‘Born of Aether’ ‘In the Dead of Night’ and ‘Renewal’ by Alison Luhrs

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Genres: Fantasy, Franchise Fiction, Short Story, Magic the Gathering

Similar books: Unbowed

Previous books in the series/by the author reviewed: Unbowed, Ixalan, Dominaria

  • Highly Recommended
    • If you like Magic the Gathering
  • Recommended
    • If you like bittersweet short stories
    • If you like stories about parties
  • Recommended with Reservations
    • If you want to read a story about a dying character who’s living it up
  • Not Recommended
    • You don’t like Magic the Gathering or don’t have any interest in giving it a chance.

Spoiler-ific Review

I am mid-way through Sanderson’s ‘Children of the Nameless,’ and it made me wonder what I would write in the MtG setting if I had the chance. I came to realize that I would write something inspired by this trio of stories.

As a result of thinking that, I wanted to re-read of my favorite Magic the Gathering short stories.

Aetherborn are persons created as an industrial byproduct of the refinement of aether on the plane Kaladesh. The aetherborn live at most for four years, and are born with an internal clock telling them exactly how much longer they have to live. As a result of this constant knowledge of their mortality, they do their best to experience life’s marvels and pleasures. Their unofficial motto is to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse. Aetherborn have no genders, so a single individual goes by the pronoun ‘they.’

Yahenni is a four year old aetherborn socialite, and is two months from death. All aetherborn hold ‘penultimate parties’- a party they have mere hours before their death (the penultimate thing you do is party). These parties aren’t sad; they’re celebrations of the glorious short-lived lives of the aetherborn, helping send the dying on to the afterlife in a good mood. And Yahenni is a party planner extraordinaire, wanting to hold the best living wake ever so their organic friends will remember them long after they’re gone.

But Yahenni has a secret: they were created with the special gift to suck the aether out of living people to extend their own life- killing whoever they drain in the process. They’ve kept this secret for all four years of their life, a secret they intends to take to their grave and never use.

But on the eve of their penultimate party the repressive government of Kaladesh mandates a curfew, forbidding anyone from leaving their homes- and preventing Yahenni’s penultimate party.

Mere minutes from death, Yahenni realizes they are going to die alone.

Yahenni is highly empathic, able to sense emotional energy from everyone around them. Dying alone in a joyless setting is a terrible, terrible thing. So they leave their home, the curfew be damned, and goes to help their friends rebel against Kaladesh’s government. But that simple decision requires them to compromise their moral choice to not sap the life force from people.

In the end Yahenni gets their penultimate party; they get to celebrate their short but important life with family and friends. And Yahenni gets to move on knowing that they made the world a better place and helped improve the lives of their family and friends.

Plot: Strong… but these short stories are just three out of about twenty in the overall Kaladesh arc. I am judging them as a group of three instead of a group of twenty. Combined with the twenty this single plot/character arc drifts out of focus.

Characters: Yahenni as a character shows just how much characterization you can do in just three short stories. I loved them as a character, and was happy/sad to see the character depart. This was a bittersweet story in the best sort of way.

Setting: Kaladesh is an awesome Indian-inspired, steampunk-inspired MtG setting. There are flying ships and curries, sari’s and aether-powered trains. Kaladesh’s awesome and colorful, and Yahenni’s obsession with living it up gives the text an attention to the details of color, scent, clothing and style.

Pacing: Good, mostly. Just reading these three stories kinda makes me as a reader feel somewhat confused as they are just a tiny blip in an overall plot-arc.

Constructive criticism:

I wish there was more Yahenni in the rest of the ‘Kaladesh’ arc. They were a fun character, and as they died there’s no chance we’ll be getting any more of them. (I’m not saying their death was bad; their death was absolutely perfect. It just left me wanting more in the best possible way.)

Also, the plotting and dialog in the second half of ‘In the Dead of Night,’ specifically everything after the Gonti/Nived scenes, felt a little forced and artificial. I loved the Nived scene, when Yahenni was forced to compromise their morality to save a friend, though.

Net total, I had a great time re-reading this. Yahenni’s plot and character arc was strong enough to get a Hugo award nomination back in 2016(in my opinion, and that’s if you leave out the rest of the Kaladesh arc). Probably not a win, there were too many extraneous Gatewatch characters to create a really focused story. But if you take these three stories and include only the Yahenni POV portions, then I could see a Hugo nod. I hope Alison Luhrs gets to write some more for Wizards, or she writes some more of her own fiction on the side.

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