Dragons of Winter Night

Dragonlance Review

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The second book in the original Dragonlance trilogy is Dragons of Winter Night and it's exactly what you might expect from a middle book. The party is split, new enemies are revealed, there's betrayal and strife, and portents of a dismal future. But there are also some important discoveries in this book, too, and there are glimmers of hope.


As with the first book, this book opens with a teaser that's a little outside the narrative. It involves Tanis, Sturm, and Elistan bringing the legendary Hammer of Kharas to the Hylar dwarves in the Hall of Hornfel. If you've got no idea who the Hylar dwarves are or that there even was a Hammer of Kharas, then you're in good company. Nobody knew, at least not at the time. Or maybe somebody did know. I haven't cross-referenced publication dates of the novels and the RPG source books, but taking the novels on their own, this is brand new information that amounts to nothing. The dwarves aren't really mentioned again, they don't show up at the last minute in the big Battle of the Five Armies at the end (that's the wrong franchise, anyway). It's just a teaser.

So why have a teaser that has no real connection to the story?

Maybe the teaser was one of those pre-publication pre-releases in a magazine, written to pique the interest of the public well before the final book was outlined and written. Maybe it's to appeal to the bookstore browser who opens the book and reads the first couple of pages.

For me, the teaser has two effects:

  • It demonstrates that time has passed since the first book, and that further adventures have happened without us.
  • It makes the world feel bigger.

Dark day for heroes

Dragonlance does this, and I mentioned it in my review of the first book. There are parts of the Dragonlance story that the reader doesn't get to experience "first hand." We don't even get to experience it second hand. We're just told that it happened. A thing happened, but it's over now, and here are the results.

It's admittedly an unusual writing technique. Then again, how many times did Gandalf disappear without explanation in The Lord of the Rings? How far into Mordor did Frodo and Sam progress without us following along? Things happen "off screen," and when they do it makes us understand that this isn't a straight shot. Our heroes don't get to identify the singular threat and then go knock on its door to invite it to a duel.

And most importantly, our heroes aren't the only ones fighting this battle. This point, for me, is one of the most significant in the way Dragonlance is written. I said in my first post that I'm not overly fond of the lone hero mythos, where the fate of the entire world hinges on the actions and success of one person. Through sheer force of will, this lone hero perseveres, against literally impossible odds.

That's not the story of Dragonlance. In Dragons of Winter Night, we lose a central character. One of the heroes who's been with us from the beginning dies, and there's no resurrection or rebirth. It's a huge loss. You feel it, and you don't believe it, until the next book when it becomes clear that this wasn't a gimmick. Nor is it the last time we lose a hero from the party in this trilogy.

Portents of defeat

Most significantly, this book contains a bunch of spoilers in the form of a collective magical dream the party of heroes has in Silvanesti. It's tempting to dismiss this as a diversion, the magical equivalent of an obligatory quicksand scene in an adventure story. But amazingly, it's not. The dream is broadcasting the rest of the Dragonlance Chronicles, and it all comes to fruition. It's skillfully done, and every time I reread it, I catch something new that had surprised me later in the book but that had been revealed here all along.

Fall from grace

Dragonlance is often about a fall from grace. You see the weakness in someone who's been made out to be a hero. Maybe the world sees it, or maybe it's just the reader who gets to experience their innermost thoughts, but the individuals in these stories are real people with emotions and doubts. They falter, they question, they lust, they hate, and then they do something amazing. Sometimes it's amazingly good, and other times it's amazingly bad, and sometimes the good that they do has a bad result and other times the bad they do has a good result. In the end, maybe only Mishakal and Paladine truly understand how the pieces were "meant" to fit together.

This is another great Dragonlance book. You meet some amazing new "NPCs," you fight some astounding battles, you see some legendary places. Next up is the grand finale!

Dragon art by David Revoy. Creative Commons BY.

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