Sunday, June 13, 2004

Review: "Time of the Twins" by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; "Homeland" by R.A. Salvatore

It's always nice to take a walk down memory lane, and I got that opportunity thanks to a couple of recent releases of hardcover editions of some of my favorite books from junior high and high school.

"Time of the Twins" by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman ($24.95, Wizards of the Coast) and "Homeland" by R.A. Salvatore ($25.95, Wizards of the Coast) took me back to days when Dungeons & Dragons was as much a part of my life as friends and schoolwork. It's the first offering of both books in a stand-alone hardcover edition, and a cool opportunity for collectors.

If you had asked me when "Time of the Twins" came out, Weis and Hickman would have ranked just below Edgar Allan Poe and J.R.R. Tolkien on my list of favorites. While that's no longer the case, the main character in the book, the wizard Raistlin Majere, still ranks as one of my favorites.

This second Dragonlance trilogy, "Legends," offered a much darker tale than the original "Chronicles" trilogy. Raistlin, now a black-robed mage, has taken over the cursed Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas. He's grown more and more powerful and slipped farther into darkness. Raistlin has hatched a plan to enter the Abyss and challenge the gods themselves.

The only person that can stop him is his loyal brother Caramon, who he's tossed aside. To ease the pain of his twin's scorn, the once-proud warrior has retreated into the bottle and become fat and lazy. Caramon combines his efforts with the seemingly ever-present kender Tasslehoff to try to reign in his brother's lust for power.

In "Homeland," readers first learn the origins of Salvatore's drow hero Drizzt Do'Urden. "Homeland" delves into the twisted society of the drow by showing Drizzt in the drow home city of Menzoberranzan. Sickened by the cruelty of his kinsmen, Drizzt rebels against the matron mother of House Do'Urden, and will, in the next two books of the series, make his way alone through the caverns of the Underdark and eventually to the surface world.

"Time of the Twins" and "Homeland" have more than a few things in common. They're both the opening book of a second series about familiar heroes, and they're both much better than the original tales of those heroes. The reason is that they break with the normal D&D storyline, where a ragtag group of "unlikely heroes" are thrown together in a quest for some object of power to save the world. Reading Weis and Hickman's "Chronicles" trilogy and Salvatore's "Icewind Dale" trilogy is fun, but you can almost hear the dice clicking in the background in those stories.

These books - particularly "Homeland" - focus more on the individual and take a deeper look at the inner workings of their characters. These stories are more about the people than the quest.

Besides that, they look very good on your bookshelf, if you're a fan. The new packaging for "Homeland" is gorgeous, but I do have a few quibbles with the artwork for "Time of the Twins." I loved the original Larry Elmore artwork for this book - in fact, it's one of my favorite book covers ever. Wizards of the Coast opted to go with newer artwork by Matthew Stawicki, which appeared on the recent paperback editions. It's nice work, but I would have preferred the original art. I guess it's because I grew up looking at the Elmore cover.

Still, this package, which matches Weis and Hickman's recent "War of Souls" trilogy and the hardcover re-releases of the "Chronicles" trilogy, is still a worthy addition to my library.

While my days of living in the D&D worlds are long past, I still enjoy an occasional visit, and these classic tales from those worlds fit the bill perfectly.

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