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Reviews of 'The Clandestine Circle'

The Clandestine Circle

by Mary Herbert
Crossroads, Volume 1


Reviews of 'The Clandestine Circle'

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Reviewer: Carteeg Struve

Rating: Stars

As much as War of Souls follows the giant sweeping epic arcs of Krynn, it is good to be able to watch what the children of the original Dragonlance Chronicles heroes are doing... or in this case one particular grandchild. That in and of itself does not make for a good book. But what did make this book good was a good solid storyline, interesting characters, and enough intrigue to keep you going from chapter to chapter. I don't mean to spoil anything but not all details get resolved, but it does leave enough open for a true sequel (rather than the following Crossroads novels which are separate stories) that I would be very much inclined to read. A few of the details are easy to figure out on your own in this book, and there are a few details you want to slap the main character for not seeing. But to be able to read through the boatload of events going on in one city existing in the location in Ansalon that screams 'Please Gods! Destroy us now!' is very much the treat.


Reviewer: Craig J. Ries

Rating: Stars

Cover art. I like it, except Linsha I'm guessing is about 30 years old, and she looks like a youth on the cover. Granted, she's not supposed to look her age, but I doubt she's supposed to look 16 either. Maybe it's just me.

I like the premise behind this novel with all the different things that are happening in and around Sanction at the same time, how Bight is dealt with, and the intrigues of everybody trying to play both ends, ie, the Knighthoods & the Legion.

However, I wasn't very happy with the way the Circle itself was played out. It sounds like pre-War of the Lance Knights of Solamnia than what they are supposed to have become after the War, which nobody has yet to do properly. So once again, I believe the Knights of Solamnia are getting the shaft in the proper treatment they need to show that they are again an honor-bound knighthood. Unless you follow Linsha's theory that the Circle is acting on it's own accord for their own benefit instead of it going beyond them to Grand Master Ehrling.

I am starting to worry about all the senseless killing in all the novels anymore, however. It seems like every other book the population of Ansalon is being decimated. War of the Lance, Chaos War, Spirit of the Wind, Silvanesti under their shield, now the population of Sanction. Is there any place on Krynn not seeing wholesale slaughter of the people? That and the characters within the novel Clandestine Circle as well. It seems to be becoming a trend to kill off supporting characters in some fashion or another.

The dealing with Sable was very interesting, as was the little appearance of a particular bronze dragon I'd never heard of before.

Bight's abilities in geomancy made for a more interesting character as well, since Linsha found herself struggling with the knowledge that he never attended the Academy and such.

Again, the lava dikes around the city make for a contrasting landscape, in my opinion, compared to Dragons of a Fallen Sun.

Overall, the book was good and Herbert wasn't left trying to explain the impossible (as some of us feel) as with Legacy of Steel. Now we've heard she's going to write a book about Ulin. Seems she's taken a liking to the Majere family. If the book is anything like her previous two works, I'll be looking forward to it.


Reviewer: Matt Lynch

Rating: Stars

This is Mary H. Herbert's newest DL release, her second full novel in the series. Her first was the beloved Legacy of Steel, a great book, but one with flaws (there has yet to be a perfect DL book, in my opinion). Keeping with the trend of Knightly Orders, this one focuses on the Knights of Solamnia and their covert operations in Sanction (something I'll get into a little later), specifically Linsha "Lynn of Gateway" Majere, the first female Knight of the Rose (who is also a Majere; coincidence? I think not!). Also thrown into the mix are the enigmatic (or not-so enigmatic after this book) Lord Hogan Bight of Sanction (who may or may not be a bronze dragon), those oh-so-Evil Dark Knights of Takhisis (recently of Neraka), a brief appearance by the Legion of Steel, and a few other assorted minor characters.

The central plotline focuses on a strange plague that comes crashing (literally) into Sanction from a Palanthian vessel filled with the dead. As the city's human population starts croaking in droves, Lord Bight and his servants (which include Linsha at or around Chapter 5) start looking for a cure, knowing that any sign of weakness will bring the Dark Knights and/or Sable coming down on them like a nuclear bomb. Now, anyone who has read Dragons of a Fallen Sun knows that Sanction is still ruled by Lord Bight (but darn it if those Dark Knights won't stop trying!), but that doesn't stop this tale from being a suspenseful page-turner once it gets going. Let's break it down, characters first:

1. Linsha "Lynn of Gateway" Majere, Knight of the Rose: Linsha takes center stage in this book and Herbert writes her admirably. Now, her character, we know, is very well developed and defined by Steve Miller from his earlier character sketches and his work in Reader's Companion: Odyssey of Gilthanas, where she made a large cameo. The character in The Clandestine Circle follows the same principles, but is given even more depth by being placed in a situation where her loyalties are being torn in twain. Herbert does a great job with the character and though I agree that some situations could have been reflected better in her psyche (specifically that bondage scene), it can be justified by the fact that she was given no time to think on it and reverted to her training as a Knight to push it to the back of her mind. She IS a Knight of the Rose, and anyone with half a brain must realize that they are extremely well-trained and single-minded when it comes to a cause they have been placed in charge of. Hey, even Huma had to deal with things after losing his friend and finding out his love was a silver dragon. I don't hear anyone crowing about that.

2. Commander Ian Durne, Knight of the Skull: The villain we don't realize is one until about 2/3 of the way through the book, Durne is written very well as a man who is also dealing with conflicting emotions. His character, however, just shows how far the Knights of Takhisis have fallen. With the "Vision" being a lie now, the Knights are slowly realizing that such things as honor and devotion don't hold much weight in the world anymore. Slowly "rehumanizing" after 30+ years of dogmatic servitude, they are now dealing with emotions and feelings previously beaten out of them. Durne, however, shows how dangerous they can now be, as (save for the huge clues Herbert starts dropping) we don't even see his heel turn (wrestling reference, sorry) coming until it is right in our face. He works well as a villain who isn't your standard loathsome blackheart. Good work!

3. Lord Hogan Bight: The enigmatic ruler of Sanction takes a huge step out of those shadows in this book, as we finally get to see him as a person (if he, in fact, IS one). His character is superbly done and I won't say much about it simply because I have nothing prior to base an analysis on. However, I will say that, even if he is a bronze dragon, WHO CARES!? I mean, jeez, does it really ruin the character if he isn't some Batman-like machine of a man? He still remains a mystery to 99.9% of Krynn (and we're not even SURE he is a bronze), but it certainly explains how he manages to keep all those foes at a distance. If I had to pick an established dragon as his true identity, it would probably be Alacourt (Clarion) from DL12 (I think) and the Conspectus (he had to be on there for a reason!). If he's a dragon, fine. If he's not, fine. In the end, it doesn't really matter. The CHARACTER, not the race, is what matters.

Now, there are miscellaneous other characters, among them Mica the healer, Shanron the obligatory female friend, Capt. Alphonse Dewald (the red shirt in this case), and the priestess. Lady Karine Thassally make an appearance or two, as do the mysterious Circle leaders. Oh, and Varia, who is a cool addition to Linsha's character (almost a familiar), but serves as a push-button deus ex machina in a couple spots.

The Circle itself was a source of constant irritation to me (and a lot of people) in this book, as their actions made no sense. These guys are in a pretty big position, which means they are experienced enough (read: old enough) to have earned the spot. That means they were, likely as not, around BEFORE the Chaos War as Knights and do not approve (at all) of all this skulking about in Sanction. Dishonorable and all that poppycock. They obviously yearn to stop hiding in the shadows like thieves and assassins and be able to flaunt their true selves (knights of the oldest chivalric order on Ansalon), but cannot because Liam Ehrling's orders are unquestionable. However, Ehrling has no way of knowing WHAT they do to reach that end unless they act stupidly and reveal themselves, which would make the papers, to say the least. So, to get out of that cramped little "croft," they have an operative (quite a few, probably) make it so Lord Bight looks bad. Ehrling will, of course, order them to end their stay and remove Bight and they can go home or, at the very least, walk around Sanction being worshipped like gods by the grateful populous. Bottom line: they are old men who are feeling dishonored by doing this back alley work and want to make it so they can stop hiding in subterfuge and go out to right wrongs once again and retire with much honor and prestige. With the gods gone, they have no care for being the next Huma, only for getting out of the hell that is Sanction and returning to their comfortable living to swap old war stories with equally-stuffy retired Knights. They don't care that Bight may be a good man. The fact that he is NOT allowing the Solamnics (who are all that matters) free run of the city means he is not Good (by their standards), which means he is unfit to rule. There, that's all there is to it. They are rigidly adhering to the old Measure and Oath and don't want to be in Sanction anymore, so they are following Ehrling's orders to the letter while at the same time, accomplishing what they want. I liken them to Sir Ector from Disney's "The Sword in the Stone."

What upset me was that Linsha Majere, as a Rose Knight, had NO sway in the group. She's a ROSE KNIGHT, the highest ranking order. The fact that she even became one is a huge deal, nevermind that she's non-Solamnic and a WOMAN at that. Her word and advice should have carried HUGE weight w/in that camp or, at the very least, with Lady Karine. That the Solamnics completely disregarded her disgusted me. She obviously outranks Lady Karine, yet is subservient to her and bunch of grumpy old men. Plus she's a MAJERE! How many times has her family saved the world (too many, I know, but that's the point)? Yet they treat her like a petulant child. Quite frankly, I think this book should have been set before the pre-War of Souls, post-Rabe trilogy time that is was set in, while Linsha was yet a Knight of the Sword or, better yet, of the Crown. Quite frankly, I think starting her as a Knight of the Rose is a bit much, but it was pre-determined before this book, so I'm not going to argue the point. If it had been set during the Dragon Purge itself, I would have been more willing to buy the Circle's treatment. Oh, and one more thing, they do not have the jurisdiction (or even the right) to remove her name (dishonorably) from the books. They have to give her a trial (like Sturm Brightblade was given and he wasn't even a Knight!) before actions such as that can be taken. That was an oversight on the author's part, but a relatively minor one.

So, in short, this was a great book with a fun mystery, a good amount of intrigue and great characters. However, its main flaw lies in the author's being unable to write the Circle properly. She needs to brush up on her Solamnic Knighthood facts (like in Heroes of Steel) before doing another Linsha book.


Reviewer: Morten Brattbakk

Rating: Stars

The Clandestine Circle can be compared to Legacy of Steel in many ways. The protagonists of both are women working undercover. The attention to detail is evident in both novels, as is the terrific sense of how Krynn and its people, places, and organizations would develop. Sanction is described very well and in detail, and I couldn't spot a single inconsistency. (In fact, I only found two of them in the book, one where Eleanor refers to Knights of Takhisis during the War of the Lance, the other when Sable said she was on Ansalon before the Chaos War.) Better than that, the city has changed a lot. Mary Herbert checked all the Sanction sources, stayed 100% true to them, but also came up with a thoroughly convincing image of how the city as presented in those earlier sources (mostly Sanction as it was during the War of the Lance) has changed for the last 60 years. It is indeed rare that we see a Dragonlance work that does this so well. The slums are gone, a city wall has been built, the Temple of Huerzyd has become the Temple of the Heart, the Temple of Duerghast is abandoned, and lava moats serve as the city's protection instead of going through it.

The story concerns the Rose Knight Linsha Majere, who works undercover in Sanction. Having spent years posing as a cut-throat, she eventually got work amongst the city guards. As the city is threatened by an erupting volcano and a strange plague she is offered to become a bodyguard for the mysterious governor Lord Hogan Bight. He is surrounded by several persons who may or may not be part of the threats against Sanction. Linsha, who is ordered by the Clandestine Circle of Knights of Solamnia in Sanction to undermine Bights authority, has to deal with intrigues and her own torn loyalty between Bight and the Clandestine Circle.

This book is a pleasant and enjoyable read, but nowhere near the page-turner that Legacy of Steel was. Unlike Sara's game of deception in Neraka, I never feel like Linsha is in any danger, there is no dramatic consequence for her if she gets caught. The tension just isn't there. I am a bit curious about the plague, but never so much that I just have to read the next chapter. When the book finally starts to pick up, I have long since figured out what is going on and how it would end. The true identities of Ian Durne and Hogan Bight were both obvious to me about halfway through the book thanks a lot to less than subtle hints (and it annoyed me that Linsha was so stupid she didn't figure it out sooner than she did!). As a mystery, this book fails because it doesn't reveal layer behind layer. One moment you're clueless, the next you've figured it all out. As a consequence, there is little build-up and tension.

The book, as far as I can tell, is set soon after the end of Jean Rabe's Dragons of a New Age trilogy. Linsha has been in sanction almost 8 years, and if her appearance in The Odyssey of Gilthanas (26 SC) was at the very beginning of the career, 34 SC (with Linsha being 30 years old) would fit well as the date of the events in this book. I would be interested in knowing what happened to Linsha after this book ended, and how Sanction came to be in the hands of the Knights of Solamnia as well. There was a light cliff-hanger at the end.

But I have a couple of criticisms against things that I find a bit unbelievable: The first is that Linsha is a Knight of the Rose. She is already a Knight of the Rose in the short story in The Odyssey of Gilthanas, then she is 22 years old. Anyone with an average knowledge of the Knights of Solamnia would know that becoming a Rose Knight is far from easy; you have to prove yourself as a squire, then a Knight of the Crown and then Sword. That is not an easy path, and traditionally the Rose Knights were nobles and landowners as well as knights; they held a prominent political position as well as military. While that may have changed somewhat, I still don't see a girl merely 20 years of age becoming a Knight of the Rose, no matter the family ties and skill. She needs experience as well. However, making the very young Linsha a Rose Knight is not something Mary Herbert is responsible for, but Steve Miller, who created the character.

Also, as a Rose Knight, the highest Solamnic Order, I think that Linsha would have more influence within the Clandestine Circle than she had in the novel. She is given questionable orders, denied information, and treated as a common soldier. She is a Rose Knight for Paladine's sake, close to a "general" in the Solamnic Knighthood. She would be among them making the decisions, probably outranking many of them. Both Linsha's age and status among the Solamnic Knights of Sanction suggest that that of a Knight of the Crown. Since Linsha is a Rose Knight, Mary Herbert should have made sure she also had the position of her rank.

But these are minor quibbles. Even though the danger of Linsha's situation and her inner turmoils aren't as intriguing as they should be, the game of political intrigue as interesting, or the plot as exciting, this novel does offer a decent read with plenty of good descriptions. Don't rush to buy it, but if you are a Dragonlance fan, pick it up if you see it and have some money to spare, you will be rewarded with an OK story and some excellent descriptions.

Review made Saturday August 19th, 2000 on the alt.fan.dragonlance newsgroup.


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