Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Prodigal Sorcerer

The Prodigal Sorcerer
Written by Mark Sumner
Published by Harper Prism, 1995

After last week's excursion to Cridhe we return to Dominaria, but we're still on a place you've probably never heard of: Tamingazin, a valley that is protected from the outside world by the Magewall. This magical barrier makes you move in slow motion, so any invading army can be easily routed by a few archers. The people inside the valley are still waging war on each other though.  The Institute of Arcane studies, which put up the wall centuries ago, has sworn not to interfere with those wars, but when human leader Tagard Tarngold asks for help to defeat one final city without bloodshed, thereby uniting the entire valley, the wizards Aligarius decides to break the rules. He puts all the viashino in the city to sleep, and Tagard marches in and takes the throne.

Our main characters this time around are Talli Tarngold, daughter of the king, and Recin, an elf boy whose mother was exiled from her community and who now lives in the viashino city. Talli is charged by her father to learn the ins and outs of the city, and she enlists Recin’s help. Turns out though that the leader of Tagards elven allies, Rael Gar, wants Recin’s family dead for some mysterious reason. Before that can come to a head , king Tagard is assassinated. His dream of uniting human, elf and viashino was alreay facing opposition from xenophobes on all sides, but now Talli must do everything in her power to keep the coalition together. Especially after she learns that Aligarius has stolen the Magewall Hub and defected to the nation of Suder. With the Hub Aligarius could undo the Wall and allow the Suder to invade Tamingazin while it is in a state of chaos following the death of the king. (The Suder enlisted Aligarius after getting him hooked on drugs they produce)

Tagard’s second in command, Karelon, turns out to have been in on the Suder assassination plot. Talli teams up with the deposed Viashino king, despite her own prejudice towards the viashino, and eventually manages to defeat Karelon. During the fighting Rael Gar is killed and it is revealed that he had usurped Recin’s mother’s position as leader of the elves. His replacement allows Recin’s family back into their community.  (I have no idea why the MTGSally wiki says the books ends suddenly without a resolution to this plot thread. Whomever wrote that summary must have an incomplete copy of the book.)

While that is going on, Recin himself teams up with Kitrin, a young wizard from the Institute, to steal back the Magewall Hub. They get captured by the Suder, but manage to escape with the help of Aligarius. Turns out the Suder had been treating him like crap, which lead to his defection. His brain is still fried from all the drugs though. Talli leads the remnants of the coalition against the invading Suder. Just as a rout of her forces is imminent Aligarius manages to restore the Magewall. The day is saved, and Tamingazin can return to splendid isolation.

Yeah, those worldly pleasures mentioned in this guy's flavor text? Didn't work out so well for him.

Last time I mentioned that Harper Prism books always have a picture of some cards on the back cover and that you can  tell how closely the book is tied to the game by looking at those. Since we've now reached the novels I have not read before myself, the first thing I did when picking up Prodigal Sorcerer was look at the back to see what I was in for. What did I see? Well, they put up Prodigal Sorcerer, obviously, and… oh dear. Swamp. Now, granted, a bunch of chapters do happen in a swamp, but come on. If of all the cards you could reference you have to settle for Swamp...

Still, we are moving slightly closer to the game this time. Aligarius' character arc is clearly based on Prodigal Sorcerer's flavor text, and we get references to the art as well. (Aligarius is actually the beardy fellow on the cover, the guy next to him is the Suder ambassador that gets him hooked on drugs. After he defects he shaves and gets dressed up in Suder clothing. Then his description matches good old Tim's original art perfectly.) But other than that... There’s no mention of planeswalkers, mana or colors of magic, no ties to previous novels, not even any recognizable spells or monsters. The only other Magic references in the book are to Amulet of Kroog and a Millstone, which are listed among the artifact of the Institute. But neither has any bearing on the plot.

But wait, you may say, what about the viashino? Those are unique to Magic! Well, here’s the thing: this novel came out exactly a year before Mirage was released. The viashino were a creation of Mark Sumner for this novel, and the team behind Mirage liked them enough to incorporate them into the game!

On the cover it looks like there are iguana-, snake- and crocodile-Viashino, but the descriptions in the novel all fit the way the Viashino looked in Mirage block.

This gives me a chance to prove my honesty though. Last week I said I could forgive a book for not having much to do with Magic if it had a good story, and Prodigal Sorcerer certainly has a lot to like! I like that the plot focusses on the aftermath of a war and the conflict between those wanting reconciliation and those wanting revenge. I like how it explores the impact the existance of magic would have on geopolitics with the Magewall. But most of all I love the myriad of scenes and little details that are only there to make the characters and the world come to life. Mark Sumner takes the time to have characters talk about what food they like, has them visit a viashino temple and marvel at the art they find there, et cetera.

Some more examples: Talli, coming from a hill tribe, has to learn how to read maps, is shocked to discover that people inside the big city don’t wear swords all the time, and believes that bodies must be cut up after death to allow the spirit to escape to the afterlife. A viashino friend of Recin is fascinated that humans and elves lives with their parents since the viashino have some sort of communal society. Aligarius at first wants to leave Tagard’s side because now that the war is won all he has to do is attemd boring meetings, but at the same time he doesn’t want to return to the austerity of the institute after he has sampled so many great foodstuffs in the city. I know a lot more about the personality of even minor characters here than I did about the main characters from Cursed Land.

What I also like is that the book subverts some common tropes. When Talli and Recin first met and immediately both think to themselves that the other is quite attractive, I was already rolling my eyes. "Of course, the obligatory romance subplot", I sighed. But that mutual atttraction went nowhere! Both characters are teenagers, so the attraction was just them being balls of hormones, like teenagers are!

Another nice subvesion happens when Talli is forced to deal with Rael Gar’s plans to kill Recin’s family. Her dad will not stop Rael Gar, since he needs the elves for his alliance. You’d think this would lead to Talli getting into a huge fight with her dad, maybe running away to help Recin, but no. She does voice her disapproval, but accepts that holding the coalition together is of utmost importance. She does warn Recin, but that’s it. And later, after Tagard is killed and the job of holding the coalition toghether falls entirely on her shoulders, she actually tellis Recin she wont stop Rael Gar, she’ll just keep him from acting out his plan for a few months, until the current crisis has been wethered. Does this lead to a fight between Talli and Recin? Nope. Recin feels hurt, but accepts that Talli is prevented from doing more by her obligations, and is grateful that he at least has time to come up with a plan to escape. No unnececary conflict, no false tension, just refresshingly pragmatic characters.

The book is not entirely without faults though. There are two pretty big coincidences that I think could’ve been handlede better. Talli just happening to ask for help from the son of the deposed leader of the elves her dad has allied himself with is a bit much. As is Recin going to see the coronation of Tagard and just happening to pick the same building as the assassin. And what I could REALLY have done without is the Suder king’s depiction. A morbidly obese bisexual rapist. So basically, a Baron Haronnen expy. When I mentioned Ordando in the Shattered Chains review and wondered if any of the book I had not read yet would feature non-straight characters, this was not what I was hoping for.

One bloke who is into blokes in the entire canon, and it plays out like this...

The book also gives us a bunch of cool factoids about viashino. Their city does not have any stairs, as they prefer to use climbingpoles. Older viashino “retire to the breeding house” and they don’t know their own gender until they reach maturity (but do identify as "he" or "she" before that.) I think all this only applies to the Tamingazin Viashino,  but it would be cool if this became canon for all of them

In addition to the viashino was have some other interesting races. The Garan elves are pretty distinct from other elves in Magic. They are shorter than humans, an have eyes without irises or pupils that change color depending on their emotions. Then there are the En’Jaga. They are not described in much detail, but apparently they looks a bit like viashino, only they are twice as high as any human, have huge fangs and armored scales. Creative must not've thought them cool enough, since they never made it into the cardgame.

Though the plane is never mentioned, we know this story happens on Dominaria, as its twin moons are seen. Here they are simply called the Little Moon and the Great Moon.

Nothing much to talk about here. Continuitywise it’s all fine, since the story is so out on its own. No references means you can't contradict anything either. Timelinewise we’ll just have to stick to the Pocket Players' Guide timeline and go with “about 4000 years after the Brothers’ War” again.

There is come confusion about Tamingazin’s place in the canon though, thanks to some conflicting sources. In these files that Brady Dommermuth shared with us it is mentioned that the Institute of Arcane Studies lies on Jamuraa. In the novel itself Tamingazin is only refered to as a valley, so... is it just a valley somewhere on Jamuraa? Well, Pete Venters has a different opinion. According to him Tamingazin is both the valley and the continent it is located on. It was supposed to be just of the right of this map, or even directly south of Shiv (but left of the Invasion map since it doesn't play into the Invasion story,) That is pretty close to Jamuraa.

Jamuraa is actually a super-continent, made up of three landmasses: the one that contains Zhalfir & Suq'Ata, the one that contains Zerapa, Nakaya, Vintara and all the other places from Prophecy nobody cares about, and the one between them that has never been featured in any set or story.

So... is Pete Venters misremembering? Or was Brady Dommermuth working from an old version of the database that Pete created? Or was the database just summarizing and counting the Tamingazin continent as part of Jamuraa? We may never know for sure. But since the storyline community had already accepted Tamingazin as a separate continent before Brady posted those excerpts the idea of Tamingazin as a continent has stuck. Since it is unlikely we'll ever return to such an obscure location, I think we can call the consensus of the storyline community as-good-as-canon here.

1 comment:

  1. Cool! Never knew the inspiration for the viashino came from an HP book.

    Interesting setting too. A couple of warring city-states, situated in a valley that's surrounded by a slo-mo field, with an evil war-hungry nation on the outside looking to invade. Reminds me of Tolaria in Time Streams.