Friday, March 14, 2014

Dragonlance - Chronicles, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

book covers I met a few friends for a drink and they recommended to me (or rather seemed amazed that I had not heard of it) Dragonlance. I looked it up and, to my chagrin, found that it is a huge series with over 20 books and a lot of short stories - actually, in 2008 there where over 190 novels in the same universe. Resigned myself to read them all, I googled for the right order in which to read the saga and came up with Chronicles, which is a trilogy of books, as the correct starting point.

As in the story, there is balance between the good and the bad in my assessment of the books. For one, I will not read the rest of the books and waste a lot of my time, but for the other, I already start regretting reading the first three. You see, the entire plot seems to have the only purpose of supporting a canon of the classic fantasy genre that the writers have thought up.

Probably emerging from games of Dungeons and Dragons, like many fantasy universes, the world of Krynn has nothing remotely original. There are elves, humans, dwarves, goblins, dragons, pegasi, unicorns, centaurs, and other races like that. From the very first pages, you meet the heroes that form the quest party and they seem to have gathered all the possible cliches in the genre in their travels: the dwarf is old and grumpy and complains a lot, the half-elf is tortured by his double ancestry, the knight is rigid and honorable, the mage is tiny and frail and frustrated about it, his big (twin) brother is huge and completely non-magical, etc. In fact, the mage character is the only one which seems remotely interesting, all the other being busy posturing most of the time, like real size commercials for their D&D class and specialization.

But what I thought was the most offensive of all was the premise of the trilogy. Beware, here be dragons... and spoilers. Do not read further if you think you might want to read the books.

You see, the world has been reeling after a huge Cataclysm, a fiery mountain hitting the planet and causing havoc. At the end of the book we learn that the gods, in their infinite wisdom, did that because the world was too unbalanced towards good! And we learn this from the good god, who for the entire duration of the story just nudged our heroes in one direction or the other while the evil god was amassing armies and killing everybody. How is that for balance?

Even so, you can hardly complain about a book being cliche if you don't read more of the genre and, to be honest, except for a few books, I didn't really read much fantasy. So I had an opportunity to enjoy this, even if the writing was simplistic, the characterization almost non existent and the story bland. But there was something in the books that kept me at arms length from enjoying it. It finally dawned on me in the middle of the second book, when, after reading about the emotional turmoil of everybody, having the men pair with the women - unless they were there for comic relief, like the dwarf and the kender (which one could consider a pair, if I think about it) - and making chaste promises to one another (like not having sex until they can focus on the relationship and stuff like that)... after all that, I realised that Dragonlance was written by two women.

I don't want to sound misogynistic here, I really wanted to read something cool written by women, but for a series entitled after a weapon - albeit something long and thin, with a thick bulbous appendage at the tip - the story was surprisingly devoid of any detailed battles, tactics, strategy or even decent brawls. The heroes are always running around, talking about their feelings or thinking about them and, in case there is a huge battle between the forces of good and evil, quickly skips forward to the conflict between the two women that love the same man.

Also, as if it all wasn't formulaic enough, no one really dies from the group, unless it is something that fulfills their purpose in life, while the support cast keeps perishing without anyone actually giving a damn. Check out the bit where an entire ship crew - including the woman captain and the minotaur second that I had read a lot about in previous pages - just die without the characters even remembering it. Or the battle of the knights with the dragon armies, where one phrase describes how the knights held, but half of them died. Just like that. I may have written more about that bit than there was written in the book.

To end this terrible rant, if you thought Wheel of Time was childish, as I did, this is worse. T'is true, the fair maiden that hath captured my heart and recommended the books hath read said scrolls of wisdom when she was 16, so that might explain her fond memories and my tortured journey towards the end of the story. I also really really wanted to believe that by writing more, the authors would become more skilled at it. It didn't seem to be the case. I refuse to read another dozen books just to keep the faith.

In conclusion, I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone, including children or young adults - to which I think the story would be tantamount to poison, teaching all the wrong lessons in the worst possible way. These books sucked lance!