Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!
The last time we met them, our intrepid heroes had narrowly escaped the clutches of Fewmaster Toade with the help of Gilthanas the elf, who insisted on taking them to fabled elf city of Qualinost. Ah, Qualinost, with its unimaginable beauty, slender spires and magical dwarven metalwork. Our friends are overwhelmed, though Tanis is anxious (of course) about being back, having been run out of there years earlier for some dodgy half-cousin adopted sister lovin’.
“The Speaker of the Suns” and “Tanis and Laurana”
They are asked to see the leader of the elves in the Tower of the Sun but before they do, Tanis convinces Gilthanas to ‘fess up – it seems that Qualinost is dying and there is a change in the air that ‘crackles with tension as before a storm’ as the elves evacuate.
Our lot make themselves presentable to meet the Speaker of the Sun – they wash, Sturm attempts to polish his shield, Goldmoon brushes out her hair (she has a brush?) and they enter a chamber no human has seen in centuries. The Speaker is Tanis’s adopted father, but it seems that he has really aged over the centuries (well, they’re elves, but eventually, even death may die etc etc) and isn’t doing all that well. He asks Gilthanas to tell him what happened when the elves travelled south. Gilthanas obliges, and we are blessed with a flashback that features a magnificent dragon.
It seems that ‘by the cruelest mischief’, Gilthanas, his warriors and their resistance fighter human friends found themselves in the path of the draconian army’s advance patrols. There was much valiant fighting on the part of the good guys, but it is pointless. They are tossed like trash into a ravine, where Gilthanas was rescued and cared for by Druids in the woods(!) who tell him that many of his comrades have been taken prisoner. He travelled to Solace, only to find it burnt (collective gasp from elven community). More importantly, he was in Solace when he saw a red dragon appear in the skies (shock and dismay from elven community) and upon its back was a human male, dressed in the robes of a cleric of the Queen of Darkness, with his face hidden under a horned mask of red and gold resembling a dragon.
This dragonrider, of course, was the very Lord Verminaard, Dragon Highlord of the North (who we have been waiting for some time now). He wasn’t pleased with the elves composure in the face of his fearsome self, and spouted some hate speech about how elves can never be taught the errors of their ways and as the representative of the true gods, he would not be merciful, but will instead destroy all the elves. With this, he commanded Ember the dragon to burn all the elven prisoners (tied to stakes by draconians). This, she did but Gilthanas is saved by Theros Ironfeld, the Solace smith, who later lost an arm for his heroism.
Back to the present… at the mention of Theros’ healing by Goldmoon (remember that?), the Speaker is disdainful, until Goldmoon reveals the medallion she has hidden so far under her cape. He assumes Goldmoon is a blasphemer but the medallion Jedi-stuns him with its flashy blue light when he tries to grab it. At this, the old mage, Fizban, casually saunters up and chides the Speaker for his actions, insisting that Goldmoon tell the story of how she came upon the medallion.
We are thankfully saved yet another lengthy flashback, this time to a story we already know, and the Speaker is convinced. He needs to time to get used to this new information, so he suggests the travellers rest. His daughter, the mighty fine Laurana leads them away, modestly blushing at all their stares because did I mention she’s ridiculously good looking? Like, ridiculously good looking. So much so that even Raistlin with his hourglass eyes can not see anything but her ridiculous good looks. Laurana steals glances at Tanis, who is disturbed by her presence. Trouble is afoot, but not the draconian kind.
Now: Laurana and Tanis. Tanis and Laurana. Oh the drama. After she has led the gang to a sun-dappled grove of prettiness in the heart of the city to feed them, she makes sure they are each comfortable, exchanging kind words with most of them and thanking Tika for saving her brother’s life (weird – see below). She then follows Tanis into the woods, where he has been standing angstily, being pensive and sullen and generally Tanis-like, staring at a ‘foaming stream alone, tossing dead leaves into the water’. Oh the emo-ness.
Laurana assumes Tanis is back to be with her and kisses him, even attempting to accept his scratchy human beard. She reminds him that they are betrothed, that she told Gilthanas about them (she tells him everything), and she is certain that their relationship will now be accepted. Tanis tells her that this is not true and that his return was an accident. Plus, he’s in love with a human woman and though he loves Laurana too, he can’t be with her. He asks her to ‘release’ him and she shrieks, chucks the ring he returns to her in the forest (where Tas picks it up, because… Tas), and storms off.
Meanwhile, Gilthanas is okay with this, telling Tanis that his human half will always be attracted to humans too. He doesn’t want to talk about it anymore though, oh no.
Monster(s) of the Week
A new dragon, and Lord Verminaard (or at least our first detailed eye witness account of Lord V).
‘I am Verminaard, Dragon Highlord of the North. I have fought to free this land and these people from the false beliefs spread by those who call themselves Seekers. Many have come to work for me, pleased to further the great cause of the Dragon Highlords. I have shown them mercy and graced them with the blessings of my goddess has granted me. Spells of healing I posses, as do no others in this land, and therefore you know that I am the representative of the true gods.’
This Lord V, he’s a real scenery chewer, isn’t he?
These are a weird couple of chapters, aren’t they? I’m so torn by them – I greatly enjoyed the flashback for its overbearing drama and Gilthanas’ clear eagerness at being the centre of attention when telling the story but also for the first eyewitness account of Lord Verminaard and his dragon Ember. We’ve heard plenty of mention of Verminaard so far, but no one has actually seen him. Well, maybe they still haven’t, not really, since he is seen by Gilthanas wearing a dragon-face mask. I did really love Verminaard’s little villain speech – imagine that being shouted down at you from the back of a dragon! Khaleeli has some stuff to learn from our Lord V.
My main concern with these chapters is, of course, this Tanis and Laurana drama. (Tanarana?) It’s all just very odd. We know that Tanis and she had a thing, even though they are sort of siblings by adoption. We know that her brother was unhappy about this (you dont say) and we know that Tanis was sort of run out of town too. So now that he’s taken back to Qualinost, I was expecting something…more dramatic than what feels like a teen breakup. But it seems that the Speaker is still not aware of Tanis and Laurana’s awkward relationship, because he says Laurana ‘has missed her childhood playmate’, which makes me cringe. It makes Gilthanas annoyed of course, and makes me wonder why Tanis’ adopted father really hadn’t clued into what was going on between his two ‘children’. In fact, Gilthanas didn’t know until Laurana told him either. Just how clandestine was this relationship anyway?!
I’m worried by Laurana too. I didn’t remember her being so childlike. She’s even referred to as that and it’s a bit creepy. Sure, she’s beautiful but what else is she? I have this strange sense that she’s a pretty empty vessel, the perfect host, considerate and beautiful like a Stepford Wife. I really hope there’s more to her in the future. Right now I’m even finding it strange that she treats Tanis so lovingly given he vanished on her years ago. She’s been waiting all this time? What on earth for? Oh, right, for Tanis.
Aside: where did these Druids come from? Do they just hang out in the woods? Where do they stand in this war? I am uncertain of how this society works. Why are the elves so upset about Solace being burnt? Have I missed something about how much they loved Solace? I mean, sure, there’s massive loss of life and general sadness but their wailing at the news seems a little…dramatic. Are elves just very dramatic? They are also destroying what they can not take with them when they evacuate Qualinost. That seems needlessly harsh and dramatic, doesn’t it? Is this where Tanis gets all his angst from? Oh the questions.
If we’ve done nothing else over the course of this reread, we’ve introduced the ship-name ‘Tanarana’ into fandom. This makes me so happy.
I also agree with Mahvesh – Laurana is really creepy right now – doing things “shyly” and “maidenly” and with “childlike grace” (a weird phrase anyway, I absolutely adore my niece and nephews, but they run into things a lot) and being the picture of demure beauty. Even Tika, who we know is an innocent (also, ick) feels awkward and underdressed and, well, slutty around her. Laurana’s a different archetype, an extra-creepy combination of Goldmoon’s ethereal beauty and Tika’s childishness. I get her purpose: she is too perfect; a sort of innocence that represents the world that Tanis left behind. But, wow. Bleh.
That said, here’s something that I missed the first thousand times I’ve read this book – “[Laurana’s] skin was smooth and woodland brown.”
Here’s ‘woodland brown’:
Here’s Laurana (center), from the cover of Dragons of Winter Night:
Granted, the ‘hair like honey’ is still accurate, but even if ‘woodland brown’ means a bit tan, that seems to have been lost in the artistic translation. I’m guessing ‘a bit tan’ is probably the original intent as well, but, hell, we’re going with the written word here, so guess what, Laurana, you’re now one of the most significant WOC in 1980s fantasy fiction. Congratulations!
Giving credit where it is due – Theros, mentioned in this write-up, is one of the first few POC I ever remember reading as a child. It is a shame his story is largely (no pun intended) marginalised, as he’s got a significant role to play. Er. Spoilers.
Although if we are going to talk race in Dragonlance, isn’t the big bucket of worms Raistlin? He actually changes, due to magic, from locked-in-the-library-pale to perma-bronze. And society – including his closest friends – look at him differently because of his skin colour. On one hand, he’s actually a proper, identifiable, non-white, non-stereotypical protagonist that readers could identify with – and his magical refraculation makes him someone that everyone connected with. On the other hand, the way his skin colour is part of his ‘otherness’ raises a lot of questions about the default assumptions of Krynn – a gameworld, mind you, where race is a quantifiable, measurable, statistical thing, and colour (in the case of the dragons, for example) determines your very mindset.
That’s a lot to deal with, so let’s, um, move on. Boy, the flashback is fun, isn’t it? Dragonsplosion! Scenery chewing! Verminaard living up to his villainous billing! That’s why we paid the cost of admission, darnit. None of the Tanisfeels and Tanarana angsting. Geez.
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.