Margaret Weis became prominent with the original Dragonlance Chronicles many years ago. In fact, her name became so synonymous with dragons that I was always surprised when a series came out that didn't have them in it. She had moved away from that distinction until she and her writing partner Tracey Hickman came back to the Dragonlance saga. Now, it appears that she has given in to destiny and embraced dragons.
Weis' latest book, Mistress of Dragons, is the start of a new solo trilogy for her, and it contains many familiar elements to any fan of her books, namely dragons. Aside from that, though, the characterization and plot felt very comfortable for me, a fan of her previous work who hasn't read one of her books in a long while. "Familiar," in this case, isn't a bad thing. She's not re-writing the same plot over and over again. Instead, she breaks new ground, but with the style and panache that I remember from before. I really enjoyed Mistress of Dragons, and am anxiously awaiting the sequel.
For an "epic" fantasy, this is a surprisingly small book as far as characters go. There are only four main ones, with some secondary characters floating about. This makes Mistress of Dragons a very tight book, and I found that it flowed very nicely because of this. Draconas is the dragon-in-human-form who must figure out the plot while trying to stay on the right side of dragon law by not revealing himself to the humans. There is Melisande, the high priestess of the sisterhood and the woman designated to be the next Mistress when the old, current one dies. Bellona is the captain of the guard at the monastery and Melisande's lover and confidante. Finally, there's Edward, king of Idlyswylde and a man who just wants to do the right thing and protect his kingdom from a dragon. Because the cast of characters is so small, Weis is able to delve deeply into their characters, making them truly three-dimensional.
Draconas really cares for humanity, despite the aloofness that being a dragon brings. He finds himself wanting to guide and protect them, despite it being against the law. On the other hand, he can be ruthless when the situation requires it. Melisande is set in the ways of her society, and when that society breaks down, she is devastated. She's even more devastated when it looks like Ballona is trying to [destroy]her. I found her a bit whiny at times, but overall she was a very strong character and it's not a surprise that she would whine a little bit given what happens to her. Bellona is very loyal and tough, but with a very soft side when it comes to somebody she cares about. She's not above killing people who used to be friends if she feels betrayed enough. Edward is a relatively simple man, trying to get a job done, but finding himself caught unawares in Draconas' plans. He's a pawn, he realizes he's a pawn, but he's willing to go along with it if it will save his kingdom, even though he doesn't know what is in store for him.
Weis weaves a tapestry around these characters that is almost beautiful, but is also dark and ugly underneath. A [physical abuse] is very shortly but sharply described, devastating the character, and having harsh implications on later events. The implications of other events in the book are also much darker than what I am used to from Weis. I really enjoyed seeing the growth in her writing from previous books, with more mature subjects and a familiar yet expanded writing style. While there are a few predictable moments, events take a very startling turn toward the end and the finale is breathtaking. Weis even gives some of the predictable moments at the end of the book a very subtle twist, keeping you on your toes.
Any flaws in the book are very small and may be rectified in future books (though that doesn't quite forgive this one). I didn't feel like I really became part of the world that Weis created. We get a description of the society in Seth, but we donï¿½t see any of it except for the Sisterhood. The same goes for Idlyswylde, where we only see King Edward's court. We donï¿½t get a sense of the land at all. There is no map included, so we have to go completely by Weis' descriptions to get any sense of scale. At times, I felt a bit lost as they traveled from place to place.
Such flaws don't detract too much from the book, though. This is an enjoyable, epic fantasy that doesn't feel that epic. Instead, it feels like interesting events happening to characters you care about, as you watch them take on the hostile world around them. You watch as their worlds get turned upside down, as they give in to temptation and passions, and as they fight to keep their sanity as the world changes around them. Weis' first foray into fantasy without any helpers is a resounding success, and I can't wait to find out what happens next.