The structure of this book is unique in the Magic canon. Technically it is, as the cover states, an anthology, with each individual story focusing on a different character and written by a different author. However, unlike all Magic's other anthologies, the stories together make up one big one covering the entirety of the Weatherlight's adventures on Rath. Everything is tied together with a framing sequence of a young boy called Ilcaster being told the saga by an old librarian, somewhere in the future. In these sequences the librarian also summarizes a bunch of stuff that was already covered in other versions of the story, like the flashbacks from Gerrard's Quest, or Starke re-joining the ship from Maelstrom.
Previously when I reviewed anthologies I discussed all of the stories separately. Here however, there is not much difference in the style of the stories. With everyone striving for pretty much the same tone and working from the same plot outline the individual quirks and favored tropes of the authors are not very noticeable. So this time I'll mostly just summarize the stories, before doing an overall review at the end.
Gerrard's Tale, by Michael Ryan
(At least, he's credited as that at the start of the story. In the blurb about him at the start he's called Michael G. Ryan, and in the list of authors at the back only as Mike Ryan.)
We already saw mister Ryan chronicle how Gerrard rejoined the crew in Torrent, but here he gets to do so again. This time we learn that Gerrard was training soldiers of the Benalish army, but that a guild of assassins was hiring his students out from under him. When Tahngarth tells him of Sisay's capture, he first has the minotaur help him solve this problem. In the end the master assassin is arrested and Gerrard gives the corrupt general that helped the assassins the opportunity to save his honor by committing suicide.
Gerrard's friend Pol Cordel is missing from this story, but contrary to what I remembered when I reviewed Torrent, the hourglass pendant does actually show up. Gerrard leaves it somewhere before leaving Benalia. That happens off screen, so the scenes with Pol could still have happened between the lines. Unfortunately that still leaves us with two contradictory scenes of how Gerrard and Tahngarth met. Here the minotaur turns up at his work, rather than Gerrard finding him about to clobber an annoying missionary.
Tahngarth's Tale, by Hannovi Braddock
(He gets two N's in every instance of his name in this book. Every other work by him I ever saw, including Ashes of the Sun, spells it Hanovi Braddock)
This story tells the tale of Mirri's recruitment and a fight against an Aboroth in Llanowar. It's told from the viewpoint of Tahngarth, who resents Gerrard for leaving the ship and for dithering with assassins and Aboroths rather than going to save Sisay as quick as possible. Orim manages to convince him that Gerrard has potential for greatness however.
Ertai's Tale, by Han(n)ovi Braddock
The crew goes to Tolaria, where Barrin suggests taking Ertai along to work the planar engine of the Weatherlight. Unfortunately Ertai spends the entire meeting insulting the crew members, so they devise a test for him. Annoyingly he turns out to be as capable as he claims and he joins the ship.
This story is the only exception to my earlier comment about all the stories having the same style. It is notably funnier, with young mage constantly fishing for compliments about his "tremendous native capability", or Barrin trying and failing to defuse the animosity between Ertai and the crew by handing out more and more wine. It's not a knee-slapper, or one of those annoying trying-to-hard "funny" stories about goblins that keep cropping up in other anthologies, but it's much more lighthearted than the other stories in Rath and Storm.
I quite like it, although you could argue that Ertai is a bit out of character here. On his flavor text's he's cocky, here as just a complete asshole. Perhaps it's just that on the cards you only get his quips and oneliners, not much of his interaction with other character. Here I was at one point wondering if he might be somewhere on the autism spectrum, given how he seem utterly incapable to grasp that what he's saying is insulting to people. Shame he doesn't appear more often in the following stories, as there is plenty of opportunity for character development here.
Greven's Tale, by Philips Athans
This story is just an extended fight scene, covering the battle between the Predator and the Weatherlight and the subsequent execution of Vathi il-Dal. It's one of the less interesting stories.
It's especially dull since we already know the outcome. Not only have we seen it already in the cards and in Gerrard's Quest, this story spoils its own ending, being told in ante-chronological order beginning with Vathi il-Dal being tossed overboard. We do get a delightfully gruesome scene of Vathi being shishkebabed on a tree though, so there's that.
Hanna's Tale, by Miranda Horner
From one of the duller stories to one of the more interesting ones. It covers Hanna and Mirri looking for Gerrard in the Skyshroud forest, but the real draw is the character work. Which is exactly what I think this book should be focusing on. We've already seen the plot in the cards and The Duelist, but a full book is a good medium for giving us more character depth.
Here, for example, we see that the two leads initially had a somewhat cold rapport, but they bond during their quest and talk about their past. Hanna explains that her relationship with Barrin was strained not just because he thought magic was more worthy of study than artifice, but because he "wanted me to follow in his footsteps so we could learn more sorceries and make even greater magic spells ... I was a tool to be used, not a family member to be love and cherished." Which is interesting in light of later revelations about Barrin's interaction with Urza, but more on that in the continuity section below. What's more interesting for now is Mirri's reaction to this: she admits initially not liking Hanna because as an orphan she didn't understand Hanna's desire to stay away from her family. That's a great character point, and one I am honestly surprised I haven't seen before. Fantasy and superhero stories are full of both orphans and people with evil, abusive or otherwise unpleasant parents, but this is the first time I've seen it explored how those people might feel when confronted with each other.
The only downside about this story is the ending. After the Hanna and Mirri are captured by Eladamri Gerrard turns up and they are reduced to standing around in the background while the Oracle en-Vec gives some exposition and Gerrard turns out to be the Chosen One twice over, not just the Heir of the Legacy but also the Korvecdal. The cool character work is replaced by plot we know already, and the two character that just got much more interested in are ditched for our designated hero. Bit of a shame that.
Starke's Tale, by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes
For the next two stories the book goes into flashback mode. This story covers the discussions with Eladamri about attacking the Stronghold and the first part of the journey into there, including the fight with the Slivers, but mainly it has Strake flashing back to how he got here. How he arrived on Jamuraa, how he made sure Vuel lost his initiation ceremony, how he manipulated the boy into starting a rebellion and finally how he delivered Vuel to the Phyrexians and tried to run away himself, only to be pressed back into service by Vuel, now Volrath. So... mostly stuff we knew already, but it's nice to get some details explained, like how Starke ended up back in Volrath's employment, and I find Starke an enjoyably selfish viewpoint character.
Karn's Tale, by J. Robert King
All that really happens here is Karn and Tahngarth being tortured, while Karn flashes back to how he tried to stop Vuel years ago, but accidentally killed someone and was deactivated with the Touchstone. Unfortunately this account is completely different from the one given in Gerrard's Quest, as I mentioned in that review. Not only that, but earlier in this very book the librarian said Karn's mind was "frozen at the precise moment of deactivation", but here it is revealed the golem remained semi-aware throughout, and made his vow of pacifism while in statue-mode.
In addition the continuity errors, this story has some rather annoying character work. We get a 16 year old Gerrard goading Karn into trying to get the Legacy back from Vuel by massive amount of passive aggressiveness, which Karn is apparently to daft to look through. Not one of my favorites stories. Though the bit where Vuel has created his own Karn by cutting out a man's guts and keeping him alive with magic while stuffing the Legacy artifacts in his belly is a very memorable kind of nasty, as is torturing Karn by having the pacifist golem continuously fall over on top of a bunch of Moggs. Vile piece of work, that Volrath!
Crovax's Tale, by Kij Johnson
This is the most annoying story in the book. Not that it's badly written, or that the characters aren't interesting (far from it, Crovax is my favorite of the crew members, up to his heel turn), but... it tells the whole story of their journey on Rath AGAIN, this time from Crovax's point of view. If you can stomach going through the entirety of Rath block for the fifth time though, the story is actually pretty good. Like I said, I like Crovax as a character, and it's good to see him get some more interaction with other crew members, as he has a habit of brooding alone in the background. This story shows us two sides of him. When he tells of how he used to teach Selenia games their love sounds sweet, but at other times he becomes creepily possessive, going "She is mine!" more than once. I am quite looking forward to covering the Born to Greatness story from The Duelist, to see how the two met and, hopefully, to get a better idea of how much of what we see here is genuinely Crovax and what is caused by either grief or his curse.
The Weatherlight's Tale, by Francis Lebaron
This is a bit of a grab bag of a story, telling of the Weatherlight fighting Predator during the period that Gerrard is inside the Stronghold. It is told from various points of view, like Hanna, Karn and even from a redshirt called Tomalan, which I believe is the only time one of the crewmen other than the major ones (the ones that got legendary creatures printed) gets to be viewpoint character in the entire saga. Tomalan's part ends with him being skewered by a harpoon from the Predator, so maybe all the other minor crew members got scared of the spotlight after that.
The story is interspersed with scenes describing the hum and clatter of the Weatherlight's engines as it flies and incorporates the Skyshaper, a bit of the Legacy retrieved from Volrath. The ship isn't sentient. Yet.
Mirri's Tale, by Liz Holliday
The last story covers Mirri following Crovax and stopping him from sabotaging the ship. This is interspersed with flashbacks of a time when Multani send her and Gerrard to discuss a trade agreement with a tribe of catfolk. One of the tribe wants Mirri for a mate, but she refuses, and the tribe forces her to go through a ceremony called the Spirit Way, in which she is confronted with a cat spirit who tells her to choose between Gerrard and the other cat warrior's life. She refuses, and then the spirit prophecizes she will one day kill Gerrard. But in the end she lets Crovax kill her to allow Gerrard the chance to escape.
Not a huge fan of this one. It is revealed here that Mirri has been in love with Gerrard the whole time. which annoys me for three reasons. First, it's a story we've seen a million times already. "Oh, I'm in love with someone, but it can't work out since they're married/gay/not into cat people/etc." I'm not interested in retreading that ground. If it ended with a sensible "Oh well, better move on", then maybe I could get behind it, but that's not what we are getting here. My second grievance is a more personal one. As a guy whose best friend is a woman I would like the media to realize that it is in fact possible to have a cross-gender friendship without a plot about unrequited love or sexual tension. Thirdly, Mirri also having a thing for Gerrard somewhat tarnishes all that lovely character development we got in Hanna's story! Was she being genuine about her unease towards Hanna estrangement from Barrin, or was it all a front to hide the fact she resented Hanna since Gerrard fell for her?
Finally, if we do need to have a story like this, why is all the character development wrapped up in a weird spirit journey ritual thing? You've got Mirri fighting Crovax, a man whose whole life was destroyed because of his obsessive love for Selenia. Surely that could teach her a lesson about needing to let go?
I've already flagged the few stories I don't like. On the whole though, the book is perfectly fine. In fact, of the stories I didn't like it was mostly the subject or the characters that annoyed me. The "house style" the stories are written in is good, and the story and characters as a whole are still fine, as I have been saying for weeks now. The main problems I find have to do with the structure of the book, and the larger Rath story continuity.
Rath and Storm is the most complete telling of the Rath storyline, but deliberately avoids a lot of stuff that was already covered in The Duelist or Gerrard's Quest. For example, Starke rejoining the ship after the battle with Maraxus, or the flashback to Rofellos's death are quickly described by the librarian in the framing sequence, they don't get a full story themselves. That's fine. I'm already reading this one story for the fourth time now (or the fifth, if you count the cards and the storyboard in The Duelist as separate versions), so I don't need the full version again. But when you are taking out parts of the story, don't cut the final confrontation with Volrath! That robs the story of its climax! The book starts focused, with a crew begin recruited for the very concrete goal of rescuing Sisay, but feels like it spirals out of control at the end, with stories about every random thing that is going on except the rescue itself. As a result Gerrard disappears from the story almost completely about halfway though, only popping up in flashbacks or in passing. In the framing sequences however, the boy and the librarian keep going on about him and whether he is worthy of the title hero.
In addition to those two big problems the is also one minor niggle that bothered me: the conceit is that these tales were written by the crew members, and some authors play this a lot more straight than others. Ertai and Tahngarth's tales are written in first person. Crovax's is written by Orim, as he turns into a vampire and goes insane/evil in the end. There is even a bit where she goes "I wasn't present for this, but I'm sure this is what Gerrard and Crovax would have said." But most of the other stories are written from the third person. Mirri's is not only written that way, but it ends with her death. So who wrote about her secret love for Gerrard then? Who wrote the story of Greven? Who wrote the story of the Weatherlight, which, need I remind you, is a non-sentient ship?
Being annoyed by that is probably just my problem. On its own there is nothing wrong with some ambiguity in who wrote a story, and it even makes sense considering the framing sequence presenting all the stories as old histories. However, continuity-minded moi just wants to know what actually happened. Especially since these events are in continuity with a whole lot of other stories that don't use any unreliable narrator shtick. Placed alongside the continuity errors this opens up the door to saying "well, all this is questionable continuity", which is the last thing a completist storyline nerd wants.
Man... this is turning out to be a pretty negative review so far. Which isn't fair, since I genuinely likes this book. Probably my favorite version of the Rath storyline. I guess that's another downside of telling the same story over and over again: your reviewer runs out of ways to say what he likes about the story, leaving him to focus on the negatives. So to balance the books a little... The story overall is still great, the settings is really cool and I love most of the characters. Crovax is tragic but messed up, Starke is delightfully self-serving, but the story still manages to make you feel for him, Karn (outside of that one flashback) is cool as an actual strict pacifist, Tahngarth continues to have a lot more depth than you'd expect without losing his "proud warrior race" persona, Orim, despite not getting a story herself, comes across as wise and as the real core keeping the crew together, and Mirri and Hanna get some real cool and original character development. Which is especially nice for Hanna, as where the rest of the crew got their personality across very well in flavor text quotes, she always remained a bit bland there in my eyes. There are also a number of very efficient scenes in the book. Crovax is suitably creepy after he's turned into a vampire, Karn being torture by forcing him to kill Moggs is very nasty and, conversely, the Ertai story is genuinely funny.
Really, the only thing that break Rath and Storm up is the lack of a "Gerrard's Second Tale" at the end, showing the final confrontation against Volrath. That would give Gerrard and Starke proper endings for now, as well as justify the extensive flashbacks to Vuel's past and all the talk between the librarian and Ilcaster about Gerrard, thus fixing the structural issues with the book. It would also make the book a pretty much complete version of the Rath storyline, thus not requiring you to also read Gerrard's Quest and thus saving you from having to read a bunch of scenes twice. It would even mellow me to the continuity issues, as it would be much easier to say "Well, this book is the complete, definitive version, the rest is just wrong."
So that would be my final verdict. Do read this book, it's pretty good and very entertaining, but first wedge your copy of Gerrard's Quest issue four either directly before or after "Weatherlight's Tale".
- The librarian's name is never revealed, and at the very end of the book he makes some remarks about memories, hinting that he's supposed to be someone from the story. As we have since been told that the original plan for the Weatherlight saga would involve time travel and an older. wiser, less cocky Ertai, my money is on it being him.
- Here it is revealed, or rather: casually mentioned, that the Phyrexians created Rath and twisted Vuel into Volrath.
- If you're looking for a good tinfoil hat theory or inspiration for some cracky fanfiction: the Weatherlight crew are shown refilling water at Tolaria. ARE THEY ACTUALLY ALL IMMORTAL NOW?!?!?!
- No. No they are not.
- Rath and Storm gives us a whole list of minor crewmen: Terrance, Csaba, Vidats, Ineka Termuelen, Ozel son of Suk, Bariel, Kadve, Tice, Davved, Zinaida, Stivale, Griffel, Javan, Tomalan and Sarmiane. None of these appears in more than one story, and I think none of them ever appear in another book.
- In the Karn flashback Jamuraa is given some interesting geography. Sidar Kondo's village was build in treetops, while the village that Vuel gathered his army in floated on a lake by magic and pontoons, anchored on shore by day and being moved to the center of the lake at night. Perhaps these ideas were inspired by the Pilar Tombs of Aku?
- Crovax talks about his brothers, plural, and Orim, reading between the lines of his story, thinks his father must have been distant and cruel. We saw Crovax's family in Gerrard's Quest, but there was only one brother there, and no indication of the dad being a prick. But we didn't see much, so there could be more brothers, and maybe Orim interpreted Crovax's stories about his father the wrong way. I'm not counting this as a continuity error.
- Near the end, when the librarian tells of Gerrard entering the Dream Halls, we get a description of how the Phyrexians turned Vuel into Volrath.
"Then he saw Vuel, now surrounded by dark shapes, horned monstrosities that slowly divide and recombine into one terrifying creature, bestowing powers upon Vuel that transformed and corrupted the young man."
- As it is presented directly after a vision of Sidar Kondo being killed by Vuel and of Gerrard, Mirri and Rofellos visiting Multani's cave, I guess the description matches the following splash page from Gerrard's Quest, which fits at the same place in the story. The bald bloke at the left of the page could be Vuel, and in the bottom right you see Volrath, so... are all those other monsters supposed to be Phyrexians? If so, I prefer the look(s) they eventually get!
Plenty of things to discuss here. Let me split it into three parts. First let's check if there are any references back to older stories, then lets look at the continuity problems within the Rath storyline, and finally I'll note some things that are noteworthy considering what happens in subsequent parts of the Weatherlight Saga.
- Most of the references to older continuity happen in the firs part of the book, which covers Weatherlight. The Brothers' War is mentioned, as is Jamuraa (though not the Mirage War), and there is of course the inclusion of locales like Benalia, Llanowar and Tolaria. After that the setting is mostly self contained, with only the Phyrexians being a familiar story element. The story takes place on a new plane after all.
- Two things caught my eye. First, one of the kids Gerrard trains in Benalia is called Torsten, a reference to Torsten von Ursus, who was revealed as the founder of Benalia in the Encyclopedia Dominia.
- Second, the librarian mentions the "Sages of Lat-Nam from the 2nd millenium". I haven't mentioned them in a long while, but remember that the Sages are actually a big continuity tangle that I promised I would try to solve after we covered their appearance in the Ice Age trilogy. Let's put this little tidbit on the big pile of references to them I've been collecting.
- I already mentioned the two biggest continuity errors: Karn's backstory not matching what we saw in Gerrard's Quest, and Gerrard's meeting with Tahgarth not matching with Torrent. There is another really weird one though, involving Starke after the abduction of Sisay. In the Weathlight issues of The Duelist it was said he placed a card with a Rathi symbol on Sisay's desk after her abduction, and then fled to Crovax, who hid him with a friend. Then Mirri recognized the symbol from that time they fought Rathi creatures at Crovax's estate, which leads to the crew seeking out Crovax and re-recruiting Strake. According to the librarian however, Starke first manipulated Crovax to rejoin the crew, in order to bolster the forces against Volrath, and didn't run away after the manipulation. In fact it was Starke himself who convinced the crew they needed to get Gerrard back on board! Furthermore, here it is stated he always planned to sell Sisay to Volrath, in order to bring about a confrontation between him and Gerrard, while in Torrent Starke genuinely hoped Sisay could help him, until Maraxus tracked him down.
- But it gets even weirder: a few dozen pages later the librarian is happily telling Ilcaster how the crew recruited Crovax before going to rescue Starke from Maraxus. Even though both men were already supposed to be on board! I really don't want to resort to the unreliable narrator excuse too often, but it seems clear to me that at the least the librarian is one. Also, considering how often Ilcaster second guesses him I'm disappointed that the boy didn't catch this mistake.
- There are two more internal continuity errors, though they seems really minor compared to the above. First, there is the question whether Karn remained semi-sentient while being frozen. Second, Gerrard's Tale ends with the crew setting sail to Tolaria, but then the next story happens in Llanowar and only after that the librarian says that since Mirri couldn't use the Weatherlight's planar engine they decided to go Tolaria.
- From internal to external problems: This book corroborates the fact that Gerrard is 26, which we already found on The Duelist online. Unfortunately it also states that Vuel was only one year older than Gerrard, while the online source puts five years between the two.
- Oh, and there is the fact that Sisay lost her parents after becoming captain of the Weatherlight, while Gerrard's Quest decided to illustrate the death of her parents with Sisay as a very little girl. Since Sisay's Quest had an adult Sisay mention she wanted to visit her parents, Gerrard's Quest is in the minority here.
- Let's end on a positive note: some proper dates to use for our timeline that don't contradict anything! For starters, this is the oldest source I've found that gives 4205 as an official date for when Rath block happens. We also learn that it has been twelve years since Starke muddled with Vuel's initiation rite, and that Vuel's war against Sidar Konda and Multani lasted for two years after that. These two years end with him going through a portal and being turned into Volrath by the Phyrexians. We are also told that Gerrard is 16 and Vuel 17 at the time of Karn's being frozen.
- As for the framing sequence, the librarian says the stories of the Weathelight were chronicled in a book called "Early Dominarian Legends", suggesting it happens quite a bit into the future.
- Quick reminder: after this I still have to do a review of the Rath cycle art book and the Born to Greatness story from The Duelist. Then I will have done everything pertaining to Tempest block and will do a big wrap up before moving on the The Brothers' War and Urza's block. In that wrap up article I will try to solve the continuity issues as best as I can, as well as create a full timeline for all the Weatherlight Saga stories so far.
- The main issue here is Tolaria, since that island will play a huge role in the Urza parts of the story. It's portrayal here doesn't match what is to come. The "Weatherlight Ports of Call" article mentioned an order of wizards protecting the Lotus Vale, but those aren't seen here, suggesting it was just a front. What we see is mostly just a wizarding school, which mostly fits how it operates in Urza's block, but then there is this line:
"Although Tolaria's library didn't have much material on artifacts, some of the students had studied the subject"
- Uhm... the place were Karn and the Weatherlight were created, headed by Urza, the greatest artificer of all time, didn't have any material on artifacts? Riiiiiight. The only explanation I can come up with is that the quote comes from Hanna. Perhaps Barrin deliberately tried to keep her away from artifacts to... prevent her from running into Urza and becoming the billionth innocent destroyed in his wake? That would be a sad irony, him trying to keep his daughter from a bad fate, only to have it not only drive her away from him, but also to have her end up on board the Weatherlight anyway!
- As for how he would've kept the existence of all the artificers and artifice knowledge on the island hidden from her... I dunno. He's a wizard.
- Speaking of Hanna, there is another problem when she describes her mother as "long dead and nearly forgotten". Her mother is of course Rayne, who doesn't die until (spoilers) Prophecy. So... either the unstable narrator thing has to be invoked here, or Hanna's backstory gets more and more disturbing, with a mother who faked her own death for some reason. I'll reserve judgement on this one until I've re-read some other sources, but I'll come back to it.
- Some things the fit a bit better: Barrin does stress the importance of the Legacy to Ertai and seems familiar with it, and Urza's appears at the end, although he's just a cloaked figure that is not named. It's heavily hinted here that he closed the Erratic Portal just in time, preventing the Predator from following the Weatherlight to Mercadia. This was confirmed in the Exodus storyboard.
- Oh, and most titillating: when talking about Tolaria, the librarian says: "some say that in past centuries, in years beyond count, some great disaster occurred there." Seems that, despite the inconsistencies, they were already planning the next block!
- Finally one note about something much further in the future: Crovax displays giant strength and some other supernatural abilities, like being able to sense Selenia, before he kills the angel. It seems clear that the vampirism curse was already upon him (see also the flavor text of Dregs of Sorrow) and that killing Selenia just completed it. It thus seems odd that in an alternate timeline shown in Planar Chaos Mirri became vampiric after killing her in Crovax's stead. Still, it's an alternate universe so who knows what else was different there.
And that's the book. Next time, very timely considering the Zendikar book, the Art of Magic the Gathering: the Rath cycle!