Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Brothers' War

The Brothers' War
Writer - Jeff Grubb
Cover art - R.K. Post
Released May 1998

The Urza-Mishra War comic ended with a meeting between Tawnos and Ashnod, the second-in-commands of Urza and Mishra, so it's appropriate that The Brothers' War prologue starts with a meeting between those two. But where the comic promises an alliance that "changed the course of the war", here it is an exercise in futility. Both of them realize that there is too much bad blood between them and between the brothers to do anything but fight until either side wins. They even think there never was a time when the brothers got along... smash cut to just such a time, over 50 years earlier.

Part one: A Study in Forces
The first part covers the brothers' childhood. Them being apprenticed to Tocasia, learning their trade as artificers and archaeologists and discovering and rebuilding ornithopters. While flying around Mishra finds strange, Nazca line-like symbols, which Urza decodes as directions towards the caves of Koilos. There they find a big powerstone in some machinery. The brothers accidentally break it into the Mightstone and the Weakstone, and get visions of Phyrexia while doing so. From that point on the relationship of the brothers sours, with the stones apparently having a kind of "One Ring"-esque effect causing them to desire the other stone as well. This comes to a head when a drunk Mishra tries to steal the Mightstone. Urza catches him and they have a light beam battle that ends with an explosion in which Tocasia is killed. Mishra flees into the desert. Urza heads off to the city of Kroog, capitol of Yotia.

Part two: Objects in Motion
Part two sees the brothers rise to the top of two nations that are already heading to war. Urza manages to win a competition to marry Kayla bin-Kroog, the princes of Yotia, by having his Avenger preform a feat of strength (although it doesn't hurt either that she's having fallen for him, and that he promises to build ornithopters for her dad.) Mishra's path is rather harsher. He's enslaved by the Suwwardi tribe and only the intervention of his childhood friend Hajar, who used to dig in Tocasia's camp but joined up with the Suwwardi, gets him elevated to the position of teacher of the ruler's son. One night he dreams of Phyrexia, after which a Phyrexian Dragon Engine pops up! He discovers he can control it, but by that time the ruler is dead. His son proclaims himself the new qadir, with Mishra becoming his court wizard. Tawnos and Ashnod are also apprenticed, to Urza and Mishra respectively, during this time.

The Suwwardi are uniting all the Fallaji tribes under them, and also want all their ancestral grounds back, hence they are raiding into the Suwwardi Marches. Which happen to have been "civilized" by Urza's father in law during the old man's youth. Eventually there is a peace conference at which the neighboring nations of Argive and Korlis are also present. The brothers meet each other there for the first time in years, and they agree to talk after the conference. Unfortunately things... don't go so well, and the conference ends with the warlord of Yotia attempting to kill the Suwwardi by dropping bombs from ornithopters. The qadir survives, even killing the warlord. Urza was not told about the warlords plan, but Mishra is convinced that he knew.

Thus the peace conference only lead to more intense battles. The same is true for a second peace conference, during which Kayla actually tried to get Urza drunk to steal the Mightstone and pawn it off to Mishra in exchange for peace. After this Urza relentlessly peruses his brother, until he walks straight into a trap. He attacks Mishra's War Machine, but finds it rigged with explosives. Most of his soldiers are killed and he himself is stranded. Just then Mishra attacks Kroog and razes it to the ground. In the battle the new qadir is killed and Mishra himself assumed the title. Thus part two ends with him seemingly triumphant. But in the last paragraph we see a new player enters the story. You see, in order to gain the upper hand Mishra actually went back to Koilos, opened a portal and payed Phyrexia another visit to recruit more Dragon Engines. But he was spotted by someone, and that someone wants his creatures back...

Part three: Converging Trajectories
Part one covered 10 years, part two only 8. Part three stretches over 28 years, often making large time jumps between chapters. During these years the war rages on, but most of the fighting seems futile. Urza is made Lord High Artificer of the combined kingdoms of Argive and Korlis, which band together to stand against the Suwwardi onslaught. Mostly the war just goes back and forth. One brother has a win, the other brother has a win. One brother falters due to overextending his reach, the other brother does too. One faces a rebellion, the other faces a rebellion... In the end neither is closer to winning, but they have both enslaved many nations, drained the land of all resources and killed who knows how many people.

Next to the brothers there are two other storylines in this part. The first is Terisia City, where a number of people from all over Terisiare band together to find a "third path", a way to stop the war. They discover magic and mana, but their resources make them a target and in the end they are destroyed by Mishra. The other storyline is that of Gix, the Phyrexian demon (not yet called a Praetor!) who followed Mishra back to Dominaria. While there he develops an interest in the Might- and Weakstone, but finds some magic is keeping him from just taking either while one of the brothers still holds it. Thus he develops a plan to turn one of them Phyrexian. He has the priests that worship him infiltrate both camps to that end.

Finally, when the continent of Terisiare is on its last legs, Urza's son (well... Kayla's son at least... more on that below) Harbin, discovers Argoth, a lush forest with enough resources to tip the scale. Gix makes sure Mishra also knows of this discovery, and that both brothers head to the island in person. And thus the scene is set for the final battle of the war.

Part four: Critical Mass
The Argothian natives put up a good fight, but in the end they are utterly defeated. A number of them take Mishra's ships though, and use those to raid Urza's harbors on the mainland, forcing his ships to return as well. There is no more going back.

Amid all this a wild card has arrived: the Golgothian Sylex. Ashnod, exiled by Mishra years before, on the instigation of the Gixians, has spend that time looking for a way back into his employ. She captured a refugee from Terisia City and thus gained possession of the Third Path's most dangerous discovery. Things don't go her way though. Mishra's court is entirely controlled by the Gixians, and when she attempts a parley with Tawnos, which we saw in the prologue, it all just ends in bitterness.

The final battle begins, but then Gix makes his move. Using his power to control machines he makes the artifact creatures of both sides go berserk. They kill most humans present before turning on each other. Gix plans to take the strongest survivors back to Phyrexia, and perhaps he's also trying to engineer a meeting between Urza and Mishra without their armies present. The demon runs into Ashnod and Tawnos. Ashnod gives Tawnos the Sylex and tells him to take it to Urza while she holds off Gix.

Meanwhile, the brothers have their reunion. After a tense moment Mishra is the first to attack, leading to Urza giving in to years of repressed rage and blasting his brother with the Mightstone. This rips of Mishra's skin and reveals he has been Phyrexianized. More importantly though, it also sparks something in Urza. Suddenly he can hear the land crying out in pain. Tawnos arrives with the Sylex and the vague instruction of "fill it with memories of the land". Urza knows what it means though. He tells Tawnos to run. As Mishra is returning, having merged with his original Dragon Engine, Urza sits down and actives the Sylex. Its ultimate destructive power wipes Argoth of the map and finally ends the Brothers' War.

Epilogue: Diverging Paths
Urza finds Tawnos, who has survived by hiding in his so-called coffin (actually a devise to put people in stasis.) Urza has ascended to planeswalkerhood, and the Might- and Weakstone are finally united, each forming one of his eyes. He tells his former apprentice to find the remnants of Terisia City and to warn them of the dangers of magic. He himself leaves Dominaria altogether, having done too much damage to it already.

When I first announced this blog, and of the first questions I got was "when are you gonna do the Brothers' War?" Which didn't surprise me in the slightest. This book is the best Magic story, period. It beats all the others by a long stretch. Which is not to say it's all downhill from here, there are still plenty of stories coming that are very good reads or just plain fun, but in my eyes, nothing in the last 18 years has topped The Brothers' War.

Why is that? Well, lets start with what makes this book really unique in the canon. Other Magic novels just try to tell fun stories, and that is perfectly fine. I wouldn't be doing this blog if I didn't like that. But this book doesn't just want to tell a story about a fantasy war fought with kick-ass robots. It wants to be nothing less than a meditation on the futility of war, the inexorable march of history and the difficulty of assigning blame for something as complex as war.

To do so it pulls out literary devices most Magic stories don't bother with. Here's an example: Urza is born on the first day of the year, and Mishra on the last, and as kids Mishra was adamant that this meant they were equal on the last day of the year. Then at the very end of the book the last battle is fought on that last day of the year. Of course this allows for a poignant moment when Urza realizes what day it is an reminisces of a time when everything was better, but I would say it is also a metaphor for how both brothers are equally guilty of the destruction the war wrought. Similarly in the chapter Clockwork Ashnod and Tawnos meet their respective masters again after being away for a while. The first thing Ashnod notices is that Mishra has gone fat. The first thing Tawnos notices is that Urza has grown thin. A physical metaphor for how the brothers are still growing apart? This is mirrored by their actions: in this chapter Mishra exiles Ashnod, as the Gixians have convinced him he's better of without her. Meanwhile Urza lets Tawnos exile the Gixians, admitting that he was worse of without his friend. Yet the physical changes in the brothers also shows them both deteriorating, which again is mirrored in their actions. While Urza clearly comes of better in dealing with the Gixians, he's still not a good guy, as he also reveals plans of invading the merchant nation of Sardia basically just for resources. The novel is full of these parallels between the brothers, their nations and their supporting cast. Some obvious, some less so. This gives the book way more depth than your average Magic story.

Can we get this card with Urza/Mishra art in From the Vault: Lore? I know the ability has nothing to do with them, but the name just fits so perfectly!
It's not just metaphors and parallels though. The prose itself is also just very solidly written. The dialogue is snappy, but feels very natural. All characters, even ones like Harbin who only have a small part for themselves, each have a clear voice. There's not much humor in the book, especially not when you compare it to Jeff Grubb's work on the Ice Age cycle, but when he does get to show some dry wit it really works. The book is also very good with portraying emotions, often taking a subdued approach. For example, the reaction of Urza and Mishra to the news that their father has died is shown from Tocasia's perspective. She sees Urza sink himself into his work, Mishra run away to be alone, and finally Urza going after him. We don't get to know their thoughts or hear their conversation, but we don't have to. We know enough. Finally, some lines are just great in and off themselves. I mean, the first line in the book is "It was the night before the end of the world". How's that for setting the mood?

That mood is another thing that really, really works in this book. Already in the prologue you feel the hurt, the pain and the desperation the characters feel. The grimness of that scene is then contrasted with Urza and Mishra's more happy youthful days. A clever use of a flash forward, as it makes the entire book a slow slide towards armageddon, making even the happy moments bittersweet. Oddly enough, by the time I reached the point where the prologue would fit chronologically, I found myself looking back and wondering just when things went wrong for them, and couldn't come up with a good answer. Mishra's moral event horizon is the destruction of Kroog, but can you blame him for thinking Yotia and Urza declared war first at the first peace conference? Do we blame the warlord of Yotia for his actions at that conference? Or his actions years earlier when he conquered the Suwwardi Marches? Perhaps. But the conflict couldn't escalate like it did without the brothers with their hate and their artifacts. So... do we blame that day at the caves of Koilos and the whispers of the Might- and Weakstone? The booze Mishra drank the night Tocasia died? The brothers did bicker and fight even before that though, so maybe this was always going to happen?

Maybe it's my background as a historian, but I think the main theme of the book, even more than the horrors of war, is the march of history and the difficulty of assigning blame. Neither side is good (Urza may be "better" than Mishra by the end, but it's a case of less evils at best), both sides are to blame, and yet you can see why each brother would blame the other. Even the brothers can't be fully blamed for everything, as the Yotian seizing of the Suwwardi Marches and the Suwwardi expansionist drive predates them. Heck, some hints about the Citanul Druids suggest bad stuff has been happening since the days of the Thran!

And Peace Shall Sleep also dealt with these themes, wondering if one person can change history. But that book handled it very clumsily, making Reod Dai's involvement in the end of the Vodalian empires so blatant that the suggestion that they might have fallen without him felt silly. Here Jeff Grubb shows how it is done, giving just enough hints in either direction and keeping enough mysterious so you can make up your own mind.

Wish this card was better. The art is so brilliant!
Right. Well. I think that is enough gushing from me. In conclusion: The Brothers' War is fantastic. I genuinely can't find a single fault in it. I can't even fall back on the complaint-that's-blatantly-a-compliment "I just wish it was longer!" Sure I'd love to read more about Kayla, Harbin, Ashnod, Loran, Feldon, Drafna, Hurkyl... but I'd want that to happen in a sequel or companion book, not for this novel to have been bigger, as that would've screwed with the pacing. So yeah... if you haven't already read this book, go get it immediately. I would even recommend this to non Magic fans.

Before going to the trivia and continuity talks, some other things I wanted to note about The Brothers' War
  • In my Rath and Storm review I brought up the idea of Ertai being somewhere on the autistic spectrum. That was a caricature of autism at best though. Ertai was really a prick who doesn't realize he's insulting people, and was played for laughs. Here though, Urza is most definitely 100% for real autistic. The way he clearly has trouble with social interactions and talking about emotions, and I would say his obsession with artifacts counts as "restricted and repetitive interests".
  • As I'm convinced of Urza's spot on the autism spectrum, I find it interesting that over the course of this novel we see Mishra, the social one, sends all his friends and allies away over time, to the point where he's surrounded by machine worshipers and becomes a machine himself. Urza, on the other hand, tries hard to keep his loved ones close. Of course this is a tragic novel, so he doesn't succeed with everyone, but he certainly keeps Tawnos close and relies on him for help, both socially and in the war. Not sure how to explain this dichotomy between the brothers though. Maybe Urza developed a greater appreciation for social interaction precisely because it came more difficult to him?
  • Whatever the case, it's cool to see this Urza/Tawnos interaction, which in a way will be mirrored with Xantcha and Barrin.
  • Something completely different: I like how the text is filled with card references. Sometimes it's little things, like someone being described as having the "social graces of an Atog", but it is actually woven into the development of the war as well. At first all the artifacts we see are Ornithopters and Onulets. As the war gets underway armies of Yotian Soldiers, Clay Statues and Transmogrants are developed, and in the end you got Tetravusses, Triskelions and a big battle between a Colossus of Sardia and Gaea's Avenger. I don't know if this was thought up by the East Coast Playtesters, the Armada crew or Jeff Grubb himself, but this "arms race" of cards is most clearly visible in this version of the story and creates a little game of "find the easter eggs" for the hardcore fans without intruding upon the plot.
  • There are some great examples of foreshadowing and callbacks in this book. Sometimes this is done for humor. For example, before marrying Kayla Urza is apprenticed to Rusko, a clockmaker who gives him a lecture about always signing your work to become famous. Kayla then forgets the man's name immediately. But then, half a book later, Ashnod is going over the loot Mishra's army has taken from Kroog and mentions a book on clockwork by someone who is obsessed with his own name! A much darker use of this is the case of the Sardian Dwarves. At first they pop up here and there as merchants, but then slowly you become aware of a plot against them, before learning they have fallen prey to Urza's hunger for resources. (Hence the Colossus of Sardia. It wasn't made by the Sardians, Urza made it from the resources he took from them!)
  • Actually, the Sardia story is like a whole extra story unfolding in the background, and there are more stories like that going on. A quick example is the political struggle between the merchant princes of Argive and their king. We only hear about it now and then at first, until it suddenly comes to the forefront with the king being overpowered and the merchants elevating Urza to Lord High Artificer. I love this method of worldbuilding, as it really makes the setting come alive. It is also great for showing the progress of time in this novel, showing that this world has a lot of pieces moving over the 54 years this story spans.
  • This is also done with individual characters. A lieutenant Sharaman is introduced, who we later meet again as a general. In Tocasia's camp the brothers meet a upper-class kid named Richlau, who later becomes head of Urza's school for artifice, that sort of stuff. Another cool use of these background references is to show the escalation of the war. For example, the first part is very much concerned with the Thran and their mysteries. Over time they first become just a source of artifacts, and then in the end they are entirely forgotten. Or take the Suwwardi/Sword Marches. Initially these play a pivotal role in the start of the war, but as the brothers take over any mention of the quietly leaves the book... until near the end Urza offhandedly remarks they are now a "plain of blackened glass", destroyed by Mishra as part of a scorched earth policy! By that point the war is entirely driven by the brothers, that the Marches have become entirely unimportant. So unimportant that their destruction wasn't even worthy of showing to us! 

  • There are a bunch of tantalizing hints of interesting backstories here that are never picked up upon. For example, Tocasia says she owes the brothers' father "her freedom". No further hints are given to what that is supposed to mean.
  • On their first day with Tocasia the brothers have a scuffle over a Su-Chi skull. Afterwards the crack in the powerstone in it has been fused. This obvious foreshadows the powers of the brothers, but also parallels the war itself, in that it ends with the Might- and Weakstone reunited as Urza's eyes. And perhaps it also hints that the conflict between the brothers will trigger the (re)discovery of magic?
  • After they find "Secret Heart of the Thran", Tocasia names it Koilos, which means "Secret" in Old Argivan.
  • When Rusko tells Urza of the Gods of Yotia, we get an early mention of Titania. It's not picked up upon when we actually get to Argoth in the story, but apparently knowledge her existence made it into the myths of mainland Terisiare.
  • Rusko also tells Urza about the Yotian belief that a person has many souls over their lifetime, and that each soul will be judged separately in the afterlife. This is a very cool reference, based on a single line from the Armada comics version of the story.
  • Korlis and the city of Korlinda are named are the river Kor. Feel free to make up your own theories about how we can tie that to the white-skinned chin-tentacled dudes from Zendikar.
  • In the category "You wouldn't see WotC putting that out these days": at one point the Fallaji qadir talks about starting a jihad. There. Now the NSA will check out my blog and I'll get a few more hits!
  • If you ever wondered why Mishra's Factory looks like a huge tree, that's because it is! After destroying Kroog Mishra sets up shop in a wood of giant oaks. It's one of the ways the destruction of Terisiare's resources is shown, as when he leaves all that is left of the forest is a bunch of giant tree stumps, one of which houses Mishra's Workshop.
  • For those of you wanting an Urza card, at one point he says the following:
"I'm the storm crow, Tawnos, a bird of ill omen"
  • See? Definite proof that any Urza card would be horribly broken!
  • We knew from its flavor text that Feldon's Cane came from the Ronom Glacier, but it's worth noting that it is explicitly non-Thran.
  • Sarinth has "dragonlike Wyrms" in the forests, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Craw Wurm and the flavor text of Wall of Spears.
  • Magic is discovered with a subconscious cleaning spell. No really. Hurkyl does some meditating and dreaming of her home at Lat-Nam, and suddenly finds her office tidied! 
  • On a more serious note, the Archimandrite of Terisia City comes up with the name mana. Although I'm fairly sure that has already been used in stories that come chronologically before it, like Arabian Nights or Dakkon Blackblade. Perhaps we can blame it on a translation thing, with the Archimandrite coming up with the Terisian name for mana?
  • The Ankh of Mishra was originally the symbol of Sarith, wich Mishra takes up after conquering the city. No hint as to why it suddenly became an Ark of Mishra in Fifth Edition.
  • A subject I keep bringing up even though I'm fairly sure I'm the only one who really cares about it, the moons of Dominaria are called the Mist Moon and the Glimmer Moon here. We already saw that in the first installment of Dominian Chronicles, but this is the first time it made it into an actual story.
  • When Mishra invades Terisia City, Feldon gives the Golgothian Sylex to Loran, who can't use magic. Feldon is afraid Drafna (who is leading the defense) might otherwise use the Sylex, since the man has been depressed and fatalistic since the death of his wife Hurkyl. That scene has quite the additional layer when you know what happens when we see Feldon next...
  • Another scene I loved: Richlau, who worked with the brothers in Tocasia's camp, dies of old age near the end of part three. When he hears this Harbin gets the chills because he has difficulty imagining someone dying of old age. Brrr... now that gives me the chills!
  • The Citanul Druids found on Argoth are said to have fled the mainland because of destruction wrought by artifice some time before the brothers. The only real suspects are the Thran and whoever made Feldon's Cane or the Golgothian Sylex. Unfortunately this information is told to Harbin, who has not much interest in history, so we don't find out more.
  • Ashnod's Cylix is a deliberate fake of the Golgothian Sylex, a decoy she gives to the Gixians when they corner her. Which makes me think... did the whole plot of Ashnod being exiled, her capturing Loran and learning of magic from her stem from this single Alliances card?
  • Tawnos creates his Coffin to put Mishra in stasis. He still thinks Urza couldn't bring himself to kill Mishra on the eve before the final battle.
  • People often think that Urza ascended in the Sylex Blast, but a close reading of the text suggests he actually ascended shortly before it:
"He dropped the defenses he had erected around him, defenses that has blossomed when the two fought. Instead, he used the energy of the stone to launch a direct attack against his brother. He used the Mightstone as a focus for his assault, but poured into it his anger at Mishra. He poured all his rage, and all his other emotions as well: how he loved his brother and how he hated him, how their war had wrecked their lives and their world. All this he poured through the stone in one blast of energy. And as he did so, he felt something give within him."
  • So in his final battle with Mishra "something gives", and afterwards he can suddenly hear the pain of the land, and somehow understands how to use the Sylex. So clearly Urza ascended, or at least started ascending, in that moment.
  • In the last moments of part four we see various people react to the Sylex Blast. Among them is Jarsyl, Harbin's eldest son, clinging to Kayla's dress. Jarsyl comes from flavor text of Gate to Phyrexia. He was mentioned in the original version of the Antiquities story, and his diary will play a small role in The Gathering Dark.
  • Gix loses an arm when hurrying through the portal back to Phyrexia to escape the Sylex Blast. This, plus the Ebon Hand/Phyrexian animosity we saw in Interrogation, and the fact that Ebon Handers often sacrifice a hand to Tourach, has given rise to the theory that Gixians may have influenced the creation of the Ebon Hand.

  • Let's start the same way that this book starts, with "a word about sources and accuracy" and "a word about time". After the acknowledgements but before the prologue there are these two short paragraphs. The first claims that this book is a work written by historians, based on primary sources like "The Antiquity Wars", an epic written by Kayla bin-Kroog herself. If this is supposed to be a historical record though, it's crap. It goes way to deep into the thoughts of the characters to be read as such, especially since future novels will take what is shown here as absolute fact. No, what's actually interesting about this paragraphs is the last line: 
"The reader should trust this version and no other."
  • That's the true point here: that this book is going to be canon from now on, and that article in The Duelist and the comics are out. Of course, of those the former was framed as a discussion between historians and the latter was framed as Taysir's comments on Kayla's book, so I guess we could still count them as canonical in-universe documents. 
  • The "word about time" gives an introduction to Argivian Reckoning, which will be useful when making the timeline.
  • Now I've brought up the comics, it's noteworthy that this book completely deviates from them. Sure, there's still the war between the two brothers, but apart from that... here are some of the biggest changes: 
  • In the comics Kayla has an afair with Tawnos. Here she tries to seduce him, summoning her to her chambers at night, while she's only wearing a see-through negligé, only for him to talk her into patching things up with Urza. There Harbin was possibly Tawnos' son, here he could by Mishra's, as he and Kayla are found partially disrobed after she goes to give him the Mightstone. It's not exactly clear what happened, but while Urza later accepts Harbin as his son no matter what, he and Kayla grow apart after this.
  • While in the comics the Martyrs of Korlis were the old guards of the city, sacrificing themselves to defeat an attack of transmogrants, here they are young volunteers, whose sacrifice galvanizes Korlisan support for the war. 
  • Gix spends the entire war manipulating the brothers from the shadows, while in the comic he attacked them outright, forcing the two in a temporary alliance
  • The book also deviates from Song of Time's depiction of the war. While the Song Mages of Sumifa are mentioned as allying themselves with Mishra here, the brothers themselves explicitly reject magic. Furthermore, Armageddon Clocks don't hold Cockatrices here, but are basically weapons of mass destruction, used by Mishra to blow up land after his brother has conquered it.
  • The Fallaji nomads are clearly inspired by Arabian culture, as Arabian Nights was, but there are some hints that there is more going on that just a shared inspiration and that they may have actually originated on Rabiah! There are two mentions of "cities captured in Bottles", one of which supposedly survived the end of the world. And at one point a Fallaji mentions "genie nations", which I'm tempted to interpret as the one in-continuity reference to Jeff Lee's Djinn Tribes.
  • The council of Terisia City here consists of the Archimandrite of the city, Drafna and Hurkyl from Lat-Nam, Loran (an Argivan archaeologist who knew the brothers from Tocasia's camp) and Feldon, an archaeologist from the Ronom Glacier. Later other people also journey to the city, including Gixians and people from Yumok and Malpiri. In the comic the council existed of the Archimandrite, Hurkyl, the Gixians and representative of Yumok and Malpiri. 
  • Upon a closer re-reading of the comic to double check that last note, I noticed some minor name changes. For example, in the comic the Archimandrite talks about Sardinth, which is called Sarinth in the novel, and in the comic it is said that "warchief !Kath of the Malpiri tribe" represents the Sardinian people. Here the Sardians are a dwarven nation.
  • By the way, does anyone else think the look of Feldon, who is described as stoutly build and with a big red beard, may be inspired by the Yumok representative from the comics?
  • Speaking of these guys, Hurkyl and Drafna say they are co-founders of "the present incarnation of the College of Lat-Nam" (emphasis mine). Add that to the seemingly endless list of stuff to consider when untangling the history of Lat-Nam! We don't get to see it in this book, but we are told it's underground.
  • The Golgothian Sylex has Thran glyphs, Fallaji symbols, Sumifan song notes, glyphs like those on Feldon's Cane and other unknown ones. We don't learn its origins, which is fitting for a book in which magic is just being discovered and is still very mysterious, but it's a bit of a bummer that we never did find out where it came from. In fact, thanks to the weirdness of Magic's continuity it next turns up chronologically in Wayfarer, where it plays a role that fits pretty well with that story, but is a huge anti-climax after all the buildup the thing gets in this novel.
  • Feldon mentions that the fishermen who found the Sylex also found a Coral Helm. Remember that thing for when we get to the next Jeff Grubb novel!
  • I've already mentioned how much I love the first line of the book, but I'm also a huge fan of the last. It's not as good, and it doesn't make much sense if you're not familiar with larger Magic continuity, but if you are, it very nicely foreshadows the effects the Sylex Blast has had on Dominaria's climate. I find it quite chilling actually. (Hah! Chilling!)
"And as Tawnos walked inland, he was greeted by the first flakes of snow drifting down a chill wind"
  • Those were the continuity references. Now let's look at possible continuity issues. Starting with the depiction of the Thran. Tocasia mentions the archaeologists could find no statuary, art or pottery, and there are those strange symbols they put on the ground to point towards Koilos and other "treasure mounds". If memory serves, neither of these things gets mentioned in their eponymous novel. There could be an explanation though. Tocasia also mentions that everything they found at Koilos was much more high-tech than the stuff in other mounds, and speculated that it may have been the pinnacle of Thran civilization. But couldn't it have been the other way around? That after the destruction of the Thran civil war a dwindling remnant of their empire hid all its artifacts in mounds, using these strange symbols to guide their last ornithopters to them?
  • The use of magic and planeswalking deserves a look. It's kept very vague and mysterious all the way through, which is fitting considering the book is set before knowledge of magic became widespread on Terisiare. But it does leave you wondering how certain events fit in the larger scheme of how magic works in the MTG multiverse. For example: Mishra dreams of Phyrexia and encounters Gix in that dream, but afterwards a Dragon Engine turns up in the Suwwardi camp. Furthermore, Gix mentions having dreamed of Mishra as well. How does that work? I would say that Urza and Mishra both had magical potential they never realized, and that the stones allowed them to magically project themselves into Phyrexia. Not a proper planeswalk, but manifesting an astral form of sorts. This allowed Mishra to "tag" the Dragon Engines and to subconsciously summon them to Dominaria.
  • Finally, the real problematic bit: Gix. What we are shown of him here doesn't gel at all with later revelations about him. For starters, he doesn't know of the Thran, heck, he doesn't even grasp the concept of brothers, referring to them as "similar units of the same components and manufacture". Yet later we will learn that Gix himself used to be human! Thran to be precise! So unless his mind was wiped in the intervening 5000 years his portrayal here seems hard to explain. It's also worth noting that his plan of having all the brothers' artifacts fight to see who are the strongest and to take those back to his homeplane is very old-school Phyrexia, more in common the "Hell of Artifice" we saw in Shattered Chains and Tande's Journal than with the biomechanical nightmares we will come to know and love. I'll come back to these problems after I've covered The Thran.
  • Gix also seems to take his name from the Brotherhood that worships machines, rather than the other way around, as he doesn't call himself by that name until reading one of the priest's minds, and there is a mention of "Holy men from distant Gix" many pages before Gix himself even tries to come to Dominaria. But the Phyrexian did influence the dreams of the Brotherhood into going to Koilos and opening a portal for him, so maybe he had been sending them dreams ever since his first glimpse of Mishra on the day the brothers got their stones? 

After all the theorizing around the Harper Prism books, and the revisions around the Armada comics, we are now entering a fairly clear era. Not only is this the period when the official timeline was created, but most of the Urza's block books actually come with timelines of their own! This doesn't mean we are entirely free of errors of course, but at least we've got a much more concrete basis to argue from!

I've already mentioned the "A word about time" bit at the beginning, which explains how Argivian Reckoning starts with the birth year of Urza and Mishra, and that during their time dates were given in Penregon Founded, which calculates from the founding of the capitol of Argive, 912 years before the brothers' birth. After that each part of the novel comes with its own dates. Part one, which lasts from the brothers' being apprenticed to Tocasia to her death covers 10-20 AR, part two, up to the destruction of Kroog, covers 21-29 AR, part three, up to the discovery of Argoth, last all the way too 57 AR, and the climax covers 57-63 AR.

Yes, you read that right, 63. The Brothers' War is generally thought to last until 64 AR, but the book is clear that the final battle happens in 63. Granted, it takes place on the very last day of that year, but still. Now, the date for the epilogue is given as 64 AR, but there we reach our only problem with this chronology. The opening of Planeswalker expands upon the epilogue, and it says that Urza didn't find Tawnos until five years after the Sylex Blast! Which for starters makes Urza a bit of a dick for not telling Tawnos that, but we will be seeing a whole lot more Urza-dickery in the coming books, so that's not a continuity error. You could even call it good characterization!

The Planeswalker opening is a bit vague though, since everything apparently happened five years after the blast: Urza finds Tawnos five years after the blast, Urza visits Koilos five years after the blast, yet somehow Urza also mentions finding Tawnos "a year ago" while he is in Koilos. And somewhere in there Urza also spends a year among the populace of Argive and Yotia "after nearly five years". So the chronology there is almost self-contradictory. Now, the prologue also has Urza admitting to faulty memory and just having escaped from something called a time pit (which doesn't get an explanation, but sounds like it might screw up your sense of chronology), but there are enough things that have to happen before Urza frees Tawnos to push it beyond 64 AR at least. We also get an excerpt from Kayla bin-Kroog's book The Antiquity War which states that Tawnos visited her "nearly five years" after the Sylex Blast. Considering all that... I'm just going to throw my  hat in the ring and put the epilogue of The Brothers' War and the prologue of Planeswalker both at "~69 AR (probably)". I could make up a more detailed chronology, but in the end it would be just that: making it up myself.

That was The Brother's War. Urza may have rudely interrupted the Weatherlight Saga, but he did so with a damn good story, and the next books in this cycle are all pretty good as well, so I am looking forward to covering those! First up though, is another short review of The Duelist issues 3 and 4, which will complete my reviews of old issues of that magazine. (And buy me a little bit more time to cover the books!)


  1. In simple word: A-WE-SOME. The book and your review of course. This was the best book I have read and translate of all. There are very good books on Magic the Gathering but this is the best. Only to tell you that it bring me tears (yeah tears) to my eyes the chapter when Urza pour all his memories in the sylex and activate it. Excelent writen story with lovely characters and lot of action. And also lots of cards of the set Antiquities. I can go on and on about the story but i´d like only to said that Jeff Grubb is one ofe the best autor of Magic I have read till know (Also like much the Ice Age trilogy)I also like King´s "The Thran" but thats another story...
    Well like I always say: Berend keep on with this SPECTACULAR blog that I consider the best source of lore of Magic in the web. Thumbs and thumbs up!


    Ps: I have already answer your mail and hope to read you soon about. Best regards!

  2. Great summary of a great book! You did a great job piecing together lots of small things. I do have one topic that I hope you can dial in on in future posts - the Coral Helm.

    In shared chains and final sacrifice, the stone brain/ living artifact is said to be created by lat-nam college as an attempt to stop urza and mishra. the stone brain is described as being similar to coral. It's never called the "coral Helm" but the merfolk have an interest in it in Final Sacrifice, right?

    4600 years earlier, in the novel "brothers war" fishermen find a coral helm and give it to the college of lat lam while searching for artifacts to defeat the brothers. You mention this above in your post.

    The next time we read about this is 200 years later in 'gathering dark' the rag man gives a coral helm to some merfolk in exchange for Jodah.

    do we know if these 3 references are all the same artifact? 'Shattered Chains' says that Lat Nam made the artifact, yet 'Brothers war' says they found it. I guess you can chalk this up to unreliable information of the millennia or per-revisionist reasoning.

    They might not even be the same item, as it's not called a "coral Helm" in the first two novels, is it?

    If it is the same item, how did it go from the merfolk's possession in ~400 AR to the Meteor in 'whispering woods' in ~3600 AR? I have read a fan theory that some mages launched the helm into space since it is too powerful, but I don't recall reading that in any books.

    Squirle, I'm hoping that you can keep an eye out in future readings to see if the coral helm has any other mentions, or if you are aware that it was supposed to have grander intentions as opposed to just a nod to early novels.

    I, personally believe these references are related, I see no other reason why shattered chains would discuss lat-nam and Jeff Grubb mentioning a similar object in two novels 5 years later.

    As far as the stone brain stopping mages and the brothers not being mages, I think that's just part of all the pre revisionist chaos that has occurred.

    1. I'm convinced the Coral Helm and the Stone Brain are different items. As you said, the Helm turns up in Gathering Dark, but also in Shattered Alliance. It, or at least A Coral Helm then also turns up in Final Sacrifice, as a distinctly different item from the Stone Brain.

      As for how the Stone Brain is supposed to make sense as an anti-wizard item if the brothers weren't magic... I will do a big Lat-Nam retrospective when I've covered the Ice Age cycle. That will be one of the questions I'll try to figure out there.

  3. Urza as a character has always impressed me with how complex he is, as he gains more depth the more books he appears in. This one, of course, shows the man that would become a god in a very revealing light. I never considered Urza a 'good' character but then again, what can you expect when I'm pretty sure every walker has PTSD from their ascension. I feel a bit bad for each character here, as they get to remember the world that was before the war and get to live in an ice age if they survive. There's a strong sense of hopelessness set ever since the first scene of the book. You're correct in that this is one of the best magic books printed. Keep it real, Squirle-Man.