Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!
Last week, the Companions visited the soon-to-be-abandoned Elven city of Qualinost, and had a nice rummage around in Tanis’ past. This week, we move forward into the future. Enough elf-love—let’s go grind some experience points!
“Farewell. The companions’ decision.” and “Doubts. Ambush! A new friend.”
The chapters start with a bad meal. Well, a good meal. But no one enjoys it. For Goldmoon, this final feast at Qualinost reminds her of her mother’s funeral. For Caramon, it is devoid of good stodgy meaty foodstuffs. For Tanis and Laurana, it is just totes awks.
The only people enjoying themselves are Fizban (because he’s either mysterious or thinks he’s someplace else entirely) and Tas (because he’s stealing stuff and, frankly, kind of awesome). The meal goes from grim to dark when the Elves—including Tanis—have a singalong, with the theme of the song being, essentially “we’re Elves, we’re awesome, we’re all going to die. Die die die.”
After this merry meal, the Speaker leads the party to the chamber of plotting, where he asks them to go on a quest. The Elves are currently in serious trouble—Verminaard is coming at them from multiple directions. They have to flee, abandoning their city, but unless the Highlord is somehow distracted, they won’t even be able to retreat quickly enough.
Gilthanas’ mission—pre-capture—was to incite a slave revolt in Verminaard’s fortress of Pax Tharkas. Now, the Speaker would like the party to take over that same mission. Pros: it’ll save a lot of (human) slaves from being wiped out by the Dragonarmies. Cons: it is risky, and, frankly, it doesn’t seem like the Elves care all that much about the humans anyway.
Tanis and the party leave the Speaker to have their own discussion. Although Tanis immediately tries to split the party, no one agrees. Even Fizban insists on coming with, and with such vehemence that Tanis and Raistlin actually have to take a moment to think about it. But that’s side aside for a larger concern: some of the bros (Sturm and Caramon) don’t trust Gilthanas. Not just because he’s an Elf, but because he’s just… kinda shady.
That’s all settled, but for one… Laurana sneaks into Tanis’ room and, after a wrestling match, pleads for him not to go. She loves him, she can’t lose him, etc. Tanis gives her a firm talkin’ to about Duty and Responsibility, and she meekly retreats. They also admire one another’s bodies a bit, possibly because Laurana decided to dress, uh, down for the visit. Romance!
The next morning, the team gears up (Tika gets armor!) and heads off. It isn’t an unpleasant hike—Caramon is especially enjoying it, as he leers at Tika’s legs—but Fizban brings it to a crashing halt. They’re being followed.
That doesn’t get pursued any further, as the party stumbles upon a clearing—they find a wounded human and some dead hobgoblins. The man turns out to be a friend of Gilthanas’, Eben, and just as they’re catching up, a dozen draconians show up.
For once, the team works well, pairing up efficiently and mowing down draconians like they’ve been doing it for chapters. We finally see the hardened warriors doing their thing. However, told from Tika’s point of view, the battle is swift and bewildering. Still, she gets a notch on the belt, as two draconians attack her, only for her to panic-bludgeon them to death with her shield.
The excitement of the battle goes straight to the … head (cough)… Caramon and Tika share a long-overdue smooch as the draconians crumble to dust around them. Romance!
The fight (and snogging) polished off, the party return to their interrogation of Eben. He’s from a good family, he’s a self-proclaimed expert swordsman, and he’s pretty handsome. All that in his favour, they decide to take him along on their highly-sensitive secret quest. In fairness, Gilthanas and Tanis are both a little suspicious. Although since Gilthanas is dodgy (he admits as much himself), that doesn’t count for much.
The chapter ends as the party finds Pax Tharkas. The ancient fortress was built by Elves and Dwarves working together, but is now the home to Verminaard’s Dragonarmy. As the party admires the soaring architecture, the huge gates swing open, and a vast army pours out. It marches to Qualinesti… the clock, she is ticking…
Monster(s) of the Week
A dragon cameo. A ‘great red dragon’, presumably Verminaard’s own, circles the army as it marches out of Pax Tharkas.
Draconians (now deceased).
“You’re not a child anymore. You’ve got to grow up and grow up fast…. There comes a time when you’ve got to risk your life for something you believe in—something that means more than life itself.”
Tanis Tanisplains his quest to Laurana. Slightly repetitive, but he gets his point across. I’m sure yelling at Laurana won’t have any consequences…
“He was acutely conscious only of the smell of her hair, the warmth of her slender body, the play of the muscles in her thighs, the softness of her small breasts.”
This is Tanis, wrestling with Laurana still.
I’d question the use of the word ‘only’ in this sentence, as he seems conscious of, um, several different things. It sounds like… perhaps… he might not be quite over her. Or that it has been a very lonely five years since Kitiara. Or both.
“Goldmoon had slit Tika’s red barmaid skirt up to her thighs for easier movement. Bits of fluffy white from Tika’s fur-trimmed undergarments peeped enticingly through the slits. Her legs were visible as she walked, and the girl’s legs were just as Caramon had always imagined—round and well-formed.”
Seriously, is there something in the Elf-water that both increases libido and repetition (“legs” twice in one sentence? Boo)? Geez. Gilthanas just gave Tika a completely new set of ancestral Elven armor, jewel-trimmed, complete with helm, shield and shortsword. They couldn’t give her new clothes?
“She hit at the creature again and again with her shield, knowing only that she had to kill the thing.”
As I’ve been mercilessly mocking the, um, ‘romantic’ language, it is only fair that I remember to praise the combat. The Tika vs Draconian fight is brief but brutal. And as ethereal, fluffy and hormonal as these chapters are, it reminds the reader (and the party) that this isn’t a game.
Well, it is. But, you know…
Boring chapters, I’m afraid. Angst. A quest. Gear up. Railroading. With a brief encounter to keep the players from grumbling too much.
That said, there’s a nice pace here, especially compared to the beginning of the book. In two chapters, we’ve whisked through a pair of romantic entanglements, a fair amount of backstory and all the information we need for the new quest. In the first section of Autumn Twilight, this would’ve taken much more time. Similarly, now that we’re familiar with the characters, it is easier to ‘check in’ on them without lengthy expository backstories. Every now and then Tas steals something, Caramon eats something, Goldmoon says something self-sacrificing and profound, Riverwind is racist, Sturm frowns, Raistlin grimaces and Fizban is weird. They’ve settled into their archetypes, and it helps give the story some pace.
In fact, using Tika’s POV (Tikacam) for the majority of these chapters is a rather inspired decision. Were we following Tanis closely, we’d not only get his midnight lust-tussles, but we’d also have two chapters-worth of repetitive angst—leadership decisions we’ve had before. But to Tika, caught up in the madness, the logistics are something happening in the background, and we can focus on what this actually means to her, an ordinary person.
Similarly, although a pretty basic combat, by going to Tikacam, we can see something that—frankly—we’ve not seen before: the party being an efficient, well-organised adventuring machine. We know from previous battles that it isn’t really this smooth, but from an outside perspective, the Heroes look pretty damn slick.
I don’t love Tika as a character, but as a perspective she adds a lot to the mix. She adds a touch of the human observer, and that helps keep otherwise ‘banal’ adventuring chapters fresh.
This Tikacam business is interesting. It’s given me a reason to look at these two chapters as something other than fairly boring. Jared is right—from Tika’s perspective, stuff is goin’ down. There are Elves and feasts and strange mournful songs and intrigue and armour and draconians and fighting and even some lustiness. A full day, as far as Tika is concerned, and a pretty damn good one, given her first draconian kills & her first Caramon kisses.
Otherwise, much is left to be desired here. That’s strange, isn’t it? You’d think a couple of chapters that are pretty full with intrigue (what’s up with Fizban?), plans that nearly divide the team, tensions between species, draconian battles, lust etc would feel more interesting than these do. Still, I have to appreciate the effort to pack these in with so much.
I’m still bothered by Laurana and Tanis. I’m still bothered by her painful attempt to make him stay. She acts like a teenager in love, which in itself would be fine if I wasn’t already so annoyed at her for waiting around nearly a decade for him. I think that’s the problem—I’m tired of being annoyed at Tanis so I’ve given up and have become annoyed at those who play into his drama instead. Tanisplaining is totally a thing.
I can’t bring myself to be annoyed at the cheesiness of Laurana showing up in a flimsy nightie, though I am fully annoyed at the Tika with furry underpants situation (Wait, why are they trimmed with fur anyway?) because yes, really—a set of special Elven armour and fancy jewel-encrusted heirloom weapons but no practical trousers? Ridiculous. Having said that, Tika is… growing. She may not be the fastest learner when it comes to wielding a sword but she seems fearless when it comes to beating down draconians with her shield. She’s turning out to be quite useful in a battle and I’m hoping she’ll go far. Just as long as she doesn’t get waylaid by Caramon-love or something and decide to you know, be ‘his woman’ and nothing else.
Fizban remains intriguing to Raistlin, and so to me. The absurd little secret language conversation Tanis and Raistlin have about him made me LOL, I admit, because why on earth do they assume they can’t be understood, given they both know Fizban has some form of power in him?
Listen, this secret power the broken ancient mage is hiding? It better come in use soon, what with this huge army and all. I don’t think a spell creating webs will be enough against dragons, Fizban.
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.