Reviews of 'Wizards' Conclave'
Reviews of 'Wizards' Conclave'
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The gods have returned to Krynn, including the gods of magic. But they find that in their absence, wizardly magic has been replaced with a corrupted form of mystical power call sorcery. It leeches life from the world itself and is blight in the eyes of the gods. But what can they do? Their followers are scattered, many disillusioned and fallen into despair. Some have converted over to the new form of magic and turn a deaf ear to the callings of their gods. Jenna, the leader of the defunct red robes, still searches for wizards to draw back to their profession, but even after years, has had little to no luck. Dalamar of the black robes, returned from the dead by the gods at the end of the War of the Souls, is homeless, towerless, and lacking a spell book to replace his slowly depleting memorized repertoire. And Palin, master of the white robes, has retired from magic, seeking a comfortable and quiet home life.
To make the problem worse, the central Tower of High Sorcery, in Wayreth forest, has been inhabited by two sorcerers who are using their corrupt magic and the power of an artifact to slowly destroy the tower.
Will wizardly magic survive this onslaught?
Hope lies with a young barbarian girl who shows promise in both sorcery and high wizardry magic. Sent by her grandmother to learn under Mistress Jenna, she becomes the key in rescuing the tower. Will Coryn be strong enough? Can she leave behind the corruption that is wild magic and become a wizard of high sorcery? If she fails, it is likely the conclave will never again walk the face of Krynn.
My biggest complaint about this book: Dalamar's hair is not blonde. Never has been, never will be. One small complaint: the spell casting reads like an RPG module. If you know your Advanced Dungeons & Dragons spells, you can start calling out lightning bolt, delayed blast fireball, Bigby's intercepting hand!
But these are two very minor issues, easily ignored in light of a good and fun story.
That being said, I did find there was some believability issues as well. Coryn is able to learn spells of various levels, even before taking the Test of High Sorcery. Some should be way beyond her level, like the teleport spell she uses near the beginning. She learns spells by hearing them cast by someone else once, then repeating it. She even figures out (on her own) how to reverse a spell by taking it apart verbally and changing an inflection. Let's not mention taking (and passing) the test at the age of 16 and becoming the head of the white robes. If high level, older wizards have a difficult time doing what this girl is doing it's hard to wrap your head around her managing it on her own.
Other than that, take it for a fun and entertaining story. It's not disappointing.
Review made October 25th, 2005.
Spoiler Rating: Moderate
The War of Souls is over, and there's a reckoning to be had. Wild Sorcery, the powerful and unpredictable art of inducing arcane magic from the fabric of creation itself, has returned to Krynn. The three Gods of Magic, who imposed order on this power long ago with the establishment of the Conclave and the Orders of High Sorcery, task their most powerful lieutenants with the re-establishment of the Conclave and the expulsion of this blasphemous force from the face of Ansalon.
Doug Niles has created a characteristically enjoyable tale from the seeds left behind at the culmination of the War of Souls and spins an exciting yarn around the clash of these two sides of the magical coin, full of explosive action and visceral characters. You can tell within the first couple of chapters that he's going to have fun with Dalamar and Jenna, two relics of the Age of Mortals who obviously have a significant role to play in the future of Krynn. Their familiar and enjoyable dynamic never loses its edge as their tempestuous relationship reaches a kind of equilibrium amongst the many trials hurled at them by the plot. The problem really is that, despite the fact that I want to see and hear more of these two characters, the novel keeps insisting on telling me about someone much less interesting: Coryn.
You never shake the feeling that Coryn doesn't belong in this story, which, considering she's the protagonist, is a real problem. Taken out of context she could well be an enjoyable character, but amidst an epic tale of traditional, moon-based magic teetering on the edge of being expelled from Krynn forever, this young brat of a teenager who, for the first half of the novel does nothing except put herself in a position where she needs to be saved by other people, seems painfully out of place. The intense and dramatic arc that the 300-or-so pages puts her character through, and the massive change which overcomes her personality in that time, strains credibility to the limit. Painted as a maestro of arcane magic, a true prodigy who only needs to hear the words of a spell once before being able to cast it, she rises in power in a few weeks from a student of the art to an archmage of comparable power to Dalamar and Jenna, and from there to the head of the White Robes. That her innate sorcery drives her talent is an incongruity that the book seems to struggle with, especially at the very end, and though she renounces her wild talents in favour of the rigor of High Sorcery, her retreat to her blood-born powers at the climax of the book makes this promise a bit hollow. All part of the story? Perhaps, but it just leaves the reader in limbo.
One thing the book is unequivocal about is that wild sorcery is the enemy, and in general this is to be applauded. Wild magic was cast out of Krynn eons ago as a dangerous and destructive force, and consistency, if nothing else, demands that the Conclave and its representatives would seek to banish it again. This foundation lays the groundwork for all of the characters in the novel, and infuses the writing from the first page. While this is absolutely the right approach to take, it does, unfortunately, create a few problems, and a few missed opportunities.
Coryn, for one thing, lives her whole life practising sorcery on the Icereach, but is converted to wizardry in what seems like the blink of an eye. There is never anything convincing about her epiphany, either, which is couched almost entirely in her sympathy for the pain of the Tower - and its Master- at Kalrakin's hands. It just feels artificial, and I honestly kept expecting her to completely reject High Sorcery as the novel wore on, which would have been an interesting twist. The book's drama also relies on sorcery being a credible threat to the Conclave, but it undermines itself in this respect almost from the word go. Kalrakin, though a bit of a mad, power-crazed cliché (he even has delusions of Godhood at one point), is a fun antagonist who wields his power with hateful abandon, but his invulnerability to the most powerful wizards on Krynn is based entirely on a magical artifact that he recovers from the Lake of Death in Qualinest in practically the first chapter. How can we take Wild Sorcery seriously when its most powerful practitioner depends on ancient relics to wield his magic? That the only other sorcerer in the book is a useless toady to Kalrakin's whim, and betrays his master at the end to save his own neck, doesn't help matters either. Sorcery has no ambassadors in this book, only lunatics.
Where Doug Niles seems to miss a trick is in the philosophical differences between the two magical orders. His is purely a black and white picture: wizardry is forever good, sorcery is irredeemably bad. Not only that, but sorcery is wielded by power-crazed maniacs who have to cheat to win, and wizardry is defended by dozens of mages all willing to lay down their lives for the cause. With nothing sympathetic about Kalrakin at all, it's hard to engage in this conflict on more than a superficial level, and though he (very) occasionally makes fair points about sorcerers and their place in the Fifth Age, they're buried under an ever-running tap of psychotic bluster. There are questions to be asked about sorcery, about folk in whom arcane power burns whether they like it or not, and about how much right the Conclave has to 'convert' or hunt them down... they're just not asked very effectively in this book.
Where Wizards' Conclave succeeds, though, is in its imagery. Niles is very good indeed when it comes to conjuring up the Dragonlance setting, and the final assault on the Tower by the forces of the Conclave is compelling enough that you fairly rattle through the last few chapters without realising how quickly the pages are turning. The assembly of the Conclave in the final pages is also skilfully and powerfully written – a fitting launch pad for the future of wizards on Krynn. In the end though, I'll never really be able to take Coryn seriously as the head of the White Robes, and that's a real pity.
So I've just finished this novel, found it decent. The action bits of it were rather good, but were in my opinion few and far between, with boring lulls. I really just forged through it quickly to read Lord of the Rose, wanted to understand Coryn better. Lord of the Rose thus far is good.
But back to Wizards' Conclave. One thing I didn't like is the blatant disregard of Palin and Dalamar's little thing at the end of the War of Souls, where they say we'll see each other soon but know they'll never speak again, then Dalamar just up and visits Palin. Was a bit odd, you know.
I was also disappointed at the villain, Kalrakin. He really had no depth for me, he was just a madman who had power he didn't deserve...he was an empty evil character lacking of the great traits possessed by, say, Soth or Ariakan. That's what you get with a Chaotic Evil character, I guess. You're not supposed to like the villain, I know, but still... he was lacking.
I was also sorry to see the sad lack of power of true mages. Dalamar had nearly no spells, which is understandable I know and was set down in War of Souls, so it's not the book's fault it's just that I didn't like it. And as ever Palin not going back to magic was annoying, but same as before.
It had redeeming traits, though. Coryn is an interesting character, and her battles were fun to read about. I also liked her independence, and her inner strength. One of the better mage characters I've seen. Her Test was boring, however...very routine in my opinion. She never even fought a real opponent. But for the most part, Coryn made the story rather interesting.
Though it's hardly my place to do so, I'd rate the book with a 3/5.
Wizards' Conclave simply the best Dragonlance novel I've read in long time, and firmly cements Douglas Niles' place in the pantheon of core Dragonlance writers. The novel is well written and significantly expands on the events in the War of Souls series by moving the core Dragonlance storyline forward with one of the iconic elements of the setting—the Wizards of High Sorcery.
With the disappearance of the gods during the Second Cataclysm and the Chaos War, and the coming of the great dragon overlords, traditional High Sorcery as it had been known on Krynn disappeared and was replaced by the "wild sorcery" of the Fifth Age. With the return of the gods of magic following the events in Dragons of a Vanished Moon, however, the three moons of magic are determined to put the practice of true magic back on the may by re-establishing the dormant Orders of High Sorcery.
The Master of the Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth throws open the gates to the Tower to all magic users in preparation for a Conclave which will take place there. However, he inadvertently admits two ex-Knights of the Thorn who possess a powerful artifact that may be the Tower's undoing. At the same time, the gods of magic are recruiting their most powerful followers to re-establish each of their orders of magic. Lunitari calls forth to Jenna, and Nuitari calls Dalamar forth. Since Palin Majere put away his spellbooks following the War of Souls, however, it left Solinari without a leader for the white robes.
Here Niles introduces the reader to Coryn Brinefallow, a young woman from Icewall, with a knack for wild sorcery. Her grandmother was once a student of High Sorcery and had passed the Test, but her career was cut short by the coming of the Second Cataclysm. She sends Coryn to study with Jenna in Palanthas, and the two encounter Dalamar on the trek from Palanthas to Wayreth forest. The three wizards must call a conclave and defeat the two sorcerers that currently occupy the Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth.
While that may sound like fairly standard Dragonlance fare in terms of storyline, what makes Wizards' Conclave stand out from many other Dragonlance novels is that this is the classical story of the hero's journey of discovery and it focuses on the character—not the plot. Even so, Niles weaves a wonderful tale that slowly builds to a climax, all the while developing Coryn's character from a young girl in the beginning of the story to a capable and fearsome wizard at the end of the novel. While the other main characters—Jenna and Dalamar—develop somewhat over the course of the novel, they are simply the hero's companions on her epic journey.
She is initially separated from her home by the call of the magic, and is helped on her way by her grandmother and Jenna who start her on her journey. She must enter the Abyss—in this case the Tower itself and convince the two megalomaniacal sorcerers to allow her to take the Test. The Test transforms her into a true wizard of the White Robes where she realizes her power, and in the end saves the future of moon magic on Krynn-though with an unexpected twist of fate at the end.
Despite a couple of minor consistency issues with Dragonlance continuity, Wizards' Conclave is a highly entertaining read that is quite simply the best Dragonlance book I've read in a very long time, and it should be on every Dragonlance fan's short list.
Doug Niles did it again (which may be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on your point of view). Personally, I think someone else should have been given the task of narrating High Sorcery's comeback to Ansalon after the War of Souls...
Beware, spoilers ahead.
Now, the book is about a young female sorcerer who, through extraordinary means, becomes adept at both kinds of magic in a matter of days. Then, she goes on to lead the reclaiming of the Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth from the hands of a malicious sorcerer and his pitiful lackey. Finally, she takes a rather important place at the Wizards' Conclave.
Sounds rather odd, doesn't it? Her journey begins at an Icereach backwater village, where she is merely a girl dabbling in minor sorcery, and ends a few weeks later at the hall of the Wizards' Conclave, where she is accepted as a high-ranking member of the White Robes. And she's got the magic to back her claim up. Raistlin, beware...
I, for one, am used to Douglas Niles changing whatever he can get away with on Krynn, in order to fit it into his vision of Dragonlance. Historic inaccuracies in "The Kinslayer Wars" or "The Puppet King" for example are plain for all to see. His writing is good, as we all know. The problem lies with some things happening very, very differently in his books than in other Dragonlance novels. What I don't know is if the book's plot was cooked up in its majority by WotC editors or Niles himself. If it's the former, shame on them. If it's the latter, I don't know what he was thinking.
A little elaboration into the plot now, along with my objections. First of all, anyone unfamiliar with High Sorcery has to study for some years until he can take the Test. Then, there's still a lot of time and effort needed to advance in skill and acquire the ability to cast powerful spells several times a day. These rules simply don't apply in this book. I was astonished to find a novice sorcerer casting High Sorcery spells she has never even read in a spellbook, but just saw being cast a few times. Or worse; some come "naturally" to her! Spellcasting isn't just mumbling strange words while moving in a strange way and sprinkling pinches of strange stuff. These are just means to the end of harnessing magical energy for a specific purpose. Otherwise, every mime on Krynn would be a wizard too. Let alone the fact that our heroine, Coryn, is just an untrained girl when she takes the Test, shattering Raistlin's record by long years. What is she going to do next???? Call me a traditionalist, but some things shouldn't be allowed to change. Unless Coryn is going to play a major part in the future of Dragonlance, so she had to appear in spectacular fashion. Still, her powers are extremely overblown.
The villain, Karlakin, is another run-of-the-mill increasingly mad, power-hungry and delusional bad guy. He's a powerful sorcerer in his own right, but he enhances his power with an artifact he pulls out of the Lake of Death in Qualinesti (this lake looks nothing like the one in "The Lake of Death" by Jean Rabe, and I'm not faulting anyone for this, just some speculation about the consistency of two books published four months apart from each other). Karlakin poses a real threat to the Tower of High Sorcery, but he is too one-sided to make a lasting impression. All in all, a forgettable villain, not up to the high expectations of such a book.
There were of course, some things I liked. And most of what I liked, I liked a lot. For example, Jenna and Dalamar are back in the same book. We get to see the current status of their relationship, and how Dalamar copes with the restrictions imposed on him by the gods of magic after the War of Souls. A very interesting duo.
Then there's the Calling of the wizards. In a book that disappointed me, this is one of the most memorable moments I've ever seen in a Dragonlance novel. A magnificent scene of epic beauty. Truly amazing!
Finally, the Conclave convening again. That's it! Godly magic is officially back, alive and kicking! Enough said.
All in all, a book I had high hopes for, is destroyed by its own lead character. "Wizards' Conclave" was a very good idea gone very wrong, because of an incomprehensible strife to make a skilled wizard out of a little girl sorcerer. There's got to be a higher meaning in all this, I just can't seem to get it. What gets on my nerves the most is that the bright moments in this book are very bright indeed, but all the time in between I kept stumbling on illogical explanations for illogical (even for a fantasy world) events. The roller coaster hits a low point too many times for my taste. Still, the book gets 3 stars, only because of its importance to the world of Dragonlance. Other than that, and the few brilliant moments, it's nothing special really.
Wizards' Conclave is, by far, one of the best Dragonlance novels I have ever read. Set six months after the War of Souls, the wizards Jenna and Dalamar are working on finding other wizards in the world or some sign of magical talent, to no avail.
From the lands of Icereach comes Coryn, a young 16-year-old girl who has a talent for wild magic and discovers another talent – that for High Sorcery. At the behest of her grandmother, a former wizard herself, Coryn travels to Palanthas where she meets Jenna and soon after, Dalamar.
Yet the forces of evil are ever at work. Two sorcerers, former Knights of the Thorn, have come into possession of an ancient artifact of wild magic – the Irda Stone. Together, the mad Kalrakin and his lieutenant, Luthar, discover the Tower of High Sorcery at Wayreth and claim it as their own.
Will the Orders of High Sorcery die before they're even reformed?
The book is a great story, and one I had trouble putting down. I've anxiously awaited this book to see how High Sorcery and Wild Sorcery would interact, and I was not disappointed in the slightest.
Douglas Niles does a wonderful job of describing the effects of High Sorcery and Wild Sorcery – so much so that you get a good feel for both magics. Niles brings his knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons to the table too, describing many spells found in the Player's Handbook (even if Niles uses the 2nd edition term of continual light instead of the 3rd edition term of daylight).
The book is written from the perspective of the wizards, and it shows. Wild magic is seen as blasphemous. While fans of the early 5th age materials may not find this as appealing, I found it to be more appealing as it let you into the minds of the wizards. This is not to say that wild magic actually is evil – merely that the wizards consider it to be blasphemy.
While Niles does an excellent job with this book, he did make a few errors – ones which surprise me coming from a Dragonlance veteran such as himself. For example, he refers to an Age of Heroes at one point, and even went so far as to say that Dalamar the Dark had golden hair!
I would have liked to see more reference to Dalamar and Jenna's former relationship as lovers. It has been a number of years, but do feelings still exist between them? And why were they not able to enter Wayreth? This wasn't explained too well.
The only other criticisms I have are my own personal nitpicks on terminology, such as saying "Tower of Sorcery" instead of "Tower of High Sorcery" and "Test of Magic" instead of "Test of High Sorcery". Occasionally, Niles would switch back and forth on whether he called Kalrakin a sorcerer or a wizard. While the terms were once interchangeable (i.e. when The Legend of Huma was written), there is now a definite distinction.
Again, these are nitpicks and by no means influenced my enjoyment of the story.
The characters overall were good, although it seems as if a few things were a bit easy at times for Coryn. Then again, these are desperate times and she has become Solinari's chosen. One of my personal favorites was Willim the Black, a dwarf who lost his eyes who sees instead through an arcane eye. He's a nasty sort, and sent chills up my spine.
Overall, Wizards' Conclave has proved to be one of the best Dragonlance books I've read, and is essential reading for any who wish to read about the future of the setting.
The magic is back.
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