Welcome back to our reread of the Dragonlance Chronicles!
We hope you enjoyed the brief break—and our excellent guest Highlords—but enough faffing around. There are dragons to slay, lances to find, Gemstone mysteries to solve and love triangles to flatten out as we begin the second book, Dragons of Winter Night. Plus, we missed Raistlin.
We last saw the party at Goldmoon and Riverwind’s wedding (wasn’t her dress fabulous?). Let’s see what they’ve been up to since then.
“The Hammer” and “White winged ships. Hope lies across the Plains of Dust.”
We begin in a massive underground cavern, the great Hall of Audience of the King of the Mountain Dwarves. 800 refugees from Pax Tharkas, dwarves and our lot. It’s a lot of people underground, and Tanis isn’t liking it too much.
The Hammer of Kharas, used to forge the dragonlances has been returned to the dwarves. Elistan the cleric of Paladine and leader of the refugees have brought the hammer to Hornfel, Thane of the Hylar dwarves who can now unite the dwarves under his leadership. Sturm is unhappy about this. Tanis reminds him that the hammer was given to the dwarves before.
Elistan hands over the hammer, calling it a gift—given in thanks for the space given to the humans to live within the dwarven kingdom. Sturm keeps grumping. Tanis keeps sweating, feeling sick and claustrophobic. He and Sturm make a shifty exit and discuss how, within a month they will probably be taking a ship to Tarsis, once the Council of Highseekers votes to let them go. Without the hammer though, as Sturm again bitterly reminds him; the hammer which was to be brought forth in time of great need. Tanis, annoyed, points out that the hammer has indeed been brought forth as it was meant to, but this does not satisfy Sturm, who would like to take it to Solamnia and forge his own dragonlances. Visions of Huma in his head; riding to glory while 800 refugees are left to die. They fight, Sturm insisting that he would not have left them to die but that Tanis was wrong in letting the hammer be used to secure a new home for the refugees, since it was their first clue to the existence of the dragonlances.
Enter Raistlin with a well timed Shirak. He shows them the shimmering image of a beautiful dragonlance which, to Sturm’s anger, is just an illusion. He stalks off. Tanis berates Raistlin for this ‘joke’. Raistlin points out that he isn’t a jokester and laughs his weird, strange laugh that’s only been heard once before.
At the Council of Highseekers, Tanis and Sturm watch as the humans complain about their living arrangements at the southernmost part of the impregnable dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin, demanding ridiculous things like farmland from those who turned them out (the Dragon Highlords?!). Elistan proposes that a delegation be sent to the city of Tarsis, while the dwarves prepare to battle the evil from the north—one they did not particularly fear.
The problem with Tarsis is that all they have to go on is legend—no one has heard anything about Tarsis for 300 years, when at the time of the Cataclysm, the dwarves had shut off the kingdom of Thorbardin, sealing the only route out. And so Tanis, despite being for the plan, is still gloomy (surprise surprise) when the Council votes unanimously to send a group of people to Tarsis to find what ships come to port, how to secure passage on one, or maybe even to buy a ship of their own.
Tanis is expected to lead this expedition. Enter Raistlin, without a Shirak but with solid advice on how this is a foolish quest, reminding them of the portent of the stars, with two gaping holes where the two constellations have gone missing.
The Council is a bit bored, but Raistlin reminds them that this means both the Queen of Darkness and the ancient God Paladine are on Krynn, waiting to battle it out. Elistan and some others are incensed by this information, considering it total blasphemy. Raistlin doesn’t care, and makes it clear to everyone that there is no peace on Krynn, and that no matter where they go, there will be dragons.
He breaks down into the usual spluttering coughs, is rescued by Caramon and exits, stage left. The Council somehow manage to shake off this warning of impending doom and carry on as if Raistlin is nothing but a paranoid child with nightmares. A war? All over Krynn? Impossible! For Verminaard has been defeated and his dragon armies have been driven back, they think. They also assume easily that Tanis will lead the delegation, never considering to ask the conflicted half-elf what his stance on the matter is.
Tanis heads outside the cavern. We get a tidy paragraph or two of infodump based on his musings about where they currently are, in which we learn more about the strength and safety of the dwarven stronghold. Enter Laurana, Sturm and Elistan, all worried about Tanis and wanting to comfort him about the upcoming journey. Tanis, still finding it hard to hope in Tarsis the way Elistan and the others do, finally agrees to lead the delegation. All but Laurana leave.
Laurana reminds Tanis that Elistan is one of the wisest humans around. Tanis instead defends Raistlin. Laurana goes lateral with the argument and says that he is ashamed about his elven heritage—perhaps because he is love with Kitiara, a human woman. (Ouch.) Tanis throws some shade of his own, saying that Laurana is perhaps a little too obsessed by Elistan. Laurana insists she loves Elistan in a reverential way and that her only true love is Tanis, though she is fast coming to the conclusion that perhaps she has made a mistake (BURN!!!!).
They bicker. She leaves. Tanis thinks of Kitiara’s sexy sexiness but can’t get Laurana out of his head.
The journey starts. All the companions agree to go, not feeling at home with the refugees (the refugees aren’t feeling at home either, but whatever).
At first they are happy enough, good weather and Elistan’s stories of the Disks of Mishakal keep their spirits high. But a few days into the journey, it starts to snow fiercely and they are forced to take shelter from a blizzard in a cave. They are uneasy about the clear trail they’ve left in the snow (though there’s a blizzard but nevermind) and the sense of menace they all feel is growing.
What could it be, given that no one has lived out in the Plains of Dust for 300 years? Oh the tension, the tension.
Monster(s) of the Week
Sadly, none. A mere mention of dragons.
‘I never claimed to be perfect, Laurana,’ Tanis said quietly.…
‘You may never claim it,’ she said scornfully, ‘but you certainly enjoy allowing us to think it!’
Oooooh, burn. Well done, Laurana.
These chapters are just a set up of what’s to come, of course, just the the little shove they need to get on the move again, having established that this is a Bad Idea. Not much happens, though we are teased by Raistlin conjuring up a dragonlance and by the constant reminder of impending doom. Other than that, we learn that the Council is full of idiots, the humans are ingrates who do not at all seem thankful for the refuge the dwarves have provided and that the companions are itching to get a move on, even though they all know that the stronghold is…well, the strongest ever. And no real adventures can come in the strongest ever stronghold, so we are all grateful when they head out into the wilderness, hoping for some action soon.
Laurana is sensitive but at least seems to have grown a little, calling Tanis out on his childish jealousy and ridiculing him for his indecision between her and Kitiara. Sturm is grumpy and his visions of charging into battle with a dragonlance held aloft like Huma seem appropriate for a Knight of Solamnia, but he keeps forgetting everything that history taught him (basically death). Raistlin is Raistlin—mysterious, bitter and always right. The others are barely around, Caramon doing a little cameo to carry Raistlin away and Riverwind the Plainsman tracker-dude noticing the trail they leave behind in the snow. I have a problem with this because it seems to lack continuity. Isn’t there a blizzard in full swing here? Won’t those tracks be hidden pretty fast? Or has the blizzard ended already? In which case, why are they still hiding in a cave? Perhaps I am nitpicking here, since the danger they feel is what’s important, after all.
Tanis, of course, as the resident king of emo thinking, must dwell on what has happened in the moodiest of ways after the decision to send off a delegation has been made. Staring out into the dark forest, leaning against the secret gate in the mountain that was opened to let in the refugees, dowsing the torches in anger and ultimately after his argument with Laurana, refusing so come back into the safety of the cavern, choosing instead to stay the night in the forest—it’s all very sulky and dramatic. Basically, Tanis sleeps on the couch that night.
I already like this book better than Autumn Twilight, although I distinctly remember not doing so as a kid.
I think Winter Night suffers from Empire Strikes Back syndrome: it is the best of the series, but maybe not with the ‘core demographic’ of teen and pre-teen audiences. This is a more nuanced (relatively), more character-focused (relatively), and darker (definitely) book than its predecessor, and, by nature of the middle-book syndrome, it doesn’t ‘conclude’. That’s frustrating as hell for Jared-Aged-10, but, bizarrely, Jared-Aged-So-Much-Older-Oh-God-So-Old is loving it.
But, beyond my own cross-generational feelz, what else is good about this… I like that we’ve ‘skipped’ a whole dungeon crawl/quest thing (where’d the Hammer come from?!), and I like that the characters aren’t being railroaded as explicitly as they were in the previous volume. Certainly the task is being foisted upon Tanis, but for the first time, you feel the pressure is coming more from internal, character-driven factors (‘I am responsible for refugees’) than external, plot-driven one (‘I am running from goblins’). I’m also impressed by the volume of info-dumping, and how much of that info-dumping is actually related to feelings as opposed to events. Again, imagine how annoying that must be to a ten year old—“wait, we’re not going to hear about the quest to retrieve the lost Hammer of Dragonbonking, but we are going to recap every tumblr post shared by Tanis and Laurana?! Argh.”
This bodes well for Winter, as, although these chapters may be very staid (in Dragonlance terms), the focus is now less on explicitly setting-up-and-following the quest as dictated by the RPG, and more on developing the characters. Or, so I hope…
Also, and I feel this should be saved in autotext—but speaking of character development, Raistlin is awesome. His teasing is rather amazing, as it puts Sturm’s idea of ‘Good-’ness into context. And Sturm: kinda racist, right? I mean, he had the whole ‘I don’t trust elves’ thing at the end of the previous book—maybe he just doesn’t like anyone.
In the real world, refugees don’t have Tanis and Raistlin to bail them out. But authors, publishers and—most importantly, readers like us—have all been banding together to raise money to help. You can learn more about the efforts here, and, if you can, please chip in.
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.