Dragonlance Chronicles (a book review)

Dragonlance Chronicles
There are a lot more book after these three…

3-in-1 – that’s right, all three books!

Quick rundown – here’s the three novels:

Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragons of Winter Night

Dragons of Spring Dawning

Here’s the super-brief plot:

Three hundred years ago a great cataclysm sundered the world of Krynn. Now, Krynn is ripe for a new empire. The dragons have returned, creating the way for the coming of Takhisis, Queen of Darkness into the world. A small group of companions are all that stand in the way of darkness. They just don’t know it yet.

Here’s the rest:

The Dragonlance Chronicles was my first foray into the world of fantasy. A lot of people say The Lord of the Rings, some say The Sword of Shannara, and some even say Raymond Feist’s Riftwar saga. They all have their merits, but only one was obviously meant for the role-playing geeks of the 80’s and is, therefore, superior in every way. …Probably.

Like Athena from Zeus’s head, Dragonlance sprouted from the Dungeons and Dragons adventure modules of the time. Born under the TSR name (long before Wizards [of the Coast] came around), the first novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, has the distinct feeling of a group of friends sitting around a table with character sheets, dice, and no idea what they are doing.

That might sound bad, but the best role-players make decisions based on their characters. Since the best stories are character-based (that’s a fact, you can’t argue with me, I win), this works well in favor of the novel. Granted, sometimes it’s a little over the top – everything effects everyone’s very soul or they survive impending death solely because of love – but every major character in the story, and there are a few, is incredibly distinct. Especially the magician, Raistlin. Someone had fun with that guy. Adding to the fun are the constraints of the actual role-playing game. Everyone is specifically “good” or “evil” or, my favorite, “neutral.” It’s actually comical at times to hear something described as evil when it sounds pretty innocuous – “The herring was evil!” (Just kidding, the herring was chaotic neutral.)

The downside is, the first novel does feel like a bunch of people wandering all over the place before finally landing on the plot. But, as an introductory novel, it sets events in motion without giving anything away. The second and third novels develop much differently, feeling less constrained and more organic. There’s a plot to hold to, but the next novels really open up.

I’ve read complaints that the writing is juvenile, but I don’t see it. There’s an element of making all the violence and occasional sex chaste and family friendly, but given what I recall about the 80s, that’s not surprising. There’s also some liberal literary borrowing in the form of an old wizard that kind of irks me, but the relationship between the Kender, Tasslehoff, and the wizard is pretty entertaining.

Here’s what I like about the original Dragonlance Chronicles and what keeps bringing me back:

  1. There is a new wonder around every corner, from the lost city of Xak Tsaroth to the enchanted (by evil!) forest of Silvanesti to the flights of dragons fighting above Solamnia to the drowned city of Istar. Even as the final novel reaches its closing stages, the authors continue to throw imaginative scenarios and locations at you.
  2. The authors manage to find a balance between heavy drama (almost soap opera at times), action, and a liberal amount of humor.
  3. The fully-realized world of Krynn. This pretty much echoes #1 above. There’s a lot of mystery to the world, enough that there was plenty left over after the last page.
  4. There’s never a dull moment. Something is always happening. The story develops at a perfect pace.
  5. The dragon war and the return of the Queen of Darkness is what epic fantasy is all about. I suppose you might classify this as sword and sorcery, but it’s a little more than that in my opinion.

I could go on, but obviously I’m biased to no end. I used to play role-playing games and I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels. Dragonlance may not change your life, but, darn it, it’s fun.

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