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Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
3.5
Book Name: Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Author: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Publisher(s): Random House
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: November 1984

The Dragonlance books were published between 1984 and 2011, and are a group of connected fantasy novels set in the world of Krynn. Krynn was an official setting for Dungeons & Dragons, so it’s fair to say that Dragonlance was an “official” D&D product. Most of the novels were set in Krynn’s “present day”, but others dated back to earlier ages in the setting’s history. There are, in total, well over 150 books that use the setting.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984) is the first book in the Chronicles series, and was the very first Dragonlance book of all. It introduces a party of heroes who fight the rise of the evil deity Takhisis. It was written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, who I assumed was a woman until I Googled him about two weeks ago. I suppose that’s a textbook case of not judging a book by its cover.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight is an oddly-shaped book. It’s really about two missions: the first involves the recovery of magical disks from a huge dungeon, and the second is about rescuing a group of slaves from mines controlled by the villainous cleric, Verminaard. On the way, the characters have a number of smaller adventures and run into a range of bizarre and eccentric allies, some of whom will have a greater role in the ongoing narrative.

Once you realise that the books are basically a write-up of a set of D&D sessions, the structure makes much more sense. The characters are all clearly character-classes or “types”, including a stoic knight, a pious cleric, a sinister wizard, a grumpy dwarf and a childlike, kleptomaniac pixie (he’s actually a kender, but still). At times, you can tell what spell is being cast by various characters if you know the background well enough.

The writing’s okay, although the authors are very fond of exclamation marks, and have a tendency to telegraph everything. It can get a bit cheesy, the comic interludes go on a bit long and there’s more poetry than I’d like (in fairness, I felt there were too many poems in Lord of the Rings as well, so make of that what you will).

However, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is exciting, the characters are all strong, even if they are a bit simple at times, it’s got a detailed setting and something interesting is always going on. Also, there’s a lack of irony that I really like. Some fantasy novels are a little too self-aware, and seem to wink at the reader as if to say that we all know this fantasy stuff is ridiculous, but it’s a laugh. Dragons of Autumn Twilight never does this, even during comedy interludes. The authors take their work seriously, and that is a great strength. There is a genuine feeling that something is at stake, that it really matters whether or not the heroes succeed.

It’s also worth pointing out that while there is clearly a sliding scale of extreme beauty among the novel’s (extremely beautiful) female characters, the story and the D&D background mean that everyone gets to have a go. Even the local barmaid pitches into the story for a while. In fact, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is really the opposite of grimdark. While the characters worry – quite believably – that their actions cannot stem the tide of evil, and a surprisingly large amount of bad things do happen, there’s a sense that the good guys are good, that they can succeed, and that there’s actually something worth fighting for.

The party structure means there’s always someone to root for. When I was younger, the angsty wizard Raistlin and the absurd Flint and Tasslehoff were appealing: these days, they seem a bit overdone (Raistlin, in particular, feels like an authors’ darling), and tend to do “their thing” a little too much. However, I find the troubled knight Sturm and Raistlin’s long-suffering brother Caramon much more interesting now. I think this ability to always have someone in the party that you root for really helps the novel.

It’s hard to award a simple score out of ten to a book like Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It’s not great literature: it’s derivative, the prose isn’t perfect and it can become pretty cheesy. But it’s also fast-moving, full of interesting characters and highly entertaining. I’m going to hedge my bets by giving it a 7 out of 10 but, depending on your tastes, you might think it deserves anything between 8 and 5.

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One Comment

  1. I grew-up reading Dragonlance after browsing my older brother’s bookshelf and seeing him bring home the first few Dragonlance books from the library. While they’re not “material heavy” they’re certainly a powerful “gateway drug” into the fantasy genre.

    My favourite of the series is ‘The Soulforge’, ‘Brothers in Arms’ and ‘Dragonlance: Legends’. The duo could certainly cook-up some deep characters and Raistlin Majere was the most palpable.

    Thanks for the article for it brought back some fond memories. 🙂

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