Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!
After Raistlin saved everyone’s butts last week (at great personal exhaustion), our main party came across a secret door that leads to the cellars of Pax Tharkas—so let’s get exploring!
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!
“Lost. The Plan. Betrayed!” and “The Parable of the Gem. Traitor Revealed. Tas’s Dilemma.”
Tas and Fizban have been separated from the rest of the party, and go climbing around inside the walls. Tas displays a sweet side, and keeps the old wizard entertained. And Fizban is surprisingly useful, with the ability to summon light and keep the kender from doing anything too destructive.
The rest of the party, fresh off their fights with the slug and the banshee (which sounds a bit like a pub chain), do a bit of plotting. Gilthanas walks the group through a map of the fortress (slave, dragon, dragon, slaves). Eben accuses Gilthanas of knowing a bit too much, and both Sturm and Caramon take Eben’s side. Regardless, Gilthanas’ plan is the best one: the part should disguise themselves as (female) slaves, free the hostages and get the slaves out of dodge.
Meanwhile, Tas’ explorations lead him to a convenient crack in the wall, where he can spy on Lord Verminaard. Cue, monstercam—Pryos the dragon!
Pryos’ point of view gives us some additional exposition. As well as being Verminaard’s right-hand dragon, Pyros is on a mission from the Queen of Darkness herself—he’s seeking someone called ‘Berem’—the ‘Green Gemstone Man’ (which sounds less like a pub chain than a cleaning product). That exposition/motivation dump out of the way, we get to watch Tas watching Pyros watching Verminaard. Pyros is awesome, a vast monster that fills half of the throne room. He’s so big, in fact, that Verminaard asks him to change into a human—otherwise he might ‘wreck the place’.
Human-Pyros and Verminaard (who is rather badass himself) interrogate our old friend Teode—the hobgoblin who has relentlessly had his ass-kicked by the party multiple times. Verminaard is bored and bemused. Teode is smelly, and the prisoners he’s brought with him are particularly silly. Verminaard is a bit twitchy about the Other Cleric (Goldmoon), but he’s got an elf-kingdom to destroy, and Teode is a distraction.
Pyros is more excited—one of the prisoners is Berem (the other is our friend Sestun the Gully Dwarf) and this means he can fulfill his mission. Joy! Meanwhile a draconian comes in with a final despatch—there is a traitor in the party and he (so, I guess not Laurana then) has some information to share.
Cut to the next morning—the party have snuck into the prison, and are working with the hundred-ish female prisoners who are slaves to the Highlord. Their leader, a woman named Maritta, helps the party get the lay of the land. It seems like the male prisoners, who are kept separately, should be easy to work with—it is just the remaining Highseekers (remember them, from when we never got to Haven?) are in charge, and might be reluctant. And the children are kept separately as well, guarded by a dragon. Tanis is nervous about this, but apparently Flamestrike is very old, slightly senile, and actually a little lovely—she’s adopted the children as her own, and actually thinks the human kids are her ‘brood’.
There’s a bit of comic relief as the party’s manly-men grumble about dressing up as women—Sturm won’t shave, Riverwind won’t do it at all, Tanis keeps his ridiculous beard because that’s a symbol of his angst, etc. Laurana and Tanis pass the time secretly writing notes in their mental diary (‘I wish he would hold me’ ‘She makes me breathless’). And poor Raistlin is still sick—something about saving the party from certain death has really worn him down.
There’s a short scene with Tas and Fizban. As they wander around inside the fortress, they find an old gallery of paintings. Fizban shows one to Tas. The kender marvels at the evil dragons attacking Pax Tharkas in the art, but then is especially stunned by seeing good dragons as well—gold and silver ones, with knights on their back. There’s even a (drumroll) Dragonlance! This revelation is immediately unrevealed, as Fizban does some magical mojo and Tas’s memory is erased. Ominous? Foreshadowous?
The party sneak from the women’s cells to the men’s cells, where, as predicted, the Highseekers are an obstacle. They don’t trust the party, and are still especially suspicious of Goldmoon. (Our old chum Hederick, the man who set himself on fire to prove Goldmoon’s heresy, is alive, well, and screaming about blasphemy, but no one is particularly impressed by him.) Goldmoon, meanwhile, has a chat with Elistan—one of the nicer Highseekers, but also a dying one. They swap parables for a little while, and Elistan is spontaneously converted. Alas, he’s still dying… if only we knew a cleric…
Less theological dramas are also taking place: Eben and Gilthanas have disappeared. And one of them is meeting with Pyros. The dragon and the spy share a little more exposition. Pyros is on board with the slave revolt, as that will cause confusion, keep Verminaard distracted, and let him snaffle Berem for his Queen.
In the balcony, Tas and Fizban spot the traitor (who still isn’t revealed to us) and gasp. But they’re not caught. Tas decides to leave the whole ‘saving the world’ stuff to the big guns—he’s going to rescue Sestun.
Monster(s) of the Week
Pyros! He’s big! He’s named Pryos! He’s smart! He’s scheme-y! He has some proper magic at his disposal! And he doesn’t faint from weakness when he uses it!
Verminaard! I know we’ve ‘met’ him before, but this is the first villain-porn moment we’ve had—“Tall and powerfully built, he wore dark night-blue dragon-scale armor trimmed in gold. The hideous mask of a Dragon Highlord concealed his face… his leather-encased hand absently caressing a black, gold-trimmed mace by his side.” There’s a lot of gold, black and leather going on. Plus a bit of high fantasy wak-wak vocabulary (dragon-scale!) (Highlord mask!), but we can fill those in with our imagination.
Flamestrike! Well, kind of. We know she exists, but haven’t met her. A senile elderly dragon sounds… unusual. The Fizban of dragons?
Good dragons?! This is the first reference we’ve had to nice dragons. Even the opening poem makes it sound like Huma was flying solo (no pun intended) with his Dragonlance. That’s intriguing.
“I think it’s afraid of the dark”
—Fizban, talking about the sentient(?) magical light source he’s conjured. It is pretty funny. What? Oh fine. You had to be there.
“[Laurana] was afraid that if she let herself, she would give way to her weakness and seek comfort in his arms…. [Tanis] steadfastly refused to admit that his soul stood breathless whenever he looked into her large, luminous eyes.”
—GET A ROOM.
I like schemes! I know there’s an absence of combat (boo!) in these chapters, but I rather like the intrigues. The plot to free the slaves is a fun one, and I like that the party is doing things like “thinking” and “disguises” (badly) and “diplomacy”. I’m not sure I could handle it for an entire book, but, for now, it is a nice break from the “hit stuff and/or run away” tactics that they’ve displayed in the past. More remarkably, they’re actually creating and executing a plan without Raistlin. Sure, it is all under Gilthanas’ leadership, but still, look at them, using their noggins!
Meanwhile, Team Evil is scheming away on its own. I’m actually pretty fond of both Pyros and Verminaard. They’re smart, cranky and, unlike the party, completely devoid of angst. Verminaard is, in fact, bored by other people’s fretting. And Pyros is willing to wipe out an entire elvish kingdom as a distraction. You’ve got to admire that commitment. Could you imagine if Verminaard and Tanis swapped places? The Tanis-led armies of evil would be busily monitoring social media for status changes. And the Verminaard-led party would be ruling Qualinost with an iron fist.
From a… craft… perspective, I’m not particularly impressed by the vast amounts of info-dumping taking place. Again, the monstercam is being used to vomit forth exposition. And, as a result, neither Verminaard nor Pyros are as impressive as they should be. Sure, they dress well and breathe fire (respectively), but we also know the full limits of their knowledge, and that they are both (very) fallible. They’re lessened by the familiarity.
Also, I’m tired of the spy thing. Especially since the distrust of Gilthanas seems to be solely based on ‘well, he’s an elf’. Which is also exactly the reason he’s totally trustworthy. He may think the party are idiots (they mostly are), but the last thing he’d do is betray Qualinost. You know, the kingdom he’s due to inherit? The one that the Queen of Darkness has vowed to annihilate and all that? But hell, just because he’s genetically predisposed to the side of good and known Tanis for decades and brought his little sister along and has his whole country and freakin’ species at stake… let’s not trust him. Because, on the other hand, there’s Eben! And we’ve known him for hours, and gosh, he seems nice!
So here’s the thing. There’s a whole lot of words here in these chapters. Lots of wordy words telling us what’s going on. And what is going on, exactly? Sure, schemes and such are being planned. Sure, Goldmoon is scoring some…converts? To what end? I could have done with her healing them all and gaining converts that way, but no—she has to talk at them instead. I’m pretty certain all this could have happened with fewer words though. But who cares! Stop complaining! This is Dragonlance! A good info-dump once in a while just reminds us of that, right? So we tell ourselves.
I hate to admit it because I find the kender annoying usually, but here, I totally get the Taz and Fizban Lols. It’s kind of great. Taz is kind of sweet to the old man, even though the old man is increasingly dodgy with his ‘ruffle your hair and erase your memory’ trick. I’ve got my eye on Fizban. Which is getting hard to do, what with keeping my eye on Gilthanas and fishy as all hell Eben and hey, has Raistlin vanished too?! No no, he’s asleep, he’s fine! Surprising that Sturm hasn’t yet insisted again that Raistlin is the one everyone should be worried about. Are we done with that yet, Sturm?
Meanwhile, Team Evil is just fantastic, even though I agree with Jared that the masses of info-dumping takes away from some of their glory. Regardless, I think I may have a mini-crush on Pyros, in that way you have a crush on a villian but you’d never actually do anything about it, you know? Yeah, that. He’s kind of cool—he knows Verminaard is an idiot, he knows the draconians are idiots, he knows he’s bigger, better, smarter than them all. He…wait a second. I’m making him sound like Raistlin, aren’t I? He’s like the bad guys’ Raistlin, without all the homework. I think Pyros may just be cooler, though, since he can do magic, shape shift and not fall down in a dead faint as a result of it. Yeah, I kinda dig Pyros, evil servant of the Queen of Darkness. I’m not sure how to read the ‘slanted eyes’ description of his human face (casual racism? attempt at diversity? casual observation of dragon features when converted to human ones?), but I do hope there’s more of him.
Bears repeating this week too that Eben is just so dodgy. Are we the only ones who see it? Stay tuned to find out!
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.