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 Brothers Majere, the third book, is obviously about Caramon and Raistlin. You might wonder whether Caramon and Raistlin need yet another book all to themselves. After all, they each got their fair share of time in Chronicles and they were the focus of Legends. As surprising as it may seem, this book is a very strong Preludes book, and a very strong addition to their story.
If you've read HP Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, you might be familiar with the cats of Ulthar. These cats are featured in a Lovecraft short story, as well, but if you think they deserve even more time in the spotlight, then Brothers Majere is a book you need to read. It's not strictly about the cats of Ulthar, but if you swap out the city name then really it's about the cats of Ulthar (or, if you're a Kobold Press fan, maybe it's about Bastet).
The premise of the book is simple: the cats are missing from the city of Ulthar (I mean Mereklar), and so Caramon and Raistlin are hired to find them.
Brilliant. And a lot more dangerous than you might expect.
Along for the adventure is a kender named Earwig Lockpicker. He's a good character, perfectly serviceable. He reinforces all the official Dragonlance messaging about kender. The problem is, he's not Tasslehoff.
It's not that I love Tasslehoff so much (I do, though) that I can't bear to have another kender in a story. It's that we're told in Chronicles that Tasslehoff has been adventuring with the twins in the past, and I would have expected that he'd have been on an adventure for at least one year out of the five leading up to Chronicles. I acknowledge that the Preludes books don't cover all five years. But this book is here, and it has a kender, why wouldn't you include the kender who you've told your readers used to adventure with the twins?
It's just seems like a missed opportunity. Heck, all kinds of weird stuff happens in the other books. Takhisis and Tasslehoff have crossed paths before. Sturm and Kitiara have met a good dragon. But Tasslehoff hanging out with two of the people we've been told he hangs out with? Let's not get carried away.
It's not an egregious offense, but I do feel that sometimes the timeline of Dragonlance doesn't always add up. Raistlin and Caramon are pretty young in Chronicles, and (obviously) roughly five years younger in Preludes. When exactly did Tasslehoff and Tanis and Kitiara and Sturm and Flint actually adventure together? How old were the twins, and what on earth did they contribute? When did Raistlin expose the false clerics? It somehow feels compressed.
The answers aren't actually hard to come by. Everybody has to start adventuring somewhere, and even just a few months of traveling outside your own homeland in Ansalon can legitimately be called an "adventure."
I think I'd have felt more satisfied, had the kender in this book been Tasslehoff. Chronologically, this could have happened right after Kendermore. But we get Earwig instead, and he's fine. He's better than fine, actually. Because it's Earwig and not Tasslehoff, Earwig can be treated a little worse by the authors. He does some things that might have somewhat tarnished Tasslehoff for some readers, so in the end it all works out. But rarely do I read this one and think of how it would have read, had it been Tasslehoff.
The villains in this book are astoundingly cool. These, to me, are Lord Soth level villains. They're terrifying, sickening, supremely deceptive, and wholly evil.
The woman who hires the twins is Councilor Shavas, an impossibly appealing and endlessly intriguing character. She's not a magic user and yet keeps magical tomes in her library. She appears, at least to Raistlin, to exist out of time, and her image is, at least briefly, immune to his hourglass vision. Is she connected to the missing cats? and if so, why hire the twins to find them?
The town is properly a character, too. Mereklar is a surprisingly ruthless city, and the people within it are desperate. The atmosphere of Krynn feels consistent with what we saw in Legends, and Mereklar specifically reinforces the fear and suspicion that comes to dominate Ansalon when the War of the Lance begins.
I love Darkness and Light for its pulpy narrative, and I love Kendermore for the view into Kender society and the full story of the woolly mammoth. But Brothers Majere is one of the best books of this trilogy, and possibly one of the better books of the series up to this point. There's probably a book in Legends that I'd give up for this one, if I were forced to choose (although under what strange circumstances I'd be randomly forced to give up a Dragonlance book, I can't imagine.)
This is a good book, not just a good Dragonlance book, and it actually stands well on its own. I wouldn't hesitate to give this book to someone asking for a fantasy book, or a D&D book, or a a single Dragonlance book without the implied commitment of reading an entire trilogy.
Dragon art by David Revoy. Creative Commons BY.