BROTHERS IN ARMSA novel by Margaret Weis and Don Perrin
(1999, Wizards of the Coast)
Raistlin Chronicles, book 2
Raistlin and Caramon try to gain battle experience by hiring themselves out as mercenaries, as Kitiria performs missions for her new grand army.
-- First reading (paperback)
Some books tell a long and detailed story, and others simply work to fill in the details. This one tries to fill in some details about how Caramon and Raistlin became aware of how to fight before the Dragons of Autumn Twilight and the War of the Lance. Unfortunately, it falls short in several ways, the most prominent one being that Caramon never did any fighting!Spoiler review:
The book opens at the Tower of Wayreth, where Raistlin finished his Test of Sorcery back in The Soulforge. Par Salian knows that a war is brewing, but not the details, and he wants Raistlin to be ready for the role he will have to play in it. So he sends the twins out into the real world, suggesting that they learn the art of warfare while being paid to be mercenaries in an army that gathers every summer for good causes.
Typical of the Dragonlance stories, there are lots of details about the world of Krynn as they make their way to this army. Raistlin takes the time to get a little better, relieving his cough and the sickness that was brought upon him as the final part of his test. He also learns a little more about the Staff of Magius, the ancient staff that was wielded in the last Dragonwar. They briefly pass through the village where Raistlin helped a young mage in The Soulforge, and where they have to stop because of Raistlin's health and the onset of winter. Caramon does chores around the farms, where he is greatly appreciated, and the barmaids appreciate him and his handsome bulk.
When spring arrives, they continue on to Langtree, where they join up with the Mad Baron's budding army. There, they meet a half-kender young man, whom they help and who helps them. Caramon and Raistlin really are good people. Each one of them, however, are about to learn some good lessons about the real world. Caramon thinks he knows how to fight with a sword. He learns how inadequate his skills really are. But as he is learning through battle drills, he also helps Scrounger overcome his shortcomings. Scrounger is useful in an army not because he can wield a sword, which he can barely do, but because he is small and people don't really notice him much, so he can gather information. He also manages to make some great trades, secretly upgrading the Captain's saddle and gaining some elfin longbows for his Company.
Raistlin, on the other hand, gets a few hard lessons in humility. Apprenticed to a mage who never took the Test in the Tower of Wayreth, he scoffs and scorns the man behind his back, and hates doing the menial tasks asked of him. But Horkin has been through real battles, and knows that Raistlin, with his Tower training, would die before the battle had even begun, because he wants his spells to be perfect, pronouncing every word and every inflection as in the spell book, and using the proper ingredients in the proper proportions. In a battle that changes by the second, trying to do all that would get the wizard and his troops killed. He pulls some really good tricks on Raistlin, turning them into lessons the young mage would remember for the rest of his life.
The Magere brothers' half-sister Kitiria, of course, joins Ariakis' army and eventually shows up as a Dragonlord in the Dragonlance Chronicles. She starts the book having just given birth to Sturm's child, whom we will only meet again in The Second Generation. That's the benefit of hindsight. She is sent on a mission by Ariakis, who is instantly lustful of her lithe body, to deliver a message to the red dragon Immolatus, an order by the Dark Queen to join Ariakis and his budding army.
Kitiria does return, having won a verbal sparring match with the dragon, appealing to his vanity and pride. Ariakis is stunned, though recovers quickly, and sends the two on a mission to Hope's End, where they are to find the Metallic dragons' eggs. Kitiria finds them in a temple to Paladine, just as Ariakis' troops arrive ready to level the city. She has an inner struggle, though, because she knows nothing good will come of reporting the locations of the eggs, though she does her duty. Immolatus charges into the temple through the back way (in human form), and gets ready to destroy the eggs, something Kitiria knows the Dark Queen does not want to happen. She has something far more sinister in mind. Again, like in the Dragonlance Chronicles, I wonder how the dark army can get thousands and thousands of draconians out of a couple of hundred dragon eggs. Perhaps it is properly explained in the Chronicles, but I don't remember seeing a good explanation. Regardless, Kitiria races off after the dragon, fails to stop him, but does distract him enough for the Temple guardian, the spirit of a Solamnic Knight, to call upon Paladine to bring the roof down on top of all of them. Both Kitiria and the dragon survive. But the eggs are blocked off from scavengers, at least for now. We know some eggs will eventually be found, but this encounter at least delays the inevitable.
The Mad Baron's true honor is shown when the two armies meet at Hope's End. Ariakis' army arrived first, full of cruel men ready to pillage and rape, led by a half-goblin general. When The Baron sees the state of the army, he is impressed by their discipline. But when he meets their leader, he has a really bad feeling about everything. Caramon's company is sent in to test the city's defenses, but don't get far as the arrows and catapults decimate their advance. Withdrawing, they are devastated. So it is no wonder that they want to atone for their failure by taking the fight to the enemy. They sneak into the city, from over a concealed wall, and plan to take the defenses from behind. But Scrounger reports the strangest conversations, listening to the Mayor speak about how they cannot surrender because the army outside will burn their city to the ground, take their men as slaves and rape their women. The Baron is sent for, and he goes to visit the Mayor in the middle of the night, to learn the true story.
When morning comes, the Baron's forces attack the gate, which opens for them so they can join the defenders, just as Ariakis' forces start attacking them, from behind. The Baron, who was hired to defeat the resistance of Hope's End, forsakes his contract to fight for the just cause. His forces reopen the gate and rush out to attack the enemy army, overwhelming the superior numbers with their resolve and anger over having been shot in the back.
Caramon, however, never gets to join the attack. He is sent with his brother to search the Temple of Paladine to see if it would make a good place to tend to the wounded. Earlier, when the two armies were camped side-by-side, Raistlin had a terrible encounter with Immolatus, who was still in human form. Hearing of a Red-robed wizard among the other camp, Raistlin is sent over to barter spells and other items. Immolatus is not interested in anything except the staff that Raistlin carries, the one that defeated him before: the staff of Magius. Raistlin saw that this was not a Tower-trained wizard, and that he was not human, either, but couldn't determine what he was, only that his vision didn't age the wizard the way it aged every other creature on Krynn. Raistlin, recognizing the incredible power in the creature, rushes away as soon as the opportunity permits him! The climax of the novel, of course, comes in the Temple, where Immolatus is searching for a way out after being denied his revenge, and as Raistlin, Caramon and Scrounger are searching for the source of the fear emanating from within. They meet at the Knight's tomb.
The magical battle is quick, and Immolatus definitely has the advantage. But, as he seizes the Staff of Maguis from Raistlin, he doesn't count on the staff being somewhat sentient. It remembers the dragon, and fights back. Raistlin joins in the fight, and their combined strength overpowers the dragon, even as he tries to shift back into his dragon form, in a passage suddenly too narrow, and which he brings down on top of himself.
In the background, Kitiria watches silently, relishing her brother's triumph, but retaining her secret.
I would have liked a little more of an epilog to the story. All we get instead is the idea that Caramon and Raistlin will stay with the Baron's army. Maybe Caramon will get some fighting experience in the next battle or battles. Kitiria will go back to Ariakis in both success and failure, but blaming the latter all on the dragon. I suppose we don't need to see that, nor the inevitable consummation of their relationship. But I found the story ended too abruptly. Knowing what comes after it, a few years later, makes up for that, a little, but it would have been nice to see another follow-up to this novel, showing some real engagements the brothers were involved in. The nice thing about this novel, though, is that it didn't entirely focus on the brothers, which is what I expected. It brought in some important history of Krynn, like the formation of the enemy army, the awakening of the dragons, and Kitiria's continued trek down the path of ambition.
I wonder if Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsdawn has ruined books like this for me, ones that go on long side journeys to tell the reader a long history of a place the characters are about to enter, or about a new character or personage they will encounter. The descriptions can go on for a couple of pages, and I found it detracted from the story. In Dragonsdawn, of course, the reader is given no backstory at all, and is forced to catch up, a storytelling technique I quite enjoyed.
Finally, I find the cover of this book to be curious. Throughout, Caramon is described as being head and shoulders taller than all the other soldiers in both armies. But in the cover painting, Raistlin clearly comes up to his brother's nose, and he even appears to be on the low side of a sloping path. Raistlin is never described as being particularly tall, but I suppose he might be. But I don't think so, as Horkin or others would certainly have noted it, even if he was always hunched over.
This book has done its job, though, as it has whetted my appetite to reread the Dragonlance Chronicles again.
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