We’re back with another entry in our reread of the Dragonlance Chronicles! After last week’s spectacular non-spectacular, the Heroes of the Lance are still… well… lost in the woods.
Are we going to get porridge? Or action? Will they keep ambling around the Solace suburbs? Or finally get somewhere? Will there be introspection… or a bit of action?
Only time, and the recap below, will tell.
“The story of the staff. Strange clerics. Eerie feelings.”
Hack hack hack. The party chop their way through the woods in order to get to the Haven Road. The woods are no picnic, and the adventurers are all pretty grumpy. That said, the road is creepy, so the party let Tas go scouting ahead before they join him in the open. Tas isn’t scouting stealthily though, because he sings us a little song. Because sometimes this book hates us.
As the party tip-toes along the road, Goldmoon explains what’s up with her, with Riverwind, and with their crazy blue staff.
<wiggly flashback fingers>
So Goldmoon—Chieftain’s Daughter / barbarian princess—had an illicit romance with Riverwind—an outcast’s son. Generally speaking, to marry the princess, you have to do something rather impressive. In Riverwind’s case, because everyone hated him, Goldmoon’s father gave him an impossible quest—to prove the ancient gods.
Riverwind disappeared for years, then came back a total gibbering mess… but with a staff in tow. Goldmoon’s father was thoroughly unimpressed, especially since the staff didn’t do anything. Commence: stoning. Goldmoon, in a Juliet moment, leapt to join Riverwind as the rocks got hurled and whammo—the staff teleported them to the Solace road. (Which, ironically, probably proved that it works, so maybe they can marry now? No one mentions this.)
</end wiggly flashback fingers>
Tanis and Riverwind have some man-bonding. Riverwind is racist to Tanis’ face and then shares his scary stories. This is actually how men bond. I think we’re starting to see why he had trouble fitting in back home. The chaps’ moment is ruined when Tas comes back, saying that they’ve got company ahead.
Everyone runs to hide except Sturm, who is tired of skulking around and is ready for the next encounter. He stays put, and, while the others watch, a wagon o’ clerics comes rolling up to meet him. The ‘clerics’ are very, very weird—tall, robed, and totally swathed in cloth. Only their ‘dark glittering eyes’ are visible under their thick hoods. Plus, ‘hollow, lisping, inhuman’ voices. Just possibly bad guys.
The ‘clerics’ and Sturm have a bit of guarded banter, in which the ‘clerics’ confess that they’re looking for the blue crystal staff. Apparently it was stolen from their order, and they’ve got a sick friend who could really use some healing.
Despite the fact that NOTHING ABOUT THIS SEEMS OK, Goldmoon comes sailing out of hiding, yodelling that she’s happy to help.
Shock of shocks, it’s a trap! The clerics grab for the staff, there’s blue light everywhere, everyone gets tetchy and—great jumping jitterbugs!—the clerics are actually creepy reptile-creatures with wings and… scales… and..and… ickiness!
The rest of the chapter is a tidy little combat. Sturm discovers that the reptile critters turn to stone when they die (much to the detriment of his sword), Flint and Tas do a little Laurel & Hardy routine, Raistlin is miffed to find that that monsters are magic resistant… and then sets them on fire anyway, Tanis and Caramon whack people with their whacking-things and… then reinforcements show up, so the party sprint back into the woods. More on all this below, but… wowzers!
Monster(s) of the Week
Tangleshoot vines—“these had to be trod on with great care or they would suddenly snake around an ankle, trapping the helpless victim until he was devoured by one of many predatory animals… thus providing tangleshoot with what it needed to live—blood.”
Apparently these are all over the place in the forest, which is a head-scratcher from an ecological standpoint. I think you’d need about sixteen Krynn capybaras per square meter in order to make this circle of life last longer than 15 minutes.
Riverwind’s story also contains a monster, but it is filtered through his hazy memory—“death on black wings… it rose like a god from the darkness.” I wonder what this could be? HMMM.
And, of course, our mysterious hooded, lisping monsters have finally been revealed. Horrible reptile creatures with wings, fangs and terrible manners. They’re also well-equipped and well-organised: elaborate armor that fits around their flappy bits, curved swords, search parties, reinforcements… whatever evil they represent, it seems a pretty effective one. Could they be related to the ‘armies gathering in the North’?
The reptile creatures have gone unnamed so far, so I won’t spoil the suspense—but they’re some of Dragonlance’s finest creations, and it is safe to say that we’ll be seeing a bit more of them in the future.
“This was not the act of a foolish, hysterical woman. Goldmoon was far from that. She had ruled her tribe in all but name for ten years, ever since sickness had struck her father like a lightning bolt, leaving him unable to speak clearly or move his right arm and leg.”
Context—this is Goldmoon darting out of hiding into the biggest trap since the Battle of Endor. Her line of thinking is that she can prompt the obviously-dangerous clerics into telling her more about the staff. Which isn’t too dumb… just not the brightest (or best-executed) strategy.
More perplexing (besides the assumed sexism of the reader) is that this description of her father is slightly at odds with the tyrannical figure from her backstory—the one that ruled the tribe with an iron fist, threw the staff at Riverwind and bellowed for Goldmoon’s lover to be stoned to death without question.
“Death on black wings.”
It is pulpy melodrama, but it works. So very well. Twitter bio, sorted.
“Has everyone gone mad?”
It is hard to dislike Tanis when he busts out lines like this. In fairness, leading this group of self-absorbed misfits must be exasperating. First Sturm refuses to hide, now Goldmoon is waltzing about. As much as he annoys me, I do sympathise with Tanis—sometimes he really is the only grown-up (and other times, he’s the angstiest teen of them all).
In some sense, I think the chapter summary—and, in fairness, the entire reread—does Dragons of Autumn Twilight a disservice. While it is easy to do plot recaps and pick apart the slower moments, it is hard to recap an action scene. If I recount a blow-by-blow combat, I’d (a) do a bad job of it, and (b) be retelling, not summarising.
As a tangent: a friend of mine told me a story about working in the not-so-lucrative world of ‘adult filmmaking’. He said that each 90 minute script was something like 12 pages. A bit of innuendo-laden dialogue, then “[sex begins]”. Which is a roundabout way of saying, people don’t read the Dragonlance Chronicles for the articles, if you know what I mean. Wink, nudge.
Anyway, confused metaphors aside, even if a lot of this book can get pretty silly during the quiet moments, the set-piece fight scenes are terrific. From the moment a scaly claw grasps Goldmoon, the book takes it up a notch, and it goes from slightly goofy info-dumping into proper, page-devouring action. Creepy, sword-wielding, bat-winged reptile-monsters! Tas and Flint flail around, Caramon Hulks out, Sturm is bashed about, and Raistlin blows *&%$ up. Because, as Mahvesh says, he’s the real monster here. (Bless his coughin’ socks.) Something even catches on fire, because… fire! It is great! Again, in my mind-movie, Raistlin is walking away while the wagon explodes behind him. Why does it explode? I don’t know. Because Michael Bay says so.
This chapter is great.
Meanwhile, on the whiny literary end of the critique, I’m about ready for our adventuring party to take control of their own fate. We’ve had a single chapter of directed movement—“let’s go through the woods!”—and … that’s it. They screw up the battle plan, they’re terrible at working together as a party, and, surprise! we end these chapters with the team forced to run away in a random direction.
Well, not that random, as it is Darken Wood, which was pretty heavy-handedly hinted at in an earlier chapter. But still—I’d be ok with Team Tanis getting a clue and being a little more, if you’ll pardon the term, proactive.
I can’t believe we’re still not through these damn woods! I can’t believe Caramon—big, hefty, strong, brave Caramon—is asking ‘Do you think it’s safe?’ I’m with Tanis completely when he says, ‘It took us an hour to travel a few hundred yards. We ought to reach the crossroads next week at that pace.’ Preach!
I agree with Jared that the fight scenes are ridiculous good fun. Ridiculous good fun. I’d always wondered if there was a certain amount of slapstick included in the fighting scenes, because some bits are pretty camp and, though I’m still uncertain whether it is intentional or not, I still enjoy it all—from Goldmoon the ‘strong child of a warrior race’ to Riverwind’s PTSD at seeing the lizard leper clerics, I love it all.
Ah yes, the lizard leper clerics. Are we happy to see them or what? A far cry from those useless bumbling goblins we met earlier, the clerics are proper villains. They’re evil, scaly, terrifyingly ‘other’ and they turn to stone when they die which means they can take you and your weapons down with them. What I find particularly interesting about them is that they are repeatedly referred to as ‘clerics’, even after it’s become clear that they really are not. Dragonlance has a strange relationship with religion—we’ll come across that later too—but for now, the idea that clerics are bad has been made clear enough. Thank you, Raistlin, who of course recognises all monsters and points out, ‘They are not clerics. They are some sort of reptile man’. You don’t say, super-mage, you don’t say.
Incidentally, I think I have an insight into Raistlin’s crankypot personality. This guy has to re-memorise his spells daily. What fresh hell is this? So much for passing the test and nearly losing his life for all this power—he’s still permanently locked in student mode! No wonder he’s so pissy all the time. He’s the most powerful mage around and he’s got homework.
I hope he gets to chill out a bit in the Darken Woods. Let’s head on over, shall we? The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Well, maybe not lovely but we’ve still got miles to go before we sleep in a real feather bed and drink some ale again.
Next week—what does lurk in Darken Woods? Did everyone bring their flashlights and bug spray?
Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the Tor.com podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.