Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dragons of Spring Dawning: The Forgettable One

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Have you ever read a book and come out of it feeling as though you've fought with a friend?

Uh oh... What happened?
Unfortunately, not much. That's the problem. I think it's likely that Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman heard what was being said about their previous books and took actions to "remedy the problems," resulting in a bland and anticlimactic third installment. This series has been around since the 80s, but many of the things that I mentioned in my previous reviews have been said before. And I noticed a progression of changes from the first book to the second, and from the second to this one.

In Dragons of Autumn Twilight, I felt as though I were reading the annotations of an actual Dungeons and Dragons game. It was silly, but fun overall. Every time the characters camped for an evening, we knew about it, and that's actually how I imagined we were keeping track of their sessions. Granted, that really slowed things down, but not so much that I didn't enjoy the book. So I picked up Dragons of Winter Night, and again thought, "Silly, but fun!" My favorite parts were the most ridiculous, involving Fizban the Wizard's shenanigans and gnomes that had to cram whole paragraphs in the breath most people use for a single sentence. I enjoyed telling everyone who would listen about the dragon balls and how they worked more like defective dragon siren/whistles. Weiss and Hickman fixed some of the major problems slowing the story down, reduced the amount of Deus ex Machinas used, and kept the silly fun stuff. The second book reached an unpolished sweet spot I believed would terminate in a great third book.

Because third time's the charm, right?
Not quite... Not this time. I suppose the writers intended their story to be more serious, or dramatic. Again, in Dragons of Winter Night, I thought they'd achieved a balance between silly and serious. They even went so far as to kill a main party member and not bring him back! I was proud of them for that! But then, in Dragons of Spring Dawning they took it a step further— they took the fun out of it. All the silly humor is gone— no gnomes, barely any Fizban, and no moments or plotlines so ridiculous I laughed out loud. The writing was never that strong or engaging, and the characters were uninspired. Yet, nothing about the series was ever so bad as to make it stand out, either. It wasn't terrible or great. With all the silly removed, it's vanilla. Actually, at times it was downright irritating. For the better part of the series, the main party leader — Tanis Half-Elven— acted like a moody teenager. Instead of a competent, mature leader able to make split-second decisions that might save the world (or at least his companions), Tanis spends the majority of the book mooning over the villain. Yes, you read that correctly. Tanis, who harbors a major boner for a mercenary named Kitiara, discovers that Kit is a dragon highlord in service to the Queen of Darkness. That makes her the villain of the story.

Does this also make her off-limits?
Hell no! He taps that as soon as he gets a chance! Do I begrudge him this momentary sexual weakness? Maybe a little, but I could totally get over that. My issue with this is that afterwards, when he "escapes" Kitiara's sex-lure and returns to his friends, all he can feel is extreme guilt about his little adventure.

Naturally, he tells his friends where he's been and what he's learned! Right?
HAHAHA—! Wait, you're serious? Of course not! He can't just tell his companions— two of which are Kitiara's younger brothers, by the way— that he's been carousing/boning with the enemy! Never mind the fact that he learned valuable intel that could have helped them in their journey, or that keeping the experience to himself gnawed at his conscience until he was practically useless as a leader. Can you imagine how that conversation would've gone?

Tanis: Hey guys, I learned about this thing the Queen of Darkness really wants! And I know where it is, so we have to get it away from her!
brothers: Really? Tanis, where did you get this information?!
Tanis: From boning your sister. Let's go!
brothers: ... We're going to have a serious conversation about this later, but let's take care of the thing that's likelier to save the world first.

For crying out loud, how hard is it?!
Have you noticed that I have zero patience for whiners and liars? Seriously, how difficult is it to just tell the damn truth?! And the lie and guilt just drag on for so long. God forbid they should excise all the brooding and replace it with something more interesting, or hasten the end of the story.

Speaking of story...?
Yes, moving on! The companions' main quest throughout the book is to find someone known as the "Green Gemstone Man," so called because he has a green gemstone embedded in his chest. I have a different name for this character: Dragonlance Jesus. But not just any dragonlance Jesus! This is Tanis Half-Elven's own, personal dragonlance Jesus, who died and was resurrected to free Tanis from the burden of his lies and guilt. Sound like bullshit? That's because it is. Dragonlance Jesus has spent hundreds of years running from the Queen of Darkness because he is the key she needs in order to enter the world and completely take it over. For hundreds of years and on hundreds of occasions, dragonlance Jesus has died only to come back to life in the same body.

He's a lich! Burn the lich!
Not quite! He's actually blood-cursed after accidentally killing his sister. I believe the gemstone embedded in his chest binds him to the curse, and the only way to break it is to break the gem against the column where his sister died. Then, he is free to stay dead. But until then: Don't worry, Tanis! Go right on ahead and stab green gemstone man through the gut with your sword! Feel better? Oh, good. Because that was totally like stabbing the pimple of your own guilt and squeezing until the pus is gone. Now the throbbing ache of your weakness and lies can subside. You have been redeemed, thanks to an unwilling dragonlance Jesus. How fortuitous!

Oh, come on!
You're right. That's horse shit!
Of course it's horse shit! It was the weirdest, most nonsensical, unenjoyable bit of ridiculousness in the entire book. At that point, I could only be grateful that I borrowed the thing from the library and didn't actually pay money to read it. But I read on, hoping that the final fight with the Queen of Darkness, her dragons, and Kitiara would be epic enough to make up for the sophomoric brooding and whining I'd been subjected to thus far. Our adventurers were down one more character, having lost their useless but lovable grandfather dwarf to a heart attack. That left six fighters against an evil goddess and her armies. What will happen next?! They get caught, obviously. They walked straight into the enemy encampment in an effort to save their elf-maiden general, and they get caught. Sure, they donned disguises first, pretending to be officers of the enemy army with prisoners. But they weren't very good disguises, and all of them but Tanis get tossed into jail and eventually have to break free.

How did they escape?
Honestly? I don't entirely remember; I did mention this was the forgettable one of the series. Not exactly the best way to end things. I believe they escaped using a combination of Deus Ex Machina, misdirection, and tons of dumb luck. They had the green gemstone man with them in prison, and when they break out, so does he. He immediately runs for the place his dead sister is calling him from, finds the column at which he killed her, and flings himself upon it! Thus, dragonlance Jesus finally dies, and the Queen of Darkness has the door of the world slammed in her face. She never even made it into the world, mind you, so the companions never actually had to fight a goddess; only her influence. After that, it was all chaos and shenanigans. I think at that point, the writers stopped caring, and so did I. They built up this antagonist for the entire series, and dumb luck defeats her. We didn't even get an epilogue of some sort about what the characters did afterward.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book. It was less fun than the previous two, more brooding, irritating, and anticlimactic. Weiss and Hickman did leave a few scattered hooks for later books regarding Raistlin and his powers, and I'm curious to find out more about the only truly interesting character in the series. However, after this last installment, I can't say that I'm in a rush to read the other books. I wouldn't recommend this book, unless you really want to find out how the series ends. Or, if you're not a book completionist, let me just tell you that they win. Make up whatever scenario you like for how they do it, and it'll probably be more satisfying than this was.

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