I picked up the annotated copy of the whole trilogy a few years ago at a book sale along with some other Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms titles. I'd owned and purged them before, but something itched at me to not let them go by this time.
The plot begins as many campaigns should - in an inn and is the planned reunion of former companions. Of course, somebody has bigger plans in store for them. There are a lot of characters and a lot of lore-building going on, but it was never confusing and, as the annotations stress, the historical timelines, the deities, the cosmology, etc. were all figured out beforehand. The book reads like a D&D campaign sometimes but was not actually a word-for-word transcription of the play-tests. Important character developments did happen around that table, however, so it was nice to see some of the myths validated.
Our heroes, listed below for because reasons, deliberately make up a lot of the archetypes of AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or Second Edition). These roles were important for character and for the tie-in, but they helped, somewhat, diversify the book. I mean, they were all white and mostly male, but a dwarf, a kender and a gold-skinned mage have to count for something.
Tanis Half-Elven - our broody leader.
Flint Fireforge - Dwarf
Tasslehoff Burrfoot - Kender, a halfling race that loves travel and hates other people's boundaries.
Sturm Brightblade - A human paladin, even more broody than others.
Caramon Majere - Dudebro human fighter
Raistlin Majere - A human magic user, rumored and feared to be powerful but Magius staff notwithstanding he's limited by D&D rules to, like, three spells a day. His gold, skin, hourglass-shaped irises, and constant cough don't add up to much. Yet.
They are joined at the inn by Riverwind and Goldmoon, two "barbarians" from the plains who have a star-crossed lovers past and have been recently gifted with a holy artifact.
The companions are later joined by Tika the Bar Maid, who wants to be trained as a warrior, and the elf Laurana. An absent character, frequently talked about is the Majere's older sister Kitiara who was a tough fighter and is following her fortune in other books, for now. Also a batty old mage named Fizban.
Knowing the series' limitations it was still easy to get back involved with the adventure as the party gets sent from encounter to encounter. Interestingly, for this first book Weis and Hickman made every effort to not stray from the printed adventures that had been published. Someone can read this book and play almost the exact same encounters in the same maps. That's pretty cool, but also really limiting. I can see why the writers strayed from the script. Its more impressive than to read this and see the foreshadowing and the character development - reveries about past gatherings, deceased loved ones, personal jokes, etc. - being accomplished in such a tight frame. Also, considering the weight that this series has - over 150 books published by 2010 - there wasn't much of what I'd call info-dumping. Seriously, most of the lore-giving drops into conversation naturally as the adventurers catch up with each other. The narrator only occasionally goes on a tangent to tell us about Something Completely Different.
You know, this was a lot better than I was hoping for. After I couldn't get over the mostly passive or non-existent nature of women in my beloved 'The Summer Tree' (among other things), I didn't think this book would stand a chance. Don't get me wrong, this is pure by-the-numbers D&D fantasy with some awkward moments but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
I'll keep going with these, but I do have to say that most of the annotations weren't necessary, and a lot of trivia was duplicated. I did love how they described that the half-page chapter illustrations were the more 'elegant' option.
Next: 'Dragons of Winter Night'