Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Lake of Death (2004)

     I guess I didn't expect to be that rusty with the world of Krynn, but I also didn't realize I hadn't read a Dragonlance novel since 1996.  A sixteen year break from a setting – and one that I was not all that into to begin with – will make one a stranger to a much of it.  And things kept on happening in the in-between, so I shouldn't have been all that surprised that I there would be wait, what happened? moments.  My return to Krynn wasn't born out of a deep and abiding love of the setting (though I must admit I would have been more excited about a Living Dragonlance campaign than those for Greyhawk or the Realms), but the belief that I owed it to Jean Rabe to finally read one of her novels.
     I have taken seminars on writing from Jean (at GenCon, back when it was still in Milwaukee), been a guest in her home, and played RPG games with her (both as a player and as a GM).  While I had read some short stories and RPG supplements written by her, I just never got around to reading one of her novels.  When I think about it, that makes me quite the asshole.  Now, I guess I could have contacted her and asked which of her books best represented her style and ability (and I would be willing to bet that it probably wouldn't be a Dragonlance novel), but I also wanted something with which I was familiar because...well, what if I hated how she wrote?  It had been a long while.
     Luckily (and I mean that for me), The Lake of Death (2004) ended up being a pleasurable read, much better than I would have expected given how simple and direct the plot was.  Sure, Jean has to make references to what had happened before the story – this actually helped me grasp the way the world had changed and who the heroes have been after the Chronicles trilogy – and has to work with the creatures inherent to the setting, but I felt that she made the story very much her own. 
     The characters in The Lake of Death have clearly appeared in other books, so regular readers would be revisiting them.  In that regard, it felt a little unrewarding to jump into their story far from the beginning (I am not going to read a bunch of Dragonlance books, however, just to be better acquainted with the characters in this one).  But Jean does a very good job in defining their personalities (with the exception of Ragh, the sivak, who seems a little cardboard) and making it seem as though they would be worthy of a story without the preamble.  The relationship between Feril and a ghostly spirit is both funny and sad at the same time, and I think best displays Jean's ability to step beyond the normal bounds of licensed fiction.
     Anyway, TheLake of Death ended up being a fun, quick read.  I don't know that there would be much appeal outside those who read Dragonlance or feel they owe it to the author to finally start reading something from her catalog.  It is well better than average writing.  And I know that I won't have to hang my head in shame the next time I see Jean Rabe.

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