Classic Review – Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Reading time: about 10 hours
This is a review that may cause some groans among the audience. Dragonlance has its share of proponents and detractors. I find myself somewhere in the middle, and the following review will reveal why.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight is the first book in the Dragonlance Chronicles. Based off of Dungeons and Dragons sessions the authors experienced in their self-created world of Krynn, you run into some of your standard tropes – haughty elves with pointy ears, gruff dwarves, Kender (the hobbit equivalent of Krynn), Draconians (the orc equivalent of Krynn), honorable knights, etc. A group of disparate parts is assembled to quest after the Dragonlance, a powerful magic relic. However, there are also some unique ideas, like gnomes that are inventors, gully dwarves that lack brainpower, and an addled old wizard named Fizban who manages to create as many problems as he fixes.
Sometimes the first book in a series can drag as world-building and characters are established. Dragonlance avoids this by copious amounts of action sequences, and characters and world-building are developed on the fly. This methodology works surprisingly well, as each character has his or her own voice, and establish their personas more through their actions than through info dumps and backstories. The overall effect is a light, quick-paced read that doesn’t to fail on entertainment…there’s fight scenes, magic battles, humor, inner turmoil, and love interests.
Some readers will find this potporri a turn-off, as you won’t get lengthy introspection but you will get comedy that at times strains one’s patience as it tries too hard. Others dismiss the plot and action-driven sequences as simplistic and derivative. Fans who enjoy modern, dark and gritty fantasy and don’t care for lighter fare like Terry Brooks or David Eddings probably won’t care for this, either.
The main characters are a varied bunch. Tanis the half-elf is really the lead protagonist…he’s the glue that holds the group together, but has his own problems including a love triangle and struggles with the lack of acceptance from humans and elves. Sturm Brightblade is a Knight of Solamnia, who is attempting to restore the honor of the fallen knighthood. Goldmoon is barbarian cleric, a chieftan’s daughter of pure heart who bears the Crystal Staff, which the Draconians are searching for. Riverwind is Goldmoon’s mate and protector, quick to anger and defensive of Goldmoon. Raistlin is a young mage whose health is shattered but possesses much power, though he seems to have his own interests at heart. Caramon is Raistlin’s twin brother, a hulking bruiser with a slow mind who is protective of his brother and overlooks Raistlin’s agenda. Flint Fireforge is ancient dwarf, gruff on the exterior but soft on the inside. Tasslehoff Burrfoot is a Kender that has an innocent nature, a thief who steals without really being aware of it.
The plot involves a homecoming, in which the characters return after some time of having parted ways. The happiness at returning to their home of Solace is disturbed by the arrival of Goldmoon and Riverwind with the Staff, and the goblins and Draconians that have occupied their home. When the group helps Goldmoon and Riverwind escape this threat, and offer to escort them to a city of wise men (who hopefully have answers regarding the Staff), they become marked. What follows is the group attempting to evade capture by Draconian forces as they get into one problem after another. They learn that a god known as the Dark Queen covets the Staff, and controls the Draconians. Eventually their adventure leads them into a battle with the Dark Queen’s champion, Verminaard.
The story has some problems, mainly that it seems to lack direction as it moves from conflict to conflict. Also, fight scenes, which are abundant, are not only poorly described, they feel like the reader is sitting in on a Dungeons and Dragons session – it’s almost as if you can hear the dice rolling as it determines the outcome. The humor in the story sometimes feels forced. And although the characters are likable enough and have a legion of devoted readers, you won’t find much depth to them.
There are a few nice extra features…the front sports a map, which is always welcome. Each chapter heading features pencil artwork from Den Beauvais. The end of the book has a few pages that render the poem “The Song of Huma”. And the last two pages involve the authors talking about how the characters and world of Krynn came to be.
In conclusion, this is a hard book for me to recommend. While it does have some charm and is fast-paced, it feels a little dated, and it’s not something I would find myself reaching for off the bookshelves over some of the other books in my collection. If you like epic fantasy, with a variety of characters, lots of action, standard fantasy tropes, and easy-to-follow writing, you might like this. Dragonlance does have a legion of devoted fans, a large library of follow-up books, and has spun off numerous products such as role playing books, board games, and miniatures for a reason. But you might just want to check it out from the library before spending your hard-earned money…you can always buy it later if you like it.
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