Overall Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)
Personal Rating: Solid edition to the Magic the Gathering literary canon. One of the best written stories in the IP.
Genres: Fantasy, Magic the Gathering
Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:
- Django Wexler:
- Magic the Gathering
Spoilers below. You’ve been warned!
In a lot of ways I think this is the best MtG work of fiction I have ever read. The author does a good job of balancing the needs of remaining true to the source material, going through the plot points dictated by the higher ups at Wizards HQ while still doing the most important thing of all: telling a good story. I’m not going to throw shade at any particular people, but I’ll just say that in recent years that more than one author Wizards contracted with haven’t always done an excellent job of balancing these spinning plates. In those cases I don’t know who to blame, be it the author or Wizards or both, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is a good novella.
I wish this novella came out before April 2019, as opposed to being dribbled out after the release of War of the Spark: Ravnica, because this is the prequel to that novel. If that did happen, I think a lot of the problems people had with WotS: Ravnica would have been addressed, with one or two exceptions. If that did happen, I think this would have been the lower-key first half of the War of the Spark storyline followed by the action-packed final half of the WotS storyline. In concept at least, that would have worked. Although none of that would help with the mess which was Forsaken.
Suffice it to say that this book was an enjoyable addition to the MtG canon which did a great job of fleshing out the characters of Ral Zarek and Vraska. Ral in particular did excellent things while in the limelight. I liked Vraska here too, but I felt as though Wexler was hampered by the plot-choices dictated to him by Wizards HQ about her. I liked how Ravnica-centered this story was, with only the faint hint of Bolas occurring in the background for most of this novella. We got to see wars between the Golgari, Izzet, Azorius and the rest of the guilds. It felt true to the setting, having a fun story featuring these iconic organizations.
Plot: Fun, guild politics with undercurrents of evil machinations of dark forces.
Pacing: Satisfying. Not to fast, not too slow.
Setting: What I liked most about this. We have everything from soulless Azorious bureaucrats to Rakdos Murder Carnivals. The author did his research and it shows.
Execution: The author did a good job of executing on the theme of ‘internecine guild warfare, when the guilds really should be allying in the lead up to an invasion by a greater power.’ However I thought that at moments he could have done a better job of keeping the story on track, as it was prone to wandering around some. I don’t know if Wizards demanded all these side-arcs and side-plots, but the context of a novella couldn’t really support the Bolas arc AND the Izzet arc AND the Orzhov arc AND the Golgari arc AND the Azorious arc.
Characters: Good-to-great. But I wanted more from Kaya. War of the Spark was the first time she was featured in a big way in the game’s story, and I still don’t have a clear idea what motivates her. I chose not to read Forsaken so perhaps she gets more characterization there, but in WotS: Ravnica and WotS: The Gathering Storm (the first two books in this trilogy) she didn’t get much in the way of characterization. It’s entirely unreasonably to expect a reader to read three books in a series to get a good understanding of the main protagonist’s personality.
To be sure Kaya had her flashy moments of awesome, but we never really got a quiet moment where we learn what makes her tick. Why does she kill undead? Did her family die in a car crash caused by a drunk ghost? Did a skeleton bully her in school when she was young? Maybe a zombie shot her rich parents in a back alley? I want to know details.
Prose: Liked it. The author’s prose showed his skill with the pen (keyboard?) without being ostentatious about it. Wexler is a talented craftsman of words.
Net total, check it out if you’re a MtG fan. This isn’t high art, but it’s a competently constructed story which serves to advance the story of MtG.
Finally, I listened to the Voice of All production of this. They did an excellent job of taking this good story and making it fantastic. Check them out.