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Serpent Mage (Death Gate Cycle #4) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Updated on February 1, 2016

The humans, elves, and dwarves on the water world of Chelestra have lived in peace for centuries. In order to perpetuate the peace that they have achieved, Grundle, the heir to the dwarven kingdom of Gargan, Alake, the heir to the human land of Phondra, and Sabia, the heir to the elven land of Elmas, have been raised together. They spent several years in each of Phondra, Elmas, and Gargan. As a result, the three young women view each other as sisters.

It is thus only natural that when their people are threatened with danger, the three young women make plans to face this danger together.

Chelestra is a huge sphere of ice suspended in space. In the center of this sphere is a nuclear ball of superheated gases, the seasun. The seasun moves through the water. The Sartan created living creatures, the Durnai, to be homes for the mensch of Chelestra. The Durnai are supposed to follow the sun wherever it wanders. However, for reasons that the Sartan apparently never understood, the Durnai sleep all of the time, which means that every few generations, the mensch have to have a sunchase -- they build vessels, called "sun-chasers," and move to another Durnai to keep up with the movement of the Seasun.

The mensch, by the way, do not realize that their homes are, in fact, living creatures. As a result, they call their homes "seamoons." They do know that at a certain point, the dwarves are prevented from tunneling by something that they cannot tunnel through, which is the living part of the Durnai.

The mensch have ascertained that they need to go on another sunchase and have built their sun-chasers. At the christening of the sun-chasers, the dwarves are attacked by serpentine sea creatures. The creatures the depart, leaving thousands of traumatized dwarves, an oily film on the water, and thousands of splinters that used to be the sun-chasers.

The dwarven royal family call for a meeting of the royal families and head for the elven seamoon. At this meeting among the rulers and their spouses (and at which their daughters are eavesdropping), it is revealed that a settlement of humans were attacked as well, and during the meeting, a critically wounded elf arrives bearing a message from the serpents, whom the humans dub "Dragon-Snakes." The Dragon-Snakes want the three royal families to surrender their daughters.

When their families refuse to send them, the daughters decide to go anyway.

Meanwhile, Alfred has found himself back in the crypt on Arianus. Only when he goes to Lya's coffin, he finds a different woman there. And a different man is in his own coffin. He wonders if his judgment is off and walks the room again to the same result and this time he notices that the bodies are breathing. At this, he realizes that he must not be on Arianus anymore and sets out to awaken the Sartan in the coffins.

Upon their awakening, they tell him that he is on Chelestra, and that they are the Sartan who Sundered the worlds to begin with.

Haplo, of course, is also being sent to Chelestra by his lord. After a very disturbing scene in which his lord (who finally has a name: Xar) "disciplines" him for lying about what happened on Abarrach, Haplo drives the dog away and wipes the dog from his memory.

Upon his arrival in Chelestra, the Dragon Wing falls apart, which gives occasion for Haplo to make two discoveries about the water on Chelestra: 1. It wipes away Patryn magic; and 2. It can be breathed.

A lot of things happen very quickly in this book. Weis and Hickman also introduce one of my favorite characters, the dwarven princess Grundle, in this volume. The experience that Haplo and Alfred had on Abarrach with a supreme power comes back to haunt them several times in this novel, as it will in future books.

There are a few bobbles in the construction here and there, however. This may be the result of having had two different authors, but a good editor should have caught them.

For example, when recounting what the dragon-snakes did to the human village, the human queen, Delu, refers to the village Shamus. They have private detectives who practice magic on Chelestra? I am pretty sure that Weis and/or Hickman meant the village Shaman. Or maybe they were trying to invent a new word. Either way, they used an existing word that led me, at least, to the wrong initial impression.

Additionally, there is a small continuity error. At one point, Alfred opines that the elves of Chelestra are less warlike than the elves of the other worlds. How would he know? He certainly must have formed an opinion of the elves of Arianus when he was there, but he never visited Pryan, and there are no longer any elves on Abarrach.

And, finally, Weis and Hickman are unclear on how the dwarves of Chelestra can dig tunnels into their seamoon without harming the Durnai in question, but when the dragon-snakes create tunnels on their own seamoon, they injure the Durnai in the process. There's some technical jargon about the durnai in the appendix, but frankly, I have failed in my attempts to figure out if they explain away this inconsistency there or not.

Despite Haplo wiping the dog from his memory, it is still around, and comes to Alfred for some reason. This makes the Sartan suspicious of Alfred, since a Patryn's dog should not be spending time with a Sartan. Meanwhile, Alfred is very concerned about Haplo's well-being as a result of the dog's appearance.

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    • Dallas Matier profile image

      Dallas Matier 

      5 years ago from Australia

      The Dragonlance novels that these two wrote were among my favourites back in high-school, but I've never read this series. It sounds interesting, though - I might have to have a look at it.

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