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Jeff's Review Corner
I actually was going to do an in-depth analysis about the fact that within the last week or so, one of the many White House czars put forth a motion for an archive of information, including American citizens’ BMIs. However, that would’ve been long, fairly controversial and, really, would’ve merited me much more hate than would have been worth the effort. Politics is a messy subject and I don’t like being inundated with e-mails about how I stepped on peoples’ toes. But, hey, I summed up here what I otherwise would’ve had to have dragged out to 800 words to make valid, so make your own opinions on it. I’m here to bring smiles and cheer and obscure media to all the readers!
Today’s Book: Alara Unbroken by Doug Beyer
Today’s subject actually requires a little explanation due to its context so I hope you’ll bare with me as I fill you in on some background information. Magic: The Gathering was the first and one of the most popular trading card games in the world and really was the franchise that launched the concept of the TCG to begin with. Hey, wait! Where’re you going? Sit down, this is culture!
There. As I was saying, the game of Magic is all about – imagine this – magic. The card game is played with two people or more assuming the roles of “Planeswalkers”, people with the capacity to move between the worlds that make up the game’s multiverse. These wizards are the world’s foremost protagonists and antagonists and call about each world’s energy – called mana – which is invoked through five different terrains and, in kind, represent five different concepts. Yes, this is important to the story.
White mana is embodied in plains, fields and the like and represent ideas such as healing, aiding others and angels. Black mana comes from swamps and marshes and is selfish with a “win-at-all-costs” mentality and summons monsters like rats and zombies. Blue stems from islands and is about mentality, control and self-discipline and is bonded to aquatic creatures. Red hails from mountains and is all about fire, earth and is best embodied by dragons. Finally, green mana is from forests and symbolizes life, growth and strength.
The plane of Alara, as we learn in this tale, used to be one world hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago but it was suddenly broken apart into five different worlds, each one representing two colors of mana, thus reshaping the worlds in those ways. Told you it was vital. Anyways, this is where the book can get a bit complex in that the action takes place in completely different worlds and features numerous different characters from each. While this is handled exceedingly well and the scenery shifts are well-marked, if you end up liking one character or the other, you probably won’t get the chance to see much of them in one burst.
The story predominantly revolves around Ajani Goldmane, of the tribe called the Nactl, a species of humanoid cat-people, from the plane Naya. His life is suddenly turned upside-down one night as a mysterious army of shadowy monsters invades his pride’s home and his brother is murdered. His latent abilities as a planeswalker are awakened and Ajani begins his quest through the worlds in order to hunt down his brother’s murderer.
Other major characters include the massive, black dragon, Nicol Bolas from the dark, dead world of Grixis. Behind the scenes, this massively powerful planeswalker orchestrates and pulls the strings as the five worlds gradually pull towards one another, hoping to take advantage of strange, massive obelisks that channel their world’s mana through them. What he exactly hopes to achieve is his own dark secret.
Sarkhan Vol is a power-mad planeswalker from the red-hot world of Jund, determined to find a dragon worthy of his military expertise. Along his way he meets Rakka, a mysterious woman with a strange agenda and – honestly – doesn’t appear in the story much. In the noble plane of Bant is Rafiq, a just and proud knight who always fights with honor (and was your humble literature section editor’s personal favorite character) alongside Elspeth the rather-forgettable rookie knight and Hazid, the devious merchant-thief.
The story plays like a fast-paced high fantasy action-adventure should. There’s rarely a lull in the action and the cast is always on the move for the next part of their goals. However, this presents some issues themselves. When I first started the book, I was very, very new to the world of Magic and thus didn’t recognize any of the characters, places or things they were talking about. To the book’s credit, it does a great job keeping the reader informed about the world’s terminology and keeps the language simple enough to be understood but elegant enough to do justice to the epic feel of the world.
Another downside is that while Alara is in five shards, the book only focuses on three of them (Naya, Jund and Bant) until the third act and even then the remaining two (Grixis and Esper) are still mostly just footnotes until the finale. By extension, only a few characters really get time in the spotlight. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I happen to like Ajani a lot – it’s just that when you get attached to a character only to have them ignored for a few dozen pages is kind of disappointing. The story as a whole, however, is anything but and is and was a satisfying read even for someone who knows very little about the Magic metanarrative.
Alara Unbroken is actually a bit older now, the set it was based on having been released in 2008, so a lot has changed between now and then. For those who might be interested, there’s certainly no harm in continuing to delve deeper into the fascinating story even if you’re unwilling to put down any money on the actual cards. For those of you who maybe don’t find this to be your cup of tea, join me next time as I delve further still to unearth amazing new things to share with you all. Until I see you again, farewell!
Written by: Jeff M.
|"A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken."
|"August creates as she slumbers, replete and satisfied."
~Joseph Wood Krutch