You’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.