Welcome back to the Dragonlance Chronicles Reread!
Last time, things got dark as Raistlin gave in to the power of the dragon orb and his own selfish desires, and Tanis was carried off on a dragon by Kitiara. This week, Raistlin seeks help from a super-librarian, and Laurana gets no respect from the nobles of Palanthas.
“The chronicler and the mage.” and “Palanthas.”
Jump cut! From blood and tears and drowning and terror to… A LIBRARY.
Astinus writes. And writes and writes. He’s filling sheet after sheet of parchment, one after the other. He’s apparently been doing this for a long time as well—as remembers the Cataclysm ‘spilling his ink’. He’s writing a complete history of Krynn, and every night, his disciples, the Aesthetics, come into his study and carefully carry away the pages.
Astinus is interrupted—already a rare thing—by Bertram, one of his minions. Bertram informs Astinus that a young man is dying on their doorstop (he’s unmoved) and that man is Raistlin of Solace (Astinus is definitely moved). Much to Bertram’s shock, Astinus cares. And doubling down on the shock—Astinus commands that Raistlin be moved into the library and given a room.
Raistlin, inside the bare monk’s cell, really is dying. His one hope is that something in the library might save him—might be able to help. So he shudders, waiting, desperate for Astinus to come see him. Raistlin falls unconscious, clutching the Dragon Orb.
He wakes in the evening, and finds Astinus waiting for him. To Raistlin’s shock, Astinus is not dying—his cursed vision doesn’t show a man withering away, but instead, a ‘cold, unfeeling’ face that is ‘untouched by time’. Raistlin begs to spend his final hours in the library, with access to the books. Astinus gives him permission.
Request granted, Raistlin feverishly browses through the books of the archmage Fistandilus (remember him from Autumn Twilight, and the book that Bupu nicked from the dragon for him?). The books all have a list of requirements—and Raistlin, thanks to his mastery of the Dragon Orb—has fulfilled them. But they also all reference a ‘Key’, something that Raistlin doesn’t understand—or have. Distracted by his own fading health and visions of his brother, Raistlin flips out. To the horror of the Aesthetics, he starts exploding books, MAGIC-style.
Eventually, his tantrum ends. Astinus comes into the room, and surveys the damage (book bits everywhere! carnage!). Raistlin is furious—the Key, whatever it is, is lost in time. Astinus says the high fantasy equivalent of ‘tough luck’, and Raistlin then loses his temper with him, saying Astinus has turned his back on the world. This is a step too far. Astinus yells at Raistlin, saying that his passion goes into his words—and he’s tasked by the gods to record the complete history of the world—and Raistlin (or… ‘Raistlin’?!) made him an orb that helped him and and and… oops.
Raistlin connects some occult dots, and makes a bargain—out loud—with whatever mysterious voice has plagued him. “I know you know” he says, and then agrees to the price. Whatever that is… and then falls unconscious. Astinus, perhaps a little unsettled, leaves.
It seems that Raistlin’s spontaneous visit to Palanthas hasn’t gone completely unnoticed. Tas runs to Flint, saying that he saw the wizard arrive. Flint doesn’t believe him, and makes Tas promise not to bother Laurana with his ‘wild stories’. Tas agrees.
[Boy, this would’ve changed the path of the stories, right? We need a ‘What if’ issue…]
Tas wanders around the city, providing an excellent excuse for some architectural and historical infodumping. Short version: Palanthas is old, magnificent. But while lost in his thoughts (or the exposition), Tas gets, er, lost in the city. They’re in the very center of the city, but it is strangely deserted. As Flint notes, there aren’t even any rats.
The neighbourhood gives Tas an ‘eerie feeling’ (remember, Kender don’t feel fear), and both he and Flint start shivering from an unnatural cold—despite it being midday and sunny. Tas bravely scouts a little ahead and finds very scary trees and, managing to peek through them, a tower. At this point, his eerie feeling wins, and Tas sprints back.
Laurana, in consultation with the Lord of Palanthas, learns the story. She’s doing the diplomat thing—which even involves wearing a frilly dress—and trying to get Palanthas to take the war seriously.
The Lord shows her a view of the Tower, which is both beautiful and chilling, and then introduces Astinus (he’s everywhere!), who comes to tell the story. Astinus explains that, back in the day, the Towers were where the Test was administered. The Kingpriest was no fan of the wizards, full stop—he didn’t like their belief in the balance of good/evil/neutrality, amongst other things—and the ‘dark rumors’ around the Test gave him everything he needed to raise angry mobs. The people of Krynn turned against the wizards.
The Orders (wizards) came together and destroyed two of their own towers, rather than see the mobs break in and Meddle With Artifacts Of Great Power. That also turned out to be a good negotiation point—one of the remaining towers was in Istar, and the Kingpriest didn’t want to see the center of his capital city nuked. The wizards agreed to let things go, and leave Istar and Palanthas for their final tower, one in the middle of nowhere.
Leaving Istar proved easy enough—if a little tragic. But as the wizards marched out of Palanthas, one of the Black Robes flung himself from the Tower, cursing it, until the ‘master of both the present and the past’ returns. The Tower turned black and started emanating horrible fear rays from that point, forcing the city to abandon that entire quarter.
With that, Astinus call story hour to a halt, and he, Laurana and the Lord of Palanthas steel themselves to deal with the future…
Monster(s) of the Week
Astinus? He’s certainly not… human. But I’m not sure he’s a full-on monster.
The Tower kind of counts. And the trees. Scary trees!
“Turn my back on the world? I am the world, as you well know, old friend.”
Astinus’ entire raging rant is worth a close read, but this, I think, is everything in a nutshell. 1) He actually cares. 2) He’s super-really-damn important/powerful. 3) He somehow knows Raistlin already. HMMM.
“All of them reminded her with every look that she was, to them, a woman playing at being a soldier. All right, she had done well. She had fought her little war and she had won. Now, back to the kitchen…”
Laurana resents her treatment by the nobles of Palanthas. As well she should.
“I don’t suppose…. The tower was chasing you?”
Flint, to Tas. A nice comic ending to that scene.
Super-librarians! What’s not to love about Astinus? If we compare all the enigmatic super-powerful players bouncing around Krynn (say, Fizban—or even Silvara or Verminaard), Astinus takes the cake. He acts the part. His raging monologue is properly intimidating, but more than that—he’s overwhelming.
As with most things, the showing is better than the telling. Astinus is awesome (literally) because of the way Raistlin seems him, and the way that other people respond to his presence—from his minions to the Lord of Palanthas. His very demeanor. The telling? The constant ham-fisted nudges about how old he is? A little less impressive. But on the whole, he’s amazing, and the reader gets the appropriate sense of awe.
So what’s Raistlin up to? Oddly, I can remember this being spelled out (no pun intended) in the next series, Legends, but I think we may be in… mystery… for a little while. What is the Key? Who is he talking to? Is he even going to pull through this?!
Finally—I know Raistlin is at Peak Bastard right now, but you’ve got to admire his impulse to run for the library. That’s our boy.
There’s a lot of time-related talk in these chapters. Not just the immortal Astinus and his chronicling duty,, but the Key lost in time, the walls of Palanthas and their sense of history, the ‘master of present and past’—even Laurana’s thoughts about past and future. Astinus is at the center (again), essentially telling two stories in two chapters: one foretells the very end of days, the other looks into the distant past. But, as he points out, it all seems to be connected to the present, and to both Laurana and Raistlin specifically.
(Interesting that Astinus didn’t tell Laurana that Raistlin was there, by the way.)
Yeah, why didn’t Astinus tell Laurana about Raistlin? I have to admit, like so much of this book, I can not recall anything from my earlier reading of it—what’s up with Astinus? Colour me intrigued. He really is a super-librarian, as Jared says, and he’s so impressive it’s given me a headache. The dude record everything. Everything. Doesn’t miss a beat, can’t get anything past him, isn’t dying, has been here before, will be here forevermore etc etc. My new hero.
Meanwhile, since I’ll still always be #TeamRaistlin, just how badass is Raistlin?! He’s dying but he wants to head to the library and read! Could we love him any more? Well, fine—he’s basically trying to survive, is driven by mad, wild ambition for power and he really didn’t have to go all boom with the books, but I’m hoping they’re magical and can restore themselves…I’m hoping Raistlin can do that too.
I’m also creeped out by the Tower and it’s back story, and totally with Laurana on the can’t-look-away from it situation. The timey-wimey situation is getting a little dense for me, I confess, so I do hope something gives soon.
Having said that, don’t you just love Krynn ruinporn?
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.