Monday, June 29, 2020

Dragonlance: Chronicles [2] Dragons of Winter Night (1985)



I remember this book now.  It's the one that annoyingly skips interesting events like quests and battles to detail the boring events in between them, such as traveling and holding councils where the speeches are elided and glossed over with a few sentences.  And what's worse, the interesting events that preface the first two parts of the book are told with long poems.  We don't even get complete flashbacks!  Rude.

This unfortunately is a by-product of basing the story off gaming sessions, as there were numerous AD&D modules developed along with the creation of Krynn—modules that cover those skipped events.  In choosing what to cover in the novels, they wanted to let players experience certain events and details only while gaming, and use the novels to cover the more "non-playable" gaps between them and give Dungeon Masters a "truer feeling for the game world."

That's great, but for those who just want to read the novels, it really feels like they should've switched things around.

More about that later... along with a surprise for me...

Before you continue:

  • This is Part 2 of my Dragonlance Retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the Retrospective
  • These blogs are not plot recaps—they are most effective in conjunction with your own re-read of the series
  • Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH SERIES

After the Hammer of Kharas

Here begins the first time jump.  It's been a while since the end of Book 1, Dragons of Autumn Twilight.  There was what sounds like a really cool quest to find the Hammer of Kharas—which can be used to forge dragonlances—for the dwarves, but we start after the quest is over, in Thorbardin, mountain home of the dwarves.  All the action of that quest is told in a short poem.

Come on man, I wanted to read about that!  Sounds more interesting than what we do get, which is some traveling.

About the most interesting thing about the first part of the book is learning how so little is known about the world, 300 years after the Cataclysm.  People closed their lands to outsiders, no one communicated, and maps didn't get updated.  And thus it is that Tanis and company don't even know that the port of Tarsis is now landlocked!

Which seems hard to believe, honestly.  Tanis and the others have traveled quite a bit before our story begins.  Surely they didn't just stick to their little corner of the continent around Solace.  And I would think Raistlin would know, eh?  He's a smart guy.  Even he and Caramon went to the Tower of High Sorcery at Wayreth (though I was unable to find out exactly where on the continent that is) and surely people from Tarsis had travelled to other areas by then and told people it was landlocked...

But anyway.  We do get some decent action in Tarsis, which is where our party splits for the rest of the book (that's sooo Lord of the Rings).  One group (Sturm, Laurana, Flint, Tasslehoff) takes most of the focus from here on out.  The other group (Tanis, Caramon, Raistlin, Tika, Goldmoon, Riverwind) go through the paces, simply moving into position for the next book.

After the Ice Wall

And now, the second time jump, after the split at Tarsis.  I would've rather read about Sturm, Laurana, and Co. going to the Ice Wall and defeating Feal-Thas, getting the dragon orb, finding a dragonlance, etc.  Other than a brief dragonlance flashback, we instead get another poem and many chapters of traveling to and across Ergoth, which are not that exciting.

By omitting the Ice Wall quest, we don't get to see Laurana become a fighter and grow more confident in herself.  We get some of that when she confronts her father and older brother (Porthios) on Southern Ergoth, but it's not the same.

Other quick observations:
  • It's super obvious that Silvara is a silver dragon, based on how she talks of them and how she knows so much about Huma's tomb.
  • The tomb is cool but not very impactful because we're only on the second book written in the world of Dragonlance, and there hasn't been time for a legend to grow with readers.  Kinda like the Eye of the World in The Wheel of Time, where it appears in the first book, so doesn't seem so awe-inspiring when our heroes discover it, though it probably should be.
  • Fizban makes a reappearance for more comic relief, but as I stated in the blog for the first book, I'm not a fan of the character.  Too goofy and pulls me out of the story.  I don't think I'm going to talk about him anymore in this post.

The Illustrations

A quick aside about the chapter illustrations, to break up all the text a little.  No one wants to read a wall of text, right?

Instead of Valeria Valusek, who did the Dragons of Autumn Twilight illustrations, this book features interior art by Denis Beauvais, a Canadian artist who's done all kinds of work, from role playing games to comics.  Much of his work in this book is so similar to the style of Valusek, that I initially didn't realize it was a different illustrator.  I supposed for a series like this, that's probably a good thing. 

Here are the two from this book that I like the most:

 

After the Forging

Not a time jump this time, but rather a simple omission.  I would've much rather read about Theros Silverarm initially forging the dragonlances from the silver in Huma's tomb.  Instead, we get a lot from the perspective of the Knights of Solamnia, and how that group operates.

The Children of the Light from The Wheel of Time remind me of them—a very rigid group that tries to be honorable and pious, but is hypocritical.  Shocker, Sturm is the only one with true honor, and as usual, one of their leaders is power hungry and goes mad (which seems to happen a lot to military leaders in stories...gotta have conflict).  These early fantasies always have knights as honorable, good people, when in reality, knights were basically killing machines for nobility.  George R.R. Martin made them more realistic with A Song of Ice and Fire and it's hard for me to go back now.

Other quick observations:
  • The gnomes are basically gully dwarves part 2, only a bit more interesting.  You actually feel for Gnosh when the dragon orb is destroyed by Tasselhoff.
  • The Green Gemstone Man appears again at the end of the book.  I had forgotten about him from the first book, actually, and I've forgotten exactly what his purpose is at the end.  So I guess I'll be surprised about something in Book 3!
  • Finally, Kitiara officially appears, after so much talk about her.  Of course, she was obviously the Highlord in Tarsis that gave chase to the griffons that took Tanis, Alhana, and company to Silvanesti.

The Elven Heroine

In another callback to Lord of the Rings... Laurana feels like a new version of Eowyn, a woman who wasn't supposed to fight like the men.  But Laurana takes it further and continually does what she's not supposed to do and grows exponentially as a character for it, one of the few that do in this series.

The climax at the High Clerist's Tower was good though the battles are largely skipped—it's like Weis & Hickman don't want to write battles?  Literally all of them are skipped or glossed over (they want you to game it instead).  But Laurana... she's the best part, and becomes the hero of this book.  It's certainly not Tanis or anyone in that group, who just wander around all book.

Courtesy of Wikimedia
I suppose that's why Laurana's front and center on the cover.  Tas gets honorable mention for repeatedly figuring things out as a side effect of curiosity.  And Kitiara, of course, who killed Sturm, whose death didn't really bother me.  Kitiara should've recognized him before killing him, though.

I guess we'll just cover the cover in this section then.  I basically kinda did that already.

Again, the original cover was done by Larry Elmore, and again, I couldn't find a good version of the full book cover I have beyond the one on Wikimedia.  If you want a high resolution version of the source image, you can find it on his website.  You can even buy prints!

(I wonder if Laurana would really wear her hair down with all that armor, though.  It has to constantly get caught in it.  I have long hair and it frequently gets caught and I don't even wear armor...)

Things to Wonder About

My post for Dragons of Autumn Twilight mentioned many things that I'd skipped or wondered about.  Let's see where we are, shall we?
  • How big is the world of Krynn? — Don't know.
  • What's up with the constellations disappearing? — Still don't really know.
  • Who are the Dragon Highlords? — They command the armies of the Dark Queen?
  • What are Dragonlances? — Ah!  I know this one, they are used to kill dragons.  And I actually think they are nothing but normal lances.  Not magic or anything.
  • What's the Cataclysm all about? — Apparently the gods turned their backs on Krynn, which caused meteors and death and destruction to rain down, changing the landscape permanently (seas became land, land became sea).  Many died.  Kinda like the Breaking of the World in The Wheel of Time.  Or the Cracking of the World in The Belgariad.  I sense a pattern.
  • Who is Fizban really? — Don't know yet (I mean, I do, but yeah).
  • What's up with the Green Gemstone Man? — Oh!  We see him again.  Towards the end.  Again.  Still don't know what's up.
  • Why is Raistlin obsessed with Fistandantilus? — Still don't know.
  • Where is Kitiara? — We got this one.  She's a Dragon Highlord.
And then this book introduced a few more things to wonder about:
  • What happened to all the draconians?  There weren't very many in this book.  And where did they even come from?
  • Why are there only bad dragons hanging around?  I mean, Silvara is presumably good, but no one is asking around for silver or good dragons.
  • What are the Towers of High Sorcery?
  • When are we going to learn more about the gods?  I guess we'll be learning along with everyone else, if the gods have been gone for 300+ years?
Maybe Book 3 will answer some of the still-open questions.

During the After

So a funny thing happened on the way to this post... I had all the notes for this post written up, and I decided to do some more research on Chronicles in general, because I knew for sure there was at least one other entry (Dragons of Summer Flame) that was released many years later, which I had never read.  Beyond that, I had no idea what else they might have done in the Dragonlance world, novel-wise.

Well, come to find, there's another trilogy called The Lost Chronicles that actually tells the stories of two of the skipped major events that I've spent half of this post complaining about!  They were written in the late-2000s and honestly I never knew they even existed.  I'm as shocked as you are.

I suppose you can chalk this up to my bad experiences with the other Dragonlance books outside of Chronicles and Legends (they are not good, as mentioned in my Retrospective Overview), which prompted me to give up on Dragonlance entirely.

Anyway, this trilogy consists of:
  • Dragons of the Dwarven Depths — tells the story of finding the Hammer of Kharas
  • Dragons of the Highlord Skies — tells the story of the Ice Wall, the defeat of Feal-thas and taking of the Dragon Orb
  • Dragons of the Hourglass Mage — tells the story of what Raistlin does off-screen in Dragons of Spring Dawning (I need to re-read it to remember what they skipped over!)
Holy Paladine has answered my prayers.  So now the question is...should I read those new entries as part of this Retrospective?  A new take on my Retrospective format, perhaps?

I'm actually interested in doing so, now that I know what they are about.  Let's see how I feel after I've actually gotten through the next trilogy, Legends.

Next:


Book 3 — Dragons of Spring Dawning

Previous:


Book 1 — Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Retrospective Overview

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