The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Dragonlance Comics, Issues 1-8, by Dan Mishkin and Ron Randall

First Impressions: In the late 80s, Dungeons & Dragons was looking into as many different franchises and licensing deals as possible. Apparently they even had D&D cross-stitch kits! One of the more successful tie-ins were the comic book lines, published by DC Comics. This was an extensive deal with comic book lines for Forgotten Realms, Spelljammer and, of course, Dragonlance. There was an unfinished graphic novel adaptation of the Chronicles trilogy, of which I have the first four books, and a comic book line that lasted for thirty-four issues, running from December 1988 to September 1991. This is quite exciting for me, because I’ve never read these before! However, a few years ago IDW released several collected editions of them, and I’ve managed to source the few that they were missing, so I’m able to read them at last.

There’s a lot more covers this time, so rather than talk about each cover individually, we’re going to give our collective opinions on them, and maybe single out a few noteworthy ones.

Rather than having one continuous storyline, this is an anthology collection. Each story lasts a different number of issues and features different characters. Looking at future issues, it looks like some of the main characters will recur in the future. The first collection featured two stories, each lasting four issues. The first has a different name for each issue; the second is called Raistlin’s Pawn. 

Untitled First Story: This story is set shortly before Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Sturm Brightblade is travelling through Solamnia to reunite with his companions in Solace, when he meets Riva Silvercrown being attacked by hobgoblins and their bare butts. (Seriously – one is introduced moon first! Did NOT need that!) He joins in and takes her to a monastery before returning to his own story. Riva has a holy relic, and the forces of evil are hunting her. She teams up with Sturm’s uncle Vandar Brightblade, the befuddled wizard Fizban, and a boy called Tip who doesn’t contribute to the plot at all. The monastery is attacked by Lord Soth, but our heroes escape with the relic and a Dragonlance that happened to be in the gardening shed. They return to Castle Silvercrown, where Riva argues with her father about how she wanted to be a knight but can’t because she’s a girl. Riva’s dissolute brother turns out to be a draconian in disguise and kills Fizban, so our heroes stab him. That night, Riva and Vandar have a sexy dream that turns into a very unsexy dream – Lord Soth and Takhisis are trying to get them to reveal who ‘the one’ is. Riva stabs a god in her dreams and then when they wake up, Fizban’s back – and he’s ‘The One!’ Surprise twist! (Unless you’ve read any other Dragonlance, in which case you already knew exactly who he is.) Dragon Highlord Kitiara leads an army to attack Castle Silvercrown. Riva uses the Dragonlance to kill a red dragon, but then Kitiara beats her in a duel. After a heart-to-heart with Fizban, Vandar uses the holy relic to grow bark armour with very unfortunate nipple spikes and beats Kitiara, so her dragon kills Vandar with a lightning bolt, destroying the artifact in the process. The bad guys leave, taking the Dragonlance with them. They don’t seem too fussed about ‘The One’ any more. Fizban pulls the Dragonlance out from up his sleeve (!) and then leaves with it to go join the main storyline.

Raistlin’s Pawn: Kalthanan is a dark elf (in Dragonlance, a dark elf is an elf who’s been exiled for being evil or at least insufficiently holier than thou). He’s taming a griffon when he sees good dragons flying for Palanthas: the first of several signs that this story is concurrent with Dragons of Spring Dawning. He decides to follow them, but gets forced to land by Raistlin, who implants part of his own soul inside him! This is meant to be a surprise, but it’s really not – Raistlin is stashing away his own treacherous intentions outside himself, so no one will know he’s planning to betray Team Evil. Kalthanan enters town and saves Lord Amothus, Flint, Tasslehoff from Gnatch the gnome’s out-of-control water balloon hurling contraption. He has dinner with them and meets Laurana, who recognises him: Kalthanan’s dark elf father murdered his family and committed suicide one day while Kalthanan was out hunting, giving him a bad reputation ever since – like an elven David Bain without the jumpers. Kalthanan suddenly freaks out as Raistlin’s voice orders him to leave the city and come to Kalaman! He fights his way out, accompanied by Gnatch. On the road to Kalaman, he encounters river pirates and fights them until he’s rescued by Dragonarmy forces. Kalthanan pretends to be on their side by throwing Gnatch into a river, where he’s rescued by Myrella, one of the river pirates. (The river pirates were actually on Team Good the whole time, fighting against the occupying dragonarmies.) Kalthanan goes to Kalaman, but when he starts acting strange again, he has to fight his way out of a tavern. He meets up with the others and they make their way to Neraka, the capitol of the evil dragons. Raistlin has made his way there too, and he’s entrusted with defending the dark temple. No one can tell he’s plotting treachery, since he’s put that part of his mind into Kalthanan. Kalthanan, Myrella and Gnatch break into Neraka far too easily, and meet Raistlin, who steals his soul back. Raistlin then betrays the dragonarmies and lets Caramon and Berem save the world (in a scene from Dragons of Spring Dawning.) The group escape and bump into Tanis and Laurana, who are hanging around outside the town, before Kalthanan decides to chase after Raistlin, flying off on a green dragon, and get some answers. They fight, briefly, and Raistlin forces Kalthanan to realise the truth. Kalthanan was murdered by his father years ago who then assumed his identity, and wiped his own memory so that he could escape the stigma of being a dark elf. Kalthanan has been his father, Thanakan the dark elf, all along.

The Good: These are pretty cute comics. I really like the art, there’s a lot of really splashy, dramatic panels with iconic pictures of Lord Soth, Takhisis, dragons, the destruction of Neraka and more. The colours are really vibrant and pop. There’s a few hilariously bad bits of colouring – in Issue 1, Sturm has flesh coloured armour, and in Issue 6, Kalthanan and Gnatch are briefly green – but by and large, the comic looks fantastic. The stories themselves are a fun sort of ‘Dragonlance greatest hits’, remixing just about everything iconic about the original Chronicles trilogy. The writing is pretty wordy, but it’s pretty par for the course for comics of the time, with everyone narrating the actions that they’re taking. In one place, I really liked the writing – Fizban has an excellent speech in Issue 4 about the nature of religion. I was also completely surprised by the twist ending of Raistlin’s Pawn. It did a really good job of distracting the reader with a really obvious mystery – what’s the mysterious link between Raistlin and Kalthanan? –  to cover up the actual mystery – what actually happened to Kalthanan’s father?

The Bad: As much as I enjoyed these, they’re objectively not that great. The constant cameos from the Heroes of the Lance border on fan service, and many of them are acting *just* out of character. Special mention to Sturm here, who comes off as such a Nice Guy. He constantly tries to carry Riva around, even when she tells him to stop, and tries to walk her home. He has a tantrum at a monk, and then leaves. Behind him are THREE of his major quests – his long-lost uncle, a holy relic of the true gods, and a Dragonlance, and he doesn’t see any of them! Way to go, Sturm! But this only highlights how easily Riva gets handed all these major artifacts that the Heroes of the Lance have to go on long agonising quests to obtain. Our new characters are under-developed as well. Riva and Kalthanan can be summed up in a single sentence, Gnatch’s personality is just ‘gnome’, and Myrella and Tip don’t even have that! Vandar, at least, is a bit more interesting. Also, what’s with everyone and their dog knowing about the true gods before Goldmoon finds the Disks of Mishakal? Meanwhile, the plot of Raistlin’s Pawn really is just an excuse to drag Kalthanan from place to place to be just off-screen for everything that happens in Dragons of Spring Dawning. There’s a lot of spinning wheels in the process. One of the first rules of tie-in fiction is that you shouldn’t remind me that I could be reading a different, more interesting story instead of this one! 

The first story is also weirdly sexual. Riva is constantly in boob/butt poses. So are other characters – one hobgoblin is introduced full moon first, Riva’s nightmare begins with a steamy love scene with Vandar, Vandar’s nightmare involves two hairy men stripped down to their underwear, himself and a goblin engaged in BDSM play (well, the goblin is repeatedly torturing him to death, which is much less kinky when you put it like that), and finally Vandar’s barkskin armour has thorny nipples! It’s worse than George Clooney’s batsuit!

The Neutral: The untitled first story is set shortly before Dragons of Autumn Twilight, probably also in 351 A.C. Raistlin’s Pawn is set in 352 A.C., and its characters are constantly interacting with the plot from Dragons of Spring Dawning.

Overall: I liked the comics, and it was fascinating to read them at last, but they’re objectively not that good. This is just filler. Perhaps it will pick up when (if) they get to tell their own story that’s not so much in the shadow of the novels? I’m going to award them one and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. 

Next time, I’m going to continue with Dragonlance Classics, Volume 2, which includes the story arcs The Arena of Istar and High Sorcery. See you then! 

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Weasel’s Luck, by Michael Williams

First Impressions: First published in 1988, this is the final book of the original Heroes trilogy. I was not looking forward to Weasel’s Luck! While I enjoyed some of Michael Williams’ short stories, I can’t stand his poetry. I remember reading Weasel’s Luck and not liking it back in the day. The covers are pretty okay, however: we appreciate how the original Larry Elmore cover has medieval characters in bright, colourful clothes, as does the reprint cover. The Heroes covers have been pretty good, actually, though we’re not sure about the font choices on the reprint covers!

Plot Summary: Galen Pathwarden is cowardly, deceitful and generally the opposite of what you’d expect from the son of a Knight of Solamnia. His older brothers aren’t any better – Alfric is a dumb bully, and Brithelm a spaced-out mystic. When Galen’s father hosts the famous hero Sir Bayard Brightblade at their crumbling swamp manor, Galen is intimidated into helping an illusionist known only as The Scorpion steal Sir Bayard’s armour. A bit of fast talking later, and Galen winds up becoming Sir Bayard’s squire. This is a plot of the Scorpion’s – he wants Galen to delay Sir Bayard so he misses a tournament at Castle di Caela. Sir Bayard believes that it’s his destiny to win the tournament and help break the ancient di Caela curse, while the Scorpion turns out (in a pretty obvious twist that’s barely hidden at all) to be a long-dead di Caela black sheep, back to get what’s rightfully his! After some misadventures, Galen and Bayard travel to the Scorpion’s stronghold to rescue Lady End di Caela from his clutches.

The Good: To my surprise, this was a fairly enjoyable medieval pastiche. The tongue-in-cheek narration definitely made it a more enjoyable read than some of the other, more serious books, and there wasn’t nearly as much poetry as I was expecting. Dragonlance hasn’t really had a reluctant hero before in the same way as the anti-heroic Galen, and I found his brother Brithelm quite enjoyable as well. Galen could be quite obnoxious at times, but he’s also refreshingly under no illusions about what an awful person he is, he does have a moral code (sort of, a bit, eventually, in the end), and he tends to use his wits to solve problems rather than his muscles, making him an enjoyable trickster.

The Bad: I don’t have anything I really dislike for this book, but I do have a number of quibbles. A major theme of the book is the contrast between Galen’s calantina (fortune-telling) dice, and Bayard’s prophecy. Both are ultimately seen as unreliable and only make sense after the fact, and Galen throwing his dice away is a final piece of character development. Only… the prophecy winds up being 100% true in the end, so this theme didn’t really pay off for me. I said that at times Galen could be quite unlikeable, but he was a lot better than his terrible brother Alfric, and the relationship between the two of them was actively awful. I also felt that the book dragged a bit in the swamp, with the characters running in circles on pointless side-quests.

Finally, there’s an unfortunate problem with Dragonlance books that’s not unique to this one, but since it popped up here, it seemed worth mentioning it. What are the iconic things about Dragonlance? Dragons, the gods, the lance? All of these things return during the original trilogy, and aren’t around for a good chunk of the backstory. As a result, so many writers bring back dragons early, or have characters who seem to reverence the old gods entirely too much. But then the alternative is to leave them out and rely on, what, knights and kender? It’s a problem without a good solution.

The Neutral: This book is set about 200 A.C., so about a hundred and fifty years before the Chronicles trilogy. Sir Bayard is implied to be Sturm’s ancestor, although it’s curious that he doesn’t have Sturm’s famous ancestral sword, the Brightblade itself. Maybe Galen didn’t notice it. Apart from that, this book is pretty stand-alone. There’s a sequel, Galen Beknighted, which came out two years later in 1990. I’m now looking forward to it now, although I realise that I won’t get up to reading it until next year! This reread is going to take a looooong time.

Overall: To my surprise, Weasel’s Luck was a more enjoyable book than I’d thought. It was ridiculous, but it was a breath of fresh air and didn’t outstay its welcome. Ultimately, I think it’s sort of pleasantly mediocre, but I don’t regret my time spent with it. Two and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. Next time, I’m taking a break from the novels to read the DC Comics Dragonlance series! I never read these back in the day, but managed to pick them up in a Humble Bundle, so I’m quite keen to see what they’re like! See you next time!

Podcast episode 27: The Dragonlance Movie, the D&D Movie, and what makes a good game movie?

Apologies for being a week later everyone! The struggle has been REAL this past week.

On today’s podcast we have as our guest Ben Moore, tech journalist and school friend of Claire’s. He asked us if he could come on and talk about the Dragonlance movie which James brought up in an earlier episode. What follows is a wild ride! Stick around in the second half to hear James’s hot take on what is actually the move that represents the Dungeons and Dragons experience best.

Find the episode here: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/45589746

All the screenshots mentioned in this episode can be found here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1mLnDvc5eQu7WuYlyaGVbfJAR_h6osU8P?usp=sharing

Dev blog #55 – Still not slowing!

Hi guys! First and foremost, sorry that the podcast still isn’t out this week. It’s an amazing episode with our friend Ben Moore where we discuss the Dragonlance movie, D&D movies, and game adaptation movies in general. Many laughs were shared. But this week James is sick again and our child is still struggling to recover from his cough. Will it ever end? I’m hoping to have the episode out in the next couple of days, because I would love to share it with the world!

I am also struggling to find time for further development with all of these struggles, doctor’s appointments, full-time work. Thankfully I have written a lot of Her Jentle Hi-ness already, and I have managed to squeeze in a kick-off meeting with the wider team (artist, composer, marketing/voice engineer) in the lead up to the KickStarter. I want to say mid-late July it’s finally going to happen. There’s an important piece of character art that I am waiting on, I still need to make sure my pricing for different items is accurate so I am not losing money, plus I want to make a brand new vertical slice demo before I launch the campaign, as the old prototype is quite a bit out of date now.

James has been continuing on with bits and pieces when he feels well enough. A bit of working on the zine releases here, a bit of blog posting there, but mostly while he recuperates he has been reading a combination of the next Dragonlance novel he’s reviewing, Planescape modules (for our enjoyment in the Dirwin campaign, but also to eventually do a Planescape episode of the podcast) and non-fiction books to research Florence during the Renaissance, to further inspire Fiumenze and ground it in historical frameworks.

Wish us well. Like literally, we need to get physically better. It’s been like two months of at least one person in my house being sick at all times. We’re doing what we can to eliminate stress so that stops being a contributing factor. Perhaps I should start pushing our Patreon more so we can one day do this part time? 😀

Oh and by the way, I’m sending out the second issue of the monthly newsletter today, so if you want in on that, sign up here: https://forms.gle/AseWHqdpjSHzg7Rb8

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Stormblade, by Nancy Varian Berberick

First Impressions: First published in 1988, Stormblade is the second book of the Heroes trilogy. Not much to say here: this isn’t a book that I remember very well! However, Nancy Varian Berberick, you may recall, wrote some of my favourite short stories in the Tales anthologies, so I’m looking forward to this regardless. We also don’t have much to say about the covers this time. The Larry Elmore cover is nice, with its prominent dragon, but I find it a bit too dark with all its browns and greys. Claire disagrees with me, she likes the subdued colour palate. I also don’t like how two of our main characters are facing away – poor Tyorl is just a cloak! The revised cover is also nice. Both these covers are much less cheesy than some of the ones we’ve had before. 

Plot Summary: Stormblade is a Kingsword, a special sword touched by the dwarf god. The dwarves have been without a king for hundreds of years, and possession of a kingsword is an important prerequisite. Two dwarf leaders in particular want Stormblade: Hornfel of the Hylar (good dwarves), for whom it was intended, and Realgar of the Theiwar (bad dwarves). Realgar’s agents steal Stormblade, but it gets lost outside the dwarf kingdom. Several years later, the sword surfaces again in the hands of Hauk, a ranger, who gives it to Kelida, a barmaid. Stanach Hammerfell, apprentice to the dwarf who made Stormblade, sets out to find it. He joins forces with Kelida, Tyorl the elf ranger, Lavim Springtoe the elderly Kender, and the ghost of Piper, a human wizard to keep the sword out of the hands of the Theiwar. Ultimately, they are unsuccessful: Stanach and Kelida are captured along with the sword. They escape and the adventurers rescue Hornfel from an assassination attempt by the Theiwar. Realgar dies, and Hornfel retrieves Stormblade at last.

The Good: There are several very effective sequences in Stormblade. I found the prologue, in which the Stormblade is forged, to be very powerful. The counterpoint to it is the torture sequence in which Stanach’s hand is broken. Violence is often quite ‘disposable’ in a fantasy book, especially in Dungeons & Dragons, but when Stanach’s fingers are broken, he loses his destiny as a great smith forever: a real and agonising permanent consequence. There is a recurring theme throughout Stormblade that good people are creators, while the villains damage and destroy: another example is the wizard Piper, who used to make music for children, and is also killed by the Theiwar. I didn’t find all the characters very compelling, but I liked Stanach and Lavim. Stanach is a wonderful set of contradictions: he’s gloomy and antisocial, but he treats Kelida as his little sister. He’s driven to reclaim Stormblade by any means necessary, but he finds he can’t betray his new friends for the greater good of Thorbardin. Lavim, meanwhile, is just another happy-go-lucky kender, just like Tasslehoff, but I like how Nancy writes kender, so I enjoyed him. Lots of the characters were very dour, so Lavim was a welcome relief.

The Bad: Just like with The Legend of Huma, this book is not particularly well written in places. I felt like the point of view jumped too much. I just opened the book to a random chapter, Chapter Twenty-One: the point of view goes from Stanach, to Tyorl, to Kelida, to Darknight the dragon, to Stanach again – five different points of view in a single chapter! It also had a habit of having important events happen in flashback, especially early on. Stanach leaves Thorbardin to look for Stormblade with his friend and his cousin; when the next chapter starts, the cousin is already dead. The secondary plot, involving Tanis and Goldmoon leading refugees to Thorbardin, seemed pointless as well. It never crosses over with the main plot, the hunt for the Stormblade. Finally, I found the whole premise of the story ridiculous. Earlier Dragonlance books established that the kingship of the dwarves required a lost artifact, the Hammer of Kharas. Now, there is a second, less important artifact that’s needed: the Hammer of Kharas will make you High King, but Stormblade will only make you King Regent. This is needless duplication. 

The Neutral: This story is set in 348 A.C., when Stormblade is forged, and 352 A.C., when it’s reclaimed. The story is largely set in between Dragons of Autumn Twilight and Dragons of Winter Night. When writing those books, Weis and Hickman based Dragons of Autumn Twilight on the first two Dragonlance adventures for Dungeons & Dragons, then skipped ahead to the fifth adventure in Dragons of Winter Night. Stormblade is loosely inspired by the two missing adventures, Dragons of Hope and Dragons of Desolation, which feature the dwarven kingdoms and the inter-tribal politics there. However, presumably because Nancy Varian Berberick relied upon the modules, it creates a strange continuity error: in the D&D adventures, the Dragon Highlord Verminaard is still alive at this time, while in the novels, he had already died before the time that Stormblade is set. Eventually in 2007, Weis and Hickman would resolve this error in Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, which properly adapts the two missing adventures: Verminaard was dead, but some draconians were pretending that he was still alive. However, I think that Dragons of the Dwarven Depths winds up contradicting Stormblade in other ways, thus making Stormblade dubiously canonical. Stanach Hammerfell returns in a cameo in 2002’s The Lioness.

Overall: An awkward book, I didn’t really enjoy Stormblade that much. Two Disks of Mishakal out of five.

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.

Dev blog #50 – The voice acting re-release is complete!

Oh my gosh, I cannot believe it is finally over. Seriously, it has been around about nine months to get this voice acting re-release out into the world. Largely we can blame the expanded lifespan of White Rabbit’s Diary getting in the way, and my very busy life, but I am happy to announce that The Nine Lives of Nim: Fortune’s Fool has now released with fully-voiced dialogue and additional quality-of-life improvements. Big thanks to my voice actors: Laura Kvigstad as Nim, Tom Tobin as Felix, and the wider cast of Brent Ahuriri, Kristen Devine, James Dunning, Samuel Hatch, Tom Kereama, Jade de Preez, Benjamin Teh, Vitas Varnas, Lauren Wilson (who is also the sound engineer, big thanks and love!) and, well, yes I am in there too 🙂

So what’s next on the slate for everything?
– The Nine Lives of Nim: Simplified Chinese translation should be all ready to go around September 2021. It’s very close to done as it is right now but I am giving my tester lots of time (which also means I get some breathing space!)
– Wonderland Nights: Waiting on the results of the Sir Julius Vogel Awards still, but other than that multiple language translations and console ports are being worked on still as we speak!
– Her Jentle Hi-ness: Something is happening this weekend, as I will explain below, but I definitely intend to Kickstart this soon. July, probably.

I think I need to give myself the month of June off! Because guess what? I got a secondary infection after recovering from the cold two weeks ago. My throat glands swelled up and I could barely swallow without crying in pain. I’m heading back into the workplace today, I’m maybe 90% better now. I can at least eat, drink and talk, though I am reluctant to do that last one cos I sound pretty husky.

Also, I had better save my voice for this weekend, because I am going to be showing Her Jentle Hi-ness at the Indie Game Showcase, at GridAKL in Wynyard Quarter, Auckland, this Saturday 29th May from 2pm-5pm. It is free to the public, so why not come along and try a bunch of indie games and support the community? (Also don’t worry, this thing I am currently recovering from is not infectious!)

James is super hyped to record tonight (hope I don’t have to talk too much!) and review the new Ravenloft guide. We’re going to record our attempt at using their rules to make our very own Dark Lord! Exciting times. Less exciting, for him mostly, James is trudging through the next Dragonlance review and dragging his feet on it. At least for the next one he gets back to the more digestible medium of novels.

And the final word for this week, let me remind you to subscribe to our mailing list here: https://forms.gle/Z1EWrDP8KRMNZ5o2A . You will still get most news from us here on the blog of course, but the newsletter will be less granular, more promotional, and have occasional giveaways too!

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!