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Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Chieftan's Daughter flashing some leg action

Rating: C+ Length: 439 pages, standard paperback page size, standard paperback font size

As I've said before, I'm a fan of swords-and-sorcery. Thus, having overcome my lack of firsthand experience with Robert E. Howard's writing, it was time to fix never having read any of the Dragonlance books. I've read a few other Dungeons & Dragons-based books (by R.A. Salvatore and Laurell K. Hamilton), but I've long heard that Dragonlance is the gold standard when it comes to those.

It very well might be, but it doesn't get off to the greatest start.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a story that never really goes beyond what you'd expect. A party of misfits is united to perform a quest against some great evil. There is a little comic relief along the way, but it's mostly people being angsty to provide drama. There's a Disc-One Final Boss in the middle of it, after which the party realizes that their quest is of greater importance than they had anticipated originally. Questions of trust are raised, and then there's a somewhat bittersweet climax that sets the stage for further adventures. Of course, the book is old enough and iconic enough by now that it was likely the inspiration for other similar plots which have been published since then, but even at its time, a lot of that plot structure is along the same lines as what I'd expect from something in the same heroic fantasy subgenre as Lord of the Rings (note how much of that is basically the same as Fellowship of the Ring, for instance).

That's not to say that Dragons of Autumn Twilight felt boring or derivative. I'm just saying that it didn't have anything in terms of the plot that delivered something suspenseful or unexpected. This isn't bad in and of itself, but if you're looking for an exciting and unpredictable plot, this book will not provide that.

What it does provide is a nice cast of protagonists who do a fairly reasonable job of sharing the spotlight.

Tanis is a mostly-solid lead who feels competent and makes for a believable leader. His inner turmoil from loving two different women is annoying when it comes up (largely because there is so little shown to give the reader context for why he cares about either woman), but fortunately, when the narrative wants to have a dramatic beat centered on Tanis, that tends to be downplayed in favor of emphasizing his social problems from being half-elf and half-human. Personally, I tend to find most fantasy does a poor job of representing interracial strife, because it's difficult to present two (or more) intrinsically alien yet independently sympathetic species. Part of what made Tolkien's elves remarkable is that they didn't feel like they were just humans with pointy ears and different attitudes; they felt like something that was inhuman on a fundamental level and yet was still understandable enough to be relatable. Weis and Hickman don't quite get up to that mark, but they did manage to pull it off far better than most examples I've read.

Caramon and Raistlin Majere were an interesting pair. About half of the trust issues within the party come from Tanis and Sturm being suspicious of Raistlin. This is understandable, since Raistlin is an unabashedly power-hungry mage who has been transmogrified by his pursuits from before the start of the book. Caramon is mostly an easy-going dude, but he's fiercely protective of his brother, and to his credit, Raistlin does have some affection for Caramon as well, even while also being a manipulative bastard. They made for a pair of brothers who felt real, and each of them also did a good job of being more than a flat stereotypical big dumb warrior or evil asshole wizard.

Sturm filled the role of a knight without a cause. He lived by his sense of nobility and conviction in what he was doing, but the order that he belonged to was long dead and disgraced. He was the flattest of the protagonists, and his dramatic moments were quite dull, consisting mostly of "Sturm refuses to do the practical thing because his honor as a knight demands it!" or "Sturm looks down on people who don't live up to his ideals!" He was enjoyable enough when playing off of one of the others (mostly Raistlin), but the moments when Sturm was leading the show were probably the dullest parts of the book. Still, even his parts weren't terrible; they were merely average.

Rounding out the protagonists were a couple of barbarian wanderers, Goldmoon and Riverwind. They were very hit-and-miss for me. Sometimes, they were handled brilliantly, like when they were sharing their backstories with the others or when they returned to their village. On the other hand, when they were having their lovers' quarrels, they were a blight on the very paper I was reading. The whole "Chieftan's Daughter" moments were easily far and away the worst parts of the book. The minor romantic subplot between Caramon and supporting character Tika was fine, so it's not like Weis and Hickman were incapable of writing such content. We also actually get to see the context of their relationship, so it wasn't annoying for cutting the reader out of the loop of what's going on in the way that Tanis's problems were, either. It was just bad writing.

As for the other supporting members of the party, don't expect much. Flint, Tasslehoff, and Fizban are pretty much exactly what you expect them to be within the first moments of seeing them.

Sadly, the same was largely true for the villains. Having someone notable on the other side of the story would've helped to improve it, but we don't get that here. There are some villains. They are up to evil things. There are hints of having greater depths to their plans than what is obvious, but there's basically no follow-up on those hints. They might become more meaningful with further books in the series, but by itself, they don't add much to Dragons of Autumn Twilight.

That rather sums up most of my reaction to this book. It wasn't bad. It also wasn't notable good at anything. The protagonist cast was enjoyable enough that I would like to see more of them, but they didn't carry themselves with nearly the same level of presence as the likes of Conan, Geralt of Rivia, or Rachel Morgan, so they couldn't overcome the bland plot and lack of compelling antagonists in the same ways as stories by Robert E. Howard, Andrzej Sapkowski, or Kim Harrison, respectively. I saw enough that I'm willing to try the next part of the series, unlike what happened with The Way of Kings, but I can't say that there was anything about Dragons of Autumn Twilight which made it better than being merely above average.

Rating: C+ Length: 439 pages, standard paperback page size, standard paperback font size

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