I use this anecdote and the "age appropriate" tag because as a young lad in love with reading this series came along at the right time to fill a need. I really liked these pulpy, pageturning fantasy sendups lacking the creative stones of Tolkien. I was a 1618 year old boy; Camus would have been lost on meand if he wasn't, I would have been carving Morrissey lyrics onto my forearm unironically.
I don't know whether I'd recommend these to my 15 yearold daughter in 5 years time, but if she is into light fantasy I'll do it without hesitation. Would I ever read these again? Not while there is still Camus volumes I've yet to read and The Smiths Bsides to discover. Disclaimer: My rating is purely sentimental. Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a read down the memory lane. If I were to rate it on the basis of my current standards and preferences, it would score 3 stars the most. As it is, it has been one of the earliest fantasy books I have ever read and it still engulfs me in the fuzzy warmth of initial wonder that there are other fantasy books beside the Lord of the Rings and that I can read them and love them as much as I like. It’s also one of the three books sporting dragons that I truly like, which I consider a feat in itself.
This book has one saving grace that simultaneously constitutes its greatest pitfall: it’s as classic as classics go. You will find here every existing trope and the novel doesn’t even pretend to deviate off the beaten tracks of the usual fantasy figures and cliches. In 1984 that was quite alright, over 30 years later, while the book passes the test of time, it loses some of its shine and allure. If you are a young reader and relatively new to fantasy, there is a huge chance you will like it, otherwise, it can drive you crazy with predictability and a narrative bordering on a draft movie script.
Amid the rising tide of evil, dragons return to the world of Krynn led by the powerful Queen of Darkness, Takhisis. The humankind is lost, the gods of light have apparently abandoned men, the wisdom of the old ages is lost and there are no heroes to lead them into the battle. Luckily, in the Inn of the Last Home, a group of people is forced to form a party of unwilling and mistrustful allies forced by the circumstances. Their first quest is to save a powerful artifact from the power of darkness: goblins, draconians and other sycophants of the Lord Verminaard, one of the generals of the evil Queen.
Anybody who ever played the Baldur’s Gate will immediately recognise the standard composition of an adventuring party. You will have Tanis, the halfelf, torn between the two races of his heritage, Flint, the dwarf, Raistlin the frail mage and his twinbrother Caramon, your typical hackandslash warrior, the heroic paladin Sturm, Goldmoon and Riverwind, two barbarians, Tika, a buxom tavern girl and Laurana, a beautiful elven maiden.
The most innovative the book has to offer are two characters: Fizban, the wizard and Tasslehoff Bourrfoot, the kender. The first one, while being a derivative of your generic Gandalflike allwise and mighty figure, has its own quirks that make him quite unique. Fizban disguises himself as a senile and not quite uptodate with reality. Plainly speaking, quite crazy. Nobody knows how powerful he is, nobody suspects how vital a character for the forces of Light and nobody takes him seriously. His frequent discussions with trees and heated debates with other inanimate objects might have something to do with it.
Tasllehoff, on the other hand, is your generic derivative of a hobbit. Kenders are, small and annoying like children. This race knows no fear and their definition of property is a little bit skewed. Tas is the main source of humour and comic relief in the book (even though his reflections on how small things make the difference is one of the wisest passages in the book).
The story is undoubtedly character driven. Indeed, forming the adventuring party takes most of the time and individual members need to reconcile with each other or find their way and place in the group. As the plot unfolds, the companions discover their true goals in the coming war and need to come to terms with their personal burdens, backstories, and destinies. Mind you, the story is naive (I have read more mature YA by contemporary authors) and presents an idealised vision of the world, but is fast paced and still able to grasp reader’s attention. You might give it a try.
Also in the series:
2. Dragons of Winter Night
3. Dragons of Spring Dawning Hear the sage as his song descends
like heaven's rain or tears,
and washes the years, the dust of the many stories
from the High Tale of the Dragonlance.
Three centuries have passed since the Cataclysm, where burning mountains fell from the sky and the gods of old abandoned their mortal worshippers. When a group of adventurers come together at the Inn of the Last Home after five long years on their own, they endeavour to begin a search for what has been lost. But darkness awaits them on their journey, and like lightning from a cloudless sky, the horrors of war return to the magical world of Krynn.
It's a wonderful feeling when you're able to get immersed in a fantasy story and after a while realise that you started reading the exact right book at the exact right time. Dragons of Autumn Twilight was such a book for me. After reading several huge bricks containing complex tales, all the while also reading tons of historical texts, I needed something light and easy. I picked this book, after having considered it for more than a year, and I couldn't have been happier with that choice.
The Dragonlance series is one of the pillars of modern fantasy, and even though it contains any number of overused tropes, it also produces new ones; tropes that have been used by numerous newer fantasy series since the publication of this book back in 1984.
There are, of course, quite a few downsides to the book. Most of them are in some way connected to the fact that it is really simple. The story is very straightforward, the world is not as developed as most other fantasy worlds, and the writing is not impressive in any way. This could in many ways be considered a YA fantasy, but even so, it was a whole lot better than every single YA book I've ever read before.
I also should mention that I found the book to be a lot funnier than even what seemed to be the authors' intention. Some characters, like Fizban the senile mage, were obviously just introduced as comic relief (and it worked perfectly), whereas others had hilarious sides to them, like the dwarf Flint Fireforge and his extreme aquaphobia. Perhaps it went a bit too far with the immeasureable stupidity of gully dwarves and the evil goblins' utter uselessness in combat, but hey, it made me smile, so I'm not complaining!
One aspect of the book I enjoyed quite a bit more than I had expected, was characterisation. According to most of the reviews I read before starting this, the characters were generic, shallow and onedimensional. I could agree with the first of those to some extent, but certainly not with the latter two. Some of these characters, like Tanis HalfElven and Raistlin Majere, were really interesting (though not on the level of my favourite Fizban). They were not among the best fantasy characters I've ever encountered, but I liked them, and that's all that matters. The only complaint I can come up with is that the book is too short for the reader to really get to know them, but with so many other books to read from this world, I suspect that won't be a problem for very long.
This was not a brilliant book and it had lots of flaws. But what matters to me is that I really enjoyed reading it. To be honest, this rating would be way too high if I was considering the objective quality of the book. But who cares about objectivity? Wow (not a good wow). I just read some of these reviews and ratings. I have to raise my hand and be the voice of reason. The public deserves this.
Let's get something straight here: these books are unreadable for anyone older than 15. I love fantasy and I don't have an issue with the world building or the story here. In my reviews, I sometimes excuse poor writing, characterization and other literary elements when the author does other things extremely well. Most novels have multiple flaws and their relative importance to each reader will dictate how much enjoyment is sucked out of the read.
I could not excuse the literary flaws in this book. They were repetitive, sharp and massive.
The characters are as flat as pancakes. At least pancakes have two sides. These guys are so utterly simple. I realize that this book was a relative trailblazer in the early 1980s, so it's hard to say that they are stereotypes. But they are stereotypes. The first 200 pages basically consists of gathering members of the Quest. They are picked up like gum stuck to your shoe; there's no subtlety. As every typical fantasy element was gathered for the Quest, I wondered how this was different than LOTR, other than being crappy.
I thought it would be interesting to read the annotated version of this book so I could see what the authors were thinking. Normally this gives you insight into their thought process, how this plot line impacts the overall story or some background information for characters that might be interesting. Somehow the notations made it worse. My eyes almost rolled straight out of my skull several times as the authors' simple thought process was revealed to me like the opening of a pack of Kraft cheese singles.
The writing is simplistic to the Nth degree. I've never encountered so many adverbs in a single tome.
I only got to page 350 or so, with my effort set to maximum. Perhaps pages 351 and beyond are genius but I'll never know. I'll live.
(As a gigantor caveat, I'll add that I would not discourage kids from reading thisit would be accessible and fun for them.) When I was nine years old, I wrote a short story about an elf and a mage traversing an imaginary world and banishing evil back to the depths from whence it came. I was proud of the story. I showed it to my family and they read it, and pretended it was great. They put it on the fridge.
I reread the story years later and it was a difficult decision whether I should laugh or whether the embarrassment was too much even for hysterics. I thought fantasy fiction had a formula that alternated between a short climax and a short resolution like the regular, predictable oscillations of a wave pattern. Like that wave pattern, it seemed to go on and on so that a 20paged story seemed to take forever to read. At nine years old, I thought this was an exciting, scintillating narrative. I thought it should be published. But it shouldn't have, I know that now.
It's a shame that the whole thing may as well have been plagiarized from this novel. They share the same structure, the same generic character models and the same laughably simplistic moralities that I could have been summarizing a 400paged novel. And yet, my version didn't take five hours of your life. My version didn't make you sigh and look wistfully out the window as if to say, "since reading this book, time has passed inexorably onward, I have aged terribly, and yet I have learned nothing." The clouds float by and the traffic continues on the street, but a part of you has died. Unlike the novel, however, when pieces of your soul die, they stay dead. The same cannot be said for the major characters in Dragons of Autumn Twilight.
The plot reads as if played through a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Not simply in the sense that it's disorganized and illogical, but also because the reader actually gets the sense that someone is rolling dice to determine the outcome. At various parts of the book that are meant to be exciting, the narrative devolves into explanations of the mechanics of the game. Raistlin is a mage, and thus must memorize his spells every morning if he is to use them throughout the day. Everyone is suddenly struck by fear and must roll 1d20 for a fear check (except the Kender, because he's immune). Tanis, as an elf, is able to see the aura of all living things, except past chapter 5 because it's too hard to keep talking about that ability for too long.
It's an ordeal to read. But I loved it when I was nine. I also had no idea what true hardship was.
I do now. It gives me a basis of comparison. There are many hardships I'd rather face than reading this novel again. I first read this book about the time it came out, when I was about 10 or 11... and recently found an identical, battered paperback copy at a thrift store. Dipping back into it twentyodd years later, it has many shortcomings. However, it still takes me back to that time when I'd read under the covers at night with a dying flashlight, and fell asleep dreaming of wizards, warriors and strange, forgotten lands. Loved it
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