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The Soulforge
Margaret Weis
TSR Books, 348 pages

A review by Wayne MacLaurin

Rastlin is perhaps the single most identifiable character in TSR's immensely popular Dragonlance series. A character who embodied all that was evil in the original trilogies, and yet perhaps one of the most complex and interesting of the host of personalities inhabiting the imaginations of the writers who have breathed life into dozens of books and game accessories.

Throughout the original Dragonlance trilogy, Rastlin Majere was portrayed as a character who was only ever interested in one thing: magic. The pursuit of magic, and the ability to control it -- this defined who Rastlin was and how he acted. Rastlin was never portrayed as innately evil for the sake of being evil; he wasn't cruel or hateful, he simply made a conscious decision that magic was best pursued without the fetters and limitations that society defines as the behaviour of somebody "good." His actions were always a result of his pursuit of his art. Still, his attempt to kill to the Queen of Darkness (chief bad dude of the "evil" gods) and assume her place, isn't likely to get him any invitations to be guest of honour at a Boy Scout banquet.

When we were first introduced to Rastlin, Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman alluded to some incident, "the Test," that shattered Rastlin's health and left him nearly helpless. It also gave him bizarre golden skin and hourglass shaped eyes. Bits and pieces of his past were filled in as the series, the second trilogy and assorted short stories were published, but now Margaret Weis has finally decided to tell the tale from its beginning.

The Soulforge tells that tale. It begins with Rastlin as a child, one who is smaller and weaker than the other kids, a child who has to rely on the strength of his larger and healthier twin brother to protect him. A travelling wizard recognizes Rastlin's magical potential and has him enrolled in a school of magic. A true natural, Rastlin excels but this merely earns him the jealousy of his peers. As the novel progresses, Rastlin is eventually invited to travel to the Tower of High Sorcery to take the Test as a student of magic.

That part of the tale is familiar to Dragonlance fans. Rastlin takes the Test and nearly fails. At some point, he is contacted by an evil from the past and is offered assistance in exchange for what amounts to part of his soul. Rastlin accepts the offer but even so, the challenge of the Test is nearly too much for him. Although he emerges victorious, his health is shattered. Well known too, is that during the Test, Rastlin faces his greatest fear. His brother Caramon appears, just when Rastlin is nearly defeated, and starts casting magical spells as if it were easier than using a sword. This event tips the scales: Rastlin summons unrealized reserves of power and destroys both his enemies and his brother. Although the entire incident is an illusion designed to test Rastlin, it has repercussions for both twins.

The outcome of the Test itself and the incident between Caramon and Rastlin is well-known within the Dragonlance universe but, for fans of the novels, The Soulforge is interesting because it fleshes out those events that define Rastlin's character; his bitter, sarcastic humour, his cold arrogance and his devotion to magic. It's an interesting study of a child who was always the brunt of the joke, the kid who was always taunted and picked on. A child who decided that if he couldn't be physically more powerful than his tormentors, then he could be more powerful in other ways. Eventually, all that remains is the hunger for power.

The Soulforge is an engaging look at a character who is much more complex than most, and a worthy addition to the growing volumes that make up TSR's Dragonlance universe. It also marks the return of Margaret Weis to TSR's line of authors. Something that fans of both will certainly be happy to hear.

Copyright © 1998 by Wayne MacLaurin

Wayne MacLaurin is a regular SF Site reviewer. More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.

The Soulforge
Margaret Weis
Margaret Weis was born and raised in Independence, MO. She attended the University of Missouri, graduating with a B.A. in creative writing. She worked for about 13 years at Herald Publishing House in Independence. Her first book, a biography of Frank and Jesse James, was published in 1981. In 1983, she moved to Lake Geneva, WI to take a job as book editor at TSR, Inc., where she met Tracy Hickman, the Dragonlance designer. Margaret Weis is president/owner of Mag Force 7, a company which designs and produces collectible trading card games. The name derives from The Magnificent Seven, one of Weis' favourite movies. She lives in a converted barn in Wisconsin with co-author Don Perrin two dogs, and two cats.

Margaret Weis Website
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