Read from ~09/08/2022 — 10/07/2022
Like many who’ve picked up “Dragons of Deceit,” I have a history with the Dragonlance franchise. It became my first fantasy series nearly ten years ago when I picked up a frayed, paperback copy of Time of the Twins, the first book of the Dragonlance Legends trilogy from the free section of my tiny, local library at the time. I was immediately hooked by the story Margareit Weiss and Tracy Hickman crafted and I quickly picked up the two succeeding books in the trilogy. About a year later, I’d jump forward in the timeline, both in- and out-of-universe, to read the Dark Disciple trilogy, penned by Margaret Weiss alone. I enjoyed it well enough, certainly more than the Hickman solo book I read, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me compared to legends. Soon after, I’d read the trilogy that started it all: Dragonlance Chronicles. While it was understandably a step back from Legends, I enjoyed it much more than Dark Disciple. I fondly remember burying my nose in the massive Collector’s Edition during my trip to D.C., much more interested in the world of Krynn than my own. It served as a pin for my journey with Dragonlance as, save for the standalone story “Dragonlance Lost Histories: The Irda,” I wouldn’t pick up a Dragonlance novel for years. Yet I never forgot about my time with this series, as I appreciated it for introducing me to the wonders of high fantasy.
There are two reasons why I felt the need to detail my history with the franchise. For one, it explains why I was so excited when I heard that Weiss and Hickman were releasing a new novel in the setting after years of dormancy. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not immune to nostalgia, so I eagerly awaited the release date. But after the release, weeks then months began to pass without me giving it a read. My excitement evidently wasn’t enough motivation to actually read it. What was enough motivation were a few posts on Reddit expressing disappointment in the story. And this wasn’t mild disappointment, no, I saw some saying the book was better off succumbing to its troubled writing history and not being published. Call it morbid curiosity, but I wanted to know how something I was so excited about could turn out so bad, assuming it even was bad.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. It wasn’t perfect, not even great, but it was a good, fun read.
As far as I can tell, your feelings regarding the latest adventure in the world of Krynn will depend heavily on your understanding of the setting and what exactly you wish it to be. This is the other reason why I detailed my history with the series. If you’re a returning reader, your deep love of Dragonlance growing up won’t determine your thoughts of the book. Instead, what matters is why you love it and how you fell in love. I’m sure that the fact that I’ve read relatively few Dragonlance plays a part in why I enjoyed the book.
Take the setting, specifically the time period when the book takes place. It takes place shortly after The War of the Lance. As this is the period represented in the original trilogy, this is by far the most popular era of Dragonlance. Normally, when it comes to series, I’m not a big fan of retreading the same era, no matter how popular, over and over again, as it feels stale and doesn’t allow the setting to evolve. That said, I don’t mind it too much here. I imagine it’s in part because I haven’t experienced the era enough to get tired of it (whether via the books themselves or fan discussion) and in part because of the main character.
Instead of focusing on protagonists from the original trilogy, the Heroes of the Lance, our focus is primarily on a new character, Destina Rosethorn. Destina’s the daughter of a solamnic knight who is slain during the War of the Lance. While Destina is heartbroken to learn of her father’s death, she resolves to move forward and uphold her father’s legacy by acting as the Lady of Castle Rosethorn. Unfortunately, a series of misfortunate events causes her to lose Castle Rosethorn. Left with little, she seeks desperate measures involving the Device of Time Journeying in order to bring her father back to life.
While the story takes place near the timeframe of the original trilogy, having a different perspective on the war and effects makes it feel fresh. Moving past the novel’s relation to previous stories, let me just say that I really like Destina as a character. It’s easy to empathize with her plight and even as her actions become more dire, you understand where she’s coming from and it never feels out of character. I also liked the fact that she was biracial and the authors did a surprisingly good job of showing what this can be like and how one can connect with one identity and not the other. Her relationship with both parents is poignant in different ways.
This isn’t to say that we deal with only new faces. In fact, we see all but three of the Heroes of the Lance. It’s easy to write this off as nostalgic pandering, but while I am being pandered to, it certainly feels organic enough that I don’t mind too much. There’s (mostly) good reason for seeing who we see, so it never feels like they’re being utilized just for nostalgic points. It helps that the focus remains on Destina. This isn’t to say that we don’t get POV sections from other characters, it’s just that it never feels like they’re dominating the plot.
Then we have the time travel aspect: perhaps the most contentious aspect of the novel. And this is the sort of time travel that has consequences on the current timeline (also known as “the fun kind of time travel”). This is where your experience with the previous books comes into play. Do you enjoy the shake ups brought on by Dragons of Summer Flame/ The Fifth Age? What about the War of Souls and the Dark Disciple? Will time travel possibly ruin everything great about Dragonlance or will it be a way to return to form? If so, which form? I don’t have much opinion one way or the other. I primarily know Dragonlance through the original two trilogies. I can’t even say I’m part of the camp that likes time travel for bringing the series back to a slate I’m familiar with because, despite reading The Dark Disciple, I don’t even have a solid grasp of what changed. In general, I don’t like the idea of time travel destroying years of development of a setting I’m invested in, but that hinges on me being invested. So, while I can dislike the time travel in theory, in practice, it’s hard for me to have an opinion on it. The biggest misgivings I have are in regard to a single character. Without spoiling too much, my favorite character returns and while I’m happy to see him back, I’m worried about how time travel could negate his arc.
But this is all about veteran readers. While I’m sure they’re less numerous, those jumping into the series via this book certainly do exist. I imagine this is a much more unambiguously fun read for them. Since I was decently familiar with Krynn going in, I’m not sure how well the novel does in making it stand apart from other fantasy settings, in making readers want to explore it via further reading and Dungeons & Dragon campaigns. The book is fun, but in a way that is more suited to being read as part of a series and not a standalone. It might be best to pick up the book once the second one is out.
The story doesn’t ever feel slow or like a slog to read. Quite the opposite — it’s a breezy read and we’re treated to a select few action sequences. All that said, this is the first of a trilogy and it shows. While the book is just shy of 400 pages, it doesn’t feel like much happens. It’s not Wheel of Time-level "not much happens", but still. I didn’t feel this way while reading, but after finishing, I stepped back and realized how little ground we covered. The brief synopsis I gave earlier, which itself is just a reworded form of the blurb, pretty much spoils the first third of the book. The book left me hungry for more in a bit of an unsatisfying way.
Beyond that, the last third of the book ended up being the weakest section, in part due to the presence of a very annoying Tasslehoff, which is a shame because he was another one of my favorites.
Overall, the story feels fun, but unfinished, which is fine. It’s the first of a trilogy, it just happens to be a bit less conclusive than many trilogy openers. While I can understand apprehension, the response that confuses me the most is the downright vitriol I’ve occasionally seen. This is only the beginning; it’s a bit too early to call this trilogy being a lost cause. Two books of possibilities still exist and while others may be understandably nervous, when it comes to media, I like to have an open mind. I’m excited for the future (or past) of this setting from my childhood.