Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s original Dragonlance novels aren’t just considered some of the finest Dungeons & Dragons books ever written, but are some of the most beloved fantasy stories of all time. Richard A. Knaak’s The Legend of Huma is also a Dragonlance novel, but the similarities stop there.
Written in 1988, The Legend of Huma is not only a prequel to Weis and Hickman’s original Chronicles trilogy, it’s also the inaugural book in the six-part Heroes series, each of which focus on different characters. It’s also the first Dragonlance novel not written by the duo or starring any of their main characters, which was a risk that paid off (see below). Maybe it helped that Huma is the hero who first discovered the weapons that give the D&D campaign setting its name, which are indeed lances meant to be wielded by people riding dragons for the intended purpose of more efficiently murdering other dragons.
Now, for your “What Did Rob Remember About This D&D Book” status update: Nothing. I know for certain I didn’t read Huma because after I read the Weis and Hickman books I wasn’t interested enough in Dragonlance to do any further reading. I don’t believe this is a knock on those books, although I guess I’ll know for certain when I get around to reading them. I’m pretty sure I was always a Forgotten Realms guy at heart. Now, whether that’s because I found Dragonlance’s more specific setting too restrictive or I just preferred the Realms’ incredibly generic brand of fantasy to something more fully realized is anybody’s guess.
Knaak’s story begins with Huma’s first mission as a Knight of Solamnia and ends with his banishment of the Takhisis, the goddess of evil, also known as the Dragonqueen. It’s the sort of heroic journey that really needs an epic trilogy to be justified, but instead there’s one novel that only takes place over a few months max. Still, I’m glad there weren’t any other books because the first half of The Legend of Huma was painfully boring.
Huma starts out as a somewhat scared novice who is inexplicably hated by most of the other knights, which is fine. The problem is that for that first half he’s entirely reactionary. He’s just randomly swept away, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, by events. He’s attacked, he’s captured, he runs away, he’s ordered to go places, he bumps into main characters like Kaz the minotaur and his best friend Magius, a renegade magic-user (which is a big no-no in the world of Dragonlance). The quest that gets him the Dragonlances is nonsense; Magius tells him there’s a mountain somewhere that has something important for the ongoing war between the Knights of Solamnia and the forces of Takhisis. The vagueness robs the plot of any excitement or urgency, and I genuinely had to fight off sleep to keep reading through the first 18 chapters.
Thankfully, once Huma gets to the mountain—more specifically, the cave at the top of the mountain—things pick up immensely. Things get medieval when he’s forced to face three challenges to get the unnamed something: fighting the Wymrfather, rooting out the traitor in the Knights of Solamnia, and resisting the power of an evil sword. After winning the lances (21 of them, to be exact) things stay at a brisk clip for the rest of the novel. Huma fights Takhisis’ mostly immortal general Crynus, has to stop the lances from by stolen by the Dragonqueen’s agents, fails to stop Magius from getting kidnapped by same, and then it’s the final battle, which Knaak nails almost as well as R.A. Salvatore did in Streams of Silver.
The battle feels appropriately epic. It’s pretty much the entire last quarter of the book, and things feel thoroughly hopeless for the hero. The Knights have had their armored asses kicked throughout the story, and now they have to somehow stand against Takhisis’ legions of evil humans, ogres, renegade mages, and hundreds upon hundreds of evil red, blue, green, white, and black dragons. There are some metallic dragons (a.k.a. the good ones) with them, but there are still less than two dozen lances to wield on them. Plus, Huma eventually has to fight the goddess herself, and he just manages to eke out a win in a way that feels genuinely satisfying.
Alas, there’s still plenty of unearned nonsense. The forces of good get more Dragonlances when the possibly immortal but still somehow impressive blacksmith (who had been in the mystical cave for centuries) suddenly shows up out of nowhere to the Knights’ citadel and starts churning them out. To defeat Takhisis’ mega-powerful wizard, Huma suddenly thinks of Magius’ abandoned magical staff—something that’s held no importance to this point in the book, especially to Huma, and not implied to have any special powers in any shape—and is somehow able to summon it out of nowhere, and then he throws the magic staff instead of using it like an actual magic staff to save the day. (Even more bizarrely, the staff can also decapitate gargoyles somehow.) Similarly, the reveal of the traitor—who I’m not going to spoil, although I don’t know why—isn’t an “A-ha!” moment as much of a “Wait, what?” moment.
No character other than Huma has anything approaching a story arc or emotional journey. People keep telling Huma (eventually) that he’s the greatest, most pious Knight to have ever existed, but there’s not really any evidence of the former until he takes charge and kicks immense ass in the final battle; other than believing in his god Paladine, I have no idea what the novel is referring to. I believe there is a single female character with dialogue of more than a few lines, and she spends half of her time moonlighting as a dragon (who falls in love with Huma, of course). Speaking of dialogue, there are some really important conversations that Knaak tells us about in narration instead of letting the characters, you know, talk to each other.
The Legend of Huma rolls an 8 on the ol’ 1d20, although as I type that I wonder if I’m overvaluing it a little because the back half seemed so good compared to the first part. That’s the same score as Streams of Silver, which was equally aimless and (as discussed) a photocopy of Tolkien, but had better characters and was more fun overall. But let’s remember I may just have some weird aversion to Dragonlance that may be coloring my opinion; after all, The Legend of Huma supposedly sold more copies than the Dragonlance game… although I can’t help but think Weis and Hickman did the heavy lifting with their novels. I guess I’ll see eventually, although I’m in no rush to find out.
- All the Knights of Sidonia have long, flowy mustaches. I’m not sure how I feel about this, although I suspect I would have disapproved in 1988, when mustache popularity was decidedly on the wane.
- I didn’t realize this until I started checking the Dragonlance wiki, but Huma meets the god Paladine in disguise on his way to the cave. Paladine is mildly obnoxious, which seems like a weird thing for the god of goodness to be.
- The high wizard of Takhisis basically tells Huma that his goddess will have sex with him if he switches. Takhisis later repeats the offer. It’s also a little weird.
- Apparently, Huma and Gwyneth, his part-time dragon love interest, have a son named Liam. If you’ve read The Legend of Huma, you’ll know this is incredibly bizarre and seemingly impossible. The kid only shows up in the Dragons of Chaos short story collection. But this was edited by Weis and Hickman, so... [shrug]
- Next month: After hanging with Huma, I could use something I’m excited about. So let’s find out what Alias and Dragonbait are up to in the Azure Bonds sequel and next book in the Finder’s Stone trilogy, The Wyvern’s Spur!
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