BEWARE – SPOILERS
You would have all heard me talk about the Dragonlance Saga and credited these works as being largely responsible for my love of reading and writing. I – literally – grew up with these books. However, it’s been a long time since I last read them. A looooong time. So, I decided to pick up Dragons of Autumn Twilight and hop into my favourite adventure of all time with some of my favourite characters ever written.
The Chronicle Saga kicks off with Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and after a mere three pages in, I was speculating that the saga was actually much more childish/young adult than I remembered; corny jokes, over-the-top action, etc. I shrugged and said ‘I can deal with that’…until I got to the part where one of the main characters reminisces about his childhood, and how he was the product of a ‘brutal rape’…say what? Since when do young adult books casually drop in phrases like ‘brutal rape’? Ok, so this series IS an adult themed series…just with some extremely childish overtones.
Righto, I decide to put that behind me and continue. It’s still my favourite characters, right? Like good-hearted, dense as wood warrior Caramon. By-the-numbers stern and surly knight, Sturm Brightblade. Angst-filled half elf Tania Half Elven. And my ultimate favourite, cynical, sly mage Raistlin Majere. But in dismay, as I turned page after page, I realised this was ALL there was to my favourite characters; heavy handed stereotyping of previously established tropes. Raistlin doesn’t ‘hint’ at being the evil master arch mage he will become in the future, instead, he sneers, snaps, snides and frequently causes the others to shiver, shake, and look at him cross-eyed. Foreshadowing is full-on foreCASTING as noble, bittersweet Sturm bemoans his lot in life and dreams of dying an honorable death…which promptly happens a few chapters later. And on it goes.
Fine. Instead of adding a dash of pepper to make these characters more flavourful, the authors drowned them in a soup of chili. I can swallow that (with some coughing). The writing style favours an omniscient POV, however it’s a bit poorly done, with so much head-hopping I find myself dizzy. All thoughts, secrets, hidden messages, and plot points are quite blatantly spelled out, but the story flows nicely, moving from one action-filled climax to another. In fact, it’s very reminiscent of a computer game…and then it hits me; the Dragnolance Saga was written based on (and to promote) D&D table-top style gaming. Suddenly it all makes sense. The two dimensional characters that fit the archetypes of rogue, knight, warrior, mage. The constricting rules about using magic in the world. The abundance of magical weapons just waiting to be found as our heroes crawl through dungeons. It’s all from a Dungeon Master’s play book.
Well, with that firmly established, I continue on and actually find myself enjoying the sprawling adventure that is oh-so classic good versus evil (they even call the dragons of the world ‘good dragons’ and ‘evil dragons’). Yes, it’s heavy-handed. Yes there are plot devices, plot armour, and obvious plot twists. Yes, characters fall madly in love with each other three hours after meeting each other. But there is heart in the series. There is adventure, action, and emotion. There are also main character deaths – and we’re talking in a time way before Mr Martin made it ‘cool’ to kill off main characters. I remember being hugely impacted by these deaths as a kid, and yes, they still made my heartstrings tingle this time around.
The Chronicles series ends in a dramatic, highly climactic fashion, but rather than finishing the adventure, it paves the way for what is arguably, the better trilogy; the Legends saga. In my humble opinion, the Legends saga far surpasses the original trilogy. It’s a better story line, less character involved (read, less filler characters), it feels more grown-up, and has a better conclusion. Here we see some depth added to the characters that had previously been two dimensional tropes. Here, my beloved Raistlin develops depth and complications that take him from cardboard cut-out, to the incredible anti-hero character that has inspired so many of my own characters. This series, did much to restore my faith in the Dragonlance series.
Faith restored, I decided to finish my experience with the much later released Dragons of Summer Flame. This book was released some eleven years after Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and I actually remember the release of this one (being in my teens at the time). I remember when it came out; I was thrilled to have a new adventure featuring some of my favourite old characters, but I have a vague recollection of mum’s reaction to the book – she was oddly quiet about it and didn’t share my enthusiasm.
Now I know why. As an adult reading Dragons of Summer Flame, I can only say, it stinks. In fact, I got 25% through and Did Not Finish. It is reekingly obvious this book was released only to cash in on the Dragonlance name. The writing is sloppy, the editing, sloppier, and it’s slipped back into not knowing if it’s a young adult book or an extremely adult book (in an early chapter we have a God grappling with his rotund tummy that sticks over his belt, as he struggles to squeeze into an opening in what could be homage to Abbott and Costello, and in the next scene, another God casually steps on and squishes a semi-main character…what?)
After paragraph after paragraph of continuously reading the most intensely annoying writing error ever (the dreaded comma splice) I nearly threw my Kindle at the wall in frustration. I was done. This was a New York Times Best-Seller with abundant errors, bad editing, and poor writing. What an utterly disappointing end to my journey down memory lane.
The take away? Dragonlance is still a great saga.
It’s campy, over-the-top and a bit childish, but it has great heart, themes, and adventure. It’s more like playing a computer game than reading a book, but is a fun way to while away the hours.
Is it the best series in the world – the shining beacon of literature I thought when I was younger – no. Is it still one of my favourite series’, a guilty pleasure, and something I thoroughly enjoyed? Hell yeah.