Dragon Wing

Dragon Wing (1990) is the first novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman in their Death Gate Cycle series.

Following the Rose of the Prophet trilogy, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman embarked on an ambitious seven-volume series that began with Dragon Wing. As described by the publisher, "Preeminent storytellers Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman have redefined epic fantasy. Since the publication of their Dragonlance series, millions of readers have enjoyed their imaginative world-building, rich characterization, and intricate storylines. Now these bestselling authors bring their talents to one of the most innovative fantasy creations ever in Dragon Wing, the first volume in The Death Gate Cycle."

Plot summary

Arianus, the World of Air, is composed entirely of porous floating islands, aligned in three basic altitudes. In the Low Realm, the dwarves (called "Gegs", an elven word for "insects") live on the continent Drevlin and cheerfully serve the giant Kicksey-winsey, a city-sized machine that is the source of all water in Arianus. In the Mid Realm, elves and humans have warred for centuries with each other and amongst themselves for water, status, and advantage. Above them all in the High Realm live the Mysteriarchs, isolationist human wizards of the Seventh House rank. They were some of the most powerful wizards of their kind, leaving fellow humans behind in their disgust for the constant warfare, but they never equalled the likes of the missing Sartan and Patryn races.

As the novel opens, the Lord of the Nexus instructs a follower on his task in Arianus. The follower will go to Arianus and discreetly spy against the Sartan, the race that has long imprisoned their people before mysteriously disappearing. There, the follower will spread chaos in preparation for the Lord's arrival, never revealing that he is actually one of the powerful Patryn race. When the time comes, the Lord will conquer all of the worlds and reunite them as one under his rule. The Patryns will have their revenge against their Sartan enemies.

On Arianus, an assassin named Hugh the Hand is hired by King Stephen, nominally the ruler of all humanity, to kill Crown Prince Bane. Bane is not actually Stephen's child, nor that of Stephen's wife, Anne; he was switched at birth for the child of the mysteriarch Sinistrad, and speaks to his real father through a feather talisman magically charmed to make others dote on him despite their disapproval of the changeling. Bane is a devious child—charming, but ambitious, and totally self-possessed. Hugh takes Bane away from Stephen's fortress, and the two are followed by Bane's manservant, the gangly, balding Alfred Montbank, whose greatest talents seem to be fainting at the first sign of danger and tripping over anything in his path (and several things that aren't).

At this time on Drevlin, a Geg is on trial for the crime of thinking too much. Limbeck Bolttightner seems obsessed with the question of why, but his most heretical belief is that the god-like Welves, who land in their giant flying dragonships for tributes of water every month or so, are not actually gods at all. He once found a (W)elf dead in a crashed dragonship, and even his girlfriend, Jarre, won't believe that a god could actually die. Sentenced to death by being thrown off the continent on a hang-glider, Limbeck manages to crash-land on a smaller island some distance down, where he encounters an injured man whose damaged ship is covered with brilliantly shining runes. The Kicksey-winsey inadvertently destroys the ship, but Limbeck manages to rescue the man in time. He believes the injured man is also a god, one he can pit against the Welves, so he brings the unconscious man along as he rides back up to Drevlin in one of the Kicksey-winsey's help-hands. Joining them is a dog who refuses to leave the "god"'s side despite its own injuries.

Haplo—Limbeck's god and the follower from the prologue—awakens in Drevlin not long before Hugh, Bane and Alfred crash-land there as well. It becomes clear that Haplo's dog is more than the average canine; he is very intelligent, and Haplo can hear through his ears. Limbeck, hearing about the "other gods", takes Haplo to investigate, but chaos erupts, with the entire group split up and reassembling. All but Alfred and Jarre are quickly arrested; those two take a trip into the tunnels under the Kicksey-winsey, where they come across a room filled with glass coffins containing sad, beautiful people. This, Alfred says, is where he came from. Alfred is quickly arrested as well, though Jarre escapes. In prison, Alfred creeps over to the sleeping Haplo and confirms, to his horror, his suspicion of Patryn runes that were hidden by Haplo's bandages.

The rulers of the Gegs present the prisoners to the Welves as false gods, with Limbeck thrown in for free in the hopes that the Welves will execute the lot. Various circumstances (a mutiny against the tyrannical elven captain, a dwarven rebellion against their overlords) leads to Bane hiring the ship to take him up into the High Realm, where his father will supposedly reward them all. The new captain of the ship agrees to the terms.

In the High Realm, Haplo makes his decision: he will take Prince Bane back to the Nexus with him, as the Lord of the Nexus will almost certainly be able to make use of him. Hugh becomes smitten with Sinistrad's wife, Iridal, once a good and noble woman who thought her husband-to-be was joking when he told her, flat out, that he was an evil man. Limbeck agonizes over his revelations concerning the oppressive (W)elves and eventually decides to lead his peace-loving, optimistic people to war.

Haplo is prepared to make his move when he hears, through the dog, Bane confront Alfred about being a Sartan. Bane has seen Alfred work Sartan rune-magic, something no one else on Arianus—not even the powerful Mysteriarchs—could do. In fact, Alfred's rune-magic brought Bane back from near-death. Haplo prepares to confront Alfred, but they both realize a magical battle would draw too much attention, something Haplo's Lord ordered him to avoid at all costs. Haplo instead satisfies himself by abducting Bane as planned. Hugh, in the meantime, attacks and kills Sinistrad to free Iridal and her son from Sinistrad's evil influence, but Hugh dies in the process. Sinistrad's pet quicksilver dragon, freed of his master's mind-control, begins to destroy the castle, but Alfred subdues it with his magic. Alfred and Iridal give chase to Haplo, but they are too late to recover Bane. Haplo returns to the Nexus to prepare for his next journey: to Pryan, the World of Fire.


Alfred Montbank: Alfred Montbank is a powerful Sartan who disguises himself as a weak and bumbling human for fear of being tempted to interfere with mensch lives. In Dragon Wing, he spends much of the book pretending to be Bane's loyal chamberlain; in actuality, he's keeping an eye on Bane's potential to stir up trouble. He uses his magic a number of times in this book—saving Bane's life from a fallen tree, saving Hugh's life from Bane's poison, and spying in the High Realms. With Bane's discovery of his true race, Alfred is unable to hide any more. Bane: Bane is King Stephen's "adopted" son—forced on Stephen and Anne by a charm that made them dote on him despite their loathing. He is first seen as a sweet and innocent child who is nevertheless an assassin's target, but his cruelty, cunning, and ruthlessness are soon shown as he nearly murders the man hired to murder him. Though Bane longs to be reunited with his true parents, he quickly loses affection for them when his mother shows weakness and his father fails to include Bane in his plans. Bane ultimately looks out for himself alone. In The Hand of Chaos, readers learn that he adjusts well to life in the Nexus following Haplo's abduction of him at the end of Dragon Wing.Dog: This nameless dog is not the average house pet, but rather a unique and intelligent companion of Haplo's. The dog has a strange tendency to appear in unexpected places, seemingly scaling ladders and escaping explosions in ways a normal dog couldn't. In Dragon Wing, the dog's exact nature isn't clear; it's certainly not a regular dog, but it won't be explained until The Seventh Gate.Haplo: A loner in every sense of the word (his name is the Greek prefix for single), Haplo misses little but keeps his own council. Mild and almost unassuming for most of the book, he is nonetheless driven by his mission, and shows great emotion when confronting Alfred.Hugh the Hand: An infamous assassin, Hugh was raised by Kir Monks after the death of his mother. His father, an aristocrat, abandoned Hugh's mother shortly after his birth. Hugh took revenge on his father after leaving the Kir Monks, sending himself down a path that would eventually lead to him becoming the most feared assassin in Arianus.Iridal: Bane's real mother and wife of Sinistrad. A member of the mysteriarchs.Jarre: Limbeck's girlfriend, who must constantly deal with his absent-minded ways. She is very supportive of him despite being not-so-keen on his unusual vision.King Stephen: The current king of the human realm, ruler of both Volkaran and Uylandia via his marriage to Queen Anne. Though the marriage was originally for political convenience, the two have come to love one another dearly.Limbeck Bolttightener: A dwarf with too many questions, he is awed by much of what he sees over the course of the book. He has not lost his child-like capacity to wonder, a value that Jarre (at least) values highly. He is considerably myopic.Lord of the Nexus: Leader of the Patryns and the first of their race to escape the Labyrinth. It is he who learns of the existence of Death's Gate and the four worlds. At this point in the series, he is also the only one of his people to return to the Labyrinth, saving the lives of his fellow people.

By Serpent Mage, the Lord is calling himself "Xar," which a footnote explains as a corruption of the word "tsar" and/or "caesar."Sinistrad: Bane's real father, husband of Iridal and leader of the mysteriarchs.

Literary significance and reception

Dragon Wing was reviewed by Booklist, Library Journal, and Voice of Youth Advocates.

The book hit the bestseller lists for Locus, Waldenbooks, and B. Dalton.


Dragon Wing has been licensed and translated into many languages, including Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.

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