Can you give me this strength, Kirril?
You have it already. All that needs to be done is to delete what remains of your useless moral sense.
Then do it.
Are you certain? What is taken away cannot be restored.
-A conversation between a Phyrexian and Crovax the Cursed
It isn’t unusual anymore for a book to be written based on a game. There are books based on computer games, role-playing games, and even trading card games. The trading card game Magic the Gathering started was the first card game to get into the novel field. Early efforts were sold primarily because of the free card offers (I didn’t think much of the books themselves. A couple years ago, though, the makers of the game decided to start a long term storyline through their game and through their books. It was the usual: Good vs. Evil. In this case, Good was represented by the crew of a flying ship called Weatherlight, and Evil was held by a race of demon/machines.
The background: The world of Dominaria is in trouble. Unknowing, the plane of existence upon which it resides is about to be invaded by a race known as the Phyrexians. They plan to do this by mashing together the Dominarian plane and an artificial plane known as Rath. A planeswalker (the next best thing to a deity) called Urza has spent a great deal of time and effort trying to frustrate them, and has failed to put an end to the Phyrexians in all that time. He hit upon the idea of creating a bunch of artifacts and breeding a man who would be the final component of what he called the Legacy.
That man had no idea of his future prominence, although he understood that he was tied into the Legacy and its mysterious purpose. He left his friends on the flying, plane-shifting Weatherlight because he wanted nothing to do with that purpose. He returned to them to help rescue their captain, who was abducted for the express purpose of drawing him out. With help, he succeeded in the rescue…but there was a cost. The full story can be read in the book Rath and Storm.
Which brings us to Nemesis. It’s the second book of the Masquerade Cycle; the first showed what happened to the heroes after their rescue of Weatherlight’s captain. This one isn’t so cheery. This centers on the folks left behind on Rath. In the process of the rescue, two crewmen were left behind: a really arrogant-but highly talented-wizard named Ertai, and a doomed nobleman named Crovax. Crovax had a hard time of it in the Rath and Storm book; he killed the angel that he obsessively loved, and became twisted and evil. It doesn’t get any better. Ertai, on the other hand, ended up stuck on the flying warship Predator, just after he opened the portal allowing Weatherlight to escape…and the warlord Greven il-Vec, its captain, isn’t happy about it.
Ertai and Crovax aren’t the only ones who are involved in this book; there is the elf lord Eladamri, who led his rebels against the enemy Stronghold with no real success. He has a fairly prominent role, as he hasn’t given up. And there is Belbe, a Phyrexian shaped as an elven woman, sent by her masters to choose a new ruler for the plane of Rath (since the previous one went on a vengeance kick).
This isn’t a book with too many “good” guys. Ertai has some flashes of morality, but his arrogance makes him hard to like for most of the book. Crovax…well, I’d kinda hoped he’d find a way for redemption, since he got put through hell previously. The Phyrexians had different plans, though. The back of the book seems to hint at building someone powerful enough to take down a planeswalker. Crovax may very well be it. The story moves along as Ertai and Crovax attempt to meet their own goals: Crovax to become the ruler of Rath, and Ertai trying to find a way to escape Rath and stay alive-not necessarily in that order. Things get really complicated, though, once a third player begins to act in the background. Throw Eladamri into the mix, acting on the words of an oracle, and you set the scene for a busy climax.
If you are looking for a book with a happy ending…I doubt you’ll enjoy this book too much (although one of the bad guys gets what he deserves in the end). The protagonists are all tainted with evil in some way or another; some simply revel in their evil. It does succeed in setting up the rest of the storyline, which will probably continue through the last of the Masquerade Cycle books and through whatever cycle follows. This story got hung up a bit, I felt, with the year-long hiatus to fill in further back story with the Artifacts Cycle, but it seems to be back on track. Think of this book as “The Empire Strikes Back“; just don’t think any Ewoks are going to come to the rescue in the next book.