Reviews of 'Chosen of the Gods'
Reviews of 'Chosen of the Gods'
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Fans demanded more from Chris, and he more than delivered. In the first book of the Kingpriest trilogy, he grabs at the reader with a fascinating plot line, gripping characters, and the building of imminent catastrophe.
Taking place approximately 40 years before the earth breaking Cataclysm, Istar is nearly at the peak of its reign. The Kingpriest rules with a mighty, but just, hand. The Knights of Solamnia serve the empire, enforcing laws, and keeping the peace. Prosperity rules the Lordcity, with the gods of good holding ultimate power.
But all it takes is one ambitious power within the church and it can come toppling down. Even the promise of the throne in his near future isn't enough to placate First Son Kurnos. When he hears about "the Lightbringer", an extremely powerful and god touched cleric, he knows that his position in the hierarchy is in jeopardy. But instead of doing what is best for the church and its people, he succumbs to the advice and ministrations of the evil machinations of Fistandantilus... a black robe mage, who's on the borderline of being declared a renegade by the Conclave. Not only does Kurnos expedite his rise to the throne, he enlists the aid of a demon from the Abyss to remove the threats he sees lurking behind every corner.
With the aid of powerful magic from Paladine, Beldyn, the Lightbringer, the Chosen of the Gods, amasses a loyal contingent of followers, including bandits, the expelled First Daughter, the patriarch of an Istarian city, and even the Istarian army, who originally came to destroy the Lightbringer in the name of the Kingpriest. But nothing can stop Beldyn, the voice of Paladine.
I was literally sitting at the edge of my seat with this book. Pierson successfully caught me off guard with many events, including some of the major characters who perished along the way. Equally fascinating is watching the development of Beldyn. You can tell just by watching him that his beliefs and arrogance (which is slowly developing as he realizes more and more what kind of power he wields) is going to result in the demands he makes of the gods which result in the hurling of the fiery mountain at Istar in their anger.
It reminds me a lot of the lessons taught in Lord of the Rings. Istar is a powerful Lordcity. Rich in every possible avenue, it has let its power take over and its belief in it being the centre of Krynn leads to its overpowering arrogance. Ultimate power leads to ultimate destruction. It cannot be wielded without upsetting the balance, and this is truly shown at the end of the book when Beldyn, the newly appointed Kingpriest, refuses the concept of balance, and announces the advent of the holy war with the goal to destroy all evil... a noble, but faulty and ultimately destructive goal.
I would urge anyone interested in fantasy to read this trilogy. The story is captivating and fascinating. The lessons in it are also powerful, equivalent to the lessons in Tolkien. Chris does a wonderful job in showing the slow decline of the empire, which I is a tribute to his talented and excellent skill in writing. I cannot wait to finish reading the entire trilogy.
Review made March 19th, 2004.
Spoiler Rating: High!
Chris Pierson was given a tough and enviable task with this trilogy, to document possibly the most significant and yet, the least detailed era of Ansalon's history. Debate over the actions of the Kingpriest of Istar, about not only what he did to bring the wrath of the Gods down on the world, but why, and how, continues to this day. It can be a dangerous proposition to take something so seminal and turn it from myth into canon; everyone who reads it will need to be assured that the official take on the matter is at least as good as the one they've built into their imaginations (and games) on Krynn, or there will be hell to pay. Has Chris Pierson succeeded?
It's too early to tell.
I will say this though: Chosen of the Gods is one of the best-written Dragonlance novels I've ever read. Pierson deftly handles several complex characters, and weaves the main plot strands together into a satisfying conclusion which makes the book as much its own tale as it is the first part of a larger trilogy. There are many nods to readers who already know the fate of Istar and its impact on the greater cultures of Krynn, and in fact the book works best when seen in the context of the nations that grew out of the Cataclysm, many of whom appear in some shape or form in the course of the story. Only a sense of the scope of the Empire is occasionally missing from the larger canvas, meaning that the reader is left wondering if the Kingpriest's influence stretches only as far as the little corner of pre-Cataclysm Ansalon which appears in a map at the start of the novel. The author tries hard to convey the power and reach of the Kingpriest and often succeeds, but with so much strife in the book almost from page one, the reader is propelled into the Kingpriest trilogy feeling that Istar is an empire pretty much on the brink of self-implosion anyway, impending Cataclysm or not. Much of the colossal tragedy of the story seems muted due to this, but there is still a long way to go, and it is understandable given that the author probably didn't have the luxury of writing a 3000-page opening book to the trilogy.
Assembled against this backdrop are a host of extremely memorable characters. You certainly have to give Chris Pierson credit for not being afraid to shuffle characters out of his book, but on occasion I wish he had exercised a little more reserve. One death in particular, about two-thirds of the way in, seems like a terrible waste of a character who could otherwise have stayed with the story until the bitter end, especially given what we know of the very last days of the Empire. Those who remain, however, are still strong. Cathan, first Knight of the Divine Hammer, is a skilful creation, taken from a poor plague-wracked corner of Istar and turned, by the closing pages, into the right hand of Beldinas himself. His own sense of disbelief, fear, wonder, and awe perfectly capture the thoughts of a peasant thrust into the huge political machinery of a high-fantasy world, and generates an empathy which is absolutely essential in making the reader invest in the Taol bandits who ultimately form the core of Beldyn's assault on the Istarian throne (and who are, after all, murderous rogues). It'll certainly be interesting to see his character grow into an older man later in the trilogy.
Beldyn himself is more of a mixed bag. Here is the point at which all of the author's ideas about what to do with this story must bear fruit, making him obviously the most difficult and important character in the story. It's also here that things start to stumble a bit, as Beldyn's arc through the book is far too dramatic. Introduced perhaps a quarter of the way through the story, the focus of the novel switches uncomfortably from Kurnos and Ilista in the first half over to Cathan and Beldyn in the second half, until the finale where Beldyn (now Beldinas) takes the throne of Istar with the adulation of the masses behind him. This transferal, though, just isn't slick enough for the reader to shake the feeling that Beldyn always seems to be an interloper in his own story. It seems that the author eventually discovers this as well, leaving himself with only one option: to strip away the supporting players until the only people left are those that he wants to focus on.
Beldyn's change from humble monk to power-drunk messiah is also a little mechanical. We see the events that cause it to happen, but we never believe his emotions run deep enough to justify it. Ilista's death, for example, seems to be the point at which the author wants us to believe that Beldyn 'goes over the edge', but their relationship is never complex enough for that to be convincing. Until that point, I considered Ilista to be the story's protagonist, and though I was quite shocked to see her die. I could never quite bring myself to believe that Beldyn would feel the same way. Not only that, but when Ilista leaves the book she takes with her all of her doubts and fears concerning Beldyn, leaving the reader somewhat stranded with their own (forearmed) unease at Beldyn's power and no-one left in the novel with whom to share it. I'm sure that this problem will be rectified in Divine Hammer, the second in the trilogy, but I can't fathom why Ilista, such a well-realized and complex character, who simultaneously adores Beldyn and yet foresees the danger that he represents, would be cast aside rather than being there with us to the bitter end. As it is, then, it seems that the next book will start with no-one in the novel for us to identify with. Ah well, perhaps I can hope that Ilista will reappear; after all, there's been one resurrection already.
The other usual Dragonlance suspects are dealt with very well. While I could never quite understand what part of Gareth's Oath it was that caused him, for example, to raise arms against his own Kingpriest (there's nothing more unfathomable than Solamnic honor – they're worse than Klingons), he dies in a spectacular show of bravery that captures the essence of the Knighthood beautifully. The Kingpriest's army of scatas are also given more screen time than I expected (although by the end they are the force of arms which lends credibility to Beldyn's claim on the throne, so I can see why that was necessary), and Chris Pierson clearly enjoyed writing about the siege on Govinna. He shows no hint of shyness about depicting the brutality of the war either – this is a mature novel, no doubt about it, and I can only see it getting darker as the series goes on. That there's space for all this action, as well as the machinations at court, and all of the character development that goes on, speaks highly of the author's ability to pack a lot of quality writing into a tight space.
By the end of the novel, a few cards are finally revealed concerning Fistandantilus' role in the preceding events which have been kept close to the author's chest until that point (despite the fact that we could guess the Black Robe's role was larger than he was letting on), although I'm still not entirely sure whether he was also responsible for the vision which sent Ilista on her quest to find the Lightbringer in the first place. If not, Paladine seems to have had the wool pulled over his eyes in the same way as everyone else, and just at the moment, it seems that he is as guilty as anyone of putting the pieces into place that will eventually bring the fiery mountain down upon the Empire. (I can just imagine him slapping his divine forehead in exasperation when Cathan turns his vision of the Cataclysm into the insignia of the Divine Hammer, no less; I'm sure this theme will become even more prevalent later-on.) I also dearly hope that the culpability of the Kingpriest and those around him for what happens is not diminished by shifting the blame onto Fistandantilus. That would be an all-too cozy option which would leave me cold.
To end on a positive note, Chosen of the Gods is a great read by a talented writer, and a solid foundation for the trilogy. With so much more to come in the tale (the siege on High Sorcery, the Proclamation of Manifest Virtue, and the tragedy of the last days of the Empire, to name but a few), I'm really looking forward to getting my nose into Divine Hammer.
Mr. Pierson does it again! He takes one of the most controversial subjects in DragonLance nomenclature and attempts to unravel its mystery and explain just what
happened in the final days. And boy howdy is it good!
The book is told, for the most part, from three points of view: Kurnos, Ilista/Beldyn, and Cathan. The book opens with the reigning Kingpriest, Symeon IV, revealing to his three advisors (First Son Kurnos, First Daughter Ilista, and Emissary Loralon of
Silvanesti) that a vision from Paladine told him he would be uncrowning soon and to name a successor. Since a Kingpriest rules for life (much like the Pope here on Earth), the vision basically meant Symeon, not that old as humans go, would be dying sooner rather than later. As expected by the chain of succession, Kurnos was named as his successor, the next Kingpriest. As he leaves the Great Temple to reflect, Kurnos sees a dark spectre (later revealed as a major Krynnish historical personality), an image that sticks with him.
Meanwhile, not long after, First Daughter Ilista has a vision of her own, wherein Paladine directs her to find someone called the Lightbringer, somewhere in western Ansalon. In the empire, however, all is not well. A strange plague called the Longosai (Slow Creep) has hit the western areas of Istar, incurable by priests. The Kingpriest has ceased sending food and relief for fear of bringing the plague to the heart of the realm. In response, the starving, angry peasants are rebelling, at first just bands of brigands, soon as a peasant army. One rebel, Cathan, lost his entire family save his sister to the plague. Angered by the clergy's non-action and by Paladine's seeming indifference, he turns from the worship of the Platinum Dragon, even destroying a ceramic symbol and using the broken shards as sling stones. As Cathan prepares to march on Govinna, a major city in the territory, with the rest of the rebels, Kurnos enters a dark pact with Fistandantilus (that spectre I mentioned) to ensure he takes the throne. Kurnos is angered at the Kingpriest's stance of non-action against the brigands, which have been assaulting clerics and cannot seemingly wait for him to die so he can take the throne and do what he feels must be done. Ilista goes off on her quest and finds a young monk named Beldyn who wields powers like those of the clerics of legends. Beldyn had a vision too and is convinced he is the Lightbringer. He passes Ilista's ritual test and they set off for Istar, where the Kingpriest is suddenly not well and rumors of a war headed by the soon-to-be-former First Son on the wind...
I'm not going to reveal anymore of the story, as it is a great read. The twists and turns had me guessing as to how it would all wind up, although by the end I wasn't shocked, but that's not a bad thing in this case. As far as the major characters go, Kurnos (I'm still not sure if he is the one from the High Clerist's Tower in the modules, the ending of the book seems to imply otherwise) is excellently portrayed as a mostly good man who's ambition is twisted to evil by his pact with Fistandantilus. His descent into madness and villainy is well done and in the end, you feel kind of sorry for him even though you fully believe he deserved what he got. In terms of villains, however, he was but a "minion" villain, with the big baddie looking to be a certain Black Robe.
Ilista is a character also done very well. A faithful woman, even her beliefs are strained after repeated failures to find the Lightbringer. Once she finds Beldyn, she is convinced he is the one, but, unlike all others who come in contact with him, does not fall under a spell of fanaticism, instead becoming somewhat concerned at his fervor. For such an important character, I was immediately curious why she was never mentioned in the Legends trilogy. Pierson answers the question about mid- to two thirds of the way through the book... Ilista is a great character and obviously one of the few truly faithful left in Istar before the beginning of the end.
Cathan is probably the best character in the novel, as the reader can easily have empathy towards his plight and see his reasoning. His bitterness and anger become all the more poignant when he meets Beldyn and witnesses a miracle that sees him question his beliefs more than the Longosai made him do. I almost wish Pierson had spent more time with him in this in between state before shifting to the personality that he assumed immediately afterward, although he was still a good character overall. The events that occur to him at the end raise even more questions.
Beldyn (later called Beldyn, Lightbringer, by his followers) is fantastically used! A fervent, faithful monk, his charisma and power attracts followers like moths to a candle flame, an apropos metaphor for the man I believe to be the last Kingpriest that we all know so well. He truly is a believer in Paladine and in the name of all that is "Good" to the point where "Evil" is a bane to him, no matter what form it takes. The idea of the clergy of Istar becoming as Quarath was in Legends (he also pops up a couple times in this book) is not a hard one to stomach, as Beldyn's followers seem to have more faith in him than they might in Paladine if asked. I'm really looking forward to his evolution in the next book!
In terms of other faces, as I mentioned, Fistandantilus, Loralon, and Quarath all popped up, as well as Denubis and Loren (Lord) Soth, as a young Revered Son and squire respectively. I can't be sure if Kurnos in Chosen of the Gods is the same Kurnos from the old modules, but since Chris said in the introduction that he was forced to discard some stuff about the Kingpriest myth to make it all fit, it stands to reason that Kurnos may have been one of those things. Since no books have ever mentioned him or the old High Clerist's ghost that was so important in DL8, it's probably okay to say DL8's stuff is but legend, the real story locked away in the Great Library. Could be a good point of debate down the line.
Other than a few quirks involving the major characters that I felt were a little rushed and the occasional typo or editing mistake, the book was solid. The best stuff, for me, was all the history Chris weaved through - like Palanthas, it was a shock to realize that as important as Istar is and was to DL history, we know very little about the empire and the land itself. Chris filled in some of those gaps and also added a touch I absolutely loved. He laced the entire book with phrases in Istaran and their "Common" translations. Superb! For you "canoniphiles" he also threw in the stuff from the gates of the city itself that appeared in Dragons of Spring Dawning and DL12 (?), the whole thing about "Welcome to Istar, city of light" or something like that.
All in all, another knockout performance by Chris, who is continually proving his literary might in the DragonLance world. I can't wait until someone lets him get his hands on the present day! He also writes the longer DragonLance books, which I like (this one was a bit shy of 400 pages, a welcome change given the price!). I recommend Children of the Gods and think that, based on this one, the trilogy will leave all DragonLance fans happy, no matter their position on the Kingpriest myth.
The Kingpriest of Istar receives a message from Paladine that his days are numbered and he appoint his second in command, a priest of Paladine without the power to create miracles. In the meantime, the reverened daughter of Paladine receives a vision to search for the true believers, the Lightbringer, the one who can perform miracles and lead them to a better era.
The "Chosen of the Gods" is very much like the "Star Wars" prequels. You already know what is going to happen but you enjoy it anyway. One of the best things that Chris Pierson did was to include many clues for the distant future in the book and making the book readable and enjoyable. The time of the last days of Istar was never depicted so clearly in any of the previous books and gave a real glimpse to a time long gone.
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