the elvish secret entrance, ending by finding the secret tomb of the elf-king Kith-Kanan.

This book is not great, guys! Bern Vallenshield is an extremely dull character. That’s pretty standard for a pick-a-path protagonist, since the reader has to be able to project on to them. The supporting cast are equally dull. Your brother has no personality either, and the other two NPCs that you meet are ‘a kender’ and ‘beautiful’ – that’s the extent of their characterisation! The mechanics of the book are clunky too. You roll one die and add your skill to resolve a task, but in combat you roll two dice. In addition, if you fail a combat roll you can reroll until you succeed, taking damage until you succeed, but the book does not make this clear in each paragraph. The book fits awkwardly into continuity with Dragons of Autumn Twilight too. You visit many of the same locations as the main characters do, but are unable to enact any sort of change, since it’s up to them to defeat the Dragon Highlords and rescue the rest of the prisoners. Nothing very exciting or dramatic happens. I did see that you can fight the Dragon Highlord Verminaard and his dragon, but that you’re destined to lose, no matter what, if you do. The worst example of this railroaded lack of agency is when you find the magic sword Wyrmslayer. Even though your companion came here specifically to find it and use it against the dragons, you all decide to leave it behind, so that the Heroes of the Lance can find it. 

I also wonder who this book is meant for. The earlier Endless Quest books were definitely aimed at children, just like the Dungeons & Dragons TV show (anyone remember that?). However, the Dragonlance series, with its more mature subject matter and Tolkienesque tone, is definitely for young adults. I can’t help but feel that anyone who enjoyed this would find Dragons of Autumn Twilight boring, and vice versa. Also, because it covers so much of the same ground as the novel and the adventure novel that it’s based on, I can’t help but feel that it’s just giving a whole lot of spoilers for them. 

I also noticed a small continuity error: the dragon Matafleur is consistently referred to as ‘Mataflure.’ 

All in all, one Disk of Mishakal out of five. It’s not actively offensive, but it’s about as exciting as a dry piece of toast. 

Lords of Doom by Douglas Niles: This is the tenth book in the series, but the second one that is (a) based on Dragonlance and (b) in my possession. In Dragons of Spring Dawning, an important plot point – the secret of the Draconians, the dragon-man foot soldiers of the bad guys – is glossed over quickly. This is the full story of how Gilthanas and Silvara infiltrated the stronghold of the Dragon Highlords, the volcano city of Sanction, discovered the origin of the Draconians, and won the aid of the good dragons for the war. It’s a pretty straight adaptation of Dragons of Deceit, the D&D adventure module, and even by the same author! The cover to this one, by Larry Elmore, is much better than the cover of the previous book, with an exciting action shot of our heroes on the deck of a ship, watching flying draconians heading their way from an enemy ship. Claire and I agreed: there’s just one problem… “Uggggggggggh that is too much cheesecake. I quite like the action poses of the ship, the enemies, the people except for Silvara. She’s in a stupid boob/butt pose, though it’s the less common sideboob pose…”

This is a definite improvement over the previous book. It tells an important part of the story, and your actions actually have consequences for the greater narrative. I criticised Prisoners of Pax Tharkas for not knowing who its audience was – this one is solidly aimed at Dragonlance fans who want to discover the missing piece of the story. It’s still not great at characterisation – few gamebooks are. Gilthanas and Silvara have an unrequited love for one another but this is just a narrow slice of the story that plays out in the other books, and has no pay off or development here. However, Fizban the Fabulous is a lot more fun than any of the companions from the last book. There’s also a choice about which route to take to get to Sanction, which is a classic gamebook strategy to enable replayability. The sea route is the more enjoyable of the two. The land route is dull as heck.

That said, this book felt extremely easy. I rolled very, very badly, and I was absolutely convinced I was done for, but I still made it through to the end without a problem. Apart from the decision of which way to travel at the beginning, there seemed to be fewer branching paths this time around, and I didn’t see any insta-deaths. Not that I want insta-deaths, but this book just felt like it wanted to be a novel, rather than a gamebook. It’s slightly strange that, to the best of my knowledge, this story never got re-visited later, as so many of the other deleted scenes were. 

The dialogue isn’t wonderful – but then, what gamebook has good dialogue? – and there’s a few continuity errors: Gilthanas fights at the High Clerist’s Tower, while in the novels, he’s already departed when that battle starts; in the novels, he refers to a secret female ally in Sanction, while here, it’s a male. By the standards of some of the continuity errors later on, these ones aren’t that big.

Overall ranking: One and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. A better book than Prisoners of Pax Tharkas, but a worse game.

Shadows Over Nordmaar by Dezra Despain: We’ve saved the best for last! This is the sixteenth book in the series, but it’s the first Dragonlance tie-in with a completely original story. I wish I could say that much about the cover: it continues the classic trend of recycling art completely out of context. It’s a good picture of Kitiara and Lord Soth in a scene from the Legends trilogy.  Claire found it a bit much in its 80s-ness: “It took me a while to get what was happening, mostly because that outfit is too much. It took me a while to look around the figure.”

Shadows Over Nordmaar is set 25 years after the Chronicles trilogy, in 377 A.C. I think that makes it the furthest ahead in the timeline we’ll be going for quite a while!  You are ‘Jonn’, who’s been beaten up and left for dead on the moors of Nordmaar. Lorina, a cleric of Mishakal (goddess of healing), rescues you and lets you know that the remnants of the Dragonarmies have invaded Nordmaar. However, your attack has left you amnesiac, and the only clues that you have to your identity are a ring, a feather and a pouch of herbs. Can you save Nordmaar?

The first thing I noticed once I started reading this book is that the font size is considerably smaller than the other books! As a result, Shadows is much more descriptive, with better prose, than either of the other two books. All three books feature a romantic relationship between the main character and a supporting character; this felt like the only one that showed that relationship occurring, rather than just telling me that it was happening. Lorina, your companion, also gets more detail than any of the other sidekick characters.

The plot itself in this book is also far more interesting than the other two. I’m always a sucker for a mystery, but this one has not one, but two! At the beginning of the book, you’re given a choice about going north or west. Depending on which way you go, you get a completely different story! You’re a different person, with a different quest, different payoffs for the three items, a different villain, and a different resolution to the love story. I also appreciate a few less-common D&D monsters getting used: I can’t think of another thing that features lammasu so prominently!

There are problems, of course, and I’m not sure that the book wouldn’t have been better served having only one story and fleshing it out more. Once you’ve decided which of the two plots you’re going to follow, there are very few decision points. Most paragraphs end with dice rolls instead, so you’re locked on a railroad once you get going. I also felt like the difficulty was pretty high. It seemed like most of the dice rolls had less than a 50% chance of success, and to succeed at the final challenge, you need to have succeeded at all the rolls that let you regain your lost memories. 

Overall ranking: Two and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. The extremely linear nature of the two stories keeps it from getting a higher score, but I did enjoy this one. 

That’s it for gamebooks, everyone! I’ve got a treat ahead of me next time: it’s the Time of the Twins, the first book of the Legends Trilogy. I remember this trilogy being the absolute best that Dragonlance had to offer. Will it still hold up? Let’s find out!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Dragons of Spring Dawning, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impression: The end of Chronicles is here at last! This is the shortest review so far – most of what I’ve said so far is true for this book as well. Once again, I showed Claire the cover art and asked her what she thought about it. Here’s her thoughts:

  • Original Larry Elmore cover: This is one of the most 80s things I have ever seen. Happy to see that green dragon is looking a little more threatening than its photobombing predecessors
  • Reprint Larry Elmore cover: I don’t 100% know why, maybe it’s the green and red contrasts in these last two covers, but I am liking these covers a lot. The dragon looks way too friendly and calm though. And geez that armour is camp. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
  • UK cover by Keith Parkinson: So I am becoming familiar with the pattern of Dragonlance covers through the ages, and I get the feeling like this event depicted doesn’t even happen in this book? I quite like it in terms of an action image, although I also get the feeling that it is weirdly positioned/cropped. It’s nice to actually feel the threat from the dragon for once, and to see a character in an action pose rather than posing for the camera (James: She’s right – it’s the climax of Dragons of Winter Night; terribly cropped, once again. Why are the UK covers so bad?!)
  • Matt Stawicki cover: Okay I actually really like this one, I think it’s the mistiness of the background and the detail of the architecture behind the characters. On the negative side, I find the poses really awkward. But their clothing looks way more appealing to my modern sensibilities compared to the 80s stuff

Plot Summary: Tanis Half-Elven sneaks out on his girlfriend Kitiara, the Dragon HIghlord in the middle of the night and he and his companions try to escape. Kitiara chases after him on a dragon, but the ship is sucked into a whirlpool made of blood! Raistlin betrays the party and magics himself away just before the ship goes underwater. Fortunately, passing sea elves rescue the drowning adventurers and put them ashore along with the ship’s helmsman, Berem – an immortal MacGuffin who can win or lose the war. Meanwhile, Tanis’ other girlfriend, the elf princess Laurana, becomes the Golden General, in charge of the armies of Good. With the help of the good dragons, who have finally returned, and wielding the dragonlances, Laurana is able to win a series of major victories. However, she abandons her armies when Kitiara lies and tells her Tanis is hurt, and is captured in a very obvious trap. Our scattered heroes finally reunite and go to Neraka, the HQ of the Dragonarmies, to rescue Laurana and use Berem to win the war. Caramon, Tika, and Tasslehoff have to complete a final dungeon crawl with Berem to stop the dark goddess Takhisis, while Tanis has to choose which girlfriend he likes more. Suddenly, Raistlin returns – but now he’s Super-Saiyan Raistlin (except his robes turned black instead of his hair going golden) Thanks to this Raistlin-ex-machina, the heroes are victorious – but Kitiara takes control of the remaining Dragonarmies, and Raistlin is now free to pursue his own nefarious plans…

The Good: Once again, the characters continue to be the best part of this series. Weis and Hickman make an extremely sensible decision to not make the climax be the defeat of the Queen of Darkness – her brief appearance is impressive, but she’s too abstract a character to be an effective primary antagonist. Instead, the climax of the novel is the resolution of Tanis’ internal conflict, and the confrontation between the brothers Caramon and Raistlin. 

I’d forgotten how long it took him to appear, but the most legendarily badass character in Dragonlance finally appeared halfway through this book: Lord Soth, the undead Knight of the Black Rose! He has virtually nothing to do here, but he makes such an impression. I remembered him being more style than substance, but that’s not a problem here, and he’s got so much style!

My favourite character, to my surprise, wound up being Tasslehoff! I think it’s because I now have a toddler, but I appreciate his empathy, his innocence and his curiosity. His character development to become wiser, sadder, and more mature – in other words, his loss of innocence – happens slowly and organically.

The Neutral: This book is set in 352 A.C. It covers material from the eighth, tenth, and especially the climactic twelfth adventures. The eighth adventure, in which Gilthanas and Silvara infiltrate the enemy stronghold of Sanction to discover the secret origin of the draconians and recruit the good dragons to their side, is summarized by them in a single chapter after they return: the story is told more fully in Lords of Doom, a pick-a-path book. Meanwhile, the story of Raistlin’s rise to near omnipotence would not be covered until Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, published twenty-four years later!

The Bad: I got the feeling, reading this, that Weis and Hickman had lost interest in this book even before they started writing it. Their hearts were clearly set on telling their own original story about the wizard Raistlin, and so this book serves more as a bridge to set up the following Legends trilogy than a grand finale to this story. Characters are dropped along the wayside so that the story can focus on those who will be important next time: Raistlin, Caramon, Tasslehoff, and Kitiara. As a result, major revelations like the origins of the draconians are hurried, while the mystery of what’s been going on with Raistlin is deferred to be covered in Legends. 

Other major plot points are nonsensical. Laurana’s decision to go running after Tanis is particularly egregious. I was reading the Annotated Chronicles, in which both Weis and Hickman agree that Laurana’s decision is forced and out of character. Berem’s backstory, which is vital for the resolution of the war, also doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. The only thing stopping Takhisis the dragon goddess from conquering the world is getting the gem out of his chest – that she put there herself?

Final Impressions: Three Disks of Mishakal out of five. Weis and Hickman have done an admirable job wrestling twelve D&D adventures into three novels. By modern standards, the Chronicles trilogy doesn’t really hold up. I couldn’t in good faith recommend it compared to some of the amazing fantasy novels out there today. But back in the Eighties, when there was less variety on the shelves, this was excellent. Like all classics, it’s of its time and place. I really enjoyed revisiting Chronicles, and I’m looking forward to the Legends trilogy, which I remember being the high water mark for the Dragonlance saga.

But before I start Legends, there was another series of books that came between them: the Super Endless Quest pick-a-path gamebooks were the very first spinoff Dragonlance books, so I’ll be looking at them next fortnight.