Reviews of 'Relics and Omens'
Reviews of 'Relics and Omens'
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Here is my review of Relics and Omens - Tales of the Fifth Age. On the average the stories within are better than the preceding Dragonlance short story collection Dragons of Chaos, but that collection had three or four terrific stories which none of the stories in "Relics and Omens" are equal too. To make up for that, Relics and Omens - Tales of the Fifth Age does not have as many bad stories as Dragons of Chaos has, making it a better average. If you like Dragonlance, and you're interested in the Fifth Age setting, it is worth buying. Below, there are some small spoilers, but nothing big. I am just reflecting upon the general themes of the stories appearing in the book.
It is a bit interesting to note that very few of the stories deal with the dragons who have conquered Ansalon. The authors are much more interested in the loss of the gods and magic, and the different ways in which people deal with it.
The book kicks off with a Douglas Niles story, Icefall. It is a rather straightforward story about a centaur out on a hunt for a huge ice bear, only to find out the ice bear is being hunted by something bigger. The way I read it this story concerns the white dragon Frisindia and her expansion of the Icewall glazier on the eastern Plains of Dust. The story was an enjoyable read, but not very special.
The second story, Legacy by Nancy Varian Berberick is a good story. It is low-keyed and personal, about a healer who has never known healing magic, but still she misses it and hears it call to her. This is a story anyone playing the Fifth Age game and having a character wielding mysticism should read. It is enchanting, and it makes Fifth Age magic personal and much more that a set of rules, which it pretty much has been up until now. The only problem is that Berberick seems to be unable to separate divine and arcane magic of the 4th Age, (such as indicating priests had spellbooks with their deity's symbol on it), and sorcery and mysticism of the Fifth Age (by explaining healing magic to be everywhere and in everything like sorcery, while healing is the realm of mysticism which comes from within the heart of each individual. These are small things the editors should have caught, but this is still a lovely story.
Then there is Sword of Tears by Richard Knaak, about Hermetes, a former cleric of Mishakal who is seeking *something* after his goddess' departure. He finds a sword which seems to have healing powers, but the sword is really evil, and takes control of the former cleric. While this may not be the most original of ideas, it is very cleverly executed. As the sword compels Hermetes do bad things, Hermetes just sees things happening, and blindly accepts them. The most terrible atrocities are mentioned in passing, as if they are the most natural thing in the world. The writing itself shows how Hermete's is only half-aware of the world around him, and what he's doing to it, and that is the main strength of this story.
The Cost by Robin McGrew is, in my opinion, one of the best stories appearing in the collection. A Knight of Solamnia, Dariot wants to bring food stolen by the Knights of Takhisis to save starving villagers during the Chaos War. He fails, and later, after the end of the Chaos War, he sets off to find the food. Guarding it is the single Knight of Takhisis, Merek, whom Dariot had duelled during the Chaos War. Dariot, in the tradition of Japanese soldiers on Pacific islands after World War 2, did not know the war was over. But as Dariot and Merek fight each other, they have to deal with a changed world, and the loss of their respective gods. For me, this was a vivid story, which recaptured the magic of Dragonlance much like Linda Baker's story in Dragons of Chaos did. It was exciting as well.
Janet Pack's kender story A Most Peculiar Artifact was, I must admit, a bit of a disappointment. I love kender, but this story was not that funny, I think, and the story of a kender "helping" a wizard to find an artifact buried in woods where few, if any, travel, with a knight guarding the artifact, and the nature of the treasure buried there, was very contrived in my humble opinion.
The second kender story while OK, isn't something I would jump up and down in excitement over either. Voices by Kevin T. Stein does introduce us to the kender leader Belladonna, whom I hope we see more of later, and manage to put a nice and funny twist to the afflicted kender: He hears this strange voice inside his head (literally), telling him not to do to certain dangerous things. He is paired with a true kender, and this makes for some interesting conversations in the beginning (these could become quite a pair in the novel, kind of like Flint and Tas, but different in many ways.) Unfortunately, as the story progresses and the two kender go off in pursuit of Belladonna's cat which has been kidnapped by goblins, the story falls more or less flat.
In The Notorious Booke of Starres Nick O'Donohoe tells about religious fanaticism in the wake of the gods' departure. People going against accepted beliefs in a village where people are sure Krynn is flat, are persecuted by the Joyous Faithful Guards, most often sentenced to death. The climax of the story is when Daev includes an essay by Kael (or Kela, as her real name is) which calculates that Krynn is round as a sphere, and Daev is almost burned for it. Kela has so many ideas that she is Galileo Galilei, Leonardo da Vinci, Johan Gutenberg and Henry Ford all in one. The last thing I want is an industrial revolution there, it would ruin the world I love. As for the story itself, I found it to be a bit heavy, and I had a hard time determining what was going on and what the characters were like. While characters having modern ideas in a medieval fantasy setting is nothing new, it was effective here since I, being opposed to technology being introduced beyond gnomes in Dragonlance, actually discovered at the end that I might have been on the side of the inquisitors!
Scavengers by Jean Rabe is one of the better stories in the collection. Some sea elves are scavenging the last sunken ship, and find a survivor among the crew. The protagonist, a female Dimernesti called Telyil, learns of a terrible curse which had befallen the pirate ship, and is about to befall the community of sea elves as well. But Telyil finds a way to turn this curse against the sea elves' dangerous enemy. I felt that this was an effective and exciting story which was well written.
William W. Connors and Sue Weinlein Cook tell of one of the huge dragons in the story Homecoming, where a Knight of Takhisis and his blue dragon mount are attacked by a monstrous red dragon at the beginning of the Dragon Purge. This story mainly depicts the battle, and doesn't have much of a story, really. It wasn't so exciting either. It can serve a purpose as a story depicting the Dragon Purge, but not much more.
The Restoration by Jeff Crook was not a bad story at all, it was quite intriguing and well written. It was interesting with the old secrets of the dusty tomes in a hidden section of the library of Tarsis. What I didn't like, of course, was that Fistandantilus is brought back. (He was already bought back in Fistandantilus Reborn half a year ago, where he perished again.). But one thing I must admit, and that is that if Fistandantilus should be brought back, it was made much better, much more intriguing and interesting and exciting, in Jeff Crook's story, than in Doug Niles's novel. But all in all the story would have been better if the legacy of Fistandantilus and his research on sorcery had been awakened instead of the man himself.
Relics is the only story in this collection which was also printed in the 1996 run of Fifth Age stories in Dragon Magazine. I seem to recall that this story was the one I liked the least among them. While rereading it now, the story of the bogus salesman and a Chaos creature by Jeff Grubb isn't that bad, it isn't so special either. Very average, I would say.
Paul B. Thompson's story The Summoners is one of the better stories in Relics and Omens. The stranger walking into the lawless, hedonistic town of Kerodin, trying to change ways of the people there, reminds me of Clint Eastwood from an old western. The story is unpredictable, and has a nice twist ending showing how some people don't manage to deal with the loss of the gods.
Roger E. Moores Island of Night is a terrific story, probably the best in the entire collection. The unsympathetic Knight of Takhisis stranded on an island with a lonely gnome, a treasure and hundreds of sea ghouls was cool and exciting reading. With this story, and of course with There is Another Shore... from Dragons of Chaos, Roger has proved that he can write terrific serious stories as well as hilarious gnome stories. Roger, you really should write a Dragonlance novel.
Margaret Weis and Don Perrin ends the collection with Demons of the Mind. This story does not depict a pinnacle in Krynn's history, and while I must admit I had wanted a more visionary tale than this when Margaret writes in the Fifth Age setting for the first time, the story about Caramon taking the drunken, one-armed Chaos War veteran Gemel to his own version of an AA meeting is quite good. The story is more about Gemel than about Caramon and Tika, and I think that is good. As always, Weis and Perrin delivers an enjoyable read.
Review made on Thursday July 2nd, 1998 on the alt.fan.dragonlance newsgroup.
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