Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Legends of the Dragonrealm, Volume III (2011)

     Sure, Richard A. Knaak's Dragonrealm setting hasn't changed much since I started reading the novels in 1989.  Then again, most the books and novellas were written between 1989 and 1994, so there isn't a lot of room for change.  I was rather excited when the novels were collected into the Legends of the Dragonrealm books.  Volume I had Fire Drake (1989), Ice Dragon (1989), and Wolfhelm (1990).  The only real reason I had to pick it up – assuming really liking the Dragonrealm setting enough to buy the book just to support the re-release isn't justification – was the inclusion of a rather crude map of the setting.  Volume II collected Shadow Steed (1990), The Shrouded Realm (1991), and Children of the Drake (1991), and the short story/novella "Skins" (2003; previously available in pdf only).   "Skins" was a major disappointment and made me less than hopeful for where Knaak could take the characters after having worked in licensed fiction (Dragonlance, Conan, World of Warcraft, and Diablo) for so long now.  And it wasn't like the last full-fledge Dragonrealm novel, The Horse King (1997), was one that I enjoyed.
     But my fears have (momentarily) melted away with the novellas that make up the last third of Legends of the Dragonrealm, Volume III (2011) – it also contains the previously published novels The Crystal Dragon (1993) and Dragon Crown (1994).  Though "Past Dance" (2002), "Storm Lord" (2003), and "The Still Lands" (2004) all have been available as pdfs, I never risked reading them before now.  It turns out the three – when taken together – make up a fun and compelling mini-novel that does more to tie the ongoing Dragonrealm story together and move it forward than any of the previous novels. 
     Now, one should not expect Knaak to challenge the reader with unsavory choices and frequent character deaths.  As a matter of fact, I don't think I can point to an author I've read who is reluctant to kill of his creations.  The one character who dies over and over again is actually resurrected in the short stories and is finally linked with his much earlier self.  Sure, I was disappointed that original him wasn't given more due, but I was about as excited reading the novellas as I was when I was tearing through the original novels back in high school. 
     Part of the reason is because Knaak feels as invested in these characters as he was some twenty years ago.  Part of the reason is because I've read most of the novels three times (though I have never re-read the two novels which did not make the cut for the Legends colllections).  But there is a real story being created, and I was happy that it wasn't rooted in the daddy issues that sometimes dominate Knaak's fantasy novels.  Instead, the very powerful mages of the Dragonrealm continue to run up against forces and beings just as powerful as they are and cannot rely solely on their ability to magick their way out of all situations.  Maybe the master of Wenslis deserved much better treatment (I still want to see him get his own novel), but the rest felt as though they were given their proper due and more.
     Now, one should not jump into the Dragonrealm at Volume III.  It is best experienced in order, though I could easily see reading Shadow Steed after the two Origins of the Dragonrealm novels (The Shrouded Realm and Children of the Drake) and getting more out of it.  There may not be an ultimate moral to the Dragonrealm stories, and they certainly have not been as celebrated as George R.R. Martin's lengthy Song of Ice and Fire novels, but they are enjoyable light fantasy fiction.  More than that, they are engaging.  And the addition of the novellas in Volume III show that Knaak still has great love for his characters and setting.  That means there is still life left in that world, and I would encourage anyone who likes the genre to give the collections a chance.

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