Dragonlance Chronicles starts at the end of the 5-year personal quests of the book's heroes. The Preludes series provides some specific stories from the 5 years leading up to Chronicles, and Kendermore, the second book, is about an adventure experienced by Tasslehoff Burrfoot. I'm going to review it here, with lots of spoilers. If you want to read the book yourself without any knowledge of what happens, do not read this post.
In Kendermore, Tasslehoff Burrfoot is told that he's expected back in his hometown to marry Damaris, his betrothed. It seems odd to me that a race known for wandering would have a tradition that requires you to return to your birthplace to get married, but then again contradictions abound in the real world so why not on Krynn. As it turns out, Tasslehoff is overdue, and has kept his betrothed waiting. As a result, there's a dwarven bounty hunter named Gisella out searching for him to bring him back by force.
Tasslehoff is apprehended early in the book. Most of the story involves his journey back to Kendermore, along with Gisella, her assistance Woodrow, and a gully dwarf named Fondu.
There's another plot running through the book. Damaris, Tasslehoff's fiancée decides that she doesn't want to wait around to marry someone who's forgotten about her, and wanders off. Tasslehoff's Uncle Trapspringer goes after Damaris, along with a human named Phineas Curick, who's in search of a map he believes will lead him to untold fortune.
These two story lines eventually converge, but not in any predictable way. That's the thing about this book. The story goes in directions you can't possibly anticipate, and it's a really fun ride. It's got some unexpectedly significant events in it, although as with Sturm and Kitiara's story of the previous Preludes book, the frequency of these events in Tasslehoff's life does undermine the spectacle.
This is a common problem of serial media, though. When you have just a handful of heroes, and they keep encountering either the same threats, or the same magical events, or a dozen apocalyptic threats, it becomes literally mundane for these things to occur. It becomes understood that the story's heroes are primarily familiar vehicles for the world's plot points, and whether that makes them less real for you or not is up to your own threshold for suspension of disbelief.
I usually have a hard time with it, personally, but I have the advantage of nostalgia for Dragonlance. So Tasslehoff and Takhisis brushed past one another once or twice. No big deal. After all, Takhisis is the top-tier goddess of darkness. When world-upsetting events happen, she's technically, ultimately, behind it.
This book is the first, as far as I know, to provide a broad view of Kender culture. Up to this point, the only kender we've known has been Tasslehoff. We've been able to glean much based on how other people in the world reacted to him as a kender. For instance, when a city guard assumes that Tasslehoff is a "cut purse" in Legends (I think it was), it's made clear that kender widely have a reputation for stealing things. We're told that hoopaks and top-knots and pouches are common among kender, and we get the impression that kender often tell long, meandering stories that are relevant to nothing. But with just the one representative of the kender ancestry, it's hard to get a feel for just how common "common" is.
Kendermore provides answers. Phineas Curick is a human living in a kender world. He's a con man, actually, who's set up shop as the town doctor (a general practitioner, not a surgeon) in Kendermore. He "treats" kender by sometimes giving them practical advice, and other times by utterly scamming them. He generally gets along with them, but he's always on the lookout for his next big score. Through his eyes, we get a view of kender from a somewhat familiar (human) perspective.
Kender society is as chaotic and inefficient as you might imagine. They elect a mayor on a whim, their town hall is full of improvised solutions for half-imaginary problems, their laws are mostly guidelines, their prison is a beautiful mansion with no locks, and their streets and landmarks are largely subjective.
On one hand, this feels like really obvious comic relief, and Kendermore isn't the only instance of a zany and improbable civilisation. The gully dwarves and gnomes are similarly absurd. Then again, though, I've lived on islands twice in my life now, and there's a thing called "island time". It's relative to mainland time. On the mainland, you declare a date by which a task is going to be done. Barring major disaster, when that date rolls around, the task is done. On island time, though, that date doesn't matter. Things get done when they get done, and they're usually ultimately dependent upon the whims of someone else.
Believe it or not, civilisation endures the severest lackadaisical attitude.
Sure, there might be a day when you suddenly have no water, or a day when nobody thought to tend to the ferry so traffic could get into town, or whatever, but it always smooths itself out one way or another and life goes on.
That's life in
New Zealand Kendermore.
In other words, I don't think Kendermore is just another iteration of the gully dwarves of Xak Tsaroth and Mount Nevermind.
Kendermore is a strangely realistic society, where the façade of meaningless process and obtuse laws have been left by th wayside, and the law of pragmatism, whim, spontaneity, and curiosity rule.
This is a fun book, but in different ways than you might expect. For me, this isn't really Tasslehoff's book. He's a character we know, and I guess this is part of his story before Chronicles. We don't learn anything new about Tasslehoff, though, so this is more a tour of Krynn and Kendermore and a handful of unusual characters within.
The next book is Preludes 3: The Brothers Majere.