Wednesday, 4 March 2015

And Peace Shall Sleep

And Peace Shall Sleep
Writen by Sonia Orin Lyris
Published by Harper Prism, 1996

After eight books of hanging around in settings we have never seen in the cards, finally we go somewhere recognizable! Sarpadia, the setting of Fallen Empires! Reod Dai is a human mercenary who has been paid by the Havenwood Elves to stir up trouble between the kingdom of Icatia and the orcs and goblins. He's been doing that not just by arming the orcs and gobbos and fostering an alliance between the two, but also by, get this: detonating Dragon Whelps all along the border! But then the elves suddenly stop their payment. Now Reod and the three dwarven ladies he bought dragon eggs from are stuck with a cartload of ready-to-hatch dragons. Reod decides to blow the eggs up on elvish territory, to give them a taste of their own medicine (or perhaps to get them to buy him off). While bargaining with the dwarves a seduction spell of his interacts oddly with the fact that Tamun, one of the ladies is in heat (Yes, Sarpadian dwarves get in heat!) and Reod ends up in love with her. So when the three dwarves demand to go along, he can't refuse.

The plan goes awry. When Reod tries to blow up the Thallid fields to wreck the elves' food supply the eggs don't go off. Reod is captured, though the dwarves escape. Later it turns out that the Thallids absorbed the magic Reod used to blow up the eggs, as the now-sentient fungi rise up against the elves. Reod uses the chaos to escape. He tracks down the three dwarves to the town of Teedmar, where the dwarves are preparing for the orc/gobbo invasion. Now in love with a dwarf, Reod feels very guilty of this. It is revealed he actually had planned to remain an advisor to the orcs and goblins (who are phenomenally stupid and cowardly) to make sure they never truly threaten the other lands. He just wanted to turn them into a serious enough threat to Icatia in order to unite that land, as currently the leaders are becoming more and more oppressive in their quest of stamping out heresy. Disenchanted by Icatia he first joined the Ebon Hand, only to be disenchanted there as well. That lead to him setting up this master plan of bringing peace through war. Yes, Reod Dai is a Sarpadian Ozymandias!

Only not as successful

Speaking of the Ebon Hand, they now come into play. They kidnap Reod and charge him with creating "Goblin Eggs" (aka Goblin Grenades) for their thrulls. To score some more evil points they also activate a volcano to engulf Teedmar, since the dwarves had been making weapons for the Icatians. Not to happy with this, Reod instead starts to foster rebellion among the thrulls, and again escapes in the chaos.

Meanwhile, the youngest of the dwarven sisters has run away. She feels great affinity with the dragon whelps, and was never happy with the plan to blow them up. She stumbles upon a fullgrown dragon. The other two dwarves had escaped Teedmar and are now in Gurn Keep, the last dwarven hold out, which is being besieged by the orc/goblin army. Reod sneaks into the city and starts advising its rulers with his insider information about the orc/gobbo army. Meanwhile he is searching for his love. But the rulers get suspicious of his inside knowledge about the orcs and goblins, and imprison him. Gurn Keep is promptly overrun. Only with timely arrival of the dragon the youngest dwarf befriended do Reod and the other two dwarves escape.

So is there a happy ending, at least for our main characters? Well no, since Reod is already thinking about leaving them to make good on his promise of help to the thrulls...

Reod is one of the few Harper Prism characters to make it into the cards.

There is a lot to like about And Peace Shall Sleep. For starters: HURRAY! We're finally seeing a proper game setting! I enjoyed Prodigal Sorcerer and Ashes of the Sun a lot, but it's great to finally see something more connected to the Magic "mainstream". What's even better is that the Fallen Empires setting is portrayed very well. There is a lot of casual xenophobia between elves, dwarves and humans and there are plenty of hints of cooling climate foreshadowing the coming Ice Age. In other words: the worldbuilding is good, and matches up with what we see in the cards. In addition to that, the characterization is fine, and the plot is quite cool. There are a few times when the writer doesn't seem to know what tone to go for though. There is a especially strange mood whiplash for example when we go from the silly antics of the littlest dwarf and her dragon friends to the despair of the survivors of destroyed Teedmar. But on the whole, this is a good book.

So why do I still have a big problem with it?

Well, while it is a good story, it is not the story I want it to be. Fallen Empires has a depressing premise. One in which you really feel the weight of history. Or rather, the weight of continuity. The climate is going to hell because of the Brothers' War, a conflict half a planet away that was entirely out of the hands of the Sarpadians. People are struggling to keep their society going, but considering the name of the set it's a foregone conclusion that they will fail. With hindsight the story gets even more grim, since we know it will this is all just going to end with a continent covered in glaciers and crawling with thrulls!

And Peace Shall Sleep doesn't go for a story about the inevitability of history though. Instead it turns Fallen Empires into a "For Want of a Nail" plot. Everything is Reod Dai's fault. Without him the orc/goblin invasion would've failed, the thallid wouldn't have arisen and there wouldn't have been a thrull rebellion. The only things he doesn't seem to be behind are the Farrelites and the Homarids. 

The prologue and the final chapter suggest that Sonia Orin Lyris actually wanted to leave this ambiguous. The book ends with the dwarves discussing whether Reod Dai was actually responsible, or if the tensions between the nations of Sarpadia forced his hand. In the prologue there are quotes from Dominarian historians talking about how one person can't have the power to change history. One of them even suggests that thanks to their xenophobia and inner troubles the empires would've fallen even without the Ice Age! I do think there is some merit in that idea. I wouldn't have minded if the book was all about making you wonder about history, and the possibility of one person changing it. But in the story proper Orin Lyris overplays her hand. Reod Dai is so obviously to blame for everything all questions raised are moot. No Reod means no thallids, no orcs/gobbo invasion, no thrull rebellion. Perhaps we should've send Sarkhan Vol back in time to kill Reod Dai rather than to save Ugin!

Another part of the story that is a bit... disconcerting is the seduction spell/heat stuff that makes Reod Dai and Tamun fall in love. I'd almost suggest not thinking about it, as you come to realize it's really quite creepy if you do. Rather like stories involving telepaths we should just thank our lucky stars powers like these don't exist in real life. This novel is actually an expanded version of a short story from the Tapestries anthology (which I'll cover in two weeks time.) That story only contained the part where Reod tries to bargain with the dwarves, and falls in love in the process. It is re-purposed in its entirety as chapter 2 of this novel. I find the whole seduction thing bothers me less in the short story, since that doesn't have to deal with the ramifications, but in this book we have another 12 chapters to go of Reod pining after Tamun, making you think about the implications of their spells every time he brings it up.

One final thing I'd like to talk about is Reod's character. He is a real nasty piece of work! We learn that during his Ebon Hand days he used to be a  torturer! His plan to force the elves to resume their payments? Blowing up their food supply! And then there is this speech he gives to the thrulls while inciting rebellion:
"Cut away any who defy you, even brothers. Call them traitors. See to it that they are among the first of you to die."
Good lord! Generally when I hear about people who talk and act like that, they are wearing balaclavas and decapitating people on the internet!

There is something very interesting about his character though, in that he is very conflicted. This whole mess started because he was trying to improve the world. He's very much willing to sacrifice a few to save the many. (He's just not that good at actually saving the many.) At the same time though, he's very much out to save his own hide. He keeps ending up in situations in which he has to harm others to survive, and does so without hesitation. Only later does he feel guilt, which leads him to make excuses about needing to stay alive to do the right thing. In other words, he's a white/black character, color pie wise, but not one we are used to seeing. Where the Orzhov, for example, are characters that have found common ground between the white and black philosophies, in Reod those philosophies are at war with one another. And the fact that he can't solve that tension within him causes him, and in the long run all of Sarpadia, no small amount of grief.

Remember a few weeks back, when I complained about characters referencing Neptune and Atlantis? Well, And Peace Shall Sleep doesn't introduce any real-world stuff into the setting, but it does use real-world quotes in a few of its chapter headings! Starting each chapter with a quote is a grand tradition of fantasy stories of course. Most of the ones in this book come straight from Fallen Empires flavor texts, which is cool. But then all of a sudden we get "O, to be a dragon. -Marianne Moore". Later we get a few lines of Shakespear! Now, "O, to be a dragon" is the original flavor text of Dragon Whelp, which feature prominently in this story, and the name of this book is a reference to the line "Peace shall go sleep..." from Shakespear's Richard II, so there is some justification for putting those quotes in, but I still don't like it. I think it's the goal of a fantasy novel to drag you in, to make you believe in the world that is being presented. And references to the real world take you out of the experience again. They break immersion, to borrow a term from Zero Punctuation. The complete Shakespear line is "And peace shall sleep with Turks and infidels", for god's sake! There are no Turks on Sarpadia!

This book gives us the origin of two Magic-specific monsters. First there are the thallid. Turns out that the Havenwood elves based their creation on the thrulls! In fact, that was why they hired Reod Dai to foster conflict between the Icatians and the orcs and goblins: to draw away Icatia's attention so the elves could make a deal with the Ebon Hand.

We also learn where orggs come from. They are orc/ogre hybrids. And they can speak! I never got that idea from the one other time when an orgg made an appearance. Granted, I don't think that other appearance is in continuity...

Quick aside: the only other time orggs appeared in the card set was during the Odyssey/Onslaught era. Both of those blocks are set on Otaria, a continent on the southern hemisphere of Dominaria. Since Sarpadia is also in the southern hemisphere, that means orggs are unique to that regions of the multiverse! It's probably a coincidence, but one I always thought was very cool.

King Henry Joseph I of Icatia is mentioned, and the dwarven mountains are called the Crimson Peaks, which are names we already saw used in Ashes of the Sun! That's the kind of continuity that brings a smile to my face, especially since their mention in Ashes wasn't exactly a big thing, just a little storyline tidbit. Oh, and Icatians all have names like Eliza and Aaron, so the British flavor of that kingdom is retained! And for those wondering, Reod Dai is a new name the character was given by the Ebon Hand. Reod's original name was Robin Davies, so even that matches!

There inconsistencies between this book and the Fallen Empires comic, but nothing that couldn't be explained by the fact that the comic happens a few years later. For example, by the end of this book the dwarves are completely broken by the orcs and goblins, but in the comic we see another last stand of the dwarves. It's a bit odd, but there is no reason to assume the dwarves couldn't have regrouped after their defeats. I'll deal with all that in detail when we get to the comic.

There is a continuity issue regarding the orcs. Three clans of them are mentioned: the Ironclaw, Brassclaw and Iceclaw clans... but the Ironclaw mountains are a location in Aerona, not Sarpadia. There are more Sarpadian places turning out around Aerona though. We already saw the Voda Sea located in the Domains when we discussed Ashes of the Sun, and in a few weeks we'll discover that Tourach, the god of the Ebon Hand, is still worshiped in at least one city on Aerona post-Ice Age. Perhaps a planeswalker helped a bunch of creature from Sarpadia escape their doomed continent by teleporting them to Aerona? Or perhaps these terms were transplanted indirectly by the Vodalians? We already saw those had a colony called Etlan Shiis in the northern waters.

As this is the story of Fallen Empires, so I'll fit it where Wizards has put Fallen Empires on their official timeline, at approximately +/- 170 AR.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this story and it's foreboding tone.

    The reveal that Reod did all this to try and unite the peoples is really interesting.

    However, I disagree that "it's all his fault"

    without Reod:
    1) Icatia would be more fractured through politics
    2) Dwarves would have less weapons
    3) elves would not be able to secure a food source, and might lash out at the other races more
    4) Ebon Hand would be left unchecked to challenge the other races
    5) Goblins and Orcs would not have adopted Reod's BAD military strategies and they would have been more difficult for Icatia to defeat, possibly accelerating Icatia's decline

    The only two things Reod did not anticipate was Ebon Hand launching large scale assaults (which he promptly fixed) and Orcs/Goblins using their strategies on the weaker dwarves, since he could no longer focus the orc/ goblin army.