By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
- Spoiler Alert
As a casual Magic the Gathering player who has been paying attention to the backstory on the cards, the novel War of the Spark: Ravnica intrigued me. The author, Greg Weisman is best known for his work in producing Disney’s Gargoyles and Young Justice. His vision gave us characters to love. With his original work Rain of Ghosts, the world around the Florida keys is wonderfully flavourful and his narrative approach makes the two books easy reads.
In Ravnica, the struggle is real. While I could not put down the Rain series, I had to start pausing and spend each day reading a few chapters. He is working in a universe not of his design. Wizards of the Coast hired him in their bid to return to publishing fiction and he should have insisted on focussing on a handful of characters he is genuinely interested in instead of the other way around.
The story jumps from multiple points of view and I prefer the one with Teyo the Shieldmage first and Liliana the Necromancer over all the others. With more than a dozen planeswalkers descending upon Ravnica to take down Nicol Bolas, the huge amount of characters involved are simply overwhelming. Thankfully, each chapter has a name of the person it’s focussing in on so I can jump to the parts I want to read.
Had I not been playing the game since Amonkhet, I would not have even known of all the events leading up to this book. The fault may not rest with the writer. A committee probably went over Weisman’s work and decided to break it down further. They also wanted enough backstory to get new readers up to speed and looked to see if enough Easter eggs exist for the longtime fan to discover. In a cumulation of a war analogous to Avengers: Endgame, trying to bring down a dragon wanting to be a god is tough.
I believe WotC’s agenda is better served as a comic book or a hyperfiction narrative. When thinking back at some early promotional incentives back when Hyper Prism published stories set in this universe, I really wished a unique card was offered with every book!
When looking back at the set which got me interested in the card game again, it seems somewhere in the development cycle, someone suggested let’s emulate Michael Yichao’s shifting POV style in “Impact.” In a 360-page book with 68 chapters, this idea does not work. Perhaps this book was simply rushed and Weisman did not have enough time to give the book the “justice” it deserves (he was producing a certain cartoon at the same time).
More books are planned. I feel Greg is resource managing this massive world than truly writing. He is game for an animated series (as revealed during the Emerald City Comic Con 2019 Wizards of the Coast panel) and we can only hope he has complete creative control. With this book series, he probably has thirty percent. At least with Teyo the Shieldmage, he mentioned it is closer to how he is getting to know the world of the Planeswalkers.
By the end, just how Nicol Bolas, the Elder Dragon, falls could have gone the route of Star Trek’s “Who Mourns for Adonais?” when considering Liliana’s relationship with Bolas. She eventually rejects him. However, this particular evil is petty. His mindset is not above or as complex as wanting to create a new world order like Thanos in the Avengers movies or that of Megatron seeking to rule through domination. To become a god means having enough devoted followers. To attain that by conquest is not the best way to go and as proposed by Captain Kirk, “Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?”
3 Stars out of 5