The middle child of a trilogy has the most tenuous position. After all, the novelty may have worn off after the first installment and the big ending doesn’t come until the next. Many are relegated to simply serve as a bridge between the first and third installment. Dragons of Winter Night defies stereotypes with its gripping storyline filled with many tense sequences and surprising revelations. True to the title, the mood is considerably darker than in the first book, ending with the heroic sacrifice of one of the main characters. Sadness is a powerful emotion, and the ending features one of the most emotionally moving scenes I can recall since Tolkien. Yet there is beauty in tragedy, and having known the ending, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As DoWN begins, the refugees from Pax Tharkas have found a temporary home, albeit one ill-suited for them, in the kingdom of the mountain dwarves. The companions prepare to embark on their next quest, to the ancient great city Tarsis the Beautiful, in search of a better refuge. Little do they know that evil forces are already following their tracks and laying a trap for them. Events in Tarsis would force the companions to split into two groups, each searching for an ancient artifact that allows the wielder to exert control over dragons. Their adventures would take them to distant lands, fraught with dark mystery and danger. Some of the companions will have grown in power, some in knowledge, some in maturity, and some would find love along the way. In a sense, the wide-eyed innocence of the first volume has worn off. As the characters gain experience, their worries and sorrows also increase. Laurana is a case in point. She has changed greatly since leaving Qualinost. No longer the happy elfmaiden innocent to the ways of the world, she has become more and more like Tanis, wiser yet weighed down with care and sadness.
Tanis would encounter a figure from the past that would prove to be his greatest temptation thus far and force him to reconsider his beliefs and loyalty in a whole new light.
Despite the prevailing depressive mood, there are many light moments. My favorite character, Tas, is as funny as ever and is given more screen time than before. While the focus has been taken off some characters such as Goldmoon and Riverwind, Tas would shoulder more responsiblities and even makes a few crucial discoveries, unwittingly of course.
In light of its gripping storyline and powerful emotional undercurrents, it would not be unfair to characterize DoWN as a fantasy masterpiece.
Originally posted March 18, 2003 on Amazon.com