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Reviews of 'The Rose and the Skull'

The Rose and the Skull

by Jeff Crook
Bridges of Time, Volume 4

Reviews of 'The Rose and the Skull'

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Reviewer: Morten Brattbakk

Rating: Stars

The author of The Rose and the Skull, Jeff Crook, has only written one Dragonlance story before, The Restoration in Relics and Omens – Tales of the Fifth Age. That story was very well written, but the Fistandantilus appearance at the end provided not the intended "Gasp! Is Fistandantilus coming back? Chilling!" but instead the "Yawn! Fistandantilus is coming back? What else is new?"

Jeff Crook had a problem when he started writing The Rose and the Skull. This book is basically about the Knights of Solamnia, and their development since the War of the Lance has not been portrayed realistically, and there are also inconsistencies. Dragons of Summer Flame makes the Knights of Solamnia to be as rigid and bigoted as they were before Sturm's sacrifice and Laurana's leadership. This is not how it would have developed in the years following the War of the Lance. Changes in the knighthood would have been implemented almost immediately. Also, Dragons of Summer Flame specifically states that Gunthar resigned from the position as a Grand Master one year before the Chaos War, leaving the position to Sir Thomas. The Fifth Age Dramatic Adventure boxed set missed this fact, and has Gunthar being Grand Master in 9 SC when he dies and Liam Ehrling takes over, finally revising the Measure. That Gunthar still was a Grand Master at 99 was quite a feat.

So, how did Jeff Crook deal with this problem? He went with the Fifth Age Dramatic Adventure boxed set on the Grand Master issue, ignoring Sir Thomas completely. It would have been better to have Thomas as Grand Master until 9 SC, with Gunthar as advisor, I think. As for why the Measure wasn't revised for 40 years, it is said that Gunthar worked with it all alone until his death. I find that hard to believe; it would have taken less time and more than one person would have been working on it. So I don't think that he dealt with the problem as well as he should. And there was no need to make it any worse by having the 99-year-old Gunthar die while on a boar hunt. Peacefully in a bed would have been more than enough.

Another thing I found hard to swallow was the plans the Knights of Solamnia and the Knights of Takhisis had for merging. There's no way in the Abyss that could have happened like it almost did in this book. The Knights of Takhisis arriving on Sancrist to sign an alliance would have been much more believable. I have a lot of trouble seeing Knights of Solamnia and the Knights of Takhisis merge after the Chaos War; it's just as unrealistic as the Russian and the US army merging after the end of the Cold War.

So, all in all, Jeff Crook does not capture the knighthood(s) very well. I also think there was too much focus on the gully dwarves, who did not fit with the intrigues of the knighthood. However, after the death of Gunthar and the introduction of the former priest of Chislev, Nalvarre, the book picks up considerably. It moves away from the awkward portrayal of the knighthood, moving the focus towards scheming draconians, gully dwarves and the countryside on Sancrist instead. The draconians are very well done, as are other characters like Nalvarre and Valian. Valian was a very cool character, my favorite one in this book, a dark elf I really would have liked to see more of. Here is a dark elf who is not a Dalamar clone.

The descriptions are vivid, and Jeff Crook has done his homework on things Krynn. (Other than the knighthoods, that is.) He pays great attention to detail, including the death effects of the various draconians, gully dwarf behavior, scenery etc. which makes this book very Dragonlancy, in the tradition of Spirit of the Wind and Legacy of Steel. That makes me forgive the few mistakes that pop up, such as baaz having ram-like horns (that's bozaks), and the indication that sivaks causes harm when killed by a man-sized foe. His desriptions of Pyrothraxus are terrific, it gave me the feeling of how huge and awesome the dragon is much more than any other dragon description in any Dragonlance fiction as I can remember.

With all the krynnish little details, it feels like Jeff Crook has played or DM'ed some Dragonlance RPGs, and it comes as no surprise that he has written some Dungeon adventures. But this book doesn't feel like a novelized module like Maquesta Kar-Thon and Steel and Stone did, except perhaps near the end.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. As the plot with Nalvarre and the draconians weaves into the intrigue among the Knights of Solamnia and the Knights of Takhisis, the book does not suffer when going back to the knights. The action and intrigue picks up there as well, making me forget the unbelievable premise, and although it was a predictable outcome, it was still very enjoyable. The writing style is good, and the approach of describing the big battles at Castle Uth Wistan and Xenos in a retrospective fashion was effective.

The book slipped a little near the end, during the assault on the draconian castle. This is where things felt a bit like a module. Also, there was a quarrel between the bad guys that was like this: "Let's kill them! No, maybe they know something, let's keep them alive for now! No, we have no use for them, kill them!" etc. That reminded me too much of a conversation between Dr Evil and his son about how to kill Austin Powers, and there were also a couple of other details (such as one of the bad guys clapping her hands in a mock applause as our captured heroes are led into the room) that were taken straight from a mass-produced action flick. But the move of the draconian villain Zen at the end is terrific, though, and saves the whole scene.

Overall, despite some problems, most of them being at the first 100 pages or so, I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It was Dragonlancy and had a relatively intriguing plot and some good characters. It also made me feel like I was visiting Krynn again (a feeling the last Dragonlance book I read, Reavers of the Blood Sea, did not give me.) I was really seeing the ruins and castles, forests and meadows with my inner eye. I hope Jeff Crook writes more Dragonlance books, he needs to improve on some things of course, but he also has a lot going for him.

Review made Sunday September 26th, 1999 on the newsgroup.

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