Amber and Ashes, by Margaret Weis

amberandashesYou’re dressed like a monk.
Appearances can be deceiving.  You, sir, are dressed like a knight.
-Ausric Krell, death knight, and Rhys, monk of Zeboim

Before I get started, I’d like to point out that the cover shown here isn’t the cover of the book I picked up; either they’ve released two different covers, or it got switched last minute, so nobody write me about having up the wrong cover….!

With that out of the way:

Life sucks when you’re a god of death (okay, maybe that was the wrong way to phrase it).  You don’t get a good, healthy crop of worshipers-either they’re on their last legs, or they’re power mad in raising the dead to fight their battles.  And that’s not a great thing when you’re Chemosh, the death god of Krynn-especially if you’ve got grand dreams of becoming the king of the gods.  But Chemosh is capable of moving with the times-he’s got a plan, one that will be an image makeover for him, one that will increase the numbers of his worshipers.  All he needs is someone well suited for rallying people to his cause.  Fortunately, there’s a young woman who did just that recently for her goddess-a goddess who has recently become extinct.  Her name is Mina.  This plan drives Amber and Ashes, the first book in Margaret Weis’s solo effort in the Dark Disciple trilogy.

Of course, Mina isn’t exactly thrilled to receive visitors.  When last we saw her, she’d gone off to bury the deceased Dark Queen, Takhisis, after vowing to Paladine to go on a killing spree, targeting elves.  However, since placing the former goddess’s body under a mountain, she’s been afflicted by a numbing despair, only suffering the company of her longtime associate, Galdar.  Galdar can’t stay too much longer, though, as the minotaur god Sargonnas is getting antsy.  A number of gods have apparently stopped by as well-but only when Chemosh arrives does she believe relief is at hand-the relief of death.  But, again, Chemosh has other ideas.  He has a little test for her, and it involves a death knight.  And his plans involve giving his followers-led by Mina-the one gift that perhaps only the god of death can provide.  His plans don’t go completely unnoticed, though.  Sucked into the intrigue is a monk of Majere named Rhys-a monk whose brother becomes entangled in the intrigues of Chemosh.  He forsakes Majere for a new master in order to take action.

Of course, no plan ever unfolds perfectly-and Chemosh discovers a big detail with his.  The god of death is drawn towards one of the living-Mina.

In spite of the present day being an “Age of Mortals”, this story puts the gods front-and-center.  No less than four gods appear with speaking roles in this book, and those conversations are with the very mortals who worship them.  Given current events in Krynn, it’s probably not surprising.  After a pair of Cataclysms, each followed by a lengthy absence by the gods, I’d imagine that most of the gods have to do a great deal of convincing to gain worship again.  That means they have to go out of their way to gather followers for a change, instead of simply listening to prayers.  Chemosh’s plans are certainly a new tack-although it becomes apparent that his gifts do come with a price.  It’s also clear that he’s thought through his plans to become the king of the gods-but it’s still unclear that he’ll be able to overcome some rivals.

There’s a few new characters here as well (although there is a couple of cameo appearances with someone else who had much to do in the War of Souls series); The monk Rhys is a fellow who’s primarily interested in finding out what has happened to his brother, after his brother does some…well, let’s just say some not-so-nice things.  It’s the process of learning that he’s drawn into the plots of gods and goddesses.  It’s also how he meets one of the more interesting kender in Krynn-Nightshade Pricklypear, a nightstalker (which means that he speaks with the dead).  It’s a novelty seeing a kender who isn’t primarily interested in rooting through people’s belongings for a change.  And as for the death knight, Ausric Krell:  well, he’s one sick puppy, given his style of gaming.  He’s no Lord Soth; he may have power on his side, but I don’t get the same feeling of dread that Soth inspired (Soth didn’t exactly set the bar low, either).

Mina’s the big story here, of course-she is, after all, the dark disciple the trilogy is named for.  From a soul deluged by despair, to a servant of death, to the beloved of Chemosh, she’s undergone a great deal of transformation in this book (and in fact, we get a brief recap of her life prior to this book, which shows she’s no stranger to transformative events).  Reading about her trial in Chemosh’s service and her subsequent activity on his behalf, it’s easy to see why her service is coveted by many a god; well, at least the gods of evil.  She’s lost none of her ability to gather followers in the name of her chosen deity-although her methods have certainly changed a bit.

Amber and Ashes is a good start to this trilogy; I liked the new characters of Rhys and Nightshade, and I liked the increased presence of the gods.  But most of all, I liked the relationship between Chemosh and Mina-a relationship that is not nearly as unequal as it appears.  It’s not what one would expect from one of the evil gods of Krynn, and I’m looking forward to further exploration of Chemosh’s feelings towards Mina.  I’m also looking forward to seeing what happens next, because the book’s conclusion leaves a number of characters in some very interesting situations-and none of them are good.  The War of Souls may be over, but the war for the hearts and minds of the living is in full swing.

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Dragons of a Vanished Moon, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

vanishedmoonI have looked into the night sky and seen the dark moon, and I have thrilled to know that my eyes were among the few eyes that could see it.  I have heard the voice of the god Nuitari and reveled in his blessed touch as I cast my spells.  Long ago, the magic breathed and danced and sparkled in my blood.  Now it crawls out of my fingers like maggots swarming from a carrion carcass.  I would rather be that corpse than be a slave to one who so fears the living that she can trust only servants who are dead.
-Dalamar the Dark

Hang on to your hats…it’s gonna be a helluva ride…!

Dragons of a Vanished Moon takes up about two minutes before the end of Dragons of a Lost Star; however, it begins from a different perspective, as Palin and Dalamar witness the final confrontation between Goldmoon and Mina…and share equal horror as they discover the truth behind the One God.  (Since they didn’t spoil it on the inside cover of the book, I’m not gonna spoil it here…even though if you’re reading this review right now, you probably already know!)

Things start coming together early on.  On one front, the blind silver dragon Mirror (formerly of the Citadel of Light) teams up with the blue dragon Razor (formerly dragon-mount to Marshal Medan) to find out the full story behind Mina and her One God.  The Knight Gerard infiltrates Mina’s army to learn her plans, while the Knight Odila is out to find more about the One God (amazing how many people want to know that, eh?).  Gilthas is busy leading the Qualinesti across the plains towards Silvanesti, not realizing that they’re dealing with their own problems at the moment…including a leader who’s gone missing (although certain elves-and most readers, undoubtedly-know where he’s gone).

And then there’s Tasslehoff, once again playing with toys that he probably shouldn’t, whose activities gather the attention of…well, let’s just say they’ve been looking around for a long time now.

I was glad to see that Galdar the minotaur, who didn’t get all that much time in Dragons of a Lost Star, gets a great deal more time in this one.  A certain former archmage also makes a couple of appearances, where least expected.  And thanks to Tas, we get a chance to see again other important characters from Krynn’s past, including (in my opinion), the most feared being to ever walk the face of Krynn.  There’s also a wonderful cameo appearance by a group from the other Dragonlance books that Weis has been associated with.

The big question, though, is:  does Dragons of a Vanished Moon deliver on the great promise of the previous two books?  There’s been enough mystery building up, and a lot of questions answered, but a few still outstanding…does this book take care of them?  Well, I’d have to say it certainly does!  The big outstanding questions all get answered, which I felt was important.  Equally importantly, we get a mix of moral dilemma (if the One God is evil, but still is a god, what to do?) and action (such as the awaited battle between the dragon overlord Malys and Mina).  We get further insight on the relationship between Mina and her god, which shows that the One God is most certainly not a kindly one.  And even in all of this, we still get some humor along the way.  And when all is said and done, there are a couple of significant sacrifices that will change Krynn forever (what, again?).  And just in case everything goes by a little too fast, there’s a nice in-character afterward that explains in a nutshell why

It’s safe to say the conclusion of the War of Souls sets up a new status quo for the Dragonlance saga, as Weis and Hickman have shaken everything up just as badly as they had with Dragons of Summer Flame.  They also close the book on just about all the original Dragonlance characters in one way or another, leaving the slate clean for any characters they wish to develop for the future (or characters from other authors; I’m not sure what’s next for the Dragonlance franchise). Dragons of a Vanished Moon does not disappoint in reader satisfaction and I highly recommend this book (and indeed, the War of Souls as a whole) to any fan of “high” fantasy.

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Dragons of a Lost Star, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Don’t worry, Conundrum.  I’ll fix everything.
-Tasslehoff Burrfoot, not knowing that those are usually the last words that associates of kender ever hear.

Dragons of a Lost Star kicks off with the leader of the Dark Knights of Neraka catching up on current events; and a lot is going on:  the great dragon Beryl is attacking both the elven nation of Qualinesti and the Citadel of Light; and a thorn in his side, a mysterious young woman named Mina has brought down the magical shield protecting the elven nation of Silvanesti.  Strangely enough, because of his rather delicate balancing act between Beryl and the dragons Malystryx and Khellendros, and the fact that he fears that Mina wants his job, none of this really comes as good news to him.

At the Citadel, the priestess Goldmoon-mysteriously restored to youth, at least in body-follows dead souls to an uncertain destination.  In Qualinesti, the Queen-Mother Laurana, King Gilthas, and Marshal Medan of the Dark Knights attempt to find a way to save as many elves as possible from the wrath of Beryl, and possibly find a way to do her in as well.  In Silvanesti, the new King Silvanoshei deals with accepting the “friendly” invading army of Dark Knights led by Mina, with whom he has fallen in love.  And Palin Majere and Tasslehoff Burrfoot, escaping the attack at the Citadel, find themselves in the presence of a dark wizard that neither has seen for a long time.

Now, shake thoroughly, and you get a continent embroiled in conflict.  It’s not as far reaching at first glance as the War of the Lance, where armies where marching all over the place conquering anything they came across.  On the other hand, its much more of a holy war than the original War.  With the gods having gone MIA in Dragons of Summer Flame, a woman wielding god-given power in the name of her One God, it isn’t hard to see how she gains such a profound following…even as she tends to convert with the sword.  (Carrot and stick in religious warfare….)

There are subplots galore here as well.  Gerard uth Mondar finds himself in a bit of a pickle when he tries to deliver to the Solamnic Knights a cry for help from Qualinesti…mostly because he returns with the appearance of a Dark Knight; he also runs into a very different kind of knight and is defended by the last person he wants to be associated with.  Medan continues to act against the Dark Knights and Beryl, because of his love for Qualinesti and a certain elven woman, and prepares a last stand in the city of Qualinost.  And the leader of the Dark Knights, Morham Targonne, has his confrontation with Mina at last.

Mina remains the most fascinating character of this series, as she should be.  I’ll freely admit that I was wrong about certain guesses I had about her (I was close, but “close” only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear weapons), but that’s my own problem…I’ll keep my day job….  Mina continues to be an extremely complicated woman, seemingly beneficent at some points, healing the sick and raising the dead; at other points, though, she’s coldly manipulative and treacherous.

There’s a number of revelations in this book:  Mina’s true nature, the truth behind the One God, the truth behind the great dragon overlords, and the fall of…well, let’s not ruin things too much, eh?

Weis and Hickman never disappoint; Dragons of a Lost Star keeps the pace of the previous book, and the last eight pages of the book deliver a hell of a payoff!  While I wasn’t sure if this was actually going to work as a trilogy for most of the book (there seemed a lot of things that still seemed hidden), that finale sets things up for a rousing conclusion for the next book…next year…!

(Oh, god, I’m never going to make it another twelve months)

The Dragonlance books (at least as written by these authors) continue to deliver a good read to fantasy readers, with a combination of romance, treachery, adventure, and all-out war.  Faithful readers of Dragonlance will enjoy this book, with both the standard humor and the bittersweet moments that are typical of the Dragonlance saga.  I expect I’ll be gushing again once we hit the final installment.

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Dragons of a Fallen Sun, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Sleep, love, forever sleep.
Your soul the night will keep.
Embrace the darkness deep.
Sleep, love, forever sleep.
-From Mina’s Song

As far as novels go, this is a pretty significant one.  This is the biggest Dragonlance book released to date; even the last Dragonlance hardcover is smaller.  Still, this book needs all the space it can get; and even then, it’s only the first book in the new War of Souls trilogy.

Some brief back story for folks unfamiliar with the world of Krynn-and its major continent, Ansalon.  A few hundred years ago, the high priest of Paladine, the greatest god of good, attempted to wipe out all evil on Krynn, and beseeched the gods to help him do it; since the gods tend to prefer balance in the world, they were offended enough to remove their presence from the world (but not before chucking a fiery mountain at Ansalon to shut him up).  For a long time, the continent fell into…well, not exactly savagery, but certainly not as well off as before.  Then the gods came back-slowly, and it started with the Queen of Darkness, who woke up the dragons of myth, and set them to conquering the world for her.  Heroes who would become the Heroes of the Lance rose against them, bringing back the good deities and dragons to fight them, and the Queen of Darkness was forced back (all this was chronicled in the original Dragonlance Chronicles).  Things settled down for several years (not including a power-mad archmage who came within a heartbeat of destroying a god in order to become one-chronicled in Dragonlance Legends), before the Queen of Darkness attempted to use her enemies methods for her own; for example creating the Knights of Takhisis to fight against the Knights of Solamnia.  Before things could really get going, though, the father of the gods was freed from a magical prison, and nearly destroyed Krynn in Chaos before being imprisoned again.  With his imprisonment, though, the gods felt compelled to leave their world again, and took all the magic of the world with them…or so it was thought (this is chronicled in Dragons of Summer Flame, the previous hardcover mentioned).

Since then, things have been kind of tough for Ansalon.  Magic has been found to replace the magic lost, but not as strong or prevalent as it had been.  The elves of Silvanesti isolated themselves behind a magical shield.  The elves of Qualinesti submitted to a puppet rule by the son of two of the Heroes of the Lance, who was in truth under the forced command of the Knights of Takhisis.  And new dragons showed up, grew much larger and more powerful than any dragon ever before, who decided that they were much better rulers than any puny mortals could be-and none of these dragons could be considered benevolent.  Thus, all the races of Ansalon live under the sufferance of the dragons.

This is brings us to the new Dragonlance book, Dragons of a Fallen Sun.

This book follows three major plotlines, although there are enough minor plotlines that will undoubtedly get bigger in the next book.  All of these plots get kicked off, in one way or another, by one of the most massive storms that has ever struck Ansalon-a storm which seems to have no trouble hitting from one coast to the other.  One of these follows the Silvanesti elf prince, Silvanoshei Caladon, son of the exiled elven rulers Porthios of Qualinesti and Alhana Starbreeze of Silvanesti.  I call him a Silvanesti elf because that’s what his mother is trying to do-get through the shield around Silvanesti, and reclaim her heritage.  Things go wrong during the storm, when a band of ogres attack, and Silvanoshei finds himself in a very unexpected predicament.

The second plotline concerns the Solamnic Knight, Gerard uth Mondar, a guardian of the Tomb of Last Heroes, where the heroes of the war against Chaos have been laid to rest.  His story gets kicked off when something inside the tomb decides it wants to get out.  That extremely unexpected inhabitant-in combination with the death of a character longtime readers will probably anguished about-puts the Knight on a quest that will take him into the heart of Qualinesti, and the lands of one of the great dragons.

The third plotline, however, is the most fascinating.  For the night of the storm heralds the arrival of Mina, a young girl who professes to the the servant of the One True God.  And apparently, this god hasn’t much use for scruples-the song quoted above should be a good idea to start with, and one of her earliest actions demonstrates a nature for treachery.  Yet she possesses the abilities that have been lost since the gods departed-including miraculous healing.  To be honest, Hickman and Weis have done a great job with Mina; she just reeks of messianic fervor, and is a mix of strange compassion to…well, evil isn’t really the word I’d want to use here, but it sure isn’t good.  There are also hints (at least, I think they’re hints) of who Mina was before she took up the service of the One God; I’m not going to give out my guess on a review, however:  first, I may be wrong (hey!  It’s happened before!), and second, I don’t want to spoil it if I’m right.  If anyone wants to know my guess and reasons that badly, email me.  It’s always good to see if anyone keeps track of this site, given how infrequently I update it!

All this occurs while magic seems to be running out; the reasons for this only begin to come to light in this book (it is a trilogy, after all).  Longtime readers of the Dragonlance saga will be pleased to see some characters again, some of whom are rather unexpected.  In addition, there’s a significant number of supporting cast that are worth following.  I don’t know what it says about me that I find myself liking two characters on the side of evil (although perhaps not as strongly as one might wish)-Galdar a maimed minotaur, who is one of the first who encounters Mina, and is given a gift that cements his loyalty to her.  He seems like a pretty rational fellow for a minotaur, who have a bad reputation on Krynn.  I don’t tend to like mindless characters, so he’s pretty refreshing.  The other is Marshal Medan, a Knight of Takhisis who is the man behind the military forces in Qualinesti.  Unlike most of the Dark Knights of this time, he has a code of honor as strong as any of the Solamnic knights, and he’s come to love the land of the elves.  This makes for a rather interesting balancing act between keeping it under control with an iron fist, and protecting its people from the wrath of dragons.

It’s a refreshing change to be reviewing the first book of a trilogy for a change, and even better to give this a high recommendation to any fantasy reader.  There’s enough background information that won’t scare away new readers, and enough plot and story to satisfy continuing readers.  I’ll admit that I’ve only really considered the Hickman and Weis books to be the best of Dragonlance, and they continue to amaze.  The only thing I really hated is the realization that I’ll probably have to wait a year before the next book comes out!!

I’ll be first in line when the next one is released, though.

Categories: Dragonlance, War of Souls | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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