Writer - Loren L. Coleman
Cover art - Kev Walker
Released August 1999
Bloodlines spans the centuries between Time Streams and Rath and Storm, and takes us to various corners of Dominaria and Rath, showing what was going on there in the build up to Gerrard's adventures with the Weatherlight. It ends up being more a collection of overlapping stories than one single narrative.
First there is Tolaria, where Urza has embarked on a eugenics project to create the Heir to the Legacy, someone who can understand how to defeat the Phyrexians by having a certain affinity for them without being tempted to their side. Breeding starts in the fast-time zones, but the subjects there lose their bonds to Dominaria's mana, and with that their empathy. So Urza starts to manipulate bloodlines all over the plane in all sorts of ways, from arranged marriages to gene manipulation in fetuses. Throughout the book the Tolarian characters keep discussing the ethics of this project, but while individuals occasionally opt out, the project itself just keeps going.
Also on Tolaria is Gatha, a wizard who thinks the project doesn't go far enough. He heads off to Keld with a bunch of stolen equipment. Since the Keldons have been practicing selective breeding themselves in order to create the greatest warriors, they embrace Gatha, who rises to the top of their society over several centuries by creating stronger and stronger warlords, culminating in the witch-king Kreig. It turns out Urza knew about Gatha all along, and had even been spurring him on, so the main bloodlines project could benefit from the discoveries made in Gatha's more unethical experiments.
In Yavimaya we find Rofellos, who has come to introduce Llanowari battle tactics to the living forest, but who slowly gets molded by that forest to take Multani's place, as the elemental is traveling Dominaria to introduce Yavimayan knowledge elsewhere. This plot doesn't really go anywhere, and in the end Rofellos and Multani just swap places again.
In Benalia more interesting things are happening. We see the refugees from Serra's Realm integrating into their new surroundings, as well as helping Urza by training various scions of house Capashen, which is one of the subjects of the Bloodlines project. There we also find Karn, who has been gifted by Urza to the Capashen. Karn's tale takes a turn for the tragic in this novel, as his mind can't handle immortality with a perfect memory, so Urza and Barrin cap his recollection at 20 years. Karn develops a mnemonic he says each night to try and remember Jhoira, his best friend, but in the end he just remembers the mnemonic, not who she truly is.
Finally, there is Rath. Croag, a Phyrexian Inner Circle member, is awakened from his age-long slumber to oversee the development of the artificial plane, and to engineer the death of Urza Planeswalker. He in turn recruits Davvol, a telepathically gifted individual, to do the dirty work of populating Rath by stealing people from Dominaria. The two develop a whole host of different Negators they send after Urza. The planeswalker kills them all, and despite some close calls the only lasting effect of these attempts at killing him is that chasing after a fleeing Negator leads him to Rath and into the alliance with the Soltari we saw at the end of Exodus.
The Phyrexians also discover the Bloodlines project when their Sleepers start sniffing out people with a vague Phyrexian "affinity". To counter the project they start raiding the area's where these people are found, like Femeref, Benalia and Keld. This leads to the legends of the Lord of the Wastes which we heard about in Rath block. These raids nearly extinguish the Capashen line Urza had been tampering with, but Karn rescues one infant, Gerrard, who he takes to Jamuraa. The real focus of Phyrexian attention is Keld, where a full blown war breaks out. In the end Gatha and Kreig kill themselves to stay out of Phyrexian hands, and Keld is broken so badly it takes centuries to recover. Kreig does manage to wound Croag quite badly though, and while the Inner Circle member recovers Davvol, who had wanted to rid himself of his master pretty much since the beginning, takes the reins of Rath for himself. He doesn't dare kill Croag outright though, out of fear of Yawgmoth's reprisal. This turns out to be a bad move, as Croag recovers and kills Davvol.
This is a hard one to review on its own. On the one hand, the writing is pretty good. It's got about a million characters, through which we can see a lot of good world building for places like Yavimaya, Keld, Tolaria and Benalia, and even though most characters only get a little bit of space, that space is used very effectively to get their personality and feelings across. It has good foreshadowing and nice reveals that reward rereads. It's got good prose. It's good good continuity. It has Karn's "Jhoira is my friend" monologue, which might just be my favorite moment in all of Magic lore. (What can I say? I'm a sucker for tragic stories about friendship.)
And yet... Well, let's look at what actually happens in this book. At Tolaria people start questioning whether this eugenics thing is the right way to go. Then at the end... they are still questioning it but don't stop the project. At Keld Gatha builds up a whole new society- that is then wiped out by the Phyrexians. At Yavimaya trouble is brewing because Rofellos is taking Multani's place- but in the end they swap places again. On Rath Davvol is scheming to replace Croag- and fails. We see several generations of Clan Capashen fight against the Phyrexians- and then we end on a new generation being cared for by Karn, though we know this Gerrard kid will also grow up to fight Phyrexians. So, all this book seems to be is a bunch of shaggy dog stories, used to explain some of the backstory from Rath block and to tie it back into Urza's adventures.
So ultimately, despite all its good writing, Bloodlines is not a good stand alone book. It is just chapter umpteen of the Weatherlight Saga. As such I feel it stands or falls with the way its storylines are picked up later. Thus I would say the Urza parts are the best, since it shows the start of the path his character takes in Invasion block (more on that below.) The Keld/Benalia parts also really work well, since it shows the origin of the "Lord of the Wastes" myths we were told about in Weatherlight. But I'm less thrilled about the Rath stuff, since it's a bit of a plot cul de sac. Had Croag turned up again in Nemesis (perhaps Belbe could've been reporting to him?) his plot here would've been more interesting, but as it stands we just have to assume he was killed off behind the scenes, making you wonder what the point was. You can't really blame Loren Coleman for later writers dropping some of these plotlines, but it does detract a bit from this novel.
Final verdict? I guess in the end I have to call Bloodlines a good book, but I'd only recommend reading it if you're doing a read through of the entire Weatherlight Saga. On its own it will probably just be a bit strange and unrewarding.
Now I've dealt with the book itself (sort off), let's talk about Urza.
Bloodlines is a turning point for Urza as a character. He's still on the side of the angels here, but there are definitely dark signs around him. He's moving into mutation, which he considered Phyrexian and thus abominable in Planeswalker. Heck, he's even adding Phyrexian material into his experiments! Obviously we're doing a "don't stare to long into the abyss lest you become a monster yourself" plot here. (Yay for mangled Nietzsche quotes!) But what is somewhat surprising to me is how perfectly Urza's story arc stretches from Brothers' War to Apocalypse.
In my The Brothers' War review I mentioned pre-ascension Urza was obviously autistic. Whether that still holds true after his ascension is difficult to say. How do you analyse the psyche of a godlike being? But that he retains his obsessive streak is evident. Initially though, it is tempered by his shame over the war he fought against Mishra. In Planeswalker he's endlessly trying to divine the exact origins of the war because he fears causing another disaster. In Time Streams he more confident, but he hass still hidden himself on a small island and goes by a pseudonym. But by the end of that novel he's dealt with his past mistakes. He's defeated K'rrick. He's saved the Serrans. Argoth and Dominaria, by proxy of Multani, have forgiven him and are now even allies after seeing the danger of Phyrexia. From that point on Urza is no longer held back by his grief, and nobody steps up to keep him in check either. In other words, he's now convinced his obsession is justified since he's fighting the evil of Phyrexia. Here in Bloodlines we see that as he loses himself in this obsession, he also loses touch with the people around him, becoming the gigantic jerk we already saw in Time for Remembrance. Eventually, in Planeshift, this will lead to him losing sight of why the Phyrexians are worth fighting in the first place. I think it is very telling that in Planeswalker Urza was afraid of again harming Dominaria like he did during the Brothers' War, but here we keep being told that he is stripping Tolaria of resources in a way that is almost identical to how he stripped Terisiare.
Another interesting thing about Urza in Bloodlines is his rejection of Karn. In Time Streams Urza initially gave Karn away to the Viashino as a bargaining chip, but in the end he recognized his kinship to the golem. In this novel though he has no trouble capping Karn's memory and then using him as a bargaining chip again by giving him away to the Capashens as a dowry to cement an arranged marriage. It think this reversal is a clear sign of Urza taking the dark path.
We're used to thinking of Tawnos, Xantcha and Barrin as the companions to Urza's Doctor, but I actually think another trio of characters may be more important to his character arc: Mishra, Xantcha and Karn. These three people are essentially reincarnations of one another (Xantcha may have been made from Mishra's flesh, and Karn is born from Xantcha's heartstone) and it is them who dare to stand up to Urza. Mishra and Xantcha by actually calling him out on his behavoir, Karn doing it more accidentally, by just not confirming to what Urza thought he would be. Sure, Tawnos and Barrin try and help their master, but they are far too... nice, I guess? Tawnos' attempts to get Urza to connect to Kayla and Harbin eventually fail, and he never questions the war itself, not even rejecting Urza after the Sylex blast. Barrin at least objects to what Urza is doing in Bloodlines, but after each argument he accepts that whatever line Urza has crossed now, it is still better than the Phyrexians, further fortifying in the planeswalkers' mind that he's on the right path.
When Urza is close to one of the reincarnations of Mishra-Xantcha-Karn (at the beginning of The Brothers' War and during Planeswalker and Time Streams) he's on the right path. When he's separated from this one person who can prove him wrong (for the majority of The Brothers' War and in the rest of the Weatherlight Saga starting with Bloodlines) he turns obsessive and distant.
I don't know how much of this was planned. I'm guessing his eventual turn was decided upon by the time Bloodlines was written. The foreshadowing is just to obvious for it not to have been. Yet given that Urza's appearances were written by at least five different authors, and given that all those novels and short stories are not entirely free of continuity errors, I am actually inclined to believe the way his character arc spans so beautifully through the entire Weatherlight Saga is at least partly an incredibly lucky coincidence! Certainly my thoughts about Mishra, Xantcha and Karn being a reincarnated morality anchor are probably just me reading to much into things... though I still believe the pattern is very striking.
Whatever the behind the scenes process, fact remains that Urza is a fascinating character. Delightfully ambivalent and with a great arc stretching across an impressive number of stories. He may be my favorite character in all of Magic. Not in the sense of "Oh, he's so cool, I wish they'd bring him back!" (Jaya Ballard is my favorite Magic character in that regards), but in that he has the most depth to his character, and has the best realized character arc of them all.
|Really? 3 mana: Ping? That's the best mechanic you could come up with for him?|
- Here we are introduced to the Metathran. These are bred to be Urza's soldiers, but they are not part of the bloodlines leading up to Gerrard. Those tattoos they have are actually Thran glyphs that appears naturally.
- A while back MaRo said he thinks Urza has a little green in him, because of his actions in this novel. I would disagree with that. He does seem a bit Simic-y here, with his hybrids and breeding vats and all, but we should remember that the Simic use blue methods (science) to reach a green goal (getting things to reach their full potential.) Urza uses those same methods, but his only goal is to fight the Phyrexians. There is the part where he moves the bloodlines from Tolaria so the subjects can develop bonds with Dominaria, but that is just because his Tolarian groups aren't getting the right results. Plus he's stripping the land of resources again. Urza really doesn't care about balance, harmony, the natural way or any other green value.
- There is some debate over whether Davvol's home of Coracin is a plane or a nation. It is certainly not on Dominaria, and there are a few references to things like "his (Davvol's) world's most sacred temple", but it is never clearly stated whether Coracin is the name of the plane or just a piece of it.
- Davvol not being from Dominaria clearly proves that not all inhabitants of Rath originated from that plane, as Rath block era sources like The Duelist and the artbook suggested. This leads the way to later revelations about the origin of the Kor on Zendikar.
- At the beginning of Bloodlines the steward of Rath is a guy named Korald, and there were apparently more before him, as Croag never appointed anyone evincar. I do wonder what happened between Bloodlines and Weatherlight that took Croag out of the picture and led to the installment of the actual evincars.
- While in Keld we see some slaves identified as Surrans, and later there is a stray reference to "Surran burial pyramids". This led to the community accepting the existence of a place called Surr. It has its own MTGSally wiki entry for example. Thing is, the country might as well be called Surra, or Surran. Heck, it might even be a reference to Sursi for all we know!
- This novel introduces most known lore about the workings of Yavimaya and the society of Keld. It also details a lot of weirdness involving the Benalish caste system, but that is taken from earlier sources, like the Encyclopedia Dominia and Shattered Chains.
- Lyanni, the leader of the Serran refugees, says she was created by Serra. In Planeswalker it was said the people in her Realm gave birth naturally. But I guess Lyanni could be talking metaphorically. Or maybe some people there were born and others created?
- Urza gives an artifact that sound a lot like the Null Rod to clan Capashen as an heirloom. I'm guessing that is the same one Gerrard used in Rath and Storm.
- When a scholar named Timein decides to leave Tolaria because he can't deal with the ethical implications of the Bloodlines Project, it is revealed those who leave have to get their memories of the island erased. Which makes me wonder: did that also happen to Hanna? And could that explain some of the inconsistencies between the way Tolaria was depicted in Rath and Storm and the way we see it in Urza's block? If so, this actually has some really horrible implications. For example, in Rath and Storm Hanna thinks her mother is dead, but we will see in Prophecy that she's still alive. No wonder Hanna and Barrin are estranged!
Like The Brothers' War this novel is divided in a number of parts, and each part gives us clear dates for when it begins and ends. That always warms my heart!
Book I, which shows how Gatha, Davvol and Rofellos end up in Keld, Ratha and Yavimaya respectively spans 3385 to 3571. Book II, in which we are introduced to the Benalish theater and which culminates with the Keld/Phyrexian war spans 3655 to 3863. Book III, in which all the stories wrap-up (or at least end), last from 4013 to 4169.
You may have noticed that the official timeline has Urza's Destiny spanning from ~3360 to 4179. This sounds like it is contradicting the novel, until you realize the book also has an prologue and an epilogue. The prologue is said to happen 6 months after the relocation of the Serran refugees which we saw in Time Streams. That was in ~3360, and I guess 6 months after approximately 3360 is still approximately 3360. The epilogue features an infant Gerrard. As I explained in my Rath-block wrap-up article Gerrard was born in either 4178 or 4179, so putting the epilogue of Bloodlines at that time fits perfectly.
Wow. I don't think I've ever written a review before where the timeline portion fits together so perfectly!
Oh, wait, there is one more thing...
When meeting the Soltari, Urza recognizes their name as
"a small city-state of Dominaria, which mysteriously disappeared back in the days when he and Xantcha had worked to free Eufan Pincar from the Phyrexians, over two hundred years before his founding the first Tolarian academy."That "two hundred years" line must just be Urza misremembering things, as in reality he founded the academy only a few decades after leaving Eufan Pincar.
The idea that Rath already existed way back then is also interesting. In Time Streams it was said that the Phyrexians were going to use Serra's Realm as a staging ground for the invasion, and it seemed that only with its destruction they included Rath in their plans. If they had already created Rath ages earlier, I guess the plan was to invade from multiple fronts? Or perhaps the initial attempts at populating Rath had been unsuccessful, trapping the Soltari, Thalakos and Dauthi between planes, and they decided to try again only after losing Serra's Realm?
And that was Bloodlines! Check back next week, when we look at the last issues of The Duelist!