Welcome back to our reread of the Dragonlance Chronicles, as we come to the end of the first book.
We left last week in chaos—draconians, dragons, slaves and Heroes all brawling in front of the gates of Pax Tharkas. Gates that are now sealed behind tons of rubble, squishing Eben and the Green Gemstone Man in the process. We also left with two cliff-hangers, two big fights: Verminaard versus ‘four men’ (not yet revealed) and a dragon-battle in the sky between Pyros and the very unhappy Matafleur.
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! This solution, like the world of Krynn itself, seems totally True Neutral.
“The Dragon Highlord. Matafleur’s Children.” and “The Wedding.”
The interesting thing about the first of these two short chapters—it is told completely in monstercam. All the more interesting being that this is the Boss Fight. Verminaard is the ultimate villain of Autumn Twilight, first rumored, then revealed, now in mortal combat with the heroes. We’ve seen him destroy villages and raze our heroes’ childhood home, he’s threatened the Elven Kingdoms and he’s tried to wipe out hundreds of defenseless slaves. The stakes here are fairly high: he’s the bad guy.
And, from Verminaard’s point of view, this is little more than exercise. Our black-leather-and-gold, muscles-and-scary-helmets Highlord isn’t particularly worried. Hell, he recognises the four heroes (Sturm, Tanis, Raistlin and Caramon), but doesn’t even know their names. They’re a spin class to him, a way of burning some calories.
Initially, Verminaard’s arrogance is justified. It is appropriate that it is the four initial heroes (poor Flint, never really shows up for the big fights, does he?), and they fight together well—almost like they’d been adventuring together since childhood. But Verminaard has magic and might and the Queen of Darkness on his side. He quickly neutralises Raistlin with a spell, then blinds Caramon with his magic mace (Nightbringer). Tanis gives him about six seconds of trouble, then he’s overpowered. And brave, dumb Sturm pauses to salute his enemy… the length of time Verminaard needs to thwack him with a poisoned dart.
Everything’s coming up Verminaard, but then Goldmoon steps in.
A quick cut-scene (Final Fantasy style) to the cosmic plane, where the Queen of Darkness is all YARGH WTF as a giant gleaming knight of Good (presumably her Good counterpart, theologically speaking) rocks up. Cosmically speaking.
As the Queen panics (divine beings do that?), Verminaard’s powers flee him. Verminaard tries to wallop Goldmoon, but Riverwind takes the blow (and is also blinded). However, Verminaard is now outnumbered. Sturm and Tanis are freed from their magic, Riverwind is giving good account of himself (even blinded) and, you know what?, this decorative helm is really rubbish for peripheral vision. Verminaard does his best (or worst), but without his magical assistance, he’s toast. Everyone has a whack at the falling Highlord, and soon he’s off to join his Dark Goddess.
Meanwhile, the Pyros/Matafleur matchup begins in an equally one-sided fashion—the elderly dragon is no match for the war machine that is her younger counterpart. Pyros bats her around for a while then casually melts her with his fire (apparently dragons aren’t immune to dragonfire, worth noting). But in his arrogance, he’s been out-maneuevered. Matafleur picks up the pace and spears herself straight into Pyros, slamming them both into one of the mountains flanking Pax Tharkas. Kablooie.
Fade to denouement.
The slaves all flee Pax Tharkas and hide in the mountains, led by Flint (glad someone’s getting some use out of him). The draconians, now without Verminaard, flail around at the sealed walls of Pax Tharkas whilst the gully dwarves throw rats at them (seriously, this is apparently canon). By the time they get through, the slaves—now refugees—have disappeared, hidden in a sheltered valley.
Which means there’s time for a bit of emotional wrap-up. Elistan (remember the sick Seeker who Goldmoon converted with a parable?) marries Goldmoon and Riverwind. Goldmoon looks—shock—beautiful. They do poetry at one another. There’s some ring swapping. Everyone is happy.
And, of course, a feast. Because this is epic fantasy! There is much rejoicing and eating of meat. Sturm—of all people—spots Berem in the crowd. But before they can approach this-person-that-looks-a-lot-like-the-dude-squished-by-rocks, he disappears into the crowd. Tanis leers a bit at Laurana, then leers a bit at Kitiara (by proxy, he’s actually leering at Raistlin). And for Raistlin? He’s not the partying type. As Tanis comes over the shmooze, Raistlin tells him he’s an idiot—this the first battle of a very large war, and how exactly does he plan on fighting a legion of dragons anyway? Eh? Eh? Now go away and leave me to sulk, geez.
Tas, our proxy, overhears the entire exchange and is saddened. But, even as he mourns Fizban (and the others that will probably join him in death), he remembers that heroes keep trying—and hoping. And with that, a tiny feather falls from the sky…
“Rise, warrior,” she said, smiling through her tears.
“Is that a command?” he asked softly.
“It is the last command of Chieftain’s Daughter.”
I know we’ve mentioned this before, but I find the idea that Goldmoon has to surrender her position in society to marry Riverwind very weird. At this point, she’s either the Chieftain (her dad is probably dead), disinherited or possessed of a political position that’s a moot point (because her entire village is toast). None of those really have anything to do with Riverwind, and the strange power/class game they play isn’t very rational. And this token exchange, where she surrenders her claim to the ‘throne’ (such as it is) so they can be equals is, well, weird. Forcing her to choose where a) there’s no choice to be made and b) she shouldn’t have to anyway.
“Tika walked before [Goldmoon] in solemn, misty-eyed wonder, the young girl’s heart filled with dreams of her own, beginning to think that this great mystery shared by men and women might not be the terrifying experience she had feared, but something sweet and beautiful.”
And again, the writing of Tika is just weird—is she… 12? Putting her in the metaphorical position of the flower girl doesn’t age her any, and her inner monologue is, as always, a little perplexing. Tika’s at her best she’s just an ordinary person caught up in adventures, and we can use her to see how Epic and Fantasy this all really is. She’s far less plausible when she’s an object of sexual speculation (by everyone in the party and in Solace, seemingly) or, as in this case, doing some speculation herself.
“How will you fight the dragons, Tanis? For there will be more.”
Good point, Raistlin. He does a great job of putting the adventures of Autumn Twilight into context. The party has survived, but little more. Arguably, they’ve barely even slowed Evil down. To defeat it? That’ll take much more… good thing we’ve got a few more books ahead of us.
“It was a small, white chicken feather.”
The least likely—and yet, most spine-tingling—of closing lines. Well played, Weis and Hickman. Well. Played.
Monster(s) of the Week
DRAGONFIGHT. All too short, but filled with all the claws and fire and fury that you might desire.
Verminaard isn’t a monster per se, but he is a magically-augmented human, so we’ll count him here. It is nice to see that, after all the chapters of preening and foreshadowing, he is, actually, quite the badass. As much as we mock the party, we’ve seen—from various angles—that they are seasoned warriors. And Verminaard handles them deftly. Well, until he’s abandoned by his divine benefactor and his dragon. Given a rematch, it’d be hard to bet against him.
Berem, the Green Gemstone Man, is clearly a something as well. There’s actually very little ambiguity about the fact that it is him at the wedding, and not Sturm making a mistake. So… who or what survives getting squished by rocks?
What a lovely ending. And, again, a sort of brilliant microcosm for the series itself. There’s a sort of clunky gravel at the detailed level, but you’re swept past it with compelling action—and, as a whole, it is brilliant plotted and hits all the right notes. I lost my metaphor in there, but you’re still with me, right?
Tika, weird. Tanis, so emo. Raistlin, gloomy. Caramon, silly. Tika, icky. The fights, sort of brilliantly improbable. Why did the Dark Queen leave when she had the upper hand? Why didn’t Verminaard just wander off? Why couldn’t the Heroes find Berem in a group of people trapped in a fixed space? Where was Flint?! Where was Gilthanas?! Why is only Tas mourning Fizban?
Also, the poetry. But, you know. It is sweet. (Every time there’s poetry in a fantasy epic, we should staple a limerick to Tolkien’s grave.)
As a kid, I read the Verminaard fight over and over and over again. I probably have a spiral notebook somewhere where I charted out, round by round and grid-by-grid, where everyone was at each time. The decision to go monstercam is daring and, honestly, brilliant. On a technique level, it keeps the authors from having to track the movements of a half dozen people, and jump from each of their perspectives. On a craft level, it again reinforces this notion that the party are … quasi-important. They’re unknowns. Veterans, but, insignificant. Verminaard only recognises them because they’ve travelled with Goldmoon, and only cares about her, because she’s the pain in ass that found the staff.
Fundamentally, he shouldn’t have lost the fight, and that’s the lesson that Tanis, Raistlin and the others (the smart ones, at least) take away. Verminaard held all the cards, and it took a lot of crazy luck—and arrogance—for him to lose the way he did. This is ominous, like Raistlin’s predictions at the end of the book. But it is also hopeful, like Tas’s interpretation. Yes, they’re outnumbered and outsworded (no guns), but, yes, they pulled it off… So who knows what could happen next. Where there’s life, there’s hope. And Evil needs to stop being so damn cocky.
As a whole, brilliant:
We’re in such a good place for book two! We’re alive (mostly), and even have new party members in Elistan, Tika and Laurana. There’s an immediate quest (get the refugees to Tarsis), an overarching quest (Queen of Darkness, to be defeated), and a mystery (Berem). There’s a glimmer of hope in the appearance of the Queen’s cosmic foe, and so many tantilising references to Dragonlances that, frankly, they’ve got to be popping up soon. Right?
More importantly, emotionally, this is the perfect ‘Book One’. We’ve wrapped up a quest and had some achievement, but we’re allowed a pause for breath. It is, of course, bittersweet—Tas’s final feather reminds us that nothing comes without a cost, but that, as Taylor Swift would say, “heroes gonna hero (hero, hero, hero, hero)”.
Bring on the winter.
What a great battle! Vermy versus the Four—I loved every word of it, even the strange and sudden god in the machine- esque entry and rapid retreat of the Queen of Darkness and her ‘white’ counterpart (geddit? good and evil, black and white, let’s keep this simple). The battle with Vermy (can I call him Vermy?) is fantastic—he’s a solid adversary with some strong thighs, quick spells that totally don’t drain him and a mightly sword to boot. He’s got this covered, with a little help from his Queen of Darkness friend.
Until, of course, he doesn’’t. The Shining goddess of heavy metal finds herself facing a radiant god in white, a god she is not able to fight, a god whose arrival she had not predicted. So she does the smart thing and retreats, leaving that fool minion Vermy to his fate. I think it’s pretty clear that she feels suddenly threatened here, even though she has the upper hand in the battle on ground. There’s obviously some larger war going on around these ground battles and none of us know what that is. Queenie here does.
I’m with Jared on the other stuff. Tas has been changed by Fizban’s death while no one else seems to care. Raistlin may have cared, had he not been busy trying to get Tanis to see that hell is still to come. As well he should, because everyone seems to be getting just too distracted and happy for a second, don’t they? We really have got it all covered though—sneaky feeling of impending doom, immediate new quest, interesting new mix of people, divine intervention and of course, possible sightings of mysterious stranger with green gem in chest. It’s a worthy place to end this part of the story. But I have to admit, reaching the poetry bits of Dragonlance only remind me how I couldn’t bear to read them the first time either. I did, this time around but for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what those bits are about!
Lastly, I have no idea what this chicken feather could lead to, but let’s remember that hope is the thing with feathers. Oh who am I kidding—of course I want something monstrously feathered with sharp teeth.
Thanks for joining us for the Dragons of Autumn Twilight! We’re not stopping—the books were meant to be read as a trilogy, and who are we to slow the inexorable march of the dragonarmies? We have some great guest posts for the next two weeks, then we’re straight into Dragons of Winter Night. This gives everyone some time to hunt down their old copy (check the attic, if not that, maybe the garage, under your high school yearbook) or get a new one.
See you soon.
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.