Five years ago, seven close friends went their separate ways to investigate the growing evil in the land, promising to reunite on an exact date. Six of the companions return, only to become almost immediately embroiled in some trouble involving two Barbarian newcomers from the plains and a mysterious blue crystal staff that they bear. It seems that everyone is in pursuit of the staff for it's purported magical properties, so the group makes a pledge to keep it safe while trying to discover its significance. Little do they know that their quest will lead them on a perilous journey throughout the land and expose them to untold dangers from which they may not escape alive.
Over the years, I've read some fantasy romance, but I can't say that I've read much in the way of straight epic fantasy. This happens to be one of my husband's favorite genres, and Dragonlance, one of his favorite series. He has been trying to talk me into reading them for years, and I finally acquiesced to his prodding when I needed a dragon-themed book for two reading challenges in which I was participating. I had previously tried one of Weis & Hickman's other books which I had a hard time getting into and never finished. I'm happy to say that Dragons of Autumn Twilight was a very enjoyable read for me with a cast of likable characters that were easy to root for. I found quite a number of parallels between this book and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, although my husband tells me that's pretty much par for the course in this type of fantasy since LOTR was the main inspiration for all the books that have followed in this genre. I think the book may have been suffering a wee bit from the first in a series syndrome, where it takes a little while for the world-building to get up to speed. It started off at a pretty fast pace with six long-time friends reuniting after five years apart, only to become almost immediately embroiled in trouble and running for their lives after helping two strangers escape from those who would do them harm. Then, I thought the next 100+ pages were a little slow with the characters traveling from place to place and meeting lots of other characters, but not a lot happening plot-wise. Things really took off when the group began traveling to Xak Tsaroth. From there, it was pretty exciting, almost non-stop adventure that got more and more interesting with each page I turned.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight has an ensemble cast of eight main characters, all of whom have their own distinct personalities. Tanis is the leader of the group. He is a skilled warrior but abhors killing. He constantly struggles between his elf and human sides, and his heart is equally torn between a human woman and an elf maid. Flint the dwarf has been friends with Tanis for many, many years (they're both around 150). He can be gruff and grouchy at times, but he can also be incredibly funny, especially when paired with Tas. Tasslehoff was an absolutely hilarious character, a mischievous little creature known as a kender, he was always getting into some kind of trouble. He has no fear and is always the most cheerful member of the group. He's great at finding things, picking locks, and the like. Sturm is a knight who grew up in exile when the knights of his father's order fell into disrespect. He is pretty dark and moody, but very loyal to his friends and perhaps even more so to his knighthood. His chivalry toward the ladies and his extremely strong sense of honor were wonderful qualities. Sturm's childhood friend, Caramon, is a big, hulking guy who's not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his loyalty to his twin brother, Raistlin, was quite endearing. Raistlin is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. He isn't the most likable character in the story, but he definitely is one of the most interesting. He was apparently power-hungry enough to sacrifice his health in exchange for his mage's powers. Often he was not particularly sympathetic, as he sometimes treated the others in the group, including his brother, with a condescending attitude, but then the next minute he surprised me by actually seeming to care about the gully dwarves. He claimed not to know the future, yet his advice always seemed to be spot on. Raistlin was a very mysterious character indeed. Goldmoon aka Chieftan's Daughter is the leader of her people and the bearer of the mystical blue crystal staff. She fell in love with Riverwind even though he was considered far beneath her in station. She was a brave and compassionate woman whose faith in the ancient gods was strong and who found her true calling in life during their search for the truth. Riverwind was gifted with the staff during an impossible quest to prove himself worthy of Goldmoon. He nearly died more than once and obviously loved her very much, not only to have gone through all that, but to have waited to marry her for so long.
I was beginning to wonder if there were going to be any other strong female characters besides Goldmoon, but later in the quest, the group was joined by several new characters two of whom were women. Tika is a sweet, innocent barmaid who actually appeared in the opening chapters too. She has a huge crush on Caramon, and wants to be a warrior woman like his sister. Laurana is the beautiful elf-maiden who is one of the two women that Tanis loves. She only has eyes for him and wants nothing more than to win his heart all for herself. Then there is Fizban, a doddering old mage who is quite possibly even more hilarious than Tas. He had me laughing and smiling through nearly every scene he was in.
I loved the banter between Flint and Tas that never failed to have me in stitches, but nearly all the characters seemed very capable of pulling off one-liners every so often. There are plenty of serious things that happen too. The action scenes, especially those involving the dragons, were quite suspenseful. There is a fair bit of violence, including a few somewhat gory scenes, but other than that, I didn't find anything particularly objectionable which in my opinion, makes the book appropriate for teens and up. In spite of the more intense moments, the overall tone of the book was lighter then I was expecting, making it a fairly easy read, and yet at the same time, rather complex. I was left with many questions, mainly about the character histories, which I hope to find the answers to in future books of the series. I'm so glad I finally picked up Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It may have ended with a resolution to the immediate conflict, but it's obvious there is much more story to tell for these companions which makes me eager to continue the Dragonlance Chronicles series soon.
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