‘War of the Spark: Ravnica’ by Greg Weisman

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Genres: Fantasy, Magic the Gathering, High Fantasy, Franchise Fiction,

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Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

Rating: Recommended for Magic the Gathering players. It’s a fun pulpy read and I’ll probably read it again eventually, but isn’t a work of high literature. People who aren’t MtG players can safely avoid.

Here’s the TL;DR for my review (SPOILERS!):

  • Pros
    • The new characters are great. The author really flexed his writing muscles in writing them. Rat and Teyo were fun young characters who had satisfactory coming-of-age storylines. Hakara was also a fun, vaguely wholesome Rakdos bloodwitch.
    • The plot was handled better than your average Franchise Fiction book. It had high tension and there was fairly constant combat/fighting.
    • The Ral Zarek/Tomik romance wasn’t half bad. I appreciate that the author didn’t make it too mushy (they did kiss, but that’s it).
    • Jace didn’t suck. He remembered his character development from Ixalan. Also, Jace and Vraska are now an item. I (pirate) ship it.
    • I liked Liliana’s characterization in this.
  • Mixed
    • lot of planeswalkers died. I got the impression that between 30->100 planeswalkers died, either to an Eternal or by being crushed by Rhonas or stepped on by Bontu… but they were all nameless planeswalkers who were introduced in this book just to die. Because they were nameless and were never really introduced, their deaths felt cheap.
      • I liked that these deaths upped the stakes, but I didn’t like that only 3 major named planeswalkers died.
    • Gideon’s dialog was a bit ‘I’m a generic fantasy hero.’ Him being one of the prime Point of View characters made the book a smidge uninteresting.
      • Now to be clear I don’t blame the author for this one- Gideon is a generic fantasy hero. Also, RIP beefslab.
    • There were too many planeswalkers. There are so many that the author basically went around name-dropping them and doing a poor job characterizing them.
  • Cons
    • This book suffered a lot by it coming out before the prolog book (here’s a link to the goodreads account for the prologue). The characters were constantly referring to people and events in the “previous” book in the series… a book which hasn’t come out yet. I’m a generous reviewer, but I have to dock points for this one.

 

Spoilers! Beware!

Do you play Magic, and are you relatively up to date on the last two-> four years of lore? If so, check this out. This book contains either plot resolution or plot development for basically all the modern Magic plotlines.

How good is this book? As a guy who’s read a ton of books including a fair number of franchise fiction books like this, ‘War of the Spark: Ravnica’ is better than average for the subgenre. While it won’t be winning any awards, if you’re a fan of the Magic the Gathering franchise I’d at least check out a free sample and see if you like what you read. I certainly enjoyed what I read.

Teyo and Rat were the heart and soul of the story, and they did a good job of adding personality and flair to the book. They are two kids caught up in events way over their heads.

Teyo is a young planeswalker who specializes in defensive magic, and he is really, really bad at it. In this book he’s basically given a trial-by-fire, forced to use his magic again and again against the Eternals to stay alive. By the end of the book, he gets so good at defensive magic that he blocks an attack by Kefnet, which was cool. It’s clear his story is just beginning; I’m looking forward to him being a recurring character.

Rat was a cheerful, talkative little kid, the daughter of a Gruul warrior and a Selesnya cleric, who was invisible. To use Magic lingo, she was born with Hexproof and Unblockable, making she’s unnoticable to most people, and consequently she’s spent her entire life ignored by almost everyone on the planet and thus alone. I felt sorry for her. I hope she gets a card someday.

Hakara was also fun: she’s a nutty reanimated Rakdos Bloodwitch who’s somehow wholesomely fun even as she’s being macabre.

Jace’s characterization from Ixalan is continued, by realizing that his relationship with Liliana is a toxic one. When the time comes, Jace leads the Gatewatch assassination attempt against her, and he doesn’t give in to her begging for mercy. I was honestly a bit shocked at how badass he was. In the end he and Vraska get together.

I liked the Ral/Tomik romance. Ral spent most of the book running around trying to find his boyfriend in the middle of the warzone, but failing to find him. Just when Ral and Kaya are cornered by Rakdos and about to be killed, Tomik shows up and saves the day.

Liliana’s point of view really did a good job of capturing her desperation and her dislike for serving Bolas. She got a good bit of character development here.She finally realizes (after years of being a main character in MtG, so it’s about time) that she’s an asshole, and she feels guilty for being such a big screw up. Finally that she really does love the Gatewatch (Beefslab and Jace especially).

And finally, I liked what the author did with Angrath. Angrath acted as something of a father figure towards Teyo in this book, which was a cool direction for the character. I wish he did more of his ‘screaming murder cow’ routine, but it was nice to see him being more chill.

Here’s some constructive criticisms.

There were too many planeswalkers. Basically all the planeswalkers who got cards in the set appeared in the story, and had a speaking role in the book. Because they all had a speaking role, the book became cluttered with dozens upon dozens of minor characters, including planeswalkers and legendary creatures.

And for the elephant in the room, this book is read as though it were the second book in a series. But here’s the thing: this is the first book in the series. The prologue just hasn’t been published yet.

  • An example as to why this didn’t work was Niv-Mizzet’s death. He died before the book began, which left me puzzled because it was a major plot point throughout. I would have liked to see him die.
  • Another example is Vraska’s murdering the Azorius guild leader and Kaya working for Bolas, which occurred before the book began.
  • In the first half of this book the characters were constantly reminiscing about a dead character called Hakara whom everyone loved. It left me puzzled about what I missed.
    • When Hakara was reanimated I understood why everyone loved her, but up until that point I didn’t.

Net total, I had a good time reading this. I think I’ll read it again, when I’m in the mood for a light read. It’s nothing special, but I thought it wound up being worth my time and it was a good a send off to Gideon as he’s going to get.

 

 

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