Thursday, September 6, 2007

DRAGONS OF THE HIGHLORD SKIES by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of the Highlord Skies is the second in a trilogy of fill-in novels for the original Chronicles trilogy, which had some narrative gaps due to space constraints. These gaps weren't major, and they didn't wreck the series, and so they come across as somewhat unnecessary. But as I'm a huge fan of the original Weis and Hickman novels, I picked this up. Highlord Skies fills in portions of Dragons of Winter Night. It tells how Kitiara got Lord Soth on her side and how the Companions got the dragon orb out of Icereach.

The longer I spend as a professional writer, the more I tend to read like an editor. I have to say I haven't read any of the other Dragonlance books in a long time (except Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, which also had major editorial issues), so I don't know if the narrative here is significantly different from the old books. There are editorial concerns here as well, including a few things spell-check should have caught, since there some non-words here.

The "previously on Dragonlance…" introduction was nice. I was reminded that the Dragonlance world has some of the best fantasy place and deity names around. Coming up with good ones is a skill in and of itself.

The second thing I noticed is that the narration is heavy-handed and repetitive, as though we can't remember what we read early in this same book, and can't figure out somebody's attitude. The book has a ton of adverbial modifiers (as have all the Weis/Hickman Dragonlance novels), which are generally considered poor writing, and which serve little purpose (it's telling rather than showing). Their use creates a fair number of minor Tom Swifties. "I'm mad," said Tom angrily. See? There are other problems. You can't use the word "capacious" as a descriptor twice in five pages. Put down the thesaurus and walk away.

The authors seem overly sentimental with the characters, who at times seem like caricatures of themselves. You can only go to the well so many times, and it's about dry. Flint never had a lot of depth to him (he just does everything "dourly"). Even Tasslehoff, who seems to appear in every Dragonlance book ever written, has his comic relief styles starting to feel old.

One of the things that makes the book rough to read is that it's bogged down by a lot of characters you don't root for. There's Kitiara, who you don't root for because you already know what happens to her, and there's Derek Crownguard, who you don't root for because he's a jerk, an ass and a low-IQ moron who's completely oblivious to the world around him.

The book is slow at the start (there's a reason some of this stuff wasn't in the old books), but picks up nicely at the end, and we get a few humorous moments of "behind the scenes with Fewmaster Toede." But ultimately, the whole book feels unnecessary, because we already know what happens to every character. And Kitiara's ending was lame. All build-up and no payoff.

So this was disappointing. What every really wants is more of everybody's favorite black-hearted hero, Raistlin. Good thing the last book in the trilogy is about him.