Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!
Y’all, we’ve had dragons and… dare we say it… a hint of lance! Plus orbs are everywhere, there are Highlords in every corner of Krynn and even the walrus-men have made an appearance (well, sort of). All things considered, probably a bad time to be on a boat.
“The White Dragon. Captured!” and “The Speaker of the Suns. Laurana’s Decision.”
In which we meet a white dragon called Sleet.
Born and bred in the Arctics, white dragons can withstand freezing temperatures and are the swiftest of flyers, because they are smaller. Sleet is a scout—she was away from her lair in Ice Wall (searching for Tanis, in fact). She returned home to find complete disaster. Feal-thas is dead and the dragon orb is missing.
Her allies, the Thanoi walrus-men (why why why don’t we get more of them?!) are able to describe the group who stole it to her, and the direction in which they have fled (even, even Sleet notes, though there is only direction in which to go—North). The Dark Queen is upset at losing a second orb—mostly because it proves that there are still forces of good in the land who may be able to figure out and use an orb.
Sleet, however, now faces a bit of an conundrum—now that she’s found the orb (on a ship, with Laurana)—she’s not sure how she’s going to get at it. Worth noting that white dragons are inbred and not all that smart. (This is canon, not snark.) Sleet can’t freeze the ship with her icy breath since that would also trap the orb in a block of frozen wood, and she may end up sinking it instead. She’ll also sink it if she tries to tear the ship apart. And, of course, the ship is too heavy for her to lift and carry off. So she flutters around a bit, freaking out the sailors, while she has a think.
Meanwhile, down on the ship the crew are terrified and unable to manage the ship. It begins to flounder as storm clouds gather overhead. Laurana even hears one of the sailors discuss casting the companions out into a lifeboat, but she knows it’s not them the dragon is after but the orb.
When the dragon attacks, Laurana gets everyone under decks quickly, saving them all from a permanent frosting. Luckily, white dragons don’t breathe fire but ice, so they are still all alive—but trapped under the ice Sleet. But the dragon does not blast them again. Rather, she tries to blow them gently to shore, except, in the dark under the storm clouds, she cannot see. Elves, however, can see in the dark and so our Elvish party members (remember Gilthanas?!) start firing arrows at Sleet, crippling one of her wings with 1d6 worth of plot-related damage. Sleet decides to retreat, rationalising a partial success in her mission, since she has frozen the ship and stopped the orb from reaching Sancrist.
Back on the shore, everyone congratulates Laurana for having shot the dragon. The ship has sunk but our lot have managed to save the orb and get to land. Nameless sailors have died but our lot have all survived, so yay. They light fires to stay warm, collect themselves and… suddenly find themselves surrounded by elves who attack them, accusing them of being ‘Qualinesti spies’, and whacks Gilthanas in the face. The two sides are about to launch into a full battle when Laurana steps into the melee and reveals the dragon orb. This causes the other elves to take pause and agree to take the companions with them. When they find out who Laurana and Gilthanas are, they are apologetic and offer a healer. Laurana insists that Elistan can heal Glithanas, but the elves do not trust the human cleric.
It is now revealed that there are three races of the Elves, all sharing an island: The Kaganesti, (the Wilder Elves), the Qualinesti and the Silvanesti. It appear that the Kaganesti are treated terribly and many are forced to work as slaves amongst the other two tribes, with their elders growing wilder and more savage.
One of the Kaganesti turns out to be the healer sent to help Glilthanas. She’s a young, malnourished and filthy woman who has learnt Druidic skills. Meanwhile, Laurana coerces the Silvanesti to accompany them to her people, since she is technically still bound to her father and to keep her against her will would be kidnapping and cause further hostility.
She convinces the knights that they must go with her to see her father and work out a way to get the orb to Sancrist. She appears Tanis-like in her resolve. She is also kind to the Wilder elf, and along with Tas, manages to find out the girl’s name, ‘Silvart’, and asks her to stay with Gilthanas until he is healed. Silvart later tells Laurana her true name: Silvara. Gilthanas is placed on a litter and carried as the others march alongside. Sturm and Flint talk about how they’ll get to Sancrist, an island. Flint is certain that boats are bad luck to them all.
Meanwhile, over at the Qualinesti refuge, their leader, the Speaker of the Sun holds court in the crude shelters of the Kaganesti. He’s sad, though, because he misses Gilthanas—whom he sent off on a suicide mission—and he also horrified that Laurana ran off after Tanis in the terrible, dishonourable way that she did. The Speaker ruminates on Elven sociopolitics. His son, Porthios mostly manages everything now, thinking his father to be sentimental and soft, though the Speaker was technically still the leader of his people. Porthios himself believes in ‘threats and sword rattling’. The Silvanesti and Qualinesti elves have divided up the land of the Kaganesti between them, with total disregard for the Kaganesti themselves, who are losing not just their lands (and their people) but also their livestock, which are being used to feed the refugees. Basically, there’s a lot of tension and what exists of the Kaganesti infrastructure can not support the refugees for long.
Gilthanas’ arrival is met with great celebration, Laurana’s… less so. The Speaker is taken in by Elistan, immediately cutting Laurana out of the picture. Later, at the feast, we find out that the Speaker will no longer keep Laurana as his scribe, but is demoting her to a lesser, more traditional daughter’s role in the household. He also refuses to consider her opinions about the orb, leading to an argument with the Knights, who believe the orb is theirs. The Speaker claims possession over the orb since it has been brought to his home in exile by his son. Gilthanas insist the orb belongs to everyone, but Porthios and the Speaker are adamant that it is theirs.
In all this, Flint points out that if anyone can lay claim to the orb it is Laurana, who killed Feal-thas for it. The Speaker immediately takes possession of it again, claiming that Laurana is underage and so anything that belongs to her basically belongs to her father. Derek and the Speaker argue coldly until Laurana steps in again, trying to reason with her father. Her father finally can not hold back anymore and rebukes her for running off after a ‘half-elven bastard like a brazen, human wh-’. Porthios points out that it isn’t just that she Laurana ran off after Tanis but that she now dresses like a man, wears a bloodied sword and spends nights with her half-breed lover.
Later, Laurana is roused by Silvara, who seems to have developed a soft spot for Gilthanas. Laurana notices that, under all the grime and filth, Silvara is a beauty—just like every other woman in this world. Silvara asks Laurana to take her away with her, and though Laurana has doubts, she quickly comes to the conclusion that she needs to take the dragon orb and run.
Silvara eagerly offers her help in sneaking away. She knows places they won’t be found, and they’ll be chasing their tails trying to track them down. And, of course, she’s suddenly loyal to Laurana because she is the first person who ever knew the meaning of her name. Just when they share this new bff-tenderness moment, Elistan bursts in and tells Laurana that he will not go with her, but will stay to convince her father that he is a cleric of the true gods. He’s very encouraging though, and tells her that she capable of a great deal. Laurana, left to sort out a plan herself, works it all out though she does have a little What Would Tanis Do moment. (For the record: update livejournal, draw unicorn pictures, and consult Raistlin)
The rest of the gang are unable to sleep in their cabin and so are awake when Theros Ironfeld, last seen lying dying back in the Qualinesti city in Autumn Twilight, busts in on them, alive and apparently well. He has been sent by Laurana, and has a shiny new silver arm which gives him the ability to rip chains apart. He helps them escape towards more boats, to Flint’s annoyance.
Laurana and Silvara sneak into the Speaker’s bedroom to steal the dragon orb, which has conveniently shrunk to an easy-to-carry size. Encouraged by Silvara, Laurana also takes the broken lance and Wyrmslayer. She asks for forgiveness from her sleeping father and then makes a hasty exit, meeting up with the Knights, Theron, Gilthanas and the rest of the gang to head on through the mountains. Silvara carries the orb, and mutters interesting Gollum-like things about how it has come to her.
Monster(s) of the Week
Sleet, the white dragon who breathes ice. I almost don’t want to list her as a monster because she seems quite ineffectual, what with her inbreeding, stupidity and hasty retreat. But still—new dragon!
And can you count Porthios the judgmental & the entire lot of Qualinesti and Silvanesti elves? As well as being jerks to the party, they have pretty much colonised the Kaganesti.
‘A princess of her people chasing after a bastard half-breed!’
Oh dear, the Speaker really has no sympathy for his daughter. Or for Tanis. Can’t believe I feel some empathy for Tanis here.
‘Sleet reported the loss of the dragon orb to her Dark Queen, who was intensely angry and frightened. Now there were two orbs missing!’
only flagging this up because it is… not very good writing. Even setting aside the telling-not-showing, the overuse of adverbs, and the (good god!) exclamation mark, we’ve got the Big Bad being frightened? Odd.
‘the dragon circled like a horrible seabird’
‘The Queen, with her vast network of spies on Ergoth, could easily recover it’
Wait, the Dark Queen has spies amongst the elves? The same intrinsically Good race she’s exterminating for no clear reason? That seems unlikely. Maybe there are undercover draconian agents, wearing muumuus and Spock ears!
I’m now wondering about the genealogy (zoology?!) of the various dragon types. White dragons from the arctics are bred there, it’s not natural selection that makes them what they are? Does this mean there are dragon mills around, breeding specific sorts of dragons for specific areas/tasks? Or there were, once? I’d really like to know more about dragon breeding, please.
Now, this Laurana—she’s really coming into herself isn’t she? She’s figuring stuff out, calling the shots, making decisions that will have huge impact on more than just her. It appears that Elven laws for women are kinda crappy, what with this is whole what’s my daughter’s is mine and my daughter is a ‘whore’ stuff the Speaker has going on, but Laurana doesn’t let this hold her back. She’s upset and frustrated at how she’s been treated by her father and Porthios and, though she does faint, she later rises to the occasion by coming up with a plan. (It really only works from sheer luck, but hey, who cares.)
I’m amused by the throwaway mention of finely woven table cloth that Laurana pokes her fork into in tension…really? They’re in exile and they brought their finely woven table cloths with them? The Kaganesti definitely don’t have such luxuries to be taken over.
Speaking of the Kaganesti, how awful are the other elves?! They consider the Kaganesti lower than them—wild creatures as compared to whatever sophisticated society they seem to think they have. They swoop right in to take over the Kaganesti homes, eat up all their animals and make them their slaves. The Qualinesti and Silvanesti are hardly in a position to judge Laurana for running away after her One True Love. At least she hasn’t colonised and abused the welcome of another people!
Silvara is right to want to get out of this stifling situation where, with all her Druidic skills, she is nothing better than a slave. Her enthusiasm to help Laurana steal the orb, though—that seems a little sudden and strange. Why is she all Golem-like ‘my precioussss’ over it? Why does she think she’s got something more to do with it than just carry it? What will come out of this? Colour me intrigued.
Oh and Silvara turns out to be a beauty under all that dirt too, hmm? Colour me not taken aback there.
Lastly—walrus men! Why oh why are these mere mentions and not greater adventures? The walrus men seem like fun.
I too miss the walrus-men.
I like to think that they’re having their own adventures. Now liberated from the dark reign of Feal-thas, they sent the last of the Dark Queen’s minions (that idiot Sleet) off to her certain death. Now they can return to the traditional Thanoi pastimes of pickling herring, building exquisite ice sculptures and composing long, honking epics to the beauty of the Southern Lights.
As I’m wont to do, I can split this pretty easily between the ‘theoretical good’ and the ‘executional not-so-good’.
It is interesting and unusual that the elves are all, for lack of a better word, ‘dicks’. A bit like our first Silvanesti experience, we see a group of haughty Tolkienate elves taken to an extreme of arrogance, coupled with the dismissiveness that comes from knowing they are the incarnations of all Good and Worthy. Why wouldn’t they feel horribly superior, right? To such an extreme that they’ll even subjugate their own distant relatives, ‘for their own good’, I’m sure. And, yet, at the same time, this inflated self-worth is punctured for the first time… possibly ever… they’re now refugees, driven from their ancient lands and forced to live in mud huts. (Thank Paladine, that they remembered to bring the linens, right?) There’s something really fascinating about the situation—the reversal of fortune, the failure(?) to adapt, etc.—but, really, we’re not seeing the elves as elves, mostly they’re just there to be a road bump on Laurana’s path to self-actualisation.
The ‘executional not-so-good’ is, well, largely noted in some of the quotes above. These chapters don’t contain the… best… writing. The monstercam is particularly clunky, possibly (generously) because Sleet is dumb—but more so because every time we go ‘monstercam’, we wind up undercutting the rising tension. Again, there’s something interesting about the way the Chronicles use all the perspectives—from Sleet to the Speaker—but I’m not sure the voices are strong enough, or even compelling enough, to make it work very smoothly. Also, as great as Laurana is being, it is exhausting to see her faint. And to learn that Silvara is—of course—a stunning beauty. Two steps forward, one step back.
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.
Jared Shurin is an editor for Pornokitsch and the non-profit publisher Jurassic London.