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[Where I Read] The Death Gate Cycle

ANT Pogo

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Haplo's named Haplo because he's aloooooone. :D
Yeah, if they ever do an anime adaptation of these books, Haplo will totally be a stereotypical tormented bishie.

I've been a fan of Weis and Hickman's non-Dragonlance books for ages, and still have my Death Gate books. I still feel the first one is the best, for the worldbuilding of Arianus if nothing else.

I'd totally run an RPG campaign set there!
 

Tyrmatfrage

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Oh, I ate up these books as a kid. I cut my reading teeth on Weis & Hickman. Looking back on it now, I still think the worldbuilding was awesome, if the story and characters were not. To this day the only characters I can recall from the series are Haplo and that other guy I will not mention for fear of spoilers.

Also, the mechanics of the setting's magic I thought were pretty cool and unique.
 

KreenWarrior

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I love these books. Perfect they aren't. But they have a lot of cool ideas, interesting world-building, and just general good stuff scattered among the bad.
 

Axiomatic

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This is a WRH thread, so I know it will be awesome.
Also, did anyone else wince when Mysterious Exposition Man said "As you know"?
 

argo

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Man I loved those books back in the day. I read them when I was still young enough that I had to deduce that "port" was some sort of wine from context :D

Great world building, even if the story itself starts to get a bit shaky in the second half of the series.

Oh and Dog is made of win and awesome, and that's all I got to say about that. :cool:
 

(un)reason

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This looks like it could be fun. I've been recently reminded of this series as well. Only ever read the Fire book, (got it for free in the abandoned warehouse book giveaway last summer. ) and I can't say it particularly stuck in my mind. See you on the other side.
 

Jim Lee

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Spoiler: Show
They were basically Designated Villains...whom we never actually observe doing anything all that bad. They were powerful, but harsh and selfish and power hungry, and potentially cruel...and so their punishment was obscenely disproportionate. Had they come out of the Labyrinth and simply stood in the twilight of the Nexus screaming out the pain and horror and trauma of a thousand years trapped in hell, measuring their lives in days and hours that they've survived, burying more children than survive to adulthood, and then gone on to conquer the universe and butcher the Sartans, they'd have been absolutely justified.
 
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ANT Pogo

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He just started the prologue to the first book! Let's not get into the world details and character justifications too much yet!

Spoiler: Show
But, to the books' credit, some Sartan realize the above
 
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anowack

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My memories of these books are very fond, and it is the first series I remember eagerly waiting for the next book in.
 

Wields-Rulebook-Heavily

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Wishing everyone a premature happy new year!

Chapter 1

Yreni Prison, Dandrak, Mid Realm

Snazzy names, there. We start this chapter off by following a cart bumping its way up a Coralite road being dragged by a Tier, which is apparently a bird. The cart makes its bumpy way to Yreni prison in order to escort it and its passenger to the city walls of Ke'lith, escorted by a crowd of onlookers.

Wow, first paragraph and we already have a name with an apostrophe in it.

We get our first taste of the many footnotes sprinkled throughout the books right here in the first chapter. We won't even get to know why they're there until much later, but for now it's sufficient to say that they're the ultimate last word in telling and not showing. This is especially odd here, because although the first few paragraphs are a little in the "By the Seven Moons of Fantas'yland" style, they really embrace the exotic without explaining it out of hand. Then suddenly out of nowhere there'll be a detailed footnote about something, telling you all about a subject in this dry detached tone. For instance, Coralite*.

All the floating isles in the Realm of Sky are composed of coralite. The excretion of a small,
harmless, snake-shaped creature known as the coral grubb, coralite is spongelike in appearance.
When it hardens, it is as strong as granite, though it cannot be cut and polished. Coralite forms
very fast; structures made of the substance are not built so much as grown. Coral grubbs give off
a gas that is lighter than air. This keeps the isles suspended in the sky, but can be a nuisance
when attempting to construct buildings. The magic of first-house land wizards is necessary to
remove it.

Occasionally, deposits of iron and other minerals have been discovered embedded in the coralite.
How they got there is not known, but it is presumed to have been a phenomenon that occurred
during the Sundering.
Whoah, infodump. Floating isles suspended in the sky? first-house land wizards? The Sundering? Coral Grubb?

The thing is, a lot of people who read this series end up feeling like they just read a homebrew campaign setting more than a novel. These footnotes are probably one of the bigger reasons why they get that impression. So here's my complaint; if you can't work it into the narrative, it's probably not important to the story and should be confined to the appendix. This book certainly has a nice one! The footnotes just distract.

But let's keep going; you'll see what I mean.

Dayside was ending. The glitter of the firmament began to fade as the Lords of Night slowly drew
the shadow of their cloaks over the afternoon stars. Night's gloom was fitting for this procession.
This is exotic, you can tell because of the pixels funny names.

We're introduced to the cargo, which consists of an incredibly well trussed and much feared prisoner guarded by archers ready to shoot him down. We're invited in for a closer look.

The man's appearance alone was striking enough to arrest the eye and send a shiver over the
skin. His age was indeterminate, for he was one of those men whom life has aged beyond cycles.
His hair was black without a touch of gray. Sleeked back from a high, sloping forehead, it was
worn braided at the nape of his neck. A jutting nose, like the beak of a hawk, thrust forward from
between dark and overhanging brows. His beard was black and worn in two thin short braids
twisted beneath a strong chin. His black eyes, sunken into high cheekbones, almost disappeared
in the shadows of the overhanging brows. Almost, but not quite, for no darkness in this world, it
seemed, could quench the flame that smoldered in those depths.
I smolder with generic rage. Also, check me out I'm totally a hot and mysterious vagabond.

What, you thought the description was done?

The prisoner was of medium height, his body bare to the waist and marked all over with gashes
and bruises, for he had fought like a devil to avoid his capture. Three of the sheriff's boldest men
lay in their beds this day and would probably lie there tor a week recovering. The man was lean
and sinewy, his movements graceful and silent and swift. One might say, from looking at him, that
here was a man born and bred to walk in the company of Night.
Wow. You can just feel the room go moist from reading that. Is this a romance I picked up by mistake? I can also honestly say I'd never look at anyone and think "Now there's someone who's born and bred to walk in the company of Night", but what do I know. :p

To bring the footnotes up again briefly, imagine you're reading a paragraph like this and it's interrupted by a dry scholarly note on what that capitalized "Night" means, like the one for Coralite above. Kind of breaks the tone and flow, don't it? That said, these ideas are pretty wild and interesting in and of themselves. But now I've interrupted myself enough.

We're introduced to Ke'lith proper, a town so poor and small it barely covers a square Menka*...

*Menka or, more precisely, menkarias rydai, is the elven standard form of measurement.
Classically, it was said to be "one thousand elf hunters high." In modern times, this has been
standardized by establishing that elf hunters are six feet tall, thus making the menka equal to six
thousand feet. This has led to considerable confusion between the races, due to the fact that
elven feet are somewhat smaller than those of humans.
Aaargh

Anyhow. The prisoner is escorted into the city, where a crowd is waiting to jeer and cheer. Our prisoner is all confidence until a rock strikes him in the head. He just sort of snaps; he strains at his restraints, trying to get at some drunken louts in the crowd, terrifying the crowd with his fury in the process. And then he immediately talks cooly to the guy who threw a rock at his head. That just ain't right.

The crowd agrees and pelts him with eggs and tomatoes that apparently were being kept handy for the occasion. The mob surges forward into the terrified and outnumbered guards when the beat of wings frightens them off again.

Two dragons, guided by helmed and armored riders, swooped in low over the heads of the mob,
sending them ducking into doorways and dashing down alleys. A call from their leader, still
wheeling high overhead, brought the dragon knights back into formation. He descended and his
knights followed him, the dragons' wingtips clearing the buildings on either side of the street by
barely a hand's breadth. Wings rucked neatly at their flanks, their long tails lashing wickedly
behind, the dragons alighted near the cart.
There's a big deal made of the Tier (the bird thing) being frightened of the dragons; a footnote helpfully explains that they're favorite prey in the wild. Also, that they can't fly, can run fast, are beasts of burden and are considered unclean and repulsive. Back to the story!

One of the riders, identified as a captain and described as paunchy, gets off and addresses the prisoner as Hugh the Hand. The newly dubbed Hugh exchanges threats with him for a bit. The captain, identified as Gareth, gets to the business of explicating Hugh's crime to the audience.

Paunchy Exposition Man said:
The captain of the knights grunted. "I'll bet you would. That death's a damn sight better than the
one you're facing now- kissing the block. A damn sight better and a damn sight too good for you,
Hugh the Hand. A knife in the back, in the dark-that's what I'd give you, assassin scum!"...

..."I know only that you are a killer for hire and that my liege lord met his end by your hand," retorted
the knight gruffly. "And I've saved your head merely to have the satisfaction of placing it with my
own hands at the foot of my lord's bier. By the way, they call the executioner Three-Chop Nick.
He's never yet managed to sever a head from a neck at the first blow."

Hugh gazed at the captain, then said quietly, "For what it's worth, I didn't kill your lord."

"Bah! The best master I ever served murdered for a few barls*. How much did the elf pay you,
Hugh? How many barls will you take now to restore my lord's life to me?"

(*The barl is the main standard of exchange in both elven and human lands. It is measured in the
traditional barrel of water. An equivalent exchange for a barrel of water is one barl.)
It appears that the humans and elves don't get along much.

Note the explanation for Barls. It's clear that it's some kind of currency just from the context, but the actual information has a surprising twist, one that's going to deeply affect the plot; water is valuable. So in case you thought you could get by on just skipping the footnotes, they occasionally throw a little curveball like that. I'll be skipping a lot of the footnotes from now on, by the by. I'll showcase a few choice ones as we go. Besides, this first chapter has a disproportionate amount.

The captain flies off on his dragon and the cart resumes its journey, reaching the local lord's fortress by nightfall. The deceased lord lies in state on a bier, and all kinds of nifty little details (actually worked into the story this time) decorate the scene. His bereaved wife is sedated to prevent her from casting herself on the pyre as is the custom, the lord's favorite dragon is to be slaughtered to send the beast to the afterlife with him... that kind of stuff and more. All they're waiting for is Hugh's head to be placed at the lord's feet.

Gareth proceeds to menace Hugh some more.

Paunchy Exposition Man said:
"We caught the elflord, Hugh," Gareth said in an undertone as he worked. "Caught him alive. He
was on his dragonship, sailing back to Tribus, when our dragons overtook him. We questioned
him and he confessed giving you the money before he died."
So elves sail on dragonships, live somewhere called "Tribus", and have a definite adversarial relationship to humans. Gareth mentions having found Hugh's dagger, apparently a fairly unique one with a bone handle and strange markings, buried in the king's back. Hugh insinuates that Gareth put it there and nearly earns a quick death for the remark.

Hugh, with a shrug and a slight sardonic smile, released his grip on the knight's arms. Gareth
caught hold of the assassin's right hand, jerked it roughly behind his back, and, grabbing his left,
bound the two together tightly with the remnants of the leather thongs.

"I paid you well," the knight muttered. "I owe you nothing!"

"And what about her, your daughter, whose death I avenged-"

Spinning Hugh around by the shoulder, Gareth swung his mailed fist. The blow caught the
assassin on the jaw and sent him crashing through the wooden slats of the cart.
Ah. Well, silence would be another motivator, wouldn't it. Hugh is bound and gagged again, and the first chapter ends on this intriguing note.

So in the prologue, we got obliquely introduced to a mysterious stranger. In the first chapter, we're more directly introduced to a mysterious stranger. We've got the beginnings of a merry band. Any bets on both of them turning out to be loners? :D
 
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