Phew, it's been more than two weeks, I know. This was not my intent in this endeavor at all. I just got really into Myke Cole's Fortress Frontier (HIGHLY recommend the book, easily one of my top ten of 2013) and Michael Lewis' The Blind Side (Not done with it yet, I'll explain why in a minute, but it's phenomenal). Plus I started the three week summer writing institute where I teach (they'll be a blog post on that in the near future) and did some writing. But I'm going to effort on the blogging a little more and I'm back to this, so let's talk about Chapters 3-5.
This section builds off the ominous tidings of Chapter 2's cliffhanger, but any response to that isn't addressed right away, mostly because it's obvious Tanis doesn't want to talk about what it means either, this moment of tension is avoided by the arrival of out final three members of our companions and they may be the most interesting of the characters, to me at least.
Let's start with Goldmoon and Riverwind, the barbarians. Weis and Hickman do something interesting here that I always liked. Barbarian is such an ambiguous term in the context of epic fantasy. In my mind, I go in one of three directions: the Conan route, the faux Viking route or the faceless wildman rabble of the dark overlord route. Now, there's a longer post in me about these tropes but this isn't the place for it. Weis and Hickman go in a different direction and there barbarians don't seem to fit within the tropes of epic fantasy. These barbarians are plainsmen (read: Native Americans), but with swords! But they ruin that by making the barbarian princess a blonde haired, blue eyed beauty that fell in love with a tall, dark warrior. I didn't find her interesting when I was a kid and I don't know, but I was always fascinated with Riverwind. We don't get much of an impression of him, we don't even sense the connection these two have beyond that of servant and master. But these characters aren't the real stars (though I do know that they will get their chance later), the real star of this section is the introduction of Sturm Brightblade.
Weis and Hickman know their tropes and how to play with them. Sturm is presented to us as the "knight in shining armor" type. He's the definition of the D&D paladin (I know, I know...f**king game mechanics) from the moment we meet him. It's almost cliched from the "straight back" to his formality to the fact that he shows up wearing his full armor. Here's where having spent all these years reading Martin spoil me. I scream at the book...there's no way that Sturm is going to be traipsing around in full plate armor, especially antique armor. But beyond that, the most interesting thing about this section comes from when Sturm is asked if he was a knight now and he doesn't answer. No one seems to note this except for Tanis who says nothing about it. It's a wonderful moment that I probably missed when I was younger. It's a great bit of character in there for us to realize that he's actually a fraud. And it's obviously killing him.
Hickman and Weis introduce one of the backbones of the world that's been created around them: the Knights of Solamnia. I'm a big fan of the Knights and love the politics that get brought up in later books, but for now it's merely stated that there is a great amount of distrust and disdain for the Knights, almost as much for them as the barbarians. And it introduces us to a great little tidbit of worldbuilding by the authors: the sweeping mustaches. I love this. I know that might be silly, but it's a perfect little touch that stands out. We're not given an explanation (yet), just shown that they are an important part of Solamnic culture. I'm curious to see how my memories of the Knights compares to what I read. (And I do know that the Knights don't really make an appearance until book two.)
What comes next in the book is another thing that sets it apart. Usually, this is the part of the epic fantasy novel where the heroes band together and decide they are going to stop the great evil. Not so fast, my friend. And I like this. One of their own makes a mistake and inadvertently hurts someone (a cliched phony religious zealot) who is healed by what appears to be lost magic: the magic of healing. Then our band is on the run, the barbarians that have mysteriously acquired this magic. Then comes a series of what is obviously transcribed game encounters as the enemies pursue their escape. It's well done and intense with the right amount of gravity and levity as the companions escape, leading to the major revelation of the chapter: there are constellations missing...those of the most powerful old gods aren't there anymore.
More portents and mysteries. The first 60 pages are as good as I remember them, even with a more critical (and maybe cynical) eye. It feels like I'm reading a good story and that's all that matters. I feel like I enjoy experiencing the story through Tanis's POV, again he's the most obvious gateway character and it works. The thing that stands out so much about these books is that these folks are normal people. They aren't kings, dukes, regents or anything like that. They are the blue collar people (okay, Goldmoon is a princess but I'm not counting her right now because she's not REALLY part of the crew yet) of this world and that's not something we're used to seeing.
Next up: Chapters 6 & 7: What do our heroes do now?