Welcome back! Thanks for indulging us in our Dragons of Winter Break (zing!)—now we’re back and raring to go. Bring on the dragons! The lances! Any combination thereof!
As a brief recap—our party split (rookie error) and the groups are off having independent adventures. We haven’t heard from Team Tanis for a while, and Team Laurana has now split off, with Team Sturm delivering the Dragon Orb to Sancrist. The remnants of Team Laurana are scampering around Elven territory, following their mysterious guide (and Gilthanas’ girlfriend?), Silvara.
“The Tomb of Huma” and “The kender’s startling discovery”
When we last left them, Laurana had been—reluctantly—following Silvara. And now, finally, she’s learned their destination: the Tomb of Huma. It is at the base of a cliff, across a mass of boiling springs. And carved into the cliff itself, there’s a huge—really huge—carving of a dragon, etched into the side of a mountain.
The entrance to the Tomb is a long spindly span, without guard rails—a bit like a Star Wars movie. Silvara assures the party that only those with evil intent need worry, but everyone is still (justifiably) nervous. Except Tas, who wonders if they can cook their dinner in the boiling springs below the bridge…
Silvara and Laurana have their 147th confrontation, in which Laurana, again with cause, points out that she has no reason to trust Silvara. Silvara sort of waves about at the tomb, but Laurana’s counterpoint—“THIS IS A BIG DRAGON SHRINE”—is valid. Gilthanas finally interrupts, saying that this is clearly all part of Silvara’s plan to keep them safe, and Laurana should stop acting like an adolescent child. Unlike Gilthanas, who is in no way addled by hormones.
The next ring of protection on the tomb is a wall of sculptures—the party see their friends, including Raistlin and Caramon. Silvara assures them that, were they evil, the statues would react accordingly. There’s some banter about how about Raistlin isn’t the best of friends, but the party moves on.
Then they reach the Tomb itself—an octagonal, obsidian structure, with engravings of knights killing dragons (which is a bit grim, given what we know about Huma’s nameless dragon girlfriend). As the doors swing open, Laurana recalls their previous tomb-robbing expedition—the grave of Kith-Kanan (under Pax Tharkas). There, she felt evil (although, again, Kith-Kanan was a hero, so that’s confusing), but here—just sorrow and loss. In fact, as Laurana steps forward, she feels her sorrow being washed away, replaced by memories of her “victories and triumphs.”
The room inside the tomb is virtually empty—a bier, but with no body. The fragrance of crushed flowers still lingers, a testament to the magic of the place. A little snooping reveals an iron trap door, but when they open it, they just find a hole to nowhere. And Silvara gets miffed.
Flint chimes in with an interesting architectural tidbit. The tomb is old—damn old—but the sculptures, especially that of the gigantic stone dragon, carved into the face of the cliff—are even older. It is like Huma was buried at a spot that was already sacred to some people. People that are very old and very talented. And have immense strength. And, um, wings…
Just as everything starts falling into place, Silvara casts a spell, and sends them all to sleep.
Well, almost all. Tas, quicker than the others, recognises what is happening and darts behind the shield on the tomb (Huma’s?). Protected, the spell doesn’t take effect, and he’s the only one to see the aftermath.
Much to his disappointment, Silvara doesn’t then do anything interesting, and there aren’t any monsters (boo). She mopes about, saying something about an oath, and then bursts into tears. Tas takes advantage of her distraction and sneak down the hole to nowhere in the hopes of finding a better place to hide.
Happily, the path to nowhere has handholds, and Tas scuttles down the side. He finds six glorious gems embedded in the wall and tries to pocket one. Instead, it releases a blast of air that sends him flying through the passage, to another room somewhere else in the mountain.
This room is much, much larger—white marble to the tomb’s black obsidian, with soaring pillars, a grand staircase, and paintings. Many, many glorious, beautiful, plot-explaining paintings. As Tas wanders, he sees a story: dragons, rampaging through the world, causing havoc and death—and then other dragons, hopeful, inspiring ones—battling with them. This reminds him of the paintings from Pax Tharkas… paintings he’s been somehow unable to remember… paintings he saw with… Fizban!
And, bamf, in a puff of plot-smelling dust, Fizban appears! No. Seriously. The old wizard is there—sitting on a bench—his time-honoured confused and confusing self. Tas is genuinely shocked, and Fizban has nothing to offer in the way of explanation (besides feeling ‘under the weather this morning’). Tas does his best to fill him in, but the conversation is, as always a bit elliptic. The chapter ends on a joke, with Fizban remembering Tas’s name, and then his own. Zing.
Monster(s) of the Week
Dragons, badly disguised. (Spoilers? I mean, is it not obvious yet?)
WHEN DO WE GET SOME ACTUAL DRAGONS?!
“Was it a nice funeral? Did lots of people come? Where there a twenty-one gun salute? I always wanted a twenty-one gun salute.”
I understand the purpose of this line—Fizban is a fourth-wall breaking, multi-dimensional entity with all sorts of cosmic weirdness going on. But I also find the conceit of deliberate anachronism—which isn’t all that uncommon within the genre—inherently irritating. Fizban is bonkers, mysterious and potentially-omnipotent enough without an awkward reminder that fnar, fnar, you’re reading a fantasy book.
There are a few exceptions to this rule (say, the butterfly in The Last Unicorn), but that’s because there’s a thematic foundation for them. Dragonlance has 99 themes, but the delicate interlacing of fantasy and reality ain’t one of them.
“You’re behaving like a spoiled child, Laurana. [Elfsplains long, incorrect interpretation of events.] Isn’t that right, Silvara? Isn’t that why you brought us here?”
“Yes. Th-that was my plan.”
This made me laugh. One of the few interesting parts of this entire storyline is that it is largely about women and their competing ambitions: Laurana and Silvara. Gilthanas stamping in, interrupting their conversation, and then getting everything wrong is, well—more than a little entertaining.
Honestly, two more dull chapters. This book, which started so promisingly, is getting really bogged down in Elfland, and there’s only so much longer we can drag this out. It seems unfair that Laurana fought a Dragonlord and the Walrus People and we get none of that—instead, trudging through the wilderness. So much trudging.
We’ve mentioned the remarkable alignment system of Dragonlance in the past. This is not only one of its strongest connections to its Dungeons & Dragons origins, but also an extraordinarily fascinating element of world-building. In most fantasy worlds, we’re used to orcs being intrinsically evil, elves being intrinsically good and humans (especially our stableboy protagonist) given (ostensible) free will to choose one side or the other.
In Dragonlance, this is taken to the next step—we have creatures (goblins, draconians) born evil, and others born good. But this isn’t just a matter of simplifying the plot and giving us guilt-free slaughter. Here your alignment—whether or not you are, intrinsically, good or evil—is a measurable thing. Take, for example, the statues. They read one’s mind, aura, soul, you have it, and react accordingly. In the game, a wizard’s alignment impacts what spells he can learn, but spells are also a matter of study. Therefore alignment makes your brain different. Very fun to extrapolate…
On one hand, no one seems to exploit these loopholes properly—having mechanics for measuring absolute and immutable motivation would seem to be good. It’d certainly get around all the lingering trust issues. On the other hand, all credit to Weis and Hickman for creating a world that does have absolute Good and Evil, but still manages to have these internal tensions. The elves’ infighting, for example. The knights’ disagreement about the best way forward. Even the distrust between Pyros and Verminaard that eventually contributed to both their deaths.
Kudos to Jared for making a couple of terribly boring chapters mean something. I am, as is often the case, in agreement with the above. Sometimes I just want to add ‘wot ‘e said’ to Jared’s part and leave it at that.
But I must not.
This Laurana /Silvara thing is getting a bit tedious, no? Thankfully, all of Silvara’s suspicious activity comes to something when she casts this sleepytime spell on the others and proceeds to have a debate with the voice in head. She is ‘like one possessed’ and I admit I wished there would be a fun little incident of jinn-possession here. Imagine the exorcism Raistlin would conduct! It’d be fabulous. Or (to refer to something Jared tweeted) a cliff could fall on Silvara. That’d be cool, too. Because let’s face it, even when Silvara does something, it’s just weak. Her spell is so rubbish and her tormented soul is to piteous that Tas feels sorry for her—but not enough to hang around and give us a Kender-eyed view of what’s going on. Instead, he drops down the scary hole and sees cool paintings of cool dragons.
No actual dragons of course. Sadness. Though I am intrigued by the Dragon of All Colours and None that Silvara mentioned earlier. That Silvara, so shady, you know? Who is in her head, anyway?
You know who else is shady but not as boring? Fizban. He’s back! Exactly when Tas thinks of him, spookily enough. I would like to see Fizban’s spookiness explored further, and soon. So far, the doddering old mage is amusing but still needs to bring something more exciting to the table. Him and Raistlin …can they be the new Batman & Robin, please? I could totally do with a chapter on them as a crime fighting duo in Dragonlance. Maybe they could solve all that internal conflict Jared was mentioning. Or stir it up further. That’s cool, too.
Next week: Silvara’s secret. Oh and it had better be a good one.
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.