Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Final Sacrifice

Final Sacrifice
Written by Clayton Emery
Published by Harper Prism, 1995



SUMMARY
Our heroes have grown up. Last novel started with them barely holding their own in battle, this time was start with three straight chapters of them plowing through various evil wizards. Gull seems to have settled into his role as a general, which he's enjoying a lot more now he's having some success. All the fighting is taking its toll on Greensleeves though. She longs for peace and for time with her lover Kwam. She's supposed to regularly summon the wizards they defeated and tagged with the Stone Brain, but often she is to tired to even do that. Her stress is only made worse by Chaney. The druid died of old age at the end of Shattered Chains, but now she's taken to visiting Greensleeves as a shade, making cryptic allusions to her having to make "the final sacrifice" (*ding*, title drop!)

Back on the tropical island seen in Whispering Woods, the defeated wizards have grouped together. Towser, on of the few who hasn't been tagged, is now their leader. He has stolen and copied Greensleeves Nova Pentacle, which will prevent the wearer from being summoned. In addition he has a Keldon Warlord, an incredibly capable warrior who also has some sort of rage inducing power. He gets all the servants on the island to slaughter their families as a power showcase. The warlord also has an obsession with killing Gull for some reason.

On the cover he looks slightly more realistic.

Greensleeves discovers she can no longer summon the wizards, only for them to immediately launch their attack, killing loads of minor characters. Eventually Greensleeves cuts lose, vaporising one of the wizards with a single bolt of lightning. But by then the damage is done. Gull and Greensleeves decide they need to know more about the Stone Brain, since it might hold the key to truly controlling the wizards. So after a short detour to Hurloon to ask for directions, they travel to the ruins of Lat-Nam. There they find the land itself has been poisoned by the Brothers' War. It is still protected by angels and merfolk though. Many more redshirts die before Greensleeves can reach out and befriend these guardians. Then they start excavating the ruins, only for EVEN MORE people to die from all the still functioning artifact creatures that are buried among the ruins. And it is all for nought, as it turns out large chunks of the building have become submerged over time. Luckily Greensleeves is taken under the sea by a passing sea god/elemental/thing, the Lord of Atlantis, where she does some necromancy and gets a skull of one of the sages to tell her the secrets of the Stone Brain. No time to act on it though, since the moment she reaches the shore the wizards locate them and launch another attack.

After another battle and a siege (Which, all together now, leads to the death of more red-, and even some mauve shirts! Following Gull and Greensleeves is a dangerous thing to do!) Gull challenges the Keldon to a duel. Gull had a prophetic dream though, and rather than fight the warlord he manages to remind him of his true name. Turns out the guy is actually Sparrowhawk, Gull and Greensleeves' brother who was thought to be lost in the destruction of their village. The wizards obviously aren't happy with this and launch another attack, but Greensleeves summons a Force of Nature , which allows her to steal all magic for herself. She becomes godlike in power and for a moment she loses herself, seeing her friends and family as mere ants compared to her. Kwam manages to bring her back to her senses though, and Greensleeves decides to channel all her power into the island of Lat-Nam, eradicating the poison and turning it into a verdant paradise.

The most powerful force in the Domains! According to this book. I guess Colossus of Sardia doesn't count...

In the end it is revealed what the skull told her about the Stone Brain: it can completely take away the ability to cast spells. They use it on Towser, but after seeing him go mad they decide it's to gruesome to do it to the other wizards. Greensleeves keeps the ultimate secret to herself though: it can also give anyone the ability to use magic! She is declared High Wizard of the Domains by her followers. And the adventure continues... But not in any published story, this is the last we see of Greensleeves, Gull and their friends.

REVIEW
Most of the stuff you can say about the previous two novels applies here as well, so I’ll try to keep it short so we can get to the continuity stuff I’ve been saving for the past three weeks. Characterization is still pretty good, there are still plenty of fun references to a whole slew of cards, there are some cute scenes and some good atmosphere building. I think Shattered Chains is the best of the three books, but this is still well worth a look.

There is one thing that should've been done better, and that is the secret of the Keldon Warlord’s identity. Bringing in a mysterious villain and revealing he has a connection to the hero is an ancient trope, but I can forgive that if it's executed well. But the surprise is ruined by the fact that after mentioning Sparrow Hawk only once in Shattered Chains and twice in Whispering Woods, suddenly Gull and Greensleeves keep brining him up in every other chapter. Gee, I wonder who this mysterious warlord is. Surely he wouldn't be this missing brother they are now suddenly thinking about constantly after barely mentioning him for years.

There are some other odd choices, like how the entire story is told from Greensleeves' point of view, until almost the end when Gull is suddenly brought back as a viewpoint character, but there are no real deal breakers. This is a fun book, and a good capstone to our first trilogy.

TRIVIA
There is mention of a Coral Helm found in the sea. I only mention it since in the past there has been some confusion with the Stone Brain being though of as the Coral Helm. The two are different artifacts. The Brain just looked a bit Coral-y, back in the first book, when it was still thought to be a Mana Vault.


The detour to Hurloon is a bit gratuitous, clearly just there to showcase WotC's mascot at the time. Still, it's quite fun. The Hurloon are depicted as wise and mysterious, always telling stories. They first wish to know Greensleeves entire family history before she can talk about the problem at hand, which reminds me a lot of the Entmoot from Lord of the Rings. They all have double names, so while their real names are Skywatcher, Thundersong, Snowbeast and Moonbeam, they have nicknames like Little Flower Eater, Bean Nudger, Sleeps by Day and Dropped Six Sticks. I mention this specifically 'cause in the Shadow Mage comic we will be introduced to a Hurloon called Sings Two Way, who later reveals his actual name if Eusemoné. Since we often think of prerevisionist continuity as a whole bunch of conflicting stories, I thought it worth noting that sometimes there actually was some very tight continuity!

The similarities between the Stone Brain and Mindslaver have been noted in the past, which is surprising since Mindslaver was printed eight years after Final Sacrifice. Even more surprising is the fact that Greensleeves in her powered-up state manages to unsummoning half a dozen creatures at once, even though AEtherGale wouldn't be printed for nineteen years after Final Sacrifice!

There is a reference to the Acclaim comics! On page 72 there is a discussion of the maps made by librarians working for the army “To the north lies Icehaven, To the west, archipellagoes called the Spice Islands. To the east Stonehaven, after the looming mountains along its shore.” The timeline in theFourth Edition Players' Guide also called the land of the comics Stonehaven, but as we'll see when we get to the comics, Stonehaven is actually just the west coast and islands of the continent of Corondor.

The angels and merfolk in the story are not proper ones, but creations made by the Sages of Lat-Nam, mimicking Serra Angels and Merfolk of the Pearl Trident. They are actually just mutated humans. As such, the Merfolk of the Copper Conch have legs, and the Duler Angels are both male and female. We actually see child-angels and geriatric-angels!

CONTINUITY
Ah, now, the big continuity debate I've been building up to for three weeks. Here we go.


First, a minor problem. You know how we now just say "the Multiverse" rather than Domina, to avoid confusion between Dominia and Dominaria? Well, this trilogy adds an additional wrinkle to that by seemingly using "The Domains" instead of both Dominaria and the Domains! When leaving Phyrexia Greensleeves thinks the following:
"She pictured the route, how far they'd come, and gasped aloud at the distance. They'd traversed a substantial part of the Domains, for she could see, far off, boundries where the worlds ran out." (p. 246)
 So... the Domains is the Multiverse? But then on page 118 of Final Sacrifice there is mention of the "two moons of the Domains”. And when she ascends she goes 
"This land, these Domains, she saw, were but a single plane in an infinite number of planes. There was so much more that even her enhances mind couldn't encompass it all." (p. 290) 
And yes, Greensleeves ascends in Final Sacrifice, even though she already traveled to Phyrexia the book before. I'll get to that in a bit. First, let's try to untangle this Domains/Dominaria/Dominia thing. Or actually, let's agree to ignore it. There clearly are two different meanings to "the Domains" in use here, which can't really be united. Pete Venters, in the Duelist #16 (we'll get to that one eventually) gave us the explanation that would stay in continuity to this day: Dominia is the Multiverse, Dominaria is the Plane, The Domains are one continent on Dominaria. Greensleeves must just not have paid much attention when Chaney explained all that.

The collection of landmasses stretching from Benalia in the west to Urborg in the east, that's the Domiains.

On to the second problem. The Sages of Lat-Nam. We already discussed last week that much of the information we get here can be disregarded since it's just stories told by people a few millennia after the fact. But in Final Sacrifice we actually get to see a vision of their destruction, which involves clear descriptions of Triskelions and Ornithopters. But in the vision we also see "A tower made of ivory cracked and burned". The Ivory Towers, as we'll see in The Brothers' War, were actually from Terisia City, which was destroyed by Mishra. So perhaps the helmet was created there? The Sages of Lat-Nam were part of an alliance that met in Terisia City. Then again, Greensleeves and co do dig up a Dragon Engine. So... perhaps the college of Lat-Nam was destroyed by the Brothers, only to be rebuild elsewhere. The rebuild school could have turned into the City of Shadows and the School of the Unseen. Or did the sages stay in one place, and was the ruination seen in this story the result of the end the School of the Unseen befell in Alliances? But then how to explain that Dragon Engine? If you want to read more on that right now, I can reccomend this MTGSally threat from long, long ago. For now I'll make a note on how Lat-Nam/the City of Shadows/the School of the Unseen is portrayed in various sources, and in a few months time, when I finally cover the Ice Age novels, I'll do a separate article to discuss it all. Then we'll see if we can finally make sense of this all!

Ruins of Lat-Nam, still pretty powerful

Now for the big one. The depiction of Planeswalkers. Lets start with some good news: the problem is not as big as it has been made in the fandom. On the MTGSalvations wiki we have a whole list of planeswalkers, which includes a special section on the 'walkers in this trilogy, which lists every single mage mentioned in these three books. It is headed thus
"The following characters were called planeswalkers in the Greensleeves Cycle, but since those books were released before the power-level of planeswalkers was clearly established, they were written more like mages who could also planeswalk rather than as actual 'walkers." 
Well, that's not actually technically true... Which is a bit embarrassing for me to say, since I actually was the one who wrote that all the way back in 2006. By then it had already been generally accepted that it was true, and at the time I didn't reread all the novels to check. I think I just copied that part of the list from an earlier list of planeswalkers from Phyrexia.com (Look at me shifting the blame!)

A closer reading of the three books paints a different picture though. Yes, Chaney talks about planeswalking as if it is something any wizard can learn, but that doesn't mean every wizard does so. The only person we see planeswalking if Greensleeves. The only ones who mention having planeswalked in the past are Chaney and Dacian the Red. Oh, and there is... er... Chundachynnowyth (Who didn't appear on the Phyrexia.com list, but who must've planeswalked in from Wales) who believes her research into eternal life meant she had "moved beyond everything, beyond magic and planeswalking". All the other wizards? Never mentioned that they even know planeswalking exists. When Greensleeves hulks out at the climax of the book, Towser, Karli and Fabia try to teleport away, but the other wizards present don’t even know how to teleport!  With that in mind, we can scratch most of the wizards from the list no problem. Considering how easily they die, we can also ignore Chundachynowwhat and Dacian. Yes, the later two make reference to planeswalking, but the first one dies from a heart attack after having gone senile, and the second becomes an alcoholic and falls to her death after a flying spell fails. That does not line up with any portrayal of planeswalkers in the slightest! I'm not even talking about their depiction in revisionist sources, but in this very novel Greensleeves is depicted as godlike after her ascension! Which brings me to an interesting point: the inconsistencies in the portrayal of planeswalkers in the first four Harper Prism novels.

[EDIT FROM THE FUTURE]The following paragraph was written before I reviewed Tapestries. In that anthology it is actually bluntly stated that mortal wizards can discover the secrets behind planeswalking. Which kinda explains all inconsistencies in the depictions of planeswalkers, as well as how Greensleeves could get to Phyrexia before ascending. I'll keep the original paragraph up, but yeah, everything turned out to be a lot simpler since I wrote this![/END EDIT FROM THE FUTURE]

The whole backstory of Kuthuman (from Arena) revolves around how extending your life can only go so far, but becoming a planeswalkers allows you to go beyond the limit of mortal mages. Remember how he was described as no longer having a physical body? That's why I feel I can dismiss Dacian and Chundachyoyoyo so easily. Clayton Emery clearly knows about Kuthuman. He references him as godlike in Whispering Woods, so perhaps he intended Dacian and Chun-Li to just be bragging? Chaney also dies of old age, but I can almost believe that she really was a planeswalker. She is an archdruid afterall, and giving up your godhood and returning to the circle of life sounds like a very green thing to do.


Now the real conundrum: Greensleeves clearly becomes godlike, like Kuthuman, at the end of Final Sacrifice. But if that is her ascending to 'walkerhood, then how on earth Dominaria could she planeswalk to Phyrexia in Shattered Chains? It sort of makes sense if you accept the explanation of planeswalking as just another thing a wizard can learn. In that case, maybe I'm reading to much into the "ascension" scene. Maybe the idea wasn't that she became a planeswalker, maybe she just became godlike because of her link with the Force of Nature. Then again... looking back to Kuthuman, or forward to, for example, the ascension of Jaya Ballard, the scene reads exactly like the ignition of a Spark. And if our main concern is making the continuity fit we have to change or reinterpret some things anyway.

So how in the name of the Nine Hells did she end up in the Nine Hells of Phyrexia? We have seen (or, form the perspective of this blog, we will see) mortal mages open portals to Phyrexia. So perhaps that's what happened? Perhaps Yawgmoth's preparations for the Invasion have moved Phyrexia "closer" to Dominaria, making it easier to cross over? Or perhaps the demon/gremlin things that stole the Stone Brain left a trace, or a weak spot in the planar walls when they hopped back to Phyrexia (presumably using a Phyrexian portal themselves) that Greensleeves could open. 

Or perhaps...

Pretty much all the information we get about planeswalking (The four levels or conjuring, it being the opposite of summoning, etc.) comes from Chaney. But didn't I conclude in last week's review that she had a sinister, manipulative streak? Let us analyze what she's actually doing.
  • First, she forces Greensleeves to come to her and ages her without her consent. Showing use she's not above manipulating people.
  • She tells Greensleeves about having given up planeswalking. Perhaps subtly suggesting that giving up such power is the correct, natural way of doing things?
  • When the Stone Brain is stolen, she just happens to have a Nova Pentacle lying about that will allow Greensleeves to retain her sanity while 'walking. Had she given her that thing earlier things might've been different, but by waiting till this moment Chaney has made sure that Greensleeves first experience planeswalking is going to Phyrexia, the most traumatizing plane of all.
  • Finally, her shade keeps pushing Greensleeves to make the "final sacrifice". The younger druid interprets this at various moments as sacrificing her life or her morals, but what does she sacrifice in the end? Planeswalkerhood!

What if this was Chaney's plan all along? What if all she did was to manipulate Greensleeves into giving up her powers to save Lat-Nam? All the false information about planeswalkers? Feeding her dislike of wizards? Telling deliberately cryptic stories about the Sages of Lat-Nam that would mean Greensleeves would go to the island to discover further secrets? Maybe Chaney had figured out it would take the sacrifice of a Spark to cure Lat-Nam, but she had already forsaken hers, so she needed to trick another nature loving planeswalker to give up their Spark! Or maybe she just didn't want to give up her own Spark! Maybe it was Chaney who transported Greensleeves to Phyrexia! Maybe she just faked her death as another subtle way to get Greensleeves to think badly about planeswalking and more positively about accepting mortality! She even faked coming back as a shade to paint a pretty picture of the afterlife! It's probably not what Clayton Emery intended, but still... it explains the faulty information about planeswalking, it explains the plot hole between Greensleeves ascension and her having travelled to Phyrexia earlier, it explains Chaney's sinister introduction, it explains the inconsistencies between the portrayal of Kuthuman and the planeswalkers in the three Greensleeves books... Personally I quite like the theory. Do any of you? Or am I just acting like a lunatic now?


Some more minor things to close of with:

Some Martyrs of Korlis join up with Gull's army. The book keeps saying stuff like "They fight in the name of Korlis. Whoever that is". Korlis was a kingdom on Terisiare during the Brothers' War and the Martyrs actually play a role in that story as well. So presumably the legends of those original martyrs spreads over Dominaria in the 4000 years since the war, and some new organisation is named after them.

Ur-Drago turns up, and is send to the Abyss by Greensleeves. He'll later turns up in the Legends II cycle, but since he's some sort of elemental-demon-monster-thing I can see him actually surviving in the Abyss.

Later stories will try to remove the "real world" (for a given vallue of rea) reference in the name Lord of Atlantis, by saying Atlantis is a bastardization of Etlan Shiis, a Vodalian colony. But in this story an actual Lord of Atlantis turns up. Who is a gigantic sea god/elemental, rather than a merfolk. (Of course, Lord of Atlantis wouldn't be errata'd into a merfolk until 2007.) Perhaps this elemental just introduced himself with that name since he thought it would be most familiar to humans?

TIMELINE
Finally, when does all this happen? We already established that the Harper Prism books happen about 4000 years after the Brothers' War, but the first four we can date to the year, thanks to Brady Dommermuth. In the MTGSally thread on Lat-Nam I linked to above Brady Dommermuth posted some entries of the Encyclopedia Dominia made by Pete Venters. And what do we find in the Lat-Nam entry? 
"Even when Greensleeves turned the land back into a lush paradise in 4077, the Warbeasts still sit and wait in dormancy"
Yes! A year! So Final Sacrifice happens in 4077! And from that we can calculate quite a bit more. Kwam and Greensleeves have been lovers for three years in Final Sacrifice, which places Shattered Chains in 4074. And since Greensleeves goes from 16 at the start of Whispering Woods to 17 at the start of Shattered Chains, Whispering Woods happens in 4073.

Furthermore, in Shattered Chains Noreen mentions that Garth caused the upheavals in Estark five years ago, and their son is two years old. This matches perfectly with the epilogue of Arena. In that scene Noreen is pregnant, and Hammen mentions having grieved for three years. So, Arena happens in 4069, and its epilogue in 4072. From that we can even calculate that the fall of house Oor-Tael happened in 4049. And since the festival in Arena is called the 998nd, if we assume that it has never skipped a year, the first festival had to happen in 3071. That last date is stretching credibility a bit, but still. It allows us to place the first Festival of Estark, and Kuthuman taking up the role of Grand Master at +/- 3070. This will actually sort-off become significant when we get to talk about the timeline of Leshrac and Taysir... in a few months.

There is just one problem regarding the timeline, and that involves some stray references to some legendary creatures. Characters like Barktooth Warbeard, Ragnar and Xira Arien are mentioned in swears or battlecries, and during the excavation of Lat-Nam mosaics are unearthed that show Marhault (presumably Elsdragon). But these characters turn up in the Legends II cycle. The writer of the cycle, Scott McGough, had intended for it to take place around the time of Mirage, a good century after 4077. I won't let this influence the placement of the Grath/Greensleeves books on the timeline though. For one, we can't actually move these books after Legends II, since Legends II happens just before the Invasion. Stuff like the presence of Phyrexia make sure that these stories must take place before the Invasion and there simply isn't enough time between Legends II and Invasion for its characters to become swearwords half a continent away. So if anything, I'd rather move Legends II than the Greensleeves books. When I actually get to Legends II I'll look into that possibility. So check back in... oh, a year or so? (The scope of this project is slowly dawning on me, but don't worry, I'll finish what I've started! Eventually!)

FINAL THOUGHT
Here's a question: what happens after Final Sacrifice? We never see Greensleeves or her army again, but surely the further adventures of a powerful wizard leading an army against other wizards must've had a big impact on Dominaria's history. If anyone is still looking for a good subject for a fanfic, this is a pretty big dangling plot thread, ready for you to pick up on! Need further suggestions? Well, let me just say this: Greensleeves is now called the High Wizard of the Domains, the crusade to eradicate evil wizards is continuing and they still have an immensely powerful artifact lying about in the Stone Brain. This all is happening while in Tolaria there is a school for wizards. Run by a planeswalker gearing up for a war with Phyrexia, who is looking for artifacts to add to his Legacy... it practically writes itself!

7 comments:

  1. Good read. Like what you did with the Welsh mage ;-)

    Regarding the conundrum of Greensleeves planeswalking to Phyrexia before actually becoming a 'walker herself: I think it's been mentioned quite a lot in the novels that planeswalkers are powerful mages when they're still mortal. I can't make an accurate estimate of Greensleeves' power as a mortal, but would it really be beyond her to open a gateway to another plane? I mean, it's not like they entered (and survived) the Blind Eternities, right? Which is the domain of the planeswalkers that's truly off-limits to everyone else but the Eldrazi.

    Just some food for thought.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Even before the Mending only planeswalkers could travel the planes at will. It was easier for mortals to do so, but they still needed Phyrexia or Thran portals, natural gateways or artifacts like the Weatherlight. Perhaps Greensleeves just happened to be on a spot where the boundries between planes were very weak.

    Thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I remember reading Arena and Whispering Woods(in Dutch!) when I just started Magic because those were the only books they had in the library involving MTG. Pretty cool to finally read about the end of the trilogy here after more than a decade ;)

    Looking forward to read your next articles.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Going by memory, the trip to Phyrexia was more of a teleportation spell than true planeswalking, if you can accept the existence of teleporting to other planes by other means than being a planeswalker. The traveling to/from Phyrexia takes place at a sort of cliffhanger induced plot hole, where the teleporter says they can't get out of Phyrexia due to there not being enough mana there, then, when the scene is revisited and we find out how they will leave Phyrexia, the teleporter says oh this place is full of mana, I'll just teleport out. You could handwave it as either sensing the fluctuating mana or waiting to draw sufficient mana to teleport out, but the two scenes are written like the writer forgot the reason for having a cliffhanger in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You could say Greensleeves just used a spell. The book doesn't make a clear distinction between spellcasting and planeswalking, after all. But I find that problematic in the same way Garth's planeswalking is problematic: if all you need is a spell, then planeswalkers would no longer be very special. Plus, we never see spells like that again in the canon.

    With the description of the planeswalking itself, you are conflating two things. First Greensleeves planeswalks/teleports to various places, before getting stuck on a plane without mana. After the cliffhanger she realizes something along the lines of "the magic comes from within" and uses her own mana to teleport of. Everyone is happy to be away from the mana-less waste they had ended up in, but fall quiet when they see they have finally reached Phyrexia. Out of the frying pan and into the hell of glistening oil.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Maybe update the mortal planeswalker part with a link to Tapestries.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll go through all the Harper Prism articles and see if anything needs updating once I've finished the last review :)

      Delete