Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Blog Fantastic 012: The Dragons of Krynn review

Dragonlance is one of the series that made me a fantasy reader for life. Sure, it seems like an underwhelming series to help turn somebody onto an entire genre but at the time I believed Dragonlance to be some of the best books I ever read. I discovered them at around the age of 10 when Dragons of a Fallen Sun was recently released. I finished that trilogy and curious about the War of the Lance and all the characters the series referenced I bought Dragons of Autumn Twillight and all the other Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman co-written books I could get my greedy little hands on. As I’ve grown as a reader and explored many other fantasy series but I still rather enjoy reading a Dragonlance novel from time to time and having recently gotten a few of my books back from my brother, I decided to read one I hadn’t read before. Since this is a short story anthology, I decided to do a mini-review for each story in the collection. 

Seven Hymns of the Dragon by Michael Williams:
The first story is a poem. I have very little appreciation for poems and maybe that's my bad but this is a rather forgettable story.

The Final Touch by Michael and Teri Williams:
The same can be said for the second story. It's about a young druidess who finds a dragon egg. Despite the wise council of her former mentor she brings the egg to her cavern and raises the dragon. It was a disadvantage for the dragon to be raised in this way because it didn't learn the lessons a dragon should learn in the wild. There is a sad and pathetic quality to the dragon which it developed through no fault of its own. It reminded me of real life animals who are born and raised in zoos. Eventually the dragon leaves but all ends well for the bronze dragon after all. Overall the story is cute. There are a few saccharine moments but it’s not something I would recommend to a friend unless they like somewhat cute stories about dragons.

Night of Falling Stars by Nancy Varian Berberick:
This story is about a dwarf, Tarran Ironwood, who lives in fear. He chooses to put an end to his fears by seeking revenge on a dragon that killed many of his friends several years ago. He hires a young swordsman who also has fears of his own that he needs to vanquish in order to be of any real aid to the dwarf during his quest. Both characters travel to the mountain lair of the dragon which used to be a dwarven mine.  Berberick convincingly writes about the dangers, sense of claustrophobia and the ever present echoes of the mine.

Berberik’s plot is rather cliché; a small group of individuals (not even a group, a pair) set out to slay a dragon. It’s been seen countless times before but Berberick makes it her own. In the dwarven mines, the characters are surrounded by the echoes of the sleeping dragon, Claw, the quest becomes a meditation on painful memories and the fears that can haunt an individual. It’s a pretty powerful story and I was pleasantly surprised to see this type of thing in a short story collection. There’s definitively potential for a larger narrative but maybe its short length contributes to its success.

Honor is All by Mickey Zucker Reichert:
A knight of Solamnia heads out to battle a dragon in order to protect a village that the dragon has been terrorizing. Not all is as it seems in this story, however. The knight is obsessed about honour like many other knights of Solamnia. He lives his life in a way to tip the balance in the favour of good but through the events detailed in this story, he ends up tipping the balances the other way. The story ends with the knight realizing what he's just done and choosing to rethink he's life of blind devotion to the cause of the Solamnic Knights. There's also a small section about nature vs. nurture in relation to dragons and I would have preferred if the story had followed that idea to its conclusion rather than the cheap twist. I think it would have made for a better ending because of the nature of the knight and what his oath represents.

Easy Pickings by Douglas Niles:
Douglas Niles starts his short story, which takes place during the time of Huma Dragonbane, with a battle between ogres and Knights of Solamnia. What begins as a sure victory for the ogres changes with the arrival of Knights wielding lances atop the back of dragons and the tides quickly turn. The second half of the story echoes the first. A surviving ogre, Chaltiford, finds a deceased dragon near its lair and decides to steal the dragons gold. Things are not as easy as it seems and once again the tides turn for the unlucky ogre. The whole thing is predictable but it didn't impede on my enjoyment of this little story. It was nice to have an ogre as the main character since I’ve never read any ogre-centric Dragonlance stories before.

A Dragon to the Core by Roger E. Moore:
This is a fun story that tried really, really hard to be funny. It somewhat succeeded. It doesn't really work overall because the story is easily twice as long as necessary. Like a decent comedy movie that kept on playing well last the acceptable 90 minutes. A total length of 20 pages of a gnome mining and draconians scheming would have been plenty for me. I was very glad when the Iron Dragon blew up because I knew it was announcing the end of the story.

Dragon's Breath by Nick O'Donohoe:
“Dragon’s Breath” is yet another forgettable story. A group of five men set out to fight and kill a dragon that has been terrorizing the surrounding area. A gnome gets involved and a dragon is found and eventually chased away. The five men return home no more famous or rich for their trouble and continue living their peaceful lives in their quiet village.

Fool's Gold by Jeff Grubb:
This story resembles “A Dragon to the Core” only it's shorter, isn't annoying (probably due to the absence of a gully dwarf) and the events happened in reverse order. The story begins with the tale of an encounter with a golden dragon which put a curse on our former-warrior, now the story’s hero. The story then ends with a gnome creating a mechanical sea dragon which helps him put an end to the town’s bullying baron once and for all. There isn't any depth of storytelling but it's a brisk and enjoyable read even if nothing spectacular happens. I think I just liked it because it wasn't self-indulging like Roger E. Moore's story earlier in this collection.

Scourge of the Wicked Kendragon by Janet Pack:
By "borrowing" a jewelled figurine of a dragon, a kender named Mapshaker Wanderfuss accidentally transforms himself into a dragon. He gets into all sorts of troubles afterword such as scarring villagers and various types of cattle, learning to fly, getting hounded by a Knight of Solamnia whose honour was besmirched only to finally get transformed back to his real self by the same mage from whom he stole the statue. It's a delightful little story in which most of the characters are funny. Sir Aric is particularly ridiculous in his hunt of the kendragon.

And Baby Makes Three by Amy Stout:
Stoic John, a mercenary who works with a dragon finds a little child at the top of a mountain. The child, called Jax, is a gift of revenge from a sorceress the mercenary used to date. John tries to puzzle out why she sent him Jax. Jax might be a reincarnation of the sorceress or, most likely, a love child. The story ends with Stoic John adopting Jax. It’s a boring story because nothing happens. It’s all speculation with no resolution or interesting plot elements. The plot ends after two pages when the discovery of the child is made. The rest of the story is spent on the mountain revisiting past memories and deciding what to do with Jax.

The First Dragonarmy Bridging Company by Don Perrin:
As the title says, it’s the story of a bridge building company in the service of Dragon Highlord Ariakas. The whole operation is interesting but it’s made even more fascinating by Perrin’s great understanding of Draconians. I don’t recall a Dragonlance story in which Draconians are better written. It’s a very welcome break from all the gnomes and dragons found in the previous stories. Perrin’s military background also adds a considerable about a credence and veracity to military engineers. That’s why this story works so well because it’s very specific in the events taking place that it utterly charmed me and I was able to completely immerse myself in their world.

You learn a great deal about Draconian physiology. They’re cold blooded, have heat sensitive eyes and their scales tighten and loosen with a clicking sound dependent on their mood and physical level of comfort. Some Draconians can even use magic but it’s a different type of magic than what humans learn. Human wizards have to memorize spells from books and once they’ve cast a spell, it’s forgotten, that is until they memorize it once again. Draconians like Kang, a Bozak and leader of the Bridging Company, enters a trans-like state and is given spells by the goddess Takhisis. Once a spell is cast, they also forget it until the next time they’re given one by their Dark Queen.

In what is my favourite short story of the entire collection, Perrin writes an immersive story that provides readers with a different view of Dragonlance than they’re used to. It focuses one staples of the series, Draconians, but embellishes them like never before. He also creates two rather interesting characters: Kang, a Bozak and Slith a slippery Syvak. Lucky for me Perrin and Margaret Weis have written two novels that continue the stories of Kang.

The Middle of Nowhere by Dan Harnden:
“The Middle of Nowhere” is an uninteresting story about foolish villagers mixing it up with magic, dragons and precious treasures. A boring story, bland execution and a twist ending that barely even qualifies as one. It would be a waste of my time to continue writing about it.

Kaz and the Dragon's Children by Richard A. Knaak:
Richard A. Knaak’s contribution to The Dragons of Krynn is, of course, a story of Kaz the Minotaur. Set after the events of The Legend of Huma and Kaz the Minotaur, this story is about the creation of the first Draconian. Kaz is captured by a Black Mage who has also been able to capture a severely wounded silber dragon and her clutch. By using dark magic to harness the dragon’s own source of magic, the Black Mage is able to experiment on her eggs, twisting and tormenting the baby dragons within.

It turns out that Kaz was captured in order to test the “dragon-man”. The story ends with Kaz believing he ended the creation of a new evil on Krynn but little does he know, centuries later, Draconians would rise again.

Into the Light by Linda P. Baker:
I didn't finish this story. I didn't even read half. I'm not really sure I can accurately tell you what the story is about though I'm sure there is a dragon in it. It's not often I don't bother to finish something I started to read but after experiencing the quality of some of the longer stories in this collection and adding to that Baker's excessive use of purple prose, I really didn't think it was worth my time to finish "Into the Light". If anyone has read it, please let me know if I was wrong.

The Best by Margaret Weis:
It's difficult to write about this story without ruining it. It's a very enjoyable story, well-constructed and well told. The title refers to the best dragon slayers in the land. They're hired to slay a dragon and all accept because they've been robbed by the very dragon they're hired to kill. It was nice to have Weis write a Dragonlance story that didn't focus on currently established characters or the Companions and she did a very good job establishing the personalities of the four dragon slayers. I can't voice my main complaint without ruining the story but I do have minor complaints. I didn't like how short the story was and how the ending wraps everything up so neatly. I shouldn't be too critical though because it was better than a lot of other stories in this collection.

The Hunt by Kevin Stein:
The final story in this collection is a mere 9 pages long and is about a Knight of the Rose hunting a black dragon. He's been hunting the beast for years and just before he begins his final assault the dragon speaks to the knight. The dragon forces the knight to contemplate the price he paid, the precious things he's lost by relentlessly pursuing the dragon. By doing this, the dragon effectively robs the knight of any sense of victory he would have had after slaying the beast. It's a bittersweet ending to a collection that has a few good story and fewer very good ones with a lot of predictable and uninteresting stories in between.

Top five stories:
5-The Best
4-Scourge of the Wicked Kendragon
3-Night of Falling Stars
2-Kaz and the Dragon’s Children
1-The First Dragonarmy Bridging Company – I guess  I like draconians more than dragons!

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