Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread! Last week was very, very exciting—fire and dragons and destruction and death and mayhem and conquest and monsters. Can this week top it?
Maybe not in the present adventure, but with a judicious combination of history and nightmares, perhaps…
“Escape from Tarsis. The Story of the Oragon Orbs.” and “Silvanesti. Entering the Dream.”
Red dragons in the skies over Tarsis. Hanging out, chowing down on a stray human or two. No power on Krynn can stop them now. But a human dressed in the shiny armour of a Dragon Highlord appears, aloft a blue dragon and asks the powerful reds to not kill the humans on the ground but, instead, to capture them and bring them to him. He isn’t pleased when three griffons appear in the sky but he insists that the dragons do not attack them and lets them make a get away, with humans on their backs. He then tell the red dragons to warn Toede that he knows how the blue crystal staff was lost, and follows the griffons himself. The red dragons are impressed by this Highlord.
The riders on the griffons are, of course, our not-so merry band of heroes and Alhana Starbreeze, who is the person who has rescued them. The elven princess admits she has only done so for her own purposes. She plans on flying to Silvanesti with our lot, because she needs warriors to help find her father. Tanis splutters on in protest, but Alhana isn’t having any of that. They also bicker about whether elves are a superior race or not. Alhana wins, because she knows the location of one of the dragon orbs—and, why look, it’s in Silvanesti! Meanwhile Tanis belatedly realises that he has no idea where Sturm is or why Alhana didn’t bring him along.
They just about manage to stay ahead of the blue dragons who aren’t quite as speedy as Alhana’s griffons. As they take shelter one night, Raistlin describes the creation of these magical orbs. His story is told in in a sort of trance and he recalls none of what he says when it is over.
The orbs were created by the greatest of the high mages—of all three orders—and can only be used by the most powerful mage—in fact, they’re so tricky, that terrible evil can happen if someone less than ‘most powerful’ uses them.
Alhana thinks her father may have tried to use the orb. When Raistlin doesn’t tell her more, Alhana storms off. Tanis meanders outside to chat with her, and is sensitive enough to announce his arrival so that she can pretend she wasn’t crying (well done, Tanis). He asks about the Lost Battles.
More flashback hands
Alhana says that the clerics of Istar became jealous of the wizards and stirred the people up against them, making the Towers of High Sorcery a natural target for attacks. The mages came out to defend themselves, but since they all need rest and time to do their homework, it was a losing battle. The wizards destroyed two of the five towers themselves, frightening the Kingpriest into giving them safe passage out of the cities. The mages packed up and travelled to the remote Tower of Wayreth in the Kharolis Mountains.
Alhana also explains about the three moons—white, red and black, each giving power to magic users of a certain sort (or at least magic users wearing magic robes). Alhana’s father, it turns out, travelled to the Towers of High Sorcery (waaaay back in Istar) to take the test (or Test). He passed, but during the Test, the resident orb spoke to him and told him about impending doom. Lorac stole it and snuck off.
In Palanthas, the other tower that needed to be abandoned, a Black Robe mage hurled himself from the tower, cursing it as he died, withering the gold and silver finery into twisted black stone. So that’s still there, but there are prophecies and whatnot around it.
Alhana is worried that he may have tried to use the orb and somehow hurt himself in the process. Tanis comforts her, sneaking an arm around her in the single moment she let’s her guard down. She tells him that the rest of the gang are safe and alive, and having escaped Tarsis they are now on the search for an orb too. It turns out that the jewel Alhana gave to Sturm is some sort of locator crystal, a Starjewel, because Sturm gave her feelz. Tanis is amazed, since Starjewels are only shared by elven lovers forced apart. This is a first.
The next morning, Alhana is back to grumpy again and doesn’t want to talk about Sturm. Meanwhile more trouble appears to lie ahead, with the griffons refusing to fly any further. The skies are empty of all dragons, prompting Alhana to assume that her father has basically turned back the invasion. She runs ahead in excitement and the others follow, though they are a whole lot more worried. Raistlin says that he can’t sense anything, as if there were a thick impenetrable fog. He says to be prepared and that none of them will come out of Silvanesti unscathed. They must go ahead though, and so they do.
They take a decaying boat across and enter the woods by the light of Raistlin’s staff. They are all terrified, even though there seems to be nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the fear itself causes each of them to collapse…
Dream sequence hands.
When Tanis comes to, he sees all around him the twisted, terrible woods, with each tree’s soul trapped in torment, in agony and clawing at the ground to escape. The leaves cry in pain and the trees weep blood. Animals come bounding out but crumble into ruin. Amongst the beasts are skeletal elven warriors carrying burning swords who vanish when they are attacked but are able to inflict wounds on the companions. Caramon is speared up against a tree and Raistlin’s spells can do nothing to avenge his brother’s injury. Goldmoon to the rescue though—her prayers to Mishakal heal Caramon. Raistlin sees something—someone?—in the trees and starts a one-way conversation (from what his brother can tell), talking of a bargain and asking help. Raistlin appears to accept an offer, and his red robes slowly change to black. With renewed strength, the wizard casts a spell to form a sort of forcefield around him that allows him to keep the companions safe. He speaks in a normal voice—one no one has heard since the Test—and appears in control. Everyone joins him inside the circle of safety except Sturm (did we mention that Tanis is seeing all the companions, even the ones that aren’t there?!), who says he would rather die than place himself under Raistlin’s protection and walks off into the forest.
Raistlin stops Tanis from following, saying that they can not risk following Sturm now because they must go ahead, keeping in mind that they are trapped in Lorac’s nightmare which is much stronger than their belief. Tanis asks why Raistlin himself can’t wake from this dream and Raistlin replies that perhaps he chooses not to.
Monster(s) of the Week
- Griffons—Half the size of a red dragon but fierce enough to scatter Draconians to the wind with their sharp talons and beaks. I like ‘em.
- Plenty o’ dragons, red and blue.
- A mysterious Dragon Highlord.
- A smattering of Draconians
‘We must walk the way of death, for every hideous creature ever conceived in the twisted, tortured dreams of mortals will arise to stop us.’
Raistlin, dramatic as always, on the monsters in the woods around Silvanesti.
What a great opening! It’s practically a post-apocalyptic scene, with the skies full of dragons and everyone cowering in fear. And then—the rebels appear! On griffons! It’s great, really. This mysterious Dragon Highlord appears to be fully in charge, what with bossing about dragons he’s just met and all. I like him already. I’m a bit concerned as to how long it’s taking him to find the companions though, given they seem to be resting at night and dragons are almost as fast as griffons, but hey, plenty of interesting stuff happens in the meanwhile.
Like Alhana and Tanis’ conversation. I get that Alhana is tired and all, but, wow, do her moods oscillate. And Tanis, ever so sensitive, tries very hard not to let it show, though she pretty much kidnapped them all into being her soldiers on some insane sidequest. Why must Alhana go cry against a rock? This felt really out of character to me—one moment she’s angry and certain and fierce—commanding griffons, rescuing warriors and mages, but the next she’s sobbing like a child. It seemed a little unnecessary. She could have just chucked some rocks into the ravine or something. Also, Tanis continues to annoy me. I don’t think that will change.
Some infodumping along the way but nothing we can’t handle/aren’t used to. The origin story of the orbs and of the Lost Battles is needed at this point anyway, and there’s enough action around it all to let it flow easily.
But I’m so thrilled with the Raistlin action in these chapters, never mind everything else! Oh Raistlin. Saving the day again. Really stepping up this time, too. Plenty of dramatics of course, plenty of impending doom talk that we know and love Raistlin for but also some proper heroics. In the forest while everyone is falling to pieces under the strange horrors around them, Raistlin really really genuinely saves their lives. He does so selflessly, giving up the old god’s know what, going over to the dark side (literally, with the black robes!) and suddenly coming into himself—no splutter-coughing, no weak rattling breath, no creepy whispers here, Raistlin is the mage we always knew he could be, even creating a safe zone around him for the companions to shelter in from the attacking monsters. Of course, Sturm is going to regret storming off on his own, but leave him be for now. This is Raistlin’s time, this is Raistlin’s moment and I loved it. This is where Team Raistlin is finally validated. All the naysayers can leave with Sturm and good luck to them.
Another flashback, but just to a young me, reading this for the first time. I actually really clearly remember where I was—in my mom’s old workplace. Trying to figure out why these chapters—of all chapters—are so memorable, I think I’ve struck on it:
- We’re in cliffhanger mode. There’s a lot of tension going on, not just because of Tanis’ groups’ antics, but because we don’t know what’s happened to the others.
- Things are not ok. Even the stories about the glorious past all end in death and destruction. Everything we’re learning is screaming ‘YOU ARE GOING INTO SERIOUS TROUBLE.’
- The trouble is intangible. Ethereal, magical, uncontrollable, un-punchable evil. We are tipped that this is a dream, your wildest dreams, ah ha!, but also one in which the consequences are real. Tanis’ skill with a bow (ha!) won’t save him, nor Caramon’s strength or even Raistlin’s magic. The normal rules don’t apply. It is deeply disconcerting.
- The consequences are real. Raistlin is selling his soul (isn’t it handy that they explained the robe colours). The ‘strength’ reversal between Raistlin and Caramon is deeply disturbing. Sturm is martyring himself. Everyone is getting chopped into pieces. Again we have the cycle in Dragonlance where the party is established as pretty good at what they do… and then they’re thrown into something much, much worse.
- This is the un-fantasy. We are flying into post-apocalyptic Rivendell. The Silvanesti is the most Tolkien of all the Krynn elves, and… they’re gone? They’ve melted? Become undead? Whatever it is, all the reinforcement and trope-queues we associate with elves are being very badly subverted.
So, with the advantage of hindsight, I can see why this all adds up to, well… be stuck in my hindsight. It isn’t the finest horror fiction ever written, but that doesn’t make it, in context, any less terrifying or emotionally powerful.
Back in the realm of plot, it feels we’re rushing a little bit. We learn about the orbs, then we learn about an orb, then we go orb-chasing. We learn about the robes, then we go see them in action. Fortunately, there are a couple pieces of larger foreshadowing going on—who is this Highlord? And what’s with the Tower of Palanthas? There’s no way a prophecy like that isn’t going to come back into play.
A final note -anyone else find it hilarious that Toede is now a Highlord? I mean, he didn’t strike me as particularly competent. Are the Dragonarmies that short of officer material?!
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.