Dragons of Winter Night, as a novel, runs into the problem of adapting what was we think of it into just a trilogy of books – a bunch of material has to be skipped over. We start off after the retrieval of the Hammer of Karass and the re-unification of Dwarven society (which would later be covered in Dragons of the Dwarven Depths), with that kind of setting the tone somewhat for how the show comes out.
Dragons of Winter Night opens with the Heroes of the Lance traveling to the city of Tarsis in an attempt to secure ships to carry the refugees from Solace to safety- only to discover that the city has become land-locked. Not long after their arrival, the party ends up being split up, and well – Weis & Hickman don’t juggle the plots well. Of the two parties – Caramon, Raistlin, Tanis, Riverwind, and Goldmoon in one, and Sturm, Laurana, Gilthanas, Tass, Flint, and Elistan in the other – their stories aren’t balanced well.
Once the party is split, Tanis’ group gets the focus to the detriment of Laurana’s group. It’s to enough of a degree that while both parties are going after different kinds of the same McGuffin – the Dragon Orbs – and by the time we’ve gone through Tanis’ group and recovered their Dragon Orb and gone back to Laurana’s party, they’ve gotten their own Dragon Orb though their own adventures – accompanied by some significant character development, all entirely off-camera. I don’t have problems with referring to off-screen adventures in the story – but it’s something else when the adventure in question is important to the plot and characterization.
The latter half of Dragons of Winter Night is alright, and would have been better if it just stayed with Laurana and Sturm, but we get another detour back to Tanis and company, which detracts from their part of the story. This is a significant bummer, because ultimately the standout characters of this book are Laurana and Sturm.
Laurana returns to her people in exile and has to ultimately decide whether her place is having agency and an impact on the events of the world with the Heroes of the Lance or staying with her people and being relegated to merely being a scribe, without any influence or impact on the course of events – but being able to stay with her family. It’s a very intensely written sequence that plays out incredibly well, but it would go so much better if we had the context that went with it of Laurana having come into her own as a leader, bringing her party through fighting a Dragon Highlord, killing him and his dragon, and claiming one of the Dragonorbs. All of this is covered in another book written after the fact, which is fine – but it doesn’t help this book.
Finally, on top of all of that, there’s Sturm Brightblade. At the start of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, he was the textbook definition of the Lawful Anal Paladin. He was butting heads with Raistlin not because Raist was an edgelord but because Raist is a mage and Sturm is a Paladin. He was butting heads with Riverwind and Goldmoon because he didn’t believe in their divine magic.
In Dragons of Winter Night, however, he ends up meeting a bunch of members of the modern Knights of Solamnia, encapsulated perfectly through the character of Derek Crownguard – a perfect “There but for the grace of Paladine go I” moment if there ever was one. By the end of this book, Sturm has undergone a tremendous amount of character growth – and both he and Laurana have become two of the most well rounded and fleshed out characters of the series.
It’s just that, well, a massive amount of that development is off-page, in that adventure that’s going on while Tanis’s party is exploring Silvanesti. While the sequence in Silvanesti is intense, dramatic, and suspenseful, it causes the book to suffer without Sturm and Laurana’s story being told.
This is a problem because, and I can’t beat around the bush here any further – because Sturm dies at the end of this book. It’s a sacrifice that is both heroic and tragic and fits completely within the events of the story and the character’s arc, and it’s poignant because of who kills him. However, the whole story of Laurana’s party would have worked so much better if, really, it had just gotten its own book.
Ultimately, it feels like this is a book series that needs four or five books – not three. Leave Dragons of Autumn Twilight as it is, have the events of Dragons of the Dwarven Depths through splitting the party at Tarsis, and have that end as a cliffhanger, then have one book that follows Tanis’s party, one book that follows Laurana’s, both set in parallel, and then have those stories reunite for Dragons of Spring Dawning. Instead, at this point in fantasy literature, we’re still stuck in something of the idiom of Lord of the Rings – that if you’re going a series of fantasy novels they have to be trilogies. It’s just frustrating.
That said, whether the trilogy was Weis and Hickman’s idea, or whether it was TSR’s idea, the book itself is good. My disappointment isn’t with any part that’s bad – but more with the glimmer of an even better book waiting to be unearthed. This book is clearly a diamond in the rough.