Posts Tagged With: Magic the Gathering

Planeshift, by J. Robert King

pshiftAs Yawgmoth will let you know, Dominaria is no easy world to invade.  I couldn’t have laid waste to every continent and killed every hero without the help of many colleagues and friends….
…And of course, I want to thank the fans, every last one of whom is now a subject of the dread lord Yawgmoth.  It’s been nice conquering you.
(I know some of you hope Urza and Gerrard can pull this thing off in the next book, but don’t count on it.  Yawgmoth and I go way back.)
-Author’s acknowledgments

Imagine living through an invasion by the next best thing to demons.  Imagine the elation you’d feel knowing that you’d helped beat back the forces of evil.  Then imagine what you’d feel if you discovered that it was only beginning; that another world in another plane was suddenly overlaid upon everything you know.

That’s probably what happened to Gerrard Capashen and company at the beginning of the second book of the Invasion cycle, Planeshift.  When we last left our heroes, they’d just finished a great battle, and were recuperating from considerable tragedies (the nature of which I’ll leave quiet for now, since this review is coming out at the same time as Invasion).  Unfortunately for our heroes, it turns out that it was only the opening gambit.  The plane of Rath, currently ruled by the Evincar Crovax, has begun a dimensional shift onto the lands of Dominaria.  That in itself wouldn’t be so bad, if not for the fact that the overlay brings with it the hordes of Phyrexians living on Rath.  To make matters worse, Crovax’s Stronghold comes with the rest of Rath.

Fortunately, the heroes of our story aren’t exactly twiddling their thumbs.  Urza Planeswalker leads a team of other planeswalkers for a massive assault on Phyrexia itself, hoping to take out the being known as Yawgmoth directly.  The elf-lord Eladamri goes to the lands of Keld, where the warriors are firmly convinced that they are facing Twilight (their version of the end of the world).  Agnate, leader of the metathran soldiers, makes common cause with the lich-lord Dralnu.  The dragon Rhammidarigaaz finds himself attempting to awaken long slumbering powers that will reassert the might of the dragon nations.  And Gerrard and the crew of the Weatherlight help out where they can, but work towards their goal of dealing with Crovax and the Stronghold.

As this is the next to last book, expect some resolutions in some long-running subplots.  I’ll spare the details, but expect casualties on all fronts, both physical and mental (and both!).  Urza continues to demonstrate his obsessions, which includes a truly chilling moment which demonstrates that Urza’s not particularly nice in the effort to destroy Phyrexia.  Of course, it also doesn’t escape his notice how Phyrexia is close to his own ideas of paradise….!  There’s also a nice moment featuring Tahngarth the Talruum minotaur, as he steps into his own in not just one but two important sections.

The ending is appropriately horrifying as well, although hope is still offered (in spite of the author’s acknowledgments); just what you’d expect out of the penultimate chapter of the Invasion cycle.  Planeshift does a nice job of continuing the plot, probably the result of having the same author writing both Invasion and Planeshift (and the forthcoming Apocalypse).  I’m still wondering how they’re going to get all this wrapped up, but I’m willing to wait for the next book before rendering judgment on the Invasion cycle (and by extension, the entire Weatherlight Saga).

Categories: Invasion Cycle, Magic the Gathering | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Nemesis, by Paul B. Thompson

nemesisCan 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.
Do it!
-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.

Categories: Magic the Gathering, Masquerade Cycle | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Invasion, by J. Robert King

invasion…Safety isn’t the issue.  Defeat of the Phyrexians is.
This is where you and I differ, Master.  Safety is the issue.  You’ve never wanted to save your people.  You’ve only wanted to defeat your foes-Mishra, Gix, K’rrik, and now Yawgmoth himself.  You would sacrifice us all if you knew it would doom him.
I am willing to sacrifice myself to defeat Yawgmoth.  I have neither sympathy nor patience for others who are not.
As I said, Master, this is where we differ.
-A debate between the planeswalkers Urza and Teferi

    For thousands of years, Urza Planeswalker has been waiting for this moment.  Since the day he fought and defeated his brother Mishra in the depths of the past, he’s been looking to defeat and destroy the evil of Phyrexia, a plane of existence of plagues and twisted machine/creatures.  He’s been planning a way to defeat the Phyrexians when the time came for a final conflict.  That time is now.

This is it…the trilogy that has been building in the Magic the Gathering books for a few years now.  The Thran gave us the ultimate genesis of this story.  The Artifacts cycle gave us back story on the prime mover on the world of Dominaria. Rath and Storm was the prologue of the current events featuring the potential hero of this story, and the Masquerade cycle gave us the fallout from those events in three different settings.  Now, J. Robert King brings us to the grand finale:  the Invasion cycle, starting with the book of the same name.

Invasion has three major plots going through it.  The most significant one features Gerrard Capashen, captain of the skyship Weatherlight.  He and his crew are returning to Dominaria from another plane just in time for the Phyrexian invasion.  Gerrard’s been hyped as the heir to a Legacy which features a number of artifacts and the Weatherlight, all working as one unit.  The opening of the book certainly does much to prove that the Legacy is a force to reckon with.  Unfortunately, it also makes him a prime target for Tsabo Tavoc, a spider-woman-like creature who is leading the first wave into the land of Benalia-which happens to be Gerrard’s homeland.

Another plot is that of Urza Planeswalker, the somewhat insane immortal who crafted the Legacy, and supposedly has a plan to destroy Phyrexia once and for all.  He’s assisted by a mortal-but extremely long-lived-wizard named Barrin; he also created a fighting force called the metathran, beings born and bred to fight Phyrexians.  The last major plot features the nature spirit Multani, the spirit of the Yavimaya forest, who deals with the Phyrexian invasion in his own way; he later will gain assistance by an elf-lord from the plane of Rath.

When this whole story was first introduced, the Legacy was hyped as being the one thing necessary to drive off the Phyrexians for good, and that Gerrard was a key component of that Legacy.  He’d also left behind a piece of that Legacy when he traveled to Rath in the beginning of this story, to prevent that piece from falling into Phyrexian hands/claws/appendages.  I’ve a sneaking feeling nobody will remember that part….  Even so, I have trouble believing that the Weatherlight is going to single-handedly stop the invasion.  Of course, I’m not the one writing the story.

Urza is one of those characters who can’t really be considered a “good guy”.  As the quote above shows, he has his obsessions, and they’ve been a theme of Urza’s since the beginning.  One has to wonder what will happen to him if he should survive all this (always presuming that the invasion is pushed back, of course).  I also rather liked the character of Teferi, a planeswalker like Urza, but with a far better attitude.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t get nearly enough pages.

While Invasion is a pretty good beginning for this trilogy, I can’t help but feel that this might be a little to big for a trilogy to handle.  After all, this is the invasion of an entire world, using the resources of another world.  We only get to see small bits of it.  I’m all for heroes having near impossible odds, but I’m hoping that I won’t be disappointed by the resolutions.

Incidentally…don’t look for too much in the way of triumphant victories.  This is only book one, after all…

Categories: Invasion Cycle, Magic the Gathering | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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