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THE SOULFORGE

A novel by Margaret Weis (1998, TSR Fantasy)
Book 1 of the Raistlin Chronicles

Raistlin develops from a young boy into a wizard, while growing into a close-knit group of friends.

 

 

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Read September 18th to 26th, 2003  
    I can only wonder if expectation had something to do with my disappointment at the ending of this book, for the rest of it was wonderful.

I was interested in this book form the very first page, wondering who this wizard Antimodes was. When he comes across a young Kitiria, and notices her womanish features, I figured out that perhaps Raistlin was so young that he didn't have magical abilities yet. From this moment, when a young and very serious Raistlin was "discovered", we get to follow him through his life of seeking magic.

However, we don't get to see him learn enough magic. His classes show him how to identify and mix spell components, but he doesn't get his first spell until ten years later! I think this is a good way to learn magic, but it is not dramatically interesting.

My expectation for this book was that it would be devoted to developing Raistlin, with a large chunk of it showing us his magical Test, where he essentially makes a deal with the devil, and his body is ruined.

What I got instead was a story about the Heroes of the Lance, before the War of the Lance, which is interesting in its own right. Most of the story is seen through Raistlin's eyes, but we get a narrator's point of view (which is never as good) for many of the other characters, as well. Later in Raistlin's youth they are very much intertwined with him and his brother, but this happens by the halfway point in the book. The Test is almost an afterthought, and was very disappointing.

We know from the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends that Raistlin barely survived the Test. We know that his skin turned golden, he was given hourglass eyes, and that he made a deal with Fistandantilus that saved his life. I don't remember the explicit tale as it was told in the "later" books, but what we got here was so anticlimactic that it nearly ruined an excellent book. Raistlin's choices, even before killing his "brother", led him to evil. Falling in with some bandits who planned to steal from his friend Lemuel in Haven, mainly because of the power of the alleged spellbooks hidden in the cellar, was on the evil side of things to begin with. That's all we get to see before he meets Fistandantilus. That's the trap that the ancient mage set for him. The life-and-death struggle that led to Raistlin accepting the offer of power is an intellectual one. Raistlin was not desperate, as I expected him to be. He knew that if he tried to take on the three dark elf mages by himself, he would be killed. So he simply accepted the offer.

Sure, after he leaves, and is attacked by the third dark elf, he is near death. How did this happen? How did Raistlin become stronger than an elf physically? When he is near death, Fistandantilus comes seeking his revenge on Raistlin for "cancelling" their deal, but Caramon appears and uses magic to destroy the wraith. This is when Raistlin kills the illusion of his brother, in jealousy. Blech. Raistlin acquired the golden skin as a shield against the fireballs of the dark elves, by himself. The hourglass eyes were given to him by Par-Salian to try and give him sympathy and compassion.

The whole episode seemed like an afterthought, something that was expected at the end of the book. The author seemed to have a lot more fun writing about the other adventures. If Fistandantilus erased Raistlin's memory of the wraith, what does he actually think happened? Why did the Dark Elves turn against him? Why does he think Caramon used magic?

It is all made worse by the way the author turns this into a history, by telling us once again (like in Legacy of the Darksword) that the Chronicles and Legends were written by other people, so that some of the details could be wrong. That irks me a great deal. I would rather the authors stay within the bounds of what was already written, and not cheat this way.

So much for the end of the book. The rest was really well written, and very interesting. We can see Raistlin's quest for power right from the start, and the way he looks on other people as inferior, the way he loves to see them look up to him and admire him. We see his love and his hatred of Caramon, his twin. His caring for his brother is in his own interests, but he can always find a selfish motive for doing something nice. These two rely on each other, and they need each other. The author puts it in a very interesting way: one person split between two bodies. Caramon has the easy-going nature, the handsome (and goofy) looks, the strength. Raistlin has the brain and the magic.

His young life shows us how people resent him and think he is good for nothing. Even his teacher looks down on him, but Raistlin knows that he is more powerful than his Master. He is jealous of others with magic, but as he gets more adept, his master shows him a little respect with his scorn, because Raistlin shows an aptitude for magic. I don't know why Raistlin had to make a deal with the gods of magic in order to get his magical ability. He seemed to have a natural aptitude for the arts. It does, however, put him on the path that the companions embarked on just prior to Dragons of Autumn Twilight.

I would have liked to see more of Raistlin's schooling. He taught in Master Theobald's class for a while, but that seemed to disappear as he got older. Where was he supposed to learn magic after that, to prepare himself for the Test? If a wizard is not apprenticed until after he takes the Test, how is he to advance beyond what Theobald taught him?

We get to meet a young Sturm, who was friends with Caramon. We see Kitiria, whom I never really liked, and we never got to see too much of. We get some backstory on Flint and Tasslehoff, who are hilarious as ever, and we see the friendship between Flint and Tanis. When the twins' parents die, their father from an accident, and their mother from grief, Flint and Tanis help them to live again by teaching them. Caramon gets the most from swordplay lessons, but Raistlin learns about the dwarves and elves.

The most significant part of the book revolves around a new false god named Belzor, who claims to have given his clerics healing powers. One servant, Judith, had come to help Raistlin and Caramon's mother, because she was also gifted, and often went into spells where she would seem to leave their reality. With help from Judith, their mother became almost normal again. With her death, however, Judith made a tactical error, blaming it on the children, and was so driven from town.

Years later, when the group travels to Haven for a fair, where Flint and Tanis sell some goods, they come across Judith again. This time, she is High Priestess of Belzor, and the companions witness her talk with "Belzor" and communicate with the dead of specially-picked loved ones. People leave the temple as believers, but Raistlin recognises the magic involved. The next night he confronts Judith in her temple, performing the same magical spell she did. I don't think even Raistlin knew the extent of the giant Kender he created. The description of the whole process, especially Tasslehoff being rushed by all the children, was quite funny.

During the ensuing riot, where people want their money back, Raistlin, Caramon and Kitiria sneak into the back rooms, and the twins find Judith dead, with Kitiria's knife nearby. Raistlin is arrested, and a mob takes him from prison to burn him at the stake! I suppose Raistlin needed to spend some time in prison, to give him some insight, but it didn't have much impact, since he slept the whole time away.

I wonder what the point was of Kitiria getting picked to speak with her dead mother. How did she get picked? What information did the priests think they gained from her to think she would be convinced by the performance? I think more importantly Kit learned some subtle interrogation techniques.

Raistlin is saved, of course, by Caramon and by Tasslehoff. Tas was great here, as always! He would have liked to see Raistlin burned to death, as he had never seen something like that before. But since he had a knife from Lemuel, he thought he should use it to cut the bonds!

The name of Belzor seems somehow familiar, but I don't remember it it was ever mentioned in the Chronicles or Legends. Perhaps that is the charm of this book, the familiarity that the author brings to the settings and the characters. It doesn't seem contrived in any way, while seeming like a true prequel to the Dragonlance Chronicles. While I would have liked to see more of Raistlin's magical development, I did enjoy the aspect of the other characters.

The book starts off whimsical, and continues in that tone whenever talking from Antomodes' point of view. It also becomes whimsical whenever Kender are being discussed, as they have quite a unique point of view of the world. From the wizards, we get to see more of the world, and the name-dropping, from a young Dalamar to the other elves, Kitiria's future boss, and even the mention of dragons. It was a lot of fun in that sense.

The end of the companions' tale comes just before Raistlin's Test, where they each go on their way, and promise to return in five years. It was a true emotional moment for the group, even for Tas. I also noted how a very young Tika has already set her eyes on Caramon, something that would later blossom into romance!

The book was very well written. There were no real story holes, and the text was interesting -very interesting- throughout. Being a story that takes fifteen years, some things necessarily get left out. Compare this to the Dragonlance Chronicles, which takes three books to get through three seasons. The reader just gets settled down in one timeframe, when it is time to leave again. Even so, I thought this book was really good, and I heartily recommend it. Raistlin's anticlimactic Test, however, brought the rating down a notch, and as I said, nearly ruined the end of the book. It is certainly not bad, but definitely didn't feel life-threatening. I do look forward to the sequel, however, which should describe their mercenary careers, which will bring them to their abilities as showcased in Dragons of Autumn Twilight.

 
   

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