Adding a Twist to the Shining Knight: A How Not to Do It.
I recently got rid of my copy of this book, so I felt like if I don’t put down a written revAdding a Twist to the Shining Knight: A How Not to Do It.
I recently got rid of my copy of this book, so I felt like if I don’t put down a written review now, I never will, because I certainly will never buy another copy, let alone read it.
I’ve read a couple of bad books in my life. I’ve read a couple of boring ones too. But rarely has a book ever made me angry.
This one did. It is a great cautionary tale of what can go wrong attempting to deconstruct legends and fairy tales.
And it made me sad and a bit angry. Not because the writing itself is so bad – it’s not. It’s actually quite competent. The plot itself is even pretty decent. A classic tale of good vs. evil, complete with monster slaying and fighting against an evil goddess.
Only this book takes the classic aspect a bit too far. There is not one original idea in this text. Not one. And that’s already taking into consideration that this book is derivative of a D&D campaign setting.
And there are the characters. Oh, hell, the characters!
You know how the standard paladin in D&D fanlore is often derided as “lawful stupid” and boring, because he’s so pure and good? And how his only defining personality trait is a holier-than-though smugness? Huma is just that paladin.
Usually, I’m not one of those people who think ‘good’ is ‘boring’ and ‘immature’. I don’t have to read about anti-heroes all the time, and I much prefer heroes who are unambiguously good with a strong set of morals.
However, despite his goodness of heart, our protagonist, Huma, is as interesting as dry toast. And he's not even wholemeal! He's a cardboard cut-out of the quintessential annoying, holier-than-thou paladin, without faults, who is always right.
And he eventually engages in a romance with a being of absolute good. It’s sickening.
I was initially thrilled about reading this book, because I liked ‘the legend of Huma’ as it was often retold by characters during the original Dragonlance novels.
Most of all because it promised the tale of a legendary friendship between a shining knight and a crafty wizard that ended in death and tears, and changed forever how people on Krynn viewed the roles of mages.
I love odd friendships like that! Especially between knights and wizards, since these archetypes so often put at opposing ends of a moral spectrum, and I was so psyched for a story where this was, for once, not the case!
Um, so, that legendary friendship? In this book? Turns out they didn’t actually like each other that much, much less respect each other. And the last thing Magius is for 90% of this book is heroic. Speak about disappointments …
Seriously, who decided wizards should always be mysterious entities in the background or villains and should never be heroic? I admit, there are enough wizards in Dragonlance as a whole to be considered heroes, but that’s different from being heroic.
Still, I will take the shady Raistlins, Dalamars and Fistandantilus’ of the franchise every time over what they presented us with in this book.
Within the setting the self-sacrificing characters, who are truly good (in the moral sense of the word), are all in the camp of shiny blade lovers. Now, I can appreciate morally ambiguous characters as much as the next person, but why has every mage to be a shady figure?
This is why I liked the original idea of Magius throughout the main line of books so much: as he appeared as that famous historical figure in Krynn’s lore. He had the air of a heroic mage and a cool one at that. Also he was tragic figure, loyal and powerful. I was thrilled every time he got mentioned.
And then “Legend of Huma” came around, which gives us the full account of the story that is legend in the main books of the series! Basically what it boils down to is this: Magius is not only a wimp, he is a horrible, horrible person, who betrays his only friend in the world and does not feel sorry for anyone but himself afterwards.
And in legend this guy grows in fame to become the quintessential most powerful GOOD wizard Krynn has ever seen.
Note: There is a difference between breaking a legendary figure's pedestal and making them insufferable. This is not a case of making a hero fallible. It turns them into a complete and utter jerk.
(btw, in this book Magius isn’t much of a great caster either. He hardly does anything impressive during the short battles, and the most magic we get is when Huma uses the Staff of Magius to kick Draco’s butt later. Funny, how according to this book, that piece of wood deserves its legendary reputation more than the owner it is named for. It should've been the other way round. Instead of Magius and His Staff it should be The Staff and Its Guy.
Even more infuriating it makes reading Soulforge and the beginning of Chronicles even more depressing. Like, Raistlin should have worn a T-Shirt during Chronicles, saying "I survived The Test with shattered health and possessed by a Lich and all I got was this staff of some guy who never did anything important but die horribly and wear magically bleached clothes.")
You know, the books always try to tell us that the Red Robes can be just as heroic as their White cousins. Only this is another one of these novels that show exactly the opposite by turning another one of the most famous Red Robes in the world of Krynn Black.
I would have like a cowardly hero better if the Legend hadn’t promised something much more complex. Or if at least Magius’ change of heart hadn’t happened off-screen (because why show us interesting character development when we can instead spend more time with all-wise Huma, who had been perfect from the beginning and didn’t have to undergo even a slight change to succeed in his quest?).
Magius eventually even changes alignment (this is still D&D, after all) for his last five minutes of miserable page-time and to top it off his clothes turn white. In the filthy dungeon. And all it needed were a couple days of good old’ torture. Why did that change his alignment so drastically? No idea, but anyway he’s White now. White. Because God forbid we have a positive character in this book that isn’t absolutely pure and flawless.
So much for Krynn's best known Red mage. Who was actually a Black mage and then White.
The original Dragonlance books tried to install at least some shades of grey into the setting, especially with the Twins-trilogy, but a lot of the other novels appear to be stuck on an extreme black and white scale in which you can only ever be good or evil.
It’s almost funny how going with the idealised, mythical portrayal of Magius and Huma’s relationship would have resulted in less of a cliché-storm in the end, because then we would have had at least one character with proper flaws, who wasn’t either a shining knight or secretly evil and a jerk all along, but an interesting hero.
Furthermore, writing books about deconstructing myths is all fine and well, only you should offer an alternate storyline that is at least as interesting, if less glorifying and melodramatic than the later (or, in this case, earlier) legends. This way, readers would not just be left with the disappointment in their previous expectations of the tale, but feel like they are being offered a more down-to-earth and therefore more relatable story instead.
This is not what happens in this book.
Huma, very much unlike his so-called friend, deserves his status of an idol much more. He IS the legend. Fittingly Huma’s fatal flaw are issues with feelings of inferiority. Only, with him it is not really a flaw, because it becomes obvious very quickly that his fears are unfounded. He is insecure about his own skills and abilities, but as it later turns out he is the best at just about everything! He’s only talking himself down because he’s so humble. This is not a flaw! Even though it does get annoying very fast.
He also comes with a pretty standard tragic childhood, being an orphan (his father, also a knight, died a martyr, his mother died of plaque). Yet, Knight Huma grows up to be great guy. He is free from prejudices (of course. We couldn’t have our hero learn an Aesop when we can have his throw-away friend be a constant jerkass instead), which is why he is able to trust Kaz, while his colleagues are more suspicious of the minotaur.
He is tested throughout his quest, tempted by evil swords, chewed on by gigantic dragons and has terrible secrets revealed about his own family (including his very own “No, I am your father uncle” scene), but not only is his faith in his god unwavering, in the end, he sacrifices his life and his love for great altruistic reasons, to make the world a better place.
And to achieve all that he didn’t even have to undergo a character-growing-arc. He was this perfect from the start.
Now that is a heroic figure! If not a very interesting character for a novel, and certainly not a deconstruction of a legend. The truly sad thing is, though, previous books in the series have done it first and much much convincing.
See, Sturm Brightblade, from the original books fits in the same character type. He’s humble (though not so annoyingly as Huma) and altruistic. Though he isn’t officially a knight until shortly before he dies, he behaves more knightly than a large part of the actual knighthood at that time. And you know what, his holier-than-though attitude, and Vulcan (think Spock) coolness get addressed as proper flaws by his companions in the story! Which makes him a much more interesting character, who not less appreciated by fans for his flaws.
Further more, the two great battles of legend in this version are even more unbelievable than the great battles the legend tells of, because they are so unimpressive. The final fight between Good and Evil is fought between five guys and a couple of foot soldiers. Seriously, that’s all the forces of Takhisis could muster? Huma had to undergo a quest to get the Dragonlances back for this?
All this should tell you is that it is simply not necessary for a character to be perfect to be a true shining knight – especially not when you deconstruct other parts of the legend at the same time. It only makes the still idolised aspects of the story stick out more.
I'm still awarding two stars because the writing style is competent, the plotting itself is sort of decent, and also because of Kaz, who is a uniquely likable character in this mess – perhaps even the only interesting character in this thing.
In short: The book set out to deconstruct the legend, but failed to offer anything of interest in its place, while leaving behind a sour taste that readers will be reminded of whenever they come across the original legend when re-reading the older books. ...more