Monday, September 23, 2013

THE HAND OF CHAOS by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

The Hand of Chaos is a 1993 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the fifth in the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, Haplo is sent with Bane back to Arianus to activate the Kicksey-winsey in advance of a Patryn invasion.

Implausibilities abound as the writers spend the first seventy pages roughly forcing the story in the direction they want it to go. It’s mind-boggling that Haplo wouldn’t even try to grab Samah after the events of Serpent Mage – that would have solved all his problems. And Xar, the “wisest Patryn of all,” is swayed far too easily by both Bane and the dragon-snakes, above and beyond even what his vast hubris can account for.

When the story gets going, Haplo is shoved to the margins; The Hand of Chaos is not so much a sequel to Fire Sea and Serpent Mage as it is Dragon Wing 2, which isn’t exactly what we were looking for at this point. Nevertheless, this is a reasonably suspenseful page-turner, and it wraps up the Arianus storylines with a satisfactory – if shaky – conclusion. The authors also do a fine job of writing from a half-dozen different viewpoints.

There are some issues, though: Limbeck’s glossed-over personality shift at the end of Dragon Wing renders him largely unrecognizable here. We get way too much Iridal and not nearly enough conflicted Haplo. And there’s little lead-in to the next book beyond the developments in the first several chapters.   

Its problems are not insignificant, but The Hand of Chaos is, ultimately, an engaging and fairly satisfying novel, even if it often feels like a detour on the way to more pressing (and more interesting) storylines.