Sunday, July 26, 2020

Dragonlance: Chronicles [3] Dragons of Spring Dawning (1985)

Now this is the Dragonlance that I was waiting for. Instead of being a bit bored like with Book 1, or annoyed at the authors for skipping over cool events like in Book 2, I was engaged from the start and flew through this book. Aside from a few slow parts in the latter half, I really enjoyed it and remembered why I liked it so much. It's not just nostalgia talking here...I really did enjoy it now, nearly 30 years later.

I'd honestly forgotten most of what happened in this book, it's been so long since I've read it...but it all came back as I learned more about Berem (the Green Gemstone Man), met the good dragons, was introduced to Ariakas and Lord Soth, learned how the draconians were created, read about the flying citadels, and journeyed to Neraka.

There's a ton going on in this book, along with a few discoveries in my garage, so let's get to it.

Before you continue:
  • This is Part 3 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

Elements of Good

This book is more focused on the bad guys... and we already know our heroes quite well after two books, so how about the CliffsNotes version for what happens with the good guys:
  • Going down to Istar and the sea elves... totally forgot about this part. I suppose you can call the sea elves good. Nice way of getting them out of the Maelstrom jam. Istar is important in the next trilogy, Legends, so I won't spend time on it here.
  • The good dragons arrive! And we get a dragon battle in the air! (sadly, just one)... and... it's narrated by Flint and Tas. Reminded me a lot of Gimli and Legolas at the Battle of Pelennor Fields (at least in the movie version of The Return of the King).
  • We got an appetizer of Tanis and Kitiara's relationship at the end of Book 2, Dragons of Winter Night, but here we get the main course. While Tanis freely admits his soft spot for Kitiara, she denies it verbally but confirms it with her actions and the many times she saves him throughout this novel.
  • Riverwind and Goldmoon—yawn. These two have been fairly useless since the first book.
  • Flint dies. It's foreshadowed through much of the book so not a surprise, and like Sturm's death, I'm not too bothered by it. Flint is too much like Gimli for me to really get attached to him as a unique character. I felt bad for Tas being left behind more than Flint leaving.

The Hero Mage

So, Raistlin ditches our heroes in the Maelstrom and disappears for half of the book before suddenly reappearing in black robes in Neraka to help our heroes—actually no, to become the hero. For it is Raistlin who ultimately saves the day and banishes Takhisis back to the Abyss when he allows Berem to reach his sister, Jasli, who'd been trapped in torment near the jeweled column he had stolen the green gemstone from 300 years ago. Of course Raistlin doesn't do it because it's the right thing, no—he does it for selfish reasons, because if Takhisis were to truly enter the world, she would be more powerful than him. And he wants to be the most powerful on Krynn.  Tanis already got rid of Lord Ariakas (another black mage, see below) for Raist, now Caramon has delivered Berem to him for his final victory.

If Tanis was the reluctant hero of Book 1, and Laurana the reluctant hero of Book 2, then Raistlin is the reluctant hero in Book 3. Or perhaps the "accidental" hero. It is the perfect ending for his Chronicles character arc, either way.

Now, as mentioned in my blog for Dragons of Winter Night, there is a newer trilogy called The Lost Chronicles that fills in gaps in the main Chronicles narrative. The third book there, Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, apparently tells the story of what happened to Raistlin between the time that he was dying in the Library of Palanthas to when he appears in Neraka to help Tanis and Caramon.

Courtesy of Wikimedia
At this point I'm pretty sure I'm going to tack that trilogy on to my retrospective. So part of this won't be a true retrospective, since it'll be my first time reading them, but hey, humans are adaptable if anything.

This all brings me to what end up being the two most important characters in the series (and the next, Legends)—Raistlin and Caramon. They are the only ones who truly know what went down under the Temple at Neraka. The way Caramon cared for his brother all those years enables Raistlin to survive long enough to become his true self (Fistandantilus? Hmmm).

And of course they are on the cover! Along with Tika. The cover once again is by the legendary Larry Elmore, and you can see the high-quality version on his website. It would've been cool to see Raistlin in black robes here, but that would've spoiled the surprise. Besides, there's plenty of Black Robes Raist in the Legends trilogy.

Is it weird, though, that I only really like Raistlin?  Caramon is okay, and necessary to the story, but Raistlin is so much more interesting in every way.

Elements of Evil

As I said, there's a lot going on in this novel, and a variety of new things, many of which get short shrift and leave you with more questions that answers. Kinda like reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen. This is particularly true for things on the side of evil, which are more interesting to me. Let's go through them.

Flying Citadels

Speaking of Malazan, the first one is flying citadels, i.e. cities on a chunk of earth floating in the sky. This concept is not original to Dragonlance, however. I remember reading some 1970's pulp fantasy with similar things going on... the Lin Carter Gondwane Epic, I think...with Sky Island. But after doing some research looks like they even had Sky City from Flash Gordon in the 1930's, so...

Anyway, the flying citadels are revealed near the end of the second part of the book. Described as "Lord Ariakas's most ingenious war machine," they don't do anything in this book aside from float and look threatening. We don't get to see them in action (I can't remember if we do in other Dragonlance novels). I remember them more from the cover of the Champions of Krynn game than anything else.

Lord Ariakas

Back to Lord Ariakas. He's another new evil character, a black mage actually, as Tanis discovers. We get some of his backstory and he's got quite a bit of screen time, but I wish we would have gotten more of him in previous novels. He feels like the General Grievous of the trilogy. He's quite the badass and seems unkillable, yet is easily taken out by Tanis and Raistlin.

In general, the Dragon Highlords could have been represented a little better throughout the trilogy. Lord Verminaard in Dragons of Autumn Twilight isn't bad, but to continue with the Star Wars analogy, he's Darth Maul... doesn't do all that much and dies at the end. Kitiara is great, of course, and is more like a Count Dooku, who used to be a Jedi with our heroes but later turned to the Dark Side. Beyond that we have Highlord Toede, who is basically a joke, the Jar Jar Binks of the Sith. Of course, the Kenders kill him off screen in an amusing bit of news.

Gakhan the Draconian

Gakhan the draconian seems like a cool character, an actual draconian with a personality. From his viewpoint chapter we discover he was behind the scenes of a lot of the previous events in the trilogy. Unfortunately, Berem bashes Gakhan's brains in within two chapters of him being introduced. So much for that draco.

Speaking of draconians, we finally learn where they came from: the eggs of good dragons. Turns out the bad guys kept the good dragons in check by hiding their eggs. But when Gilthanas sneaks into Sanction to discover that the eggs were used in a twisted rite to create draconians (which you can experience as an AD&D module separately, of course!), then all bets are off.

Takhisis, the Dark Queen

Not to be forgotten is Takhisis, the evil goddess.  She's only briefly onscreen, but the few scenes with her in Neraka are pretty cool, and I like the way in which she manifests.  Basically a void in the wall of the audience chamber where she's able to touch the physical world.  Reminds me of how the Dark One in The Wheel of Time is able to touch the physical world at the location of the Bore.  (Or the other way around, since Chronicles came first.)

We learn that this place is just above the jeweled column that Berem removed the gemstone from, which had allowed Takhisis to trap his sister Jasli between planes so that the goddess could manifest here in the first place.  Though I don't understand why Paladine can do it with a mortal avatar like Fizban, but she can't?  I must've missed the explanation for that somewhere.

Lord Soth

Okay, so this guy is the coolest character in the series, pretty much, and deserves his own section. I had totally forgotten he was first introduced in this book, as I remembered him more from the Ravenloft world than Dragonlance. (Ravenloft is a gothic horror game world into which some characters from other worlds crossed into, Lord Soth being the most prominent.)

Anyway, Lord Soth is a Death Knight, called the Knight of the Black Rose, and is actually a very important character in the history of Krynn, as he had the power to stop the Cataclysm.

I won't go into his complete backstory here—you should've already read this book, and you can always read more about it on the Chronicles of Astinus (a Fandom Wiki) if you need a refresher—but he is a really cool character that definitely leaves a lasting impression. Especially since he comes out of nowhere and lights up (or darkens?) every scene he's in. I wish he had been introduced somehow in the previous book, Dragons of Winter Night.

In fact, I now remember that I also had a book called Shadow over Nordmaar, an AD&D Adventure Gamebook (I had a bunch of these in junior high, they ruled), that has probably the most recognizable image of Lord Soth (and Kitiara). And here's the cover of the first Ravenloft book he was featured in, for funsies:

The Miniatures

Speaking of Lord Soth and other villains...

It just so happened that this past week I've been cleaning out our garage and moving some stuff to storage.  That "stuff" happens to include the last bits of D&D material I'm still holding on to, for nostalgia.  One of those items is a set of miniatures from Ral Partha, the Dragonlance Villains set.  Totally forgot I kept it until I found it in a box I hadn't opened in years.  It features the same image as Shadow over Nordmaar, only reversed:


It's got all the baddies from Chronicles, plus a few (Dalamar, Chot Et-Kalin) from later books in the world.  They spelled Ariakas wrong, though (Ariakus).

If you're wondering, for a brief time during the height of my D&D phase I did collect some miniatures, and actually painted some of them.  I read these books when I lived in Rhode Island during 9th grade, and my friends and I (Josh, Jed, and JP—whom I mentioned in the Retrospective Overview) played D&D quite a bit.  We used miniatures to represent our characters, or for other games.

I checked inside the box (I probably haven't opened it in at least 15 years) and here is what I found:


I didn't even paint them all!  The unpainted ones were primered (black) and ready to go... but I never did them.  Looks like I only did a few of the villains, and not Lord Soth (bottom left corner).  The other figures in there are some that I bought separately.  I know I had assembled Khisanth at one point, based on the lack of primer in the joints, but I guess I took it apart to store it.

And if you look closely, you'll see that the image of the characters on the back of the box was reversed too.  Not sure why they did that exactly.

The Illustrations

It wouldn't be a Dragonlance retrospective without a look at some of the interior illustrations. We have yet another new illustrator on this book. This time it's Jeffrey Butler, who's most known for his comic art. His style is slightly different than the ones from previous illustrators (Valerie Valusek and Denis Beauvais), which means I like it, but not as much as the others.

I do wonder why they used a different interior illustrator for each book in Chronicles. Was it on purpose, or for some other reason? Not that we'll ever know, nor does it matter.

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


Things We Now Know

My previous Chronicles posts mentioned many things that I'd skipped or wondered about, as Krynn is a totally new world here in this first series of books. At of the end of it, we've answered just about everything. Here are the ones still outstanding from the last blog post:
  • How big is the world of Krynn? — Still don't know, and doesn't seem important.
  • What's up with the constellations disappearing? — It meant that the "higher" gods Paladine (Good) and Takhisis (Evil) had physically returned to the world.
  • Who are the Dragon Highlords? — Answered.
  • Who is Fizban really? — He's Paladine. Still don't like this character.
  • What's up with the Green Gemstone Man? — His name is Berem, and we know his entire story now. He's the one who let Takhisis get a foot back in this world.
  • Why is Raistlin obsessed with Fistandantilus? — I believe we'll figure this out in the next trilogy, Legends.
  • What happened to all the draconians? And where did they even come from? — Lots of draconians in this one, and they came from the eggs of good dragons.
  • Why are there only bad dragons hanging around? — Because they had stolen all the good dragon eggs and held them hostage to keep the good dragons from interfering!
  • What are the Towers of High Sorcery? — Where mages go to be tested and gain their robes. There used to be 5, but now there's only 2. We get to see one (in Palanthus) that's been cursed and empty for 300 years... until Raistlin lifts the curse at the end and takes it as his home.
  • When are we going to learn more about the gods? — More next trilogy? We only learned a little here (basically, who the major players are). The important thing is that the people begin to believe in them again, after they've been gone for so long. The return of clerics helps with that.  Goldmoon was the first (for Mishakal) and Elistan the (for Paladine).
I'm sure Weis & Hickman had plans for the next trilogy, Legends, while working on this one, especially considering how quickly it came out after this one (the next year).  I remember it being better than Chronicles, in part because it focuses mostly on the best character (Raistlin), because Weis & Hickman had a few novels under their belts (Chronicles were their first) and because Legends wasn't forced to conform to a set of AD&D modules created by multiple people ahead of time.

I'm looking forward to re-reading it.


Book 1 — Time of the Twins


Book 2 — Dragons of Winter Night

Book 1 — Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Retrospective Overview