Last week we fought lizard-monster things and the party demonstrated a—rather fabulous—lack of strategy. But hey, Raistlin blew things up, so who’s complaining?
Will this week see more fireworks? Or are we going to return to the “old ways” of getting lost in the woods? Maybe a bit of both…
As always, we’re going to keep the reread post spoiler-free, but the comments are open to any and all discussion, so proceed with caution!
Flight! The White Stag & Darken Wood. The Dead Walk. Raistlin’s Magic
Finally! We’ve escaped the creatures. Or they’ve stopped chasing us because we’re trapped. Who cares? Things can move on pretty quickly in Dragonlance sometimes.
At this point, the companions are stuck—the dreaded Darken Wood seems the only way forward and we get it—this is bad news. To boot, Raistlin collapses and Sturm isn’t looking too great. In fact, his head wound is a ‘jagged slash, turning slowly purple’ and his face is ‘a ghastly shade of grayish white’. This is all serious enough to take a break, have a chat and find out a little about Riverwind’s dark past—back when he fought those lizard leper pretend-clerics in the broken city. He also mellows a little (after some prompting from Goldmoon) and even thanks the others for saving their lives. All this nicety is cut short by Raistlin’s ominous declaration that ‘it’s all going to get stranger.’
As they pick up and head through eerily quiet woods towards Prayer’s Eye Peak (yes, the mountain looks like hands pressed together in prayer, why do you ask?), we have time for a little background information on Sturm. He’s not doing too well and his mind is wandering, thinking of stories he grew up with, stories about Huma Lightbringer, Knight of Solamnia, of Paladine and the ancient gods, of the great White Stag.
We are also told about how the companions became… well, buddies, and then there is a slightly tedious infodump about the Cataclysm when ‘gods abandoned man’ and the Knights were unable to stop the death that rained down from the heavens and Krynn was ‘smote asunder’, etc, etc. Nothing new here, move along, move along.
But wait—is that a stag?!
Yes, it is—Sturm sees a magnificent white stag and insists everyone follow it. And they do—even though Sturm is the only one who can see it. A trail suddenly appears and they tag along after Sturm as he chases his magic stag along it. They spot creatures that may have been waiting to ambush them below, and, worse yet, hundreds of campfires that indicate an army encampment further away.
Raistlin insists that the magical staff is connected to the army gathering in the north, reminding everyone (and us) about the fallen stars. It is also Raistlin who tells them that they have reached the dreaded Darken Woods, but that doesn’t stop anyone so they forge ahead after a little pointless debate about whether they should forge ahead or not. Tanis gives everyone the choice to come or go and Raistlin points out that there really isn’t much of a choice now, is there, what with the magic trail vanishing behind them.
Some tension arises between Sturm and Raistlin. Tanis and Flint share a bromance moment. They enter the Darken Woods. Finally!
…and the woods seem quite cheerful. Birds flutter in the trees, butterflies flit by, little animals chatter in the bushes, flowers sway as if they ‘reveled in being alive’. Raistlin isn’t fooled, of course, and they walk on for a while, until they finally rest for the day in a lovely little glade—lovely until an army of undead warriors surround them. Raistlin explains that they are spectral minions, forced to repeat the same task in death that they were unable to complete in life.
He casts a little spell that allows them to communicate with the undead and they have a rather long chat, with Tas briefing them on what’s up (what, he’s doing his own reread here?) and Raistlin speaking in tongues. Caramon tries to attack a spectre but it is no use. The party have been summoned and are taken through the ghost of a massive battle until the spectres vanish, leaving our lot at the mercy of a herd of centaurs with spears. These centaurs insist on taking everyone to the Forestmaster at the very centre of Darken Wood, where no magic—not even Raistlin’s—will work.
Monster(s) of the Week
Finally we get some variety here. We’ve had the lizard lepers and now we have the undead warriors. The centaurs and the Forestmaster have not harmed anyone yet, so I suppose they aren’t monsters.
I maintain that Raistlin falls into this category though. It’s interesting how he’s often described as a deadly creature—he twists ‘up from the leaves like a snake’, his words are ‘nothing more than hissing sounds flicking between his teeth’, and Tanis even sees him standing with the spectres as ‘the living dead’ next to the ‘dead living’. Everything points to Raistlin’s otherness, his monstrous nature so barely contained within his golden skin.
‘Huma had fought dragons. Give me dragons, Sturm dreamed’.
Give me dragons, too! No seriously—where are the dragons, yo?!
‘Goblins, boats, lizard men, invisible stags—what next?’ complains Flint.
Centaurs, dude, centaurs. And the Forestmaster—she’s going to be something amazing, I think.
‘Death is life’s one great certainty, Tanis’.
Oh Raistlin, so melodramatic. No wonder everyone’s annoyed with you. Everyone except me—I love the pulpy melodrama that Jared pointed out last week. Keep at it Raistlin, it’s why we love you.
Look, I won’t pretend I’m terribly entertained by the walking through the woods bit. I’m not. It’s hard to make that interesting even in a summary. Who would have thought a couple of chapters with magic stags, zombies and centaurs could get boring? But it’s a tedious journey even with a magical stag thrown in and using it to give us large chunks of (fairly repetitive) background info isn’t helping. Thankfully it’s only paragraphs of thinly disguised infodumps and not pages of it, so we get through it fairly quickly and meet some interesting creatures in the woods.
I’m bothered by a few things in these chapters though: Sturm has a massive head wound, he’s dizzy and sick and falling all over the place until he’s not. Until he’s fine, until he’s thrashing through the undergrowth after a possible hallucination, until his is the firm grip that tells Tanis it’s okay. So which is it? Head trauma and misery or strength? Plus, does everyone really agree to follow the stag that only Sturm can see—Sturm, the guy with the massive head wound and possible hallucinations? I suppose it becomes evident that something magical is up when the trail open up but before then it really does seem like everyone is being ridiculous by doing what the guy with the bust open head insists on.
Colour me not suspending my disbelief at another point—Tanis thinks of a maiden he left behind and twists a ring of ivy leaves on his finger. We know it’s been a while since he’s been back so what sort of magic leaves are these that have not dried up and fallen off? I need some for Karachi summers when even the bougainvillea starts to pant. And yes, I can believe in leprous lizards and spectre minions and centaurs before I can accept that this ring hasn’t fallen off yet. Oh, wait—what’s that you say? It’s elven magic? Well, that explains it then!
Incidentally, how do they know the warriors will kill them with a touch? Because the omniscient narrator tell us? Who tells this lot then? Legend?
And speaking of Tanis (yeah, he’s still so holier than thou, isn’t he), we find out a little of what happened between him and Kitiara. Basically they were on a break because Tanis couldn’t make up his mind about being with a human or not. And now that he has, she’s nowhere on the scene. Good for her, I say.
SO. MUCH. INFODUMPING.
I feel this is what we get for praising the fast-paced action of the previous chapter. But these might be the least subtle chapters yet: infodumping, lost in the woods and some seriously hard-core railroading. A path that only goes forward! ANGRY DM WANTS THE PARTY TO GET MOVING.
The crux of the infodumping is a lot of Sturm’s nostalgia—a bit about his childhood (sad), his upbringing (noble, sad), his father (lost, sad), all of his cultural touchstones (Huma, dead, sad), and his desire for dragons (not there, sad). And yet, this gets us nowhere. This chapter is full of Sturm and dragon, signifying nothing.
Oh, also, the centaurs speak in Ye Olde Englishe. Because bonus annoying.
(Hey, how does Raistlin cast “Speak with Dead”? That’s a third level Cleric spell. He is a monster.)
Urgh. Let’s move on. Raistlin promised us stranger things, I’m ready for them.
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.