Dragonlance Reread

The Dragonlance Reread: Dragons of Autumn Twilight Part 2, Chapters 3 and 4

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Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread! This week we continue along our journey, hoping desperately for more dragons, maybe even an actual lance, but perhaps settling for an eventful escape from cages.

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!

Here we are, on the road again.
Here we are, in a cage.
Here we are, playing hero again.
Here we are, turn the page.

(with apologies to Bob Seger)

Part 2: Chapters 3 and 4

“The Slave Caravan” and “The Strange Old Magician.”

But, alas, it is true. The party, having seen Solace conquered by the draconian armies, have been captured by the unpleasant Fewmaster Teode and his monstrous minions. They’re now in a cage (drawn by elk!) being hauled to Pax Tharkas, where Lord Verminaard will use them as slaves in his mines… If they’re lucky. (Cue: leering at Tika and Goldmoon.)

Life as a draconian slave is pretty unpleasant. The food is awful—fit for only a gully dwarf. And, as if magic, a gully dwarf appears and eats it. There’s only a little water. There’s no sleep, because the draconians prefer to march at night. And, just to make things extra bleak, the party are all struggling with various psychological and emotional challenges.

Let’s go through them, shall we?

  • Tanis, on top of his natural emo-ness, is sad that Solace is now ruined. And he’s a little uncomfortable with Gilthanas as well. Gilthanas, we learn, his is his half-cousin (I may have made that up—but the child of his mother’s husband’s brother), and they didn’t part on good terms because Tanis was hookin’ up with Laurana (Gilthanas’ sister). Also, because only Tanis is allowed inappropriate relationships, he’s worried about Caramon and Tika.
  • Gilthanas has real problems, because he’s trying to help free other elves, and now he’s in a cage. Also, Tanis keeps bothering him.
  • Sturm is really, really unhappy about being in a cage.
  • Caramon is hungry.
  • Raistlin is sick.
  • Tasslehoff is going properly stir-crazy.
  • Theros, who we first meet in this chapter, is bleeding to death.

Basically, everyone’s having a really bad time except Goldmoon, who is super-serene (BECAUSE SHE HAS FAITH) and Riverwind/Flint who don’t appear in this chapter.

There are a few rays of light, relatively speaking. When Theros, a blacksmith who has been helping smuggle elves out of Solace, is chucked into the cage, Goldmoon heals him with her magical mojo. Everyone is impressed. Also, Fizban shows up. An old man wearing white robes, having an argument with a tree—why wouldn’t the draconians consider him useful slave material and chuck him into the cage with the others? Still, however strange he is, Fizban seems to recognise the symbol of Mishakal and he helps Raistlin pull through his mumbling fever. Fizban also provides a lot of light comedy—why, he’s seen a dragonlance! (It looks like a lance, good against dragons. Ka-ching!)

Things are looking pretty low, but then, elves! A party of elves attack!

Teode freaks out (he’s not too brave, our Fewmaster) and rides off with his goblins. But even with them gone, the draconians are still a threat—there are ton of them (outnumbering the elven raiders). With Teode gone, the lizardfolk decide they might as well kill the slaves and head out, and, as the party struggles within the bars of their cage, the draconians approach…

Fortunately, magic! Fizban, in an act of (somewhat self-)destructive magic blasts a fireball through the cage. It incinerates the closest draconians, and allows Sestun (Teode’s gully dwarf PA and Tas’ new buddy) to free them.

The party spill out of their cage, grab their gear from the supply cart and get down to the dirty business of killing draconians. And it is dirty—remember the draconians that turned to stone? Well, the local type turn into poisonous mush when they die. Disgusting and lethal.

Even armed, armored and supported by elves, the party know when they’re outnumbered, so they beat a hasty retreat into the forest. The draconians decline to follow (the first rule after never fight a land war in Asia? Never follow hostile elves into a forest) so the team can catch their breath.

The elves send the non-party slaves on their way—apparently there were a lot of non-party slaves in the caravan, although we didn’t really encounter them until now. Goldmoon’s a bit miffed at this treatment, but as Porthios (Gilthanas’ older brother) says, there ain’t much they can do for them. Plus, humans caused the Cataclysm (…300 years ago…) and they deserve it and all that.

Gilthanas and Porthios have an argument about Goldmoon’s healing powers. Everyone glares at Tanis (because). Riverwind makes some snarky comments about elves (don’t forget, he hates them). An armed ‘honor guard’ of elves nocks their arrows and makes ‘get your move’ gestures and… we’re off to the magical kingdom of Qualinost!

Monster(s) of the Week

Goblins again… who are apparently the size of gully dwarves! Another clunky mechanics vs story-telling moment. It isn’t very fair to expect non-gaming readers to understand the goblin vs hobgoblin nuance, and, as a result, the invading hordes of Fewmaster Teode are all in danger of seeming a lot less menacing.

A new species of draconian—the acid-melty type. Theros also tells the party about exploding draconians! Plus, more talk of dragons.

Do elves count as monsters? There’s not a lot of consistency so far in how many elves there might be—or how common they are. At the start of the book, they sounded extremely rare. But apparently there were enough in Solace that there was a dedicated liberation movement? But then, Solace is either tiny or enormous, depending on where we are in the plot—a few hundred people living in trees, or a vast metropolis that required an army of draconians and a half-dozen dragons to conquer.

Notable Quotes

“Arrows thunked and clattered around the bars of the cage. One struck Caramon’s shield.”

Wait, where did that come from?

“[Tanis] did not envy [Gilthanas] the responsibilities inherent in his role as heir to the throne.”

Which would make more sense if he were. But Gilthanas has an older brother, Porthios, who Tanis mentions in the previous paragraph. (Porthios appears at the end of the chapter, and is introduced rather badly. He’s described physically, but not named—which we don’t get until “Porthios’s eyes flared with anger.” This is a niggling little thing, but that awkward transition between what the narrator knows and what the reader knows is pretty annoying.

“It was a weapon similar to—no, it wasn’t. Actually it was—no, it wasn’t that either. It was closer to… almost a… rather it was, sort of a—lance. That’s it! A lance! And it was quite good against dragons!”

We’ll leave it to you to decide how much you enjoy Fizban’s ramblings, but this is pretty funny—especially if you imagine Caramon and Sturm hanging on his every word.

Jared’s Take

I found these chapters a little frustrating. I know we’re setting up for the second half of the season now—we fought the first Big Bad, we achieved a quest, and now we need to get all the pieces in places for the next round. But these two chapters just struck me as unusually awkward. There’s a lot of exposition—Tanis’s childhood, the role of half elves in society, Raistlin’s childhood, everyone’s feelings, Teode’s ambitions, etc. etc. etc. The perspective leaps from one person to the next, but instead of feeling invested in everyone, I’m just a little bored. If I were the sort of person to scream “show, don’t tell”, this is pretty much where I would scream it. A lot.

It is probably also worth mentioning that the role of women, and how they’re portrayed, is getting a little dubious. It hasn’t quite fallen over the precipice, but it is teetering on the edge. Goldmoon has settled into her role as healer/prophet, and states that “All will be made clear to the leader of the people. My calling now is to find him.” Why ‘him’? And why isn’t ‘the leader’ her? I mean, the rare combination of leadership experience, personal heroism and, you know, Goddess-chosen healing ability?

Meanwhile, Tika of the Bosom (thanks for that gaze, Teode), mostly flirts with Caramon through the medium of his sickly twin brother. Tanis, of course, worries about the “growing romance between the older, experienced soldier and the young—and Tanis believed, despite gossip to the contrary—inexperienced, vulnerable barmaid.” Ew? Double ew? First, again, how big is Solace? Isn’t that the only inn? How can there even be rumors?! And when would Tanis have heard them, as he’s spent the sum total of 4 hours in Solace in the last five years?! Secondly, even if she and Caramon are consumed by a fiery passion, what exactly is going to happen in the middle of a smelly slave-cage, shared amongst a dozen people? (Also a group of people that haven’t showered, bathed or changed clothes in three days. Sexxxy.)

It doesn’t help that the only other women referenced here is Laurana, who is apparently the source of Tanis leaving Qualinost, because “being half-human, the young man acquired a maturity the slower-developing elfmaid could not understand.” The physiology of elves is a little baffling in Dragonlance, so it is hard to figure out exactly how that would work. Are elves just really developmentally slow for their first (in this case) 80 years? Like, is Laurana at 80 reading at the level of a 10 year old? Are elves in diapers for their first, what, 40 years?! Damn Tolkien, and the questions he’s raised. But, again, we have this strange dichotomy of women: two that are immature, vulnerable and incapable of making their own decisions. And then a third, Goldmoon, who is mature enough to know that she needs a man to do her job for her. This is, of course, a particularly critical read, and I’m hoping the story turns it around. And quickly.

Mahvesh’s Take

I must admit, though I pretty much agree with Jared’s take, I did still somehow manage to be entertained by these two chapters. And this is Dragonlance—can we really complain about too much exposition? It comes with the territory, really. And we did gain a lot of information, awkwardly told or otherwise.

So Tanis—he’s a dark horse, isn’t he, with all this half-cousin loving business, it’s all a bit ick. Did we know before this that Laurana and he were (sort of) in the same family? That they grew up together? Of course, Jared is right—the entire Elf years versus Human years business is just confusing. If Tanis matured faster than Laurana, was she not Elf? But she was! So how did she not mature as fast as the half-elf? Oh wait—do Elf women hit puberty later than half-elf men? Endless, endless questions. I would totally read a paper exploring the sexuality, pubescence and emotional growth of Elves in Dragonlance.

But yes—the role of women, particularly in these two chapters—is just ridiculously cliched. Goldmoon and Tika, even when in the exact same situation as all the men (ie all caged up and half starved) are the ones who have assumed the carer roles. Sure, Goldmoon is the healer (so glad she’s finally owning this!), but once she’s done with the healing and magically staunches the mangled remains of Theros’ bleeding arm, why is she the one to cover his body from the arrows that fly? Why is she constantly keeping an eye on him and not someone else? She’s just as exhausted as the rest—possibly more since she’s actually done something instead of standing around insisting Theros is going to die, and yet caring for him repeatedly falls to her, just as it falls to Tika to take on the role of the second carer. Sure, Tika is trying to impress Caramon by helping his brother but why exactly isn’t Caramon the one helping Raistlin? Oh wait, he’s a man. Of course, the whole rumours about Tika bit is truly as absurd as Jared points out. I was annoyed by it last week too, when it came up first and now it just seems a bit too much. If nothing else, the logic is flawed—they’ve been away so long yet they’ve heard rumours? Wow, news about a random woman working in a bar sure does seem to spread fast and wide, doesnt it?

Raistlin, meanwhile, knows something is up with Fizban. I quite liked the insinuation that Fizban’s rambling hides something bigger and more important—the sudden look of recognition in Raistlin’s eyes that is gone as soon as Fizban waves his hand over Raistlin’s face, the ability to conjure up a massive fireball with no materials at all and even reduce Raistlin’s cough without any nasty smelling tea. Something’s up here, and as usual, no one but Raistlin is picking up on it. Who knows, maybe Fizban is actually Lord Verminaard in disguise, or a dragon.

 

Next week… Fizban is not a dragon in disguise. Sadness.

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 onTwitter.

Jared Shurin is an editor for Pornokitsch and the non-profit publisher Jurassic London.

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