CBR13Bingo – Old Series!
So I am calling these the ret-chronicles because there’s some reverse engineering happening here storywise. This happens a few ways. For one, certain events and knowledge that would have been really important and useful in the War of the Lance, appears here in this books, but not in the main novels. And sometimes this forgetting is dealt with and sometimes not. For another, no one talks about most of these things in the main novels and it seems like some of it might have been important or meaningful to share!
Shadow and Light 3/5 Stars
This is the first Dragonlance book I ever read, and I am glad for it now because I realize it laid out some of the more important emotional resonances in the main novels later that I might not have experienced otherwise. I can’t say that this is true for all the preludes, but it is here. The Companions, kind of companions, are deciding independently that they need to set off on some adventures and travels. This will lead them to meet back up in five years, as we’re shown in the opening scenes of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. We open here with Sturm and Kitiara sparring while Raistlin, not yet a mage, and Caramon watching on their older sister and Sturm spar not only their individual skills, but also their approaches to fighting. Sturm, honor-bound, is highly skilled, but rigid in his approach while Kitiara is more of a sword dancer, but of course arrogant and brash. This contrast (Shadow and Light, duh) will play out through the rest of the novel.
When the companions all depart, Sturm is planning to go North to Solamnia to look up his father, who previously sent Sturm and his mother south to protect them. Kitiara has never been north, and when she and Tanis have a big fight, she joins Sturm. They meet an Elven traveler who gives them a magic crystal that ends up protecting Kitiara from a dangerous magic user, they meet a group of gnomes (tinkers and inventors in this world) who have built a flying machine, and when they join them on the test run, it goes awry, and they end up on one of the moon’s of Krynn.
Some observations: looking back on this novel and it’s somewhat goofy plot, I am surprised to find myself more convinced of the plot’s holding together. The moon makes more sense when you add a little magic into the world. In addition, there’s a LOT more story here than I remember, both on and off the moon, and it mostly works.
There’s some significant ret-conning that makes it annoying to connect to the world of the main novels — Sturm’s fighting many a draconian in this book for example and knowing that dragons are still around for another. But I like that the novel deepens the connection between Sturm and Kitiara that plays out a little in the main novels, and has a climax that resonates more as a consequence.
Kendermore 2/5 Stars
It’d be pretty annoying to not get a Kender novel, in part because while they are hobbits, they’re also not hobbits, and this book, little sense that it makes in a lot of ways, adds in some fun there. The thing about Kenders is that you have to basically just accept them if you’re going to move on. No way could they have a functioning city, a functioning economy, a functioning society and class, but here we are.
Tasslehoff is sitting around with Flint and Tanis when a hot lady dwarf who charms the pants of Otik shows up and tells Tas that he has to come back to Kendermore and get married. Kender, being flighty, have marriage pacts from birth otherwise Kender would never have kids. Tas doesn’t want to go, but goes along for adventure. In a trope that plagues the books, Tas gives the dwarf an old “pre-Cataclysm” map and they end up butting up against an unexpected ocean. This would be funnier and more interesting if this almost exact same thing didn’t happen in the Chronicles, and if Tas didn’t end up in the same broken city they were all so shocked to find in the first book sigh.
Along with this, we also get a treasure hunt because this novel has a split narrative. While Tas is traveling to Kendermore, his uncle and a human are looking for first, each other, and then a treasure. We also get some magic stuff and world-building stuff. I want to like Kenders, and I remember loving them as a kid, but this book is a little much. I do really enjoy the book itself in terms of writing and fun. There’s some original sin going on here in the creation of Kenders that bother me more than anything else.
Brothers Majere 3/5 Stars
What I really like this third book in the preludes series is that a) it’s not trying to account for the lost years of Raistlin and Caramon in full and b) it poses itself as a kind of text of an archive. This works really well in allowing the legend of Raistlin to have a more complex timeline, and also works back in some circular ways later. It’s clever and fun here.
The story here takes places less than a year after Raistlin has completed the wizards trials. He has power, but he’s frail and shattered. He and Caramon and Tassle….errrm Earwig Lockpicker, a Kender who is definitely his own creation and not exactly like every single other Kender we ever meet in these books, happen upon a posting for help. A town needs help solving a series of disappearances. They inquire, learn that the sacred cats of this town have begin to go missing, and they get hired. Raistlin is mistrusted, and both he and Caramon both fall in love with the mysterious head of the town.
The town of course has way more secrets than originally thought. Like I said, this being AN adventure and not THE adventure of the brothers makes it much more interesting. There’s still an issue with the two of them in terms of age. They seem to have had a lot of adventures in such a short span, but alas.
Riverwind the Plainsman – 2/5 Stars
A boring book about the most boring of the companion characters. In theory this should be the easiest task ahead of the writers, except perhaps of Sturm and Kitiara, even though they had to take Sturm to the moon to make him interesting. Here though, we already knew things that had to happen. We know that Riverwind had to make it to Xak Tsaorth, get the staff, see a dragon, almost die. And all those things do happen, so that’s good. The issue though is that Riverwind as a character brings pretty little to the table personality-wise, which doesn’t matter much when he’s clearly a side-character to Goldmoon, but as a lead, eeesh. Luckily we get a young elf and an old man too, but even they have their own issues. This book does answer a lot of questions ala draconians and ovidians, which again, great. But it spends most of its time underground, an issue this whole series has in loads.
The other issue that comes into play here more than ever before is the racial/ethnic coding of the “barbarians”. So yeah, “barbarian” is obviously a term employed by outsiders, as the term has always been, but there’s the uncomfortable notion that the Que Shu are indigenous, which makes the representation fraught, even if handled well. I would argue that I am reading too much into it, and maybe I should think about more like “Conan” or whatever, but I am not the one who gives Riverwind a ration of “pemmican” to hold him on his journey. Making them master hunters and archers doesn’t help either.
Flint the King – 3/5 Stars
Richer and better than I remembered it being from reading it as a kid. For one, the romance completely passed me by, as did the kind of political/ethnic conflict intrigue of the dwarves. I would have only wanted action and more action, and plenty of the other preludes book offer that. So this one is a little slower, a little more mature, and a little more based in nuance and politics. All great! It’s also very very very conservative in its use of Gully Dwarves, also good! I haven’t mentioned much about them, but man, I can’t tell if the authors here are being classist in their creation of the Gully Dwarves or ableist, and obviously I am reading too much into it, but the Gnomes come off weird, but respectable, and it doesn’t usually happen with the Gully Dwarves except here. The issue of course is the inconsistency with Flint as a character. Why would HATE HATE HATE Gully Dwarves so much in all the chronicles if they earn his respect and affection here. Blegh.
I love that we got more of the dwarves. I know that there’s other book that deal more with the dwarves and I am looking forward to them, but like in Lord of the Rings, I feel like the dwarves (and the elves too, at least in Lord of the Rings) offer glimpses and teases that never get explored. Here, they’re explored, and it’s nice!
Tanis the Shadow Years – 2/5 Stars
The last of the preludes, and while it has an interesting premise, again, you’re left with the question of why Tanis doesn’t really mention any of this in the chronicles. Like I get it, it’s a ret-conning/shoehorning of stories, but several of them either fit in with the larger story, fit with their character traits, or have a clear logic as to why the story doesn’t come up later.
So here we go, Tanis pairs up with a dwarf and a trickster and meet an old very much dying mage. The mage says, hey would you go back in time within my memories and see about rescuing a lady I used to love? The reason for why Tanis might do this makes sense, the guy, in his past, knew Tanis’s rapist father. So this is an opportunity to meet him and ____? So he goes, and well, the past in Krynn is weird because it’s so colored by the cataclysm, but also a lot of people are old enough to remember it, so it’s not always clear what the past allows us. I have the same issue with Lord of the Rings, but that’s immaterial here. So the novel happens, and it’s the shortest in the bunch and while the conceit is interesting, it really does feel like it runs out of steam.
Tanis, like Aragorn etc, has the appearance and argument of being interesting, without actually being interesting, so that’s an issue.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight 3/5 Stars
I reviewed the full chronicles not that long ago, but I wanted to revisit them again this year for a few reasons. For one, I think I was not in the right space to enjoy them. And two, moving from the print versions, where I think they’re kind of weak to the audiobooks is a positive step. I think pretty much everything I thought earlier is still true, but they’re still fun books that moved up in my estimation once I was hearing them instead of reading them. If the goal of a book like this is to be entertained, that movement really helped.
Some things that stand out in this book that get challenged or reinforced in the other books in the series. There’s a lot of planning in this series that clearly doesn’t make it into the books. For example, we’re given threads to some of the storylines and character arcs for other books, but for ones that would come later. So the weird thing that this does is that this book ends up being less good because it gives over some of the storytelling to later books. Maybe this was a trial run and maybe this was a failure, but it’s hard to tell. That we get very little characterization here and tons in other books feels a little strange. Plus in a few spaces, there’s whole stories that are cut out and then referred to, but then some of those books wouldn’t even get written for decades. I really enjoy this more as an audiobook because it allowed to fun to stand out. The issues still exists. For example, are there a billion people in this world? Or just 1000? Do they know anything about their world at all? How can a “broken city” be like 10 miles away and be completely unknown?
Dragons of Winter Night 3/5 Stars
This second book is sometimes the least of the three books and sometimes the best. We finally get a really good look at the Knights of Solamnia, and if you don’t find them boring, I don’t know what to tell you. If you haven’t read any of the other series then you also get your first look at Kitiara as well. The two real standouts here in terms of storytelling is the absolutely fantastic scenes in the southern Elven city of Sylvenesti, and then in the retelling/telling of the assault of the ice fortress. The second one here is cut short, and the glimpses of it seem really fun. In addition to all this, we get our first story that doesn’t get told, hunting for the cool hammer in the dwarven depths. Sigh. This book also tells us that the world is severely cut off from itself. Something I am not sure is entirely true once we go back and read some of the other novels. The splitting up of the companions turns this into the Two Towers in a good way, giving us new pairings and alliances, and then also giving us much more of the world.
Dragons of Spring Dawning 3/5 Stars
The final book in the Dragonlance Chronicles and I swear that even though I’ve read this 5 or 6 times, and twice in the last two years, I almost never remember much of what happens here except a few details here and there. Like I couldn’t really write a summary but I remember key scenes. It wraps up fairly satisfactorily. The ending is a little too much Ritual of the Chud for me, where they win, but how is “???” but there’s divine intervention and all that. But of course they win, it’s a game.
I always think about the final fights of books and movies a little too much like final bosses in video games, where there’s a clear goal, a set of environmental factors, multi-step battles, and plenty of other things to set us up. I just forget in movies how too much of the time it feels super impossible, super impossible, and then is over in one go. There’s some of that here, but there’s also a pretty good sense of “oh know, the bad guy is dead but we’re still in the middle of all the bad stuff” that does work well. Things wrap up, a few people die, and a few people get together. There’s some nonfiction that Margaret Weis wrote about following the hero’s journey. It’s a little more complex here, because who is our hero (singular)? but mostly that’s what we’re getting. There’s a reason why I always felt these books taught me how to read fantasy adventures.
Old Review from two years ago:
When I was a kid we ordered a subscription to Nintendo Power. This would have been something like 1990. This was a big coups in my family as it was always seen as a little bit superfluous to play Nintendo as much as we did….or Sega Genesis…or etc etc. Although I do recall my mom being on the phone with Nintendo customer support to figure out why our console was dying and the various, inevitably futile ways in which we worked against the dying of our Nintendo’s light.
Anyway, this subscription came with a copy of Dragon Warrior, the US localized version of Dragon Quest 1. In addition, it came with a full world map, a compendium of the enemies, and a level-up guide with weapon and armor suggestions. The game itself only takes a couple of hours to play and it’s basically a grinding game based in fetch quests with almost no story. It’s so simplistic at times that watching a speed-run of the game is watching someone who knows the random number generator so well, they skate through with barely any leveling. But it taught me how to play and love RPGs in video games. A love that, while it has waned as I got older, still has a lot of power over me to this day, including the fact that I will replay Dragon Warrior still every once in a while.
This book series works in almost the same ways. It’s such a by-the-book, table-top derived, mass produced and cheap series of novels that sometimes it’s embarrassing how much I still love it. I can’t even rate it because I know it’s objectively bad, but I love it.
But it taught me how to read fantasy novels. I know how to look at the world-building, to follow the logic of the magic, the creatures, the powers, the map, and all kinds of other factor that go into a lot of fantasy books. I read and reread this book a half dozen times in my youth before I even knew that Lord of the Rings existed. Something that remains a curiosity to me because I read The Hobbit about 10 times as a kid and never knew there was more to that series until well into high school.
So this series works this way: Tropes!
There’s elves that are just LOTR elves (forest and mountain, ooh!), there’s dwarves same as LOTR. There’s two races that kind of split the difference between Hobbits. There’s dragons, and goblins, and a limited number of wizards (oh wait, mages), and there’s plainsfolk….hrrrm Rohirrm? And Northern knights whose order has mostly died out….cough cough Dunedain cough cough.
And there’s a weapon of ages that has dramatic consequences on the current plight. There’s a mythical figure who took down those old foes. All that.
The first book is about the reuniting of a band of friends at a tavern built into a tree. Pretty cool. The companions are as follows:
Tanis Half-Elven (guess his deal — oh right, half elf half human….not unlike one Aragorn [who I KNOW is not a half elf, but does live among them]); the dwarf Flint Fireforge (which, I get it dwarves’ are known for making things, but this is a little on the nose, right?); Tasslehoff Burrfoot, 1/2 Hobbit — a trickster type character; Sturm, a fancy knight; Caramon, a big ole fella, presumably played by Jason Momoa; Raistlin, a mage and his brother; Riverwind and Goldmoon, “plainsmen” and definitely NOT white Native Americans, right?; and the curiously missing Kitiara, a sellsword and sister to the twins.
So the result of all this is a basic grail quest mixed with a good versus evil world-rending battle. It’s oddly compelling, and almost entirely action, and so derivative of Lord of the Rings it’s almost shameful at times. There’s zero character building — oh Tanis is a reluctant hero? The Dwarf is grumpy? It’s oddly chaste and not funny.
But I keep returning to the fact that this is the series of books who helped me understand these kinds of fantasy tropes and because it was beloved when I was a kid, I can’t get away from it.
It does leave me in a funny place in terms of whether or not I would consider recommending it to someone (not to adults) but I do teach high school and it’s a pretty low risk, high reward set of texts. I’m left in a kind of void regarding these books.
But I have a plan. So there’s another trilogy that’s also the “core” of the Dragonlance series and I found a free copy of the first of those books. And they’re the same authors and the same time period (mid-80s). So I will get back to you!