Amber And Ashes
Book One of The Dark Disciple
by Margaret Weis, fantasy (2005)
Wizards Of The Coast, $7.99, ISBN 0-7869-3742-4

I have long stopped buying most of the fantasy outputs from Wizards Of The Coast due to the sheer number and sheer awfulness of way too many of these books. However, I find Margaret Weis' The Dark Disciple series interesting enough to pick up Amber And Ashes. I originally planned to wait until the third book is released in late 2008 so that I can read all three books in one go, but I made the mistake of opening Amber And Ashes one evening and put that book down only when I've reached the last page.

One of the reasons for my interest in this series is because it is set in the Dragonlance world of Krynn after the third - or is it the thirtieth? - Cataclysm when Krynn enters what is called the Age of Mortals. If this is Earth, it would be a global Renaissance period where not only is there religious revival but also mass religious disenfranchisement as the mortals of Krynn have long learned how to live without gods. This time around, it is the gods who have to actively recruit worshipers, not the other way around, and some folks are even opting to become atheists.

After the latest attempt by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman to blow Krynn up and put it back together again, we last see Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness and the leader of the evil gods of Krynn, dead and Paladine, the leader of gods of good, willingly abandoning his divinity in order to maintain the balance between good and evil in the world. This leaves an opening at the top dog position of each faction. Of course, the good gods are nice and agreeable, so they have Mishakal, Paladine's consort and the goddess of love, healing, and beauty, stand in as his replacement. The gods of evil are a different story altogether.

Chemosh, our god of death as well as undeath, wants to be the top dog but Sargonnas, Takhisis' consort, is fast moving into position as the top dog contender. Chemosh decides that he needs a makeover in order to pose as a serious threat to Sargonnas. He decides that he needs to ditch the moldy old undead creatures that are his current followers and instead look for fashionable young and beautiful people to be recruited into his churches. Instead of being the creepy ghoul king, he's going to be the god that will promote "eternal life" - a nice euphemism for the state where you become an undead when you are young and beautiful, thereby remaining that way for all eternity. But before he can set his plan in motion, he needs a charismatic high priest to do all that smooth talking and recruiting.

Remember Mina? That silly young girl who was used by Takhisis in the last Dragonlance trilogy? Chemosh decides to pick her as his new spokesperson. Ms Weis says that this is because Mina is special, has unexpected abilities, et cetera, but if you ask me, Mina is a good candidate because of her limitless capacity for zeal. She's also easily manipulated despite everything, really, as in this Chemosh only has to reinvent himself into some Jean-Claude (Mr Anita Blake to some of you folks) wannabe and touch Mina there to make this silly girl go yes-yes-yes.

At any rate, Mina has exchanged Takhisis for Chemosh, although since she's getting orgasms out of her deal to whore herself for Chemosh this time around, I'd say she's definitely traded up. But of course, plans in this kind of stories always never go smoothly. Mina's first "convert" is a Kiri-Jolith priest who proceeds to murder his parents as well as a monastery full of monks. This causes the sole survivor of the monastery massacre, Rhys who also happens to be this priest's brother, to embark on his own quest to stop Chemosh's plans. Meanwhile, Mina also happens to severely irritate Zeboim, the goddess of storms and the sea, and therefore it is an odd turn of event indeed when the evil goddess ends up being the only deity in this story that actively moves to stop Chemosh, even if it means having to make use of Rhys and an unusually serious kender who speaks with the dead.

I still find Mina quite irritating here, although she has much more character development here than in the previous trilogy. Still, her character remains vague and inscrutable. Sometimes she's a power-hungry despot, sometimes she's a lost little girl starved for love and attention. I personally have no problems with this duality in Mina's personality, but I wish Ms Weis has let me into Mina's head a little bit more so that I can have a better idea of how to reconcile these two vastly different personalities in the same person.

Chemosh, on the other hand, is surprisingly amusing or pathetic, depending on how you like your evil gods, as he finds himself so hopelessly in love with Mina before long that the poor dear can't really see straight anymore. Zeboim really steals all her scenes here as the spoiled crazy bitch of a goddess who somehow manages to become a memorable zany secondary character all the same. I don't know how Ms Weis does this, but I love it. Rhys is a little bit flat here, but his story is only starting out, so that's okay. As for the kender, Nightshade, it's nice to see the anti-Tasslehoff Burrfoot for a change. I was initially worried that the author is going to resurrect Tas again - or even worse, Lord Soth - but thankfully, this is the Dragonlance saga moving forward and therefore Ms Weis is content to leave the past behind.

I've always been a fan of Margaret Weis because she's, simply put, a very good storyteller. Even after how many books of hers that I've read and even after I'm pretty sure that I have come across every trick that she has up her sleeves, Amber And Ashes still has me at hello. The sense of description is fantastic and it is always nice to revisit places like Solamnia and Solace if even for a while, and Ms Weis doesn't disappoint here. She weaves details of the scenery into the story without pulling me out of the story in the process and I have lots of fun as a result. The build-up is absolutely incredible and I am at the edge of my seat when I reach the last page.

It looks like I'm reeled back in by the author into a trilogy, but I don't mind. I've had plenty of fun. I can only hope that the author doesn't falter with the momentum in the next two books!

Rating: 89

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