There's been a buzz about Weis and Hickman's new series, Dragonships of Vindras, ever since Tor Books paid a seven-figure advance to acquire the rights to publish it. Add to that a 200,000$ national marketing campaign, and everything seems to hint that this six-book sequence will be the sort of signature work such as The Death Gate Cycle -- the kind of series that made them the bestselling duo of SFF authors of all time.
These factors raised expectations quite high, that goes without saying. And for the first time in years, I found myself thoroughly excited about a new Weis and Hickman book. And yet, regardless of the positive buzz surrounding Bones of the Dragon, the opening chapter of Dragonships of Vindras would have to deliver on all fronts in order to truly satisfy fantasy aficionados everywhere. Indeed, Weis and Hickman have been unimpressive of late.
Unfortunately, Bones of the Dragon fails to deliver on most levels. In depth, style, and tone, this novel is more akin to The Sovereign Stone trilogy, as well as Dragonlance's The War of Souls and The Lost Chronicles trilogies, than the Weis and Hickman series which made them such genre powerhouses throughout the 80s and 90s.
In terms of worldbuilding, the authors elected to go with a universe in the Norse tradition, with the focus on tribes of Viking-like warriors. I was under the assumption that this series would be as ambitious and original as The Death Gate Cycle, so I found the worldbuilding to be lackluster, to say the least. It's nothing we haven't seen before. From Weis' answers in our upcoming interview, I'm aware that there is a lot more to come in the forthcoming sequels. But based on Bones of the Dragon alone, the worldbuilding is decidedly bland.
Characterization has always been Weis and Hickman's bread and butter. Over the years, these two have created a variety of memorable characters. One only has to think about the Heroes of the Lance; Raistlin, Caramon, Tanis, Sturm, Tasslehoff, Lauranna, and the rest of the gang. The original Dragonlance series also featured a number of great secondary characters such as Lord Soth, Dalamar, and Kitiara. The Darksword trilogy had Joram, Saryon, Simkin, and Mosiah. The Rose of the Prophet had Matthew, Khardan, and Zohra. The Death Gate Cycle featured Haplo, Alfred, Hugh the Hand, Xar, Marit, Zifnab, and more. Sadly, Bones of the Dragon leaves a lot to be desired in that regard. The main protagonist is the anti-hero Skylan Ivorson. I'm well aware that he's meant to start off as an ass, and he will undoubtedly mature as the story progresses. Still, Skylan is as annoying and unsympathetic as it gets. Moreover, the rest of the cast is comprised of a forgettable group of clichéd and unimaginative characters. Other than Wulfe, none of them even came close to piquing my curiosity. As far as characterization goes, this is about as bad as I've ever seen Weis and Hickman look.
The battle of the gods story arc appeared to be intriguing at the beginning, but it's nowhere near as interesting as it was in the Dragonlance saga or The Rose of the Prophet trilogy. I feel that had the plotlines focused a bit more on that facet of the tale, it might have provided much-needed depth to the story.
The overall execution is a bit clumsy at times, and you can see some plot twists coming from a mile away. Which was a major disappointment coming from the duo that brought us such multilayered series as The Death Gate Cycle. The pace drags a bit from time to time, and most storylines are uninspired at best. It feels as though the authors are just going through the motions, that their hearts and minds are not into this project.
The narrative appears to be aimed at a more adolescent crowd, and the dialogues are a bit trite. Hence, I feel that Dragonships of Vindras will appeal to a younger, less demanding audience. Bones of the Dragon is adventure fantasy/sword and sorcery fare, something suited for the legions of Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels on the market. As such, it was a major disappointment for me, as I was expecting a more "adult-oriented" work, something that could compete in depth and originality with novels/series by authors such as Jordan, Martin, Bakker, Erikson, etc.
Things pick up a little at the end, promising more to come, but it's nowhere near enough to save this one. Bones of the Dragon simply didn't do it for me. Looking back, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman have not been at the top of their game for over a decade (since the release of The Seventh Gate). Which is too bad, because in top form they can swing with the best of them.
Given the popularity of their latest Dragonlance books and R. A. Salvatore's Forgotten Realms offerings, I'm convinced that Bones of the Dragon will probably do very well. But for long-time fans like me, it's evident that Weis and Hickman's heydays are now behind them. A pity. . .
The final verdict: 6/10