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Vaguely Related Review: DragonLance Destinies Vol. 1 “Dragons of Deceit”

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By Nelson Schneider - 08/21/22 at 05:26 PM CT

As a fan of the DragonLance series of Dungeons & Dragons novels dating way back to my middle-school days in the early ‘90s, I thought the series was finished. There hasn’t been a new DragonLance novel published since a last buckshot-load of them was fired-off in 2009, with the final volume of “Tracy Hickman Presents: The Anvil of Time” quartet capping things off. I have been quite terrible about keeping up with DragonLance, as far too many of the “recent” (and I’m using the term both loosely and relatively) books not directly penned by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman themselves have been wholly forgettable at best, mind-numbingly terrible at worst.

In the gaming space, things haven’t been much better, with Margaret Weis and her Sovereign Press self-publishing all of the D&D 3rd Edition sourcebooks and adventure modules, and the series remaining completely dormant through the turbulent tenure of D&D 4th Edition. However, with the advent of D&D 5th Edition in 2014, we did occasionally see mention of DragonLance within the pages of generic, setting-agnostic rulebooks, such as the setting’s iconic Draconians appearing as a special type of Dragonborn in the 5E Player’s Handbook, and the 2021 release of a bestiary entitled “Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons,” which not only includes full stat blocks for Draconians, but features a beloved DragonLance character’s name in the title.

Nevertheless, I was completely taken by surprise at the announcement of a brand new trilogy of DragonLance novels penned by the duo that started it all, Weis and Hickman, to be released in August of 2022. Thus I treated myself to a birthday present, ordered the new book, and spent the following week reading through it. Unfortunately, my time with the first volume of DragonLance Destinies, “Dragons of Deceit,” left me with quite a few questions and an uncomfortable feeling in my gut that DragonLance is about to undergo yet another in a long series of misbegotten overhauls in order to make it ‘relevant’ again.

One thing that I have always appreciated about DragonLance novels, more than other, more widely-respected Fantasy fiction, such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, was the flow of the language. While those old-timey Brits were certainly the first to the Fantasy party, and the Genre owes a lot to their creative contributions, their respective writing styles have a tendency to send me up the wall. Even more modern Brit-Lit writers like J.K. Rowling occasionally use turns of phrase that I find grating. Indeed, the only major British Genre author whose writing I find to be stylistically pleasing and clever is Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker Trilogy fame. Weis and Hickman, as non-Brits writing for a distinctly American audience, just had a clean, functional prose, capturing details, mannerisms, and voices on the page while keeping themselves out of it. It was thus quite a jarring experience for me to find choppy and excessively-repetitive prose scattered all throughout “Dragons of Deceit.” This is the first collaborative effort by Weis and Hickman I’ve read that actually ‘felt’ like it was written by two different people, then hastily hashed-together by either a third-party, a clumsy editor, or perhaps a machine learning AI algorithm that didn’t quite know what it was doing.

To make matters worse, on top of the repetitive repetition, there are a huge number of typos and mistakes scattered throughout the volume, some of which are the kinds of things only a truly dedicated fan of the series would notice. Sure, there are general typos and mix-ups that could be found in any poorly edited text, but there’s at least one instance where the inhabitants of the nation of Solamnia are referred to as ‘Solamnians’ instead of the proper term, ‘Solamnics.’ There’s a reference to the Infinity Sign as the holy symbol of the chief God of Good, Paladine, when it is actually the holy symbol of his daughter, Goddess of Healing, Mishakal. And, of course, we have a couple of references to the original Inn of the Last Home proprietor, Otik Sandath (whom Chris and I always referred to as ‘Otik Sandmouth’ due to the fact that his original character art showed him yelling loudly, and in one of our earliest campaigns, I didn’t have an innkeeper miniature to represent him, so I used a mimic as a joke, since both Otik and mimics apparently always have their mouths open) as ‘Otik Sandeth’ (Does he kill sand, now?).

Of course, the technical mistakes and lore bungles pale in comparison to the actual content of the novel. I should have known something was up. I should have read the back-cover text blurb on Amazon and looked at the cover art, but I didn’t. I just saw: 1) New DragonLance novel! 2) Written by Weis and Hickman! At that point I simply added a pre-order to my cart and went along my merry way. If I had read the cover blurb, I would have learned that they key narrative device in “Dragons of Deceit” is… Time Travel… Uh-oh! And while I glanced at the cover and believed I saw an image of Tasslehoff, Flint, and Kitiara standing next to a dragon, that’s not what’s actually on the cover: It’s Tasslehoff, a Daergar dwarf who is definitely NOT Flint, and our new heroine, Destina Rosethorn, the most overbearing Mary-Sue character I have ever witnessed outside of terrible fan-fiction and, because of the book’s publication in 2022, a Strong, Independent Woman of Color.

“Dragons of Deceit” is divided, internally, into three Books (not to be confused with the three volumes that will eventually make up the DragonLance Destinies Trilogy). The first Book introduces us to our heroine, Destina Rosethorn, the daughter of a Knight of Solamnia and an Ergothian Sea Barbarian whom the young knight fell in love with while traveling abroad during his ‘questing’ phase. As a long-time reader of DragonLance, I didn’t realize that, at some point during the 3E days, the canon had been officially retconned to make 4/5 of Ergothians into dark-skinned, Negroid phenotypes (the Ergoth Trilogy, published between 2003-2004 shows nothing but definitively Caucasoid people on the covers, but I never got around to reading them). The fateful blacksmith, Theros Ironfeld, who lost his arm in the War of the Lance, then used a magical prosthetic and a legendary dwarven hammer to forge the titular dragonlances that saved the day, was the setting’s previous Token Black character, but, in spite of spending some time living in Ergoth, originally hailed from Nordmaar, in Krynn’s tropics.

However, Destina manages to take her Blackness and turn it into nothing but Mary-Sue fodder: She’s one-half a boring, pedestrian thing; but she’s also one-half a strange, exotic thing! Throughout the first Book, we learn of Destina’s past and upbringing, and review certain occurrences during the War of the Lance – the seminal event covered by the original Chronicles Trilogy and fleshed out in the Lost Chronicles Trilogy – from Destina’s and her family’s perspective. As the only child of a wealthy, but stuffy and by-the-Measure Knight of Solamnia, Destina is brought up in a heavily structured society, yet with incredible privilege. While she chafes that she’s not allowed to become a Knight due to her gender, she does everything she can to prove that she’s just as good as the boys. Yet, at the same time, Weis and Hickman can’t stop describing how ‘beautiful’ Destina is at any given opportunity. Thus we have a Mary-Sue who is both a tough-and-scrappy Tomboy who can take care of herself AND is unbelievably attractive. Indeed, the only time Destina’s unorthodox ethnicity really comes into play at all in the book is the fact that she’s actively embarrassed by the superstitious tribal bunk and hokum her Sea Barbarian mother (who is also a Druid) gets up to, reading wine and tea leavings and prophesizing doom all the time. At times it seems like the original draft of this volume was written with a full-blooded Solamnic heroine in-mind. Destina’s exotic looks, and her portrayal as a Generic Black Chick with Braids on the cover don’t really mesh with my impression of what a half-Solamnic, half-Ergothian Sea Barbarian would look like – I’m picturing someone much more like Zendaya than the official cover art. There’s even one point where she’s described as “going pale” and “white knuckled,” which would be quite odd to see in someone who actually has dark skin, but would be expected of a fair, light-haired, light-eyed Solamnic.

Of course, I think we all know the real reason Destina Rosethorn was written as a mixed-ethnicity character instead of just another boring Solamnic: It’s 2022, and we live in the era of performative Anti-Racism and Fourth-Wave Feminism. Thus writing another story about another White Dude is not only ‘boring,’ according to the Woke Mob, but actually offensive, violent, and harmful. There’s this bizarre thread running through contemporary media and journalism which posits that any character can be made more interesting by making them a Person of Color. With Wizards of the Coast officially pledging their allegiance to this ideology, I don’t think it’s entirely outside the realm of possibilities that Weis and Hickman originally wrote Destina as a boring, White, Solamnic wench, but had an edict declared from On High that DragonLance didn’t have enough Black People in it, and were thus forced to re-write her as mixed ethnicity – of course, writing her as a full-blooded Ergothian Sea Barbarian pushing against the Solamnic legal system would have been a bridge too far, making for a fully unsympathetic character.

DragonLance has always had a blend of key heroes and central heroines, so the fact that Destina is a woman, chafing against Solamnic law – which, it should be noted, canonically changes to admit female Knights in the Post-War of the Lance era – doesn’t come across as disingenuous. On the other hand, the racial conflict in DragonLance has primarily been between non-human races: There are two types of (Caucasoid) elves, who hate each other’s guts – yes, ‘dark’ elves in DragonLance don’t have black skin like the drow. There are over half-a-dozen different dwarven clans – some of whom are actually whiter than the rest – who all hate each other’s guts. Indeed, historically, outside of the Evil races who enslave humans, elves, and dwarves as a matter of course (because they’re Evil), slavery in the DragonLance setting was the purview of the overreaching regime of the Kingpriests of Istar, who enslaved convicted criminals, then moved onto enslaving anyone who was ‘evil’ via thought policing and racial profiling – minotaurs and goblinoids, NOT humans of varying shades. Yes, it is quite sad to see our modern Culture Wars nonsense spilling over into a perfectly fine Fantasy setting.

Book 2 of “Dragons of Deceit” is when things finally start to get interesting. Destina’s mother’s prophecies of doom start to come true, putting our dear, little Mary-Sue into a bog-standard ‘Riches to Rags’ narrative. My favorite part: The appearance of Solamnic lawyers for the first time in series history. I need a stat block for these so we can kill the EFF out of them in our next DragonLance campaign! We are also introduced to a renegade mage named Ungar, who has a powerful magical artifact fall right into his lap. While I’ve never heard of a DragonLance wizard named Ranniker before, he was apparently a big-shot artificer, who created a number of unique and priceless magical gewgaws. Of present importance is Ranniker’s Clock, a device that lets its owner perceive the key events that occur during any given year within a century’s span. Coincidentally (or not), the final year on Ranniker’s Clock is the year in which the fateful (and hated) Summer of Chaos and the events of “Dragons of Summer Flame” took place. Thus, we have a temporal paradox: A renegade mage and 2/3 of the Heads of the Orders of High Sorcery know that something earth-shatteringly awful is going to go down in a little over 20 years, and they’re going to do whatever they can to stop it.

Meanwhile, our Mary-Sue, Destina, is cruising through her list of tasks to get her life back on track. Her ultimate goal: To travel back in time to the Battle of the High Clerist’s Tower during the War of the Lance and prevent her father’s death. In order to accomplish this, Ungar – the same renegade mage who has his dirty fingers in all of the pies – informs her that she’ll need two magical artifacts to accomplish such a feat: The Device of Time Journeying – most famously used by Tasslehoff and Caramon in the Legends Trilogy – and the Graygem of Gargath – a divine-tier relic forged by the God of Creation, Reorx, himself, which, like Pandora’s Box of Greek myth, contains all of the Chaos of the world. Destina, thus, takes a Mary-Sue road trip to get all the things on her shopping list, befriending a dragon, riding a dragon, meeting not one but TWO gods in person, joining forces with the Only Nice Daergar Dwarf in the Mountain Dwarf capitol of Thorbardin, and marrying a Hero of the Lance. Yes. That happens. All of it! Enough adventure and fantastical happening to fill the life of a Hero of the Lance, and Destina gets all of it within the space of a few months.

Book 3 is where all of the initial setup ends and the new plot really begins. Destina, in the company of Tasslehoff, tries to set her plan to save her father into motion. Of course, Tasslehoff being… Tasslehoff manages to throw a whole box of wrenches into the mix, disrupting the fateful night at the Inn of the Last Home that kicked off the Chronicles Trilogy; hurling himself, Destina, and two Heroes of the Lance (who are supposed to be dead) back in time 1000 years to the FIRST battle at the High Clerist’s Tower, during the time of the Solamnic Order’s founder, Huma ‘Dragonbane;’ and losing/breaking the ever-fragile Device of Time Journeying. Oops!

Meanwhile, our remaining Heroes of the Lance back in the present consult with the great historian, Astinus of Palanthas, about Tasslehoff’s disappearance. They discover that the past has been irrevocably altered and a wave of Chaos is moving toward the present, as the history books quite literally re-write themselves before our friends’ eyes.

In general, I can’t say I really like any part of “Dragons of Deceit.” I can’t emphasize enough just how much of a Mary-Sue character Destina Rosethorn is. This volume doesn’t feel like a continuation of DragonLance canon and narrative by the original authors so much as it does a showcase for an annoying character powered entirely by Black Girl Magic, hastily written, then inserted into the events of the DragonLance Saga that we – as DragonLance readers – all know and love. I haven’t found a mainline DragonLance novel by Weis and Hickman this disconcerting since TSR coerced them to write “The Second Generation” and “Dragons of Summer Flame” to ‘revitalize’ the setting with a new set of (sucky) characters, a new (sucky) war, and even more stuffy, boring knights (only Evil this time) with sticks up their butts.

Therefore, I can’t help but wonder: Did Wizards of the Coast, the current overlord of all things D&D and DragonLance, coerce Weis and Hickman to write a new trilogy to make DragonLance more appealing to today’s youth? I recently learned that, later this year, Wizards of the Coast is releasing a new official DragonLance campaign called “Shadow of the Dragon Queen.” Is “Dragons of Deceit” the first step in a major retcon that will dismantle DragonLance and the world of Krynn to the very bones, then rebuild it around Twitter sensibilities? The entire history of the setting is at risk, but we won’t know for sure until we see a Black Kender.

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

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