Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

THE HAND OF CHAOS

A novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (1993, Bantam Spectra)
Book 5 of The Death Gate Cycle

Haplo visits Arianus, only to find the dragon snakes inciting war among dwarves, and seeking to end a rebel elf-human alliance.

 

 

Read September 20th to October 7th, 2010, for the second time  
    I have absolutely no recollection of this book. When I was reading it, I expected images to pop up from the first time I read it, but nothing did. It's as if I never read this book before. And after completing it, I think I understand why. Arianus is my least favorite world. Limbeck and the Gegs are some of my least favorite characters. I even have trouble with Hugh the Hand, unfortunately.

On the other hand, I do very much like Haplo. I like the way he has become more cautious, more mature through the books. So I did enjoy the first few chapters, which took place in the Nexus. It is here that he finds the dragon-snakes from Chelestra, in the form of Patryns. I find it interesting that in all of the books by this author, the evil super-powers take an active role in creating chaos, while the forces of good do nothing, confident that their creations, whether dwarf, elf or human, will prevail and make them stronger. Here it is no different. The dragon-snakes move into Arianus, becoming dwarves, elves and humans, though I find it strange that they would need to aid this world in becoming more war-like.

Haplo leaves his Sartan cell on Chelestra, and finds that the dragon-snakes have left. When he gets to the Nexus, he finds that his master, Xar, has already allied himself with them, thinking he is stronger than them. He also meets Zifnab again, answering the call of the Sartan from the end of Serpent Mage. His dragon reminds him where he put his hat, of course. Zifnab also knows that Haplo has a son in the Labyrinth, something that Haplo knows in his heart to be true.

So when he is traveling to Arianus with Bane, he is always thinking about rescuing his son. On Arianus, they find that the Kicksey-Winsey has stopped; Haplo surmises it is because of the opening of Death's Gate. But the dwarves think the elves have sabotaged the machine, while the elves think the dwarves did it. The dragon-snakes are promoting both views. While on Drevlin, Haplo, Limbeck, Bane and Jarre find an automaton, which doesn't know what to do with the machine. Bane thinks it will take years to turn it on!

Meanwhile, the elves come searching for them, and capture Haplo and Jarre, thanks to Sang-drax, a red-eyed dragon snake in the form of an elf. They are brought up to the elven lands, where Bane charms even the elven king, who is losing his war on two fronts -against the dwarves and the rebel prince who was turned against his father due to a magical human song. Bane plots to use his mother to put him on the throne.

From here, we get back to Hugh the Hand and Iridal, Bane's real mother, and I got a little bored with the story. I would take breaks from reading of days at a time, not really caring what happened next. Obviously, from the rating I gave this book years ago, I loved it then. But now, I found it to be bogged down with exposition, explaining the history of a segment of the population or region which stopped the story flat.

Dragon Wing ended before we knew the true fate of everybody in the High Realms. In Fire Sea, I complained that Alfred had not committed any necromancy, because Bane was not dead when he saved him. Of course, I didn't remember from last time reading this book that Hugh had died in the battle against the mysteriarch, and Alfred resurrected him. But apparently Alfred did a better job of it than all the Sartan on Aberrach, because Hugh is not a lazar nor a walking dead. Or is it just because he is a human, and those on Aberrach were Sartan? Either way, his soul, which has seen the land of the dead, is more valuable to the elves than any they currently have.

So Hugh leaves his self-imposed exile among the Kir monks and travels with Iridal to the Assassin's guild, where he unknowingly meets a dragon-snake in human form. They travel to the elven lands in disguise, and go to the mysterious soul-keeping elves, the Kenkari. Once Hugh promises to give his soul to them, they help him enter the palace to rescue Bane. But Sang-drax has other ideas, of course, and so does Bane. He plans to kill his "parents", Stephen and Anne, and put himself on the throne. Iridal is captured, Haplo nearly killed by the dragon-snakes, and Hugh is forced to take Bane to the King and Queen, with a threat to Iridal's life (because he loves the woman).

The plot gets complicated, but I found it to be the most interesting part of the novel. I enjoyed the segments among the elves the most, and the Kenkari in particular to be some of the best characters in this book. They manage to defeat the dragon-snakes by being free of fear and anger, and they save Haplo in that manner, and rescue Iridal. They then summon a huge mystical dragon, which takes Haplo down to where Jarre is held hostage on a dragonship to Drevlin, and Iridal to save the King and Queen. Incidentally, the Kenkari give Haplo a book written by the Sartan on how to start the Kicksey-Winsey!

Bane actually gets all the way to Stephen and Anne, but Hugh fails to kill the King. Bane stabs Stephen instead, but not fatally. Iridal is forced to kill Bane. More interesting was the chaos that reigned on Drevlin, as the dwarves took up arms against the elves, but joined together with each other and human slaves to fight the dragon-snakes as Haplo revealed their true forms.

Through it all, I enjoyed Haplo, except that he lost more magical battles than he won. I don't really see the need for the dragon-snakes in this story at all, except to keep Haplo from using his magic. Haplo is now fully committed to betraying his master, and I think he finally realizes that he can't return to Xar. He often thinks of his family in the Labyrinth, which is something the Patryns typically don't do, at least are not supposed to. He even thinks of Alfred, realizing that the Sartan who he hated for three books had a more complete view of the world than he did, though he thought he knew all the answers.

It's unfortunate that this book, too, ends on a cliff-hanger, just like the last one. Hugh tries to give his life to the Kenkari, but they know he has made another deal, with Bane, to kill Haplo. I have trouble believing the Assassin's guild would consider this verbal contract to be official, especially since the originator is dead, and there is no way payment could ever be made. It sounds like a contrivance either by the spirits or by the authors to keep Hugh around and have him do some dirty work.

With five books completed, it is now time to move on to the Labyrinth, and to visit more than one world per book. I look forward to seeing the worlds in action, now that we understand how much they are actually intertwined. The seventh book, of course, will take us to that beautiful paradise that Haplo sees in the images of Death's gate, the one he cannot identify, and which seems unlikely to have been in the original design.

 

 

4 stars

Also read December 28th, 1993 to January 4th, 1994  
   

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