Reviews of 'Downfall'
Reviews of 'Downfall'
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Following the story of Dhamon Grimwulf, several months following the events in The Fifth Age Trilogy, Rabe explores the convoluted and twisted psyche of a Knight of Tahkisis, turned hero for good, turned bandit, tormented by his inner demons, the ever-present dragon overlords, and the curse of the dragon scale imbedded into his thigh by Malys. While the red dragon's hold over the warrior has been broken, the scale still torments him.
Dhamon's new group of friends consists of other thieves... a half elf who is also his lover, a large human man with his own secrets, and a kobold. Rabe still insists on bringing in stereotypical monsters, such as the kobold in Downfall, the gnoll in The Silver Stair, and the short story with several goblinoid critters. I find it very interesting how she gives them character and develops them well enough that the reader really enjoys their development, and in some cases, even their deaths.
Traveling with his group of bandits, Dhamon finds himself pursued by two of his old friends: Rig and Fiona, the Ergothian and Solamnic Knight. The Lady Knight believes that there's still some good in Dhamon, while Rig suspects his old friend is gone, replaced with this thief who cares about no one besides himself and whatever profit he can turn.
The bandits eventually find themselves traveling with the Rig and Fiona, to the ogre village of Bloten, where they plan on purchasing a powerful sword for Dhamon with the spoils of their banditry, and acquiring a ransom for Fiona in order to purchase her brother's freedom. The unlikely group find themselves working at the behest of the ogre overlord, with Rig and Fiona questioning every action they make.
The story was quite fascinating, with the plot twisting and turning in directions the reader doesn't expect. The buildup of the characters Dhamon, Fetch (the kobold) and Maldred (the other human) are quite intriguing. Fetch provides some comic relief, commonly held by kender, while Maldred seems to have a very convoluted past, while being one of Dhamon's most loyal friends.
About the only negative to this book was the half elf Riki. She and Dhamon are lovers, but it's obvious that Dhamon doesn't return the same depth of feeling towards her. She's constantly fawning over him, and demanding his attention regardless of the situation. She's selfish, self centered, and also an airhead, caring only about the next bit of treasure to adorn herself with. I was not interested in reading any more about her than necessary, but she seemed to be too much of a central character, which tended to irritate me. It was obvious that Dhamon really cared nothing about her well being, and her desperation towards him really overdid it.
Regardless, the storyline and most of the characters were great. There is quite a bit of action, and it's obvious the story is building towards more revelations on the dragon scale embedded in Dhamon's thigh. His seizures, related to the scale, are more violent and frequent, punctuated by visions, which makes the reader wonder where this is going. No hints are revealed in this novel, though the sequels promise to reveal more.
Review made August 3rd, 2004.
First off, I've read the 5th Age trilogy, and I think it had
A lot of good aspects, along with bad, until Eve of the Maelstrom. Other than Eve of the Maelstrom, and
some odd points on The Silver Stair, I don't mind Rabe's work. Her short
stories aren't memorable, but they're not terrible, either. So, I held reservations on Downfall.
The cover art is excellent, in my opinion, and it's from another new name I
believe to Dragonlance. In fact, I think it's some of the best cover art we've
had since the beginning of the 5th Age material.
The book. Well, if you put it on it's own, it's a good book. Taking
place 2 years after her first trilogy, it avoids a lot of the pitfalls that troubled the other 3 books: that it was a new age and a TON of stuff had to be covered, which caused a lot of problems. In this book, she can just focus on the characters themselves and not so much the setting. I've heard how people disliked some of the characters (if not all of 'em) from the 5th Age trilogy, but I particularly liked Fetch, and the idea that Maldred turns out to be a blue-skinned Titan (I'm assuming, the word Titan is never used) was cool as well.
Maybe I should go back and read the 5th Age trilogy now, but Rig
seemed to get over Shoan quite quickly to move on to Fiona. And they
make it sound like Dhamon was redeemed at the end of Eve of the Maelstrom. His downfall/redemption in the 5th Age trilogy was poorly executed, in my opinion, and
now it seems like he's going to be redeemed again or something.
I'd like to see more on the Titan thing, especially since Rabe is
covering alot of uncovered ground with Blode and Sable's swamp realm and
such. Maybe we'll see more of Thoradin or something before the trilogy
Overall, I don't know where this trilogy is heading in terms of plot
and purpose. Dhamon's redeemption? Getting rid of his scale seems to be
the big thing. But I feel that Rabe's been forced to give up a lot of
stuff from her 5th Age trilogy: Palin, Ulin in particular (Ulin a lot of
people have wanted to see explored), the other Heroes of the Heart like Feril... the
Dragon Overlords really were toned down as well, focusing on one instead
of all of them, another good thing, in my opinion, too.
After the exciting ending to The Eve of the Maelstrom I could not wait to get my hands on this novel. The first volume of The Dhamon Saga, it focuses on Dhamon Grimwulf, a hero who struggles to be just that. After falling in with a band of thieves, he is no longer the same man that we once knew. After such a great trilogy by Jean Rabe I had high hopes for this series.
The story takes place a year after we last read about Dhamon, trying to save Krynn from the dragon overlords. I thought that we would have continued reading about the world's struggle to go back to life as it once was before the overlords arrived. Although the dragons are still in power and terrorizing the world relentlessly, the focus is changed and is more about personal affairs of the characters. I would have liked to see a little more about the overlords, since that is what the fifth age seems to be about.
The inconsistencies of pace that was a problem in the Dragons of a New Age trilogy, it has not rubbed off on this book. The pace is steady, with no gaps and even many flashback moments, which some of Jean Rabe's novels was missing. It was great not to have jumps in time and it made the story flow much better as if we weren't just seeing moments of a story but the story as a whole.
The story is very interesting, while some twists here and there, but nothing to make you excited like say The Day of the Tempest or The Eve of the Maelstrom. It was a little disappointing that the ending wasn't as intense as the previous series. It's a shame because that was what seemed to make that series so great.
There were nice battle scenes and some creative events that added a nice touch to the book. The diverse group of characters was great, which personalities coming from all over Ansalon. This time around, the characters seemed to have more background and had a bigger meaning. They had depth and were well developed throughout the story.
In Jean Rabe's previous trilogy, the maps did not add any element to the read. They did not show every area that was explored, and they were always different and never helped you. But this map, in Downfall was great! I used it as reference all the time and it was beautifully detailed! One of the best maps I've in quite a while. As for the interior art, well it just seems a waste of time to write about that again. But again it's a constant little picture. Whatever happened to the art in the Chronicles and Legends where each chapter had its own picture? That has to come back.
Overall, I have to say that the book is a little bit of a let down. It wasn't as exciting as I expected, but maybe my expectations were too high. In no way is it better that the Dragons of a New Age trilogy. There wasn't the intense action either. It was an okay book, but it was missing something. I can't place my finger on it, but it just didn't come to life. I hope Betrayal, volume 2, can bring this trilogy to life. It's too bad, because I saw thought this book had huge potential to move the fifth age much further, but it hasn't. I think the change was too dramatic from a global aspect to a more character aspect. Dragons of a New Age had more meaning, as where Downfall didn't have that. A disappointment.
Let me begin by saying that I started reading this book with just a little trepidation that I would be as enthused when I was finished as I was when I finished The Eve of the Maelstrom (i.e., not very). In actuality, however, this book was more on
par with Rabe's nigh-stellar The Day of the Tempest. I liked the book
much more than I thought I would, although it did have its issues that
took away from the level of overall enjoyment, but I'll get into that
For a brief synopsis, the book begins with Rig Mer-Krel finding a
recovering Dhamon Grimwulf in a dwarven hospice in the town of Ironspike,
in Khur. After Rig departs, Dhamon stops faking being comatose and
proceeds to rob every patient in the hospital blind, while his three
other companions (Fetch, Maldred, and Rikali) are doing the same
throughout the town. The added complication is that most of the patients
are Legionnaires of Steel. Dhamon's spree is cut short, however, when an
awake patient sees him escaping and the guard is aroused. The foursome
flees Ironspike and from there enters the Valley of Crystal near Thoradin
and pillages quite a few gems. The idea is that they will use the
newly-acquired wealth to buy an audience with someone very important
(revealed later). After they are found by Rig and Fiona Quinti, his
Solamnic Knight fiancé, they become a group of 6, as Fiona wishes to
raise a ransom for her captured Solamnic Knight brother, who is
imprisoned in the mines of Takar in the Black's realm. The Solamnic
Council refused her request, so she is doing it on her own. Rig
disagrees, but since she is his fiancé, he has no choice but to accompany
her. The next stop is Blode, where Maldred will arrange an audience
(thanks to the gems) with the High Chieftain Donnag, who has something
Dhamon wants and may be the source of Fiona's brother's salvation. But
Donnag has a few requests of his own first...
I won't go into anymore details, as the second half of the book involves
the companions' couple adventures on Donnag's behalf, to earn their
prizes and sets up the next book very well. However, I will now go into
a bit of a character review. The main character is, obviously, Dhamon
Grimwulf, who has fallen a long way from the tortured soul character he
was in the Dragons of a New Age trilogy. Now he is just a cold-hearted
bastard who cares only about himself and removing the scale of Malys from
his leg, as it is beginning to affect his health, sending him into
seizures every so often, each one worse than the last. He is portrayed
as best friends with Maldred, Rikali's lover (though he hardly loves
her), and at-odds with Rig (like last time). As the book progresses, he
seems to lose a little of the chip on his shoulder, but not much changes
about him, which is good work on Jean's part. A character who has fallen
this far shouldn't be redeemed within 400 pages of meeting him once
Rig Mer-Krel is no different than he was in the Dragons of a New Age trilogy. He
doesn't like or trust Dhamon (though he has a measure of respect for the
man and cares about his welfare more than he likes to think), loves Fiona
dearly and has issues with how chummy she gets with Maldred in the book.
Rig is one of the more intriguing characters of the book, far from being
the primary focus, but being the most believable of all of them, having
an almost Tanis-like complex with everything going on in his life. It
will be interesting to see what direction Rabe takes him in the coming
sequel. I would caution her against taking Dhamon on as her franchise
player, as Rig is far more complex and works better, overall, as the main
event attraction. The whole fallen Knight thing has been done before,
anyway. A mariner main character is something pretty unique and fresh.
Maldred is undeniably the smartest character of the book, and I don't
mean intelligence-wise. He is portrayed as a mercenary who abhors
needless killing, but is far from a pacifist. He cares deeply for Dhamon
and treats him like a brother. His true identity is not revealed until
the end of this book, but suffice it to say that even in the revealing,
he remains steadfast in his loyalty to Grimwulf, which likely foreshadows
a major betrayal down the road on one of their parts. He is a thief who
dabbles in magic, by his own admission, and one who apparently likes to
(literally) charm attractive women and use them until they no longer
interest him. Fiona happens to be his latest victim, although it doesn't
end the same way as it usually does. Maldred is not pictured as a
loveable rogue, but rather a rogue who, by all accounts, should be
despised, but you just can't bring yourself to do it (a la Raistlin). I
am very interested in seeing which direction Rabe takes him in the second
book now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag with him (to everyone
Fiona Quinti is a character who we didn't get a real good sense of in any
of Rabe's previous novels, as she was introduced, I believe, in The Eve of the Maelstrom,
and played second fiddle to Dhamon, Rig, Feril, Jasper, Blister, and
Goldmoon in terms of character attention, and the same principle almost
proves true here. Other than being Rig's fiancé and Maldred's latest
interest, she is not given a lot of airtime. The idea of her wishing to
save her brother is her driving force in the novel, and one she keeps
sight of the entire time, despite Maldred's ensorcellments and the
constant roadblocks put up. While she does NOT save her brother by the
end of this book, the situation may be resolved anyway and I am
interested in finding out what happens next with her. Maldred breaks his
spell when he is fully revealed, so I think Fiona will be allowed more
time to be herself in the next book. She and Rig seem to be on the edge
of being pushed as the main characters alongside Dhamon, so I think we'll
get a much better sense of the soon-to-be Mrs. Mer-Krel in the next
Rikali is Dhamon's lover, for all intents and purposes Ferileeagh
Dawnsprinter's replacement, although she is hardly the woman Feril
is/was. Illiterate and unable to write, Rikali was (to me) nothing more
than an irritant in the book, constantly kvetching over every little
thing. She also used the word "Pigs" as a curse, which got EXTREMELY
annoying after about the 20th time she said it. It was tough to nail
down her character, whether she was the jealous lover of Dhamon (she
didn't like Fiona solely because Dhamon used to know her) or whether she
was just a bit touched in the head (my vote is a combination of the two).
It is revealed that she is pregnant with (so we're led to believe)
Dhamon's child, but she is left behind in Bloten before the final act
begins after suffering an injury on the way back from Donnag's first
mission. Dhamon makes it clear to Maldred that he has no intentions of
returning to her, as he does not feel any love for her, so if she
returns, one can expect her relationship with Dhamon to begin to change.
Rabe seems to be hinting at an ultimate redemption of Dhamon Grimwulf
and, quite possibly, a return to Feril's side, who is only mentioned in
the book once or twice, but is said to have acquired a Kagonesti lover on
Cristyne. In short, I did not like Rikali, but I believe that was the
point. Seeing as how there are unresolved issues, I would rather have
her return just to tie-up the loose ends than have her disappear from the
series only to have Dhamon's son appear down the line.
Fetch/Ilbreth (real name) was a kobold and was, thus, instantly my
favorite character of the novel. (I had a kobold PC once that I
absolutely loved playing, thus whenever a kobold character appears in a
story, I like them the most.) However, he was not given a lot of time to
develop as a character and was, semi-unsurprisingly, the first one to
die. Far below the ruins of a dwarven temple, the group finds a magical
scrying pool which only Fetch figures out how to use (the kobold has been
taught some rudimentary pyromancy by Maldred and thus has a beginner's
knowledge of magic, enough that he figures out divination fairly
quickly). However, for every question Fetch seeks the answer to, the
pool begins to drain him of his years, aging him to the point of near
death by the time all is said and done. The kobold expires of old age
before the chapter ends, with almost one third of the book left to go. I
was sad to see him go, but hope Jean doesn't make a past mistake and
brings him back.
Other characters included Grim Kedar and Donnag, but they had very minor
roles and I will thus not go into them. On a side-note, however, I was
ecstatic that Jean actually shed some light on a couple sections of Khur
AND paid big time attention to Blode and its ruler and the New Swamp.
One of Downfall's biggest bonuses was that it did not ever go near an
area that has already been done to death. And with the novel ending with
them still in New Swamp and wanting to go deeper in, I don't think that
will be a problem in the coming books either.
There were only a couple problems I had, "canon-wise." One of them was
in the Valley of Crystal, where the group plundered a great many gems
with nothing more than a brief battle with a dwarven patrol. Steve
Miller made it very clear in The Odyssey of Gilthanas that the crystals
in the valley were extremely dangerous and would cut through the thickest
leather after only a little while walking. However, Dhamon & Co. took
without any damage to them (other than the battle with the dwarves),
which tells me that either a) Jean did not research the Valley before she
wrote about it or b) the information was not available to her for
whatever reason. Since The Odyssey was released some time before
Downfall, something tells me that she should have been able to get ahold
of it, so it may be a problem on both parts. The other was, of course,
the issue of Wyrmsbane (Redeemer) being Tanis's sword, when we all know
he wielded Wyrmslayer. That it was supposed to have been stolen makes
the story less-credible, as we have first-hand knowledge of how closely
the Tomb of Last Heroes is guarded in the latter ages. This was probably
a case of mixed up identities (Jean may have gone by Tales of the Lance, which makes a similar mistake, I believe), but one that I hope is rectified soon.
Beyond that, I did not see too many errors or problems as most of the information was brand-spanking-new.
In closing, I think Jean has partially redeemed herself with this book,
showing she can write believable characters and not have cheesy plot
devices like in The Eve of the Maelstrom. If she gets through the entire trilogy without
any resurrections or horribly wrong canon errors (on the level of Knights of Takhisis
being in the War of the Lance) and resolves enough plotlines to make the novels
actually mean something, I might entertain the thought of forgetting
about how bad The Eve of the Maelstrom ended. So, I recommend Downfall and will likely purchase its sequels, even if they are still in expensive hardcover format, so long as they continue to be worthwhile reading.
The cover of Downfall is good, in my opinion. It is by a new Dragonlance artist, and signals a new trend in Dragonlance art: We get to see more landscape and sites. And I love that new trend. As much as I love the characters and how they are portrayed, the kender in me will always long for exploring the world, for walking over that bridge and into that ruined tower behind Dhamon. My initial expectations were dimmed somewhat by the use of the phrase "Hero of the Heart" when talking about Dhamon on the back cover and that a kobold was one of the major characters.
Upon reading the book, I would say that it falls into the category of "pretty good", but I wouldn't rave about it. It manages to avoid the pitfalls many other of Jean Rabe's novels stepped right into, but not all of them. Like I said, I was skeptical when I read about a kobold being one of the main characters, simply because I think Jean has a tendency to include too many Advanced Dungeons & Dragons creatures in her novels. She has a gaming background, and sometimes it works against her. Maquesta Kar-Thon suffers from being a novelized random encounter table, and Catch of the Day had way too many rare Advanced Dungeons & Dragons monsters in one place (and not just any place, but Solamnia!). I am also very skeptical about sentient humanoids other than the established goblins, hobgoblins and ogres in Dragonlance, there is very little precedence for them. I found the gnoll in The Silver Stair unnecessary (and the only precedence were Lord Toede and Bestiary), and the kobold in Downfall is even more unnecessary. Making Fetch a goblin would have worked just as well, I should think, even though the character would have been handled a bit differently then. Jean Rabe also throws in a wide variety of monsters in this book, and except for what I believe to be a rust monster in the beginning, I have no problem with any of them existing on Krynn. However, they are better utilized in a game product than fiction. Why she included those stirges at the end is beyond me.
When I first read the teaser for Downfall, that Dhamon had fallen into the life crime, I was happy, expecting and hoping that Jean Rabe managed to get back to the character development she had abandoned. Ultimately, I was a bit disappointed; Dhamon isn't nearly as interesting character here as he was in The Day of the Tempest. Dhamon's experiences in the first two books of the trilogy doesn't seem to be the cause of his current situation, but something that happened after The Eve of the Maelstrom. And as a consequence, Dhamon no longer feels that fate inevitably draws him to doom, and by thinking that he fulfills his own prophecy. Instead, he is a person who is bad because he doesn't care and doesn't want to. The former characterization is so much more interesting than the latter, and I was surprised and let down by the fact that Jean replaced the reason for and nature of Dhamon going bad.
The other characters are pretty flat as well, Rig has no more personality than he did in the Dragons of a New Age series. Fetch has his bright moments, but never soars as a memorable character. I felt that a big potential was wasted on Fiona. She travels with a band of immoral criminals, and recruits help from ogres, in order to save her brother. And she has absolutely no qualms about doing it, and she turns a deaf ear to Rig's negativity about her doing that. It would have been much more realistic, not to mention interesting, if she, a Solamnic Knight, had actually had some qualms about joining Dhamon and his band, feeling guilty for trying to help her brother, even committing crimes and misdeeds in order to save him. Some moral dilemma, a conflict within the character, would have been in order, but sadly Jean wasted her chance. Overall, the characters are rather bland, but happily Jean doesn't suddenly change a character, or abruptly fix a character's inner conflict, or mix up mental and physical pains.
It is too bad that the characters aren't as interesting as they could be, because in this book Jean Rabe doesn't have to deal with presenting the entire Fifth Age to the readers (now Weis and Hickman have to take on that heavy task with Dragons of a Fallen Sun), she concentrates instead on the characters and has no world-saving plot whatsoever. That is good, and the plot is relatively original for a Dragonlance novel, we get to follow a band of criminals and the people who join them. There are some nice plot twists to keep the story interesting, but none that widened my eyes and surprised me. The plot also covers areas of Ansalon that never has been covered in Dragonlance fiction before: Khur, Blöten (with Blöde) and New Swamp. The Valley of Crystal was present in The Odyssey of Gilthanas, and Downfall contradicts the info there somewhat. Another inconsistency is that the companions enter the ancient dwarven kingdom Kal-Thax, located close to Blöde. In Dragonlance Adventures, Kal-Thax stretched from Karthay to well into the Plains of Istar, while Dwarven Kingdoms of Krynn locates it somewhere near today's Nordmaar. Downfall contradicts both of these. It would have been much better if this had been some other kinds of dwarven ruins.
One thing I like about the writing is the detailed, almost photographic descriptions of creatures and places that are featured in the novel. (I sorely missed that in Dragons of a Fallen Sun). Like the front cover, it appeals to the kender in me. Also, she included info from other sources (such as Donnag). But, somehow, the descriptions, despite the attention to detail, don't manage to become particularly evocative and atmospheric, making the quality of her descriptions far from Chris Pierson's, who is a master in that respect. The battle sequences could have been better. I sense echoes from the infamous fight against the Knight of Takhisis in The Eve of the Maelstrom as the protagonists fight dwarves and other foes that number in the dozens and are queuing up to get slaughtered by the main characters. The attack on the Takar Mine at the end was practically nothing but an extermination of many by few.
While this book is certainly a decent read with a relatively interesting plot and locations, it is pretty mediocre. As much as it tries, it doesn't manage to excite. The characters aren't exciting, the plot is OK and even original but not really exciting. Neither are the action sequences, which sometimes feel like they are forced into the plot rather than being an integral part of it. It gets plus points for being set in new places, not having a world-/magic-saving plot, and having absolutely no Heroes of the Lance or ancestors "on screen". I wouldn't recommend you buy this book in hardback, but if you are a Dragonlance fan I think I would recommend you buying and reading it when it comes in paperback.
Review made Monday May 29th, 2000 on the alt.fan.dragonlance newsgroup.
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