Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Thran

Writer - J. Robert King
Cover art - Gary Riddell
First released in December 1999

The book opens on the start of the Thran-Phyrexian war. An alliance of several Thran city states, dwarves, elves, minotaurs and other races face of against Halcyon, the capitol of the Thran empire, led by Yawgmoth. Then we flashback to 9 years earlier, when the empire is at the pinnacle of its power. It's at peace after a civil war that ousted a faction of eugenicists, and a bright new age seems to be dawning due to the artifact wonders created by a man named Glacian. But not everything is as lovely as it seems: underneath Halcyon lie the Caves of the Damned, where the undesirables are sent and where disease is rampant. One day one of these Untouchables, a man named Gix, crawls up into the city, stabs Glacian with a powerstone and infects him with the disease. As the doctors' spells only make things worse, Glacian's wife Rebbec only sees one option and recalls Yawgmoth, the exiled leader of the eugenicists.

Yawgmoth quickly discovers that the disease is caused by exposure to powerstones. He names it phthisis, and says it is already endemic to several other Thran city states. He leverages this into getting resources. Eventually he discovers that certain metals can block the spread of the disease, just in time to use that to defuse an uprising of the Untouchables. Which in turn he uses to gain Glacian's seat on the Thran council and control over the city guard. Under his command the Caves of the Damned are turned into an infirmary, while some healthy Untouchables raised up into the city. Quickly rumors are going around that Yawgmoth is just sending possible opponents down into the caves while raising up people loyal to him.

While all this is going on Glacian is steadily deteriorating, his memory slipping away, and Yawgmoth is seducing Rebbec. He's playing hard to get though: Rebbec falls for him, but he rejects her when she makes her move. Left to rot, Glacian starts developing theories about how powerstones can contain entire worlds. This is of course true and attracts the attention of the planeswalker Dyfed, who feels that Glacian has the planeswalker's spark. Yawgmoth immediately finds out about her, and starts to convince the planeswalker to help him develop the Thran empire. After putting down another Untouchable revolt and getting Gix, who now leads the rebels, to swear his undying loyalty, Yawgmoth is hailed a hero. But then suddenly a group of ambassadors of other nations turn up. They reveal that during his exile Yawgmoth has been spreading diseases in their countries in order to gain control over them, and they give the council an ultimatum: the extradition of Yawgmoth or war. The council is divided on the issue, with only Yawgmoth and Rebbec's votes swaying the situation in his favor. Yawgmoth immediately declares martial law and imprisons the council.

Rebbec and Glacian get Dyfed to rescue the council. She takes them to a strange plane, dropping them on top of an inverted mountain. Despite that she still helps Yawgmoth by opening a portal from the Caves of the Damned to a strange metallic plane. He merges with it, effectively becoming its god. The portal is created by cracking a powerstone, the two halves of which Yawgmoth then hides inside the body of Glacian. The sick are transported to Phyrexia, where they are healed... and mutated. When Rebbec visits the plane Yawgmoth decides it is finally time to stop resisting her, as he has everything he needed from her. He invades her mind and her very essence, but is shocked to discover she hates him. In reality she only started to hate him recently, and managed to hide the fact that she once loved him from his probe. After he leaves she uses the fact that his taint is still upon her to commune with Phyrexia, and discovers Dyfed: being dissected after Yawgmoth incapacitated her by driving a knife through her brain. Yawgmoth was hoping to discover the secret of planeswalking and take it for himself. Rebbec disables the vat priests working on her, and Dyfed fades away.

Meanwhile, Dominaria descends into war, with Yawgmoth eventually dropping an uncharged powerstone on top of one of the other city states, causing an implosion that destroys it. And so we are back at the beginning of the book. The final battle of the war is eventually also won with weapons of mass destruction, but something goes wrong for our bad guy: the destructive white mana cloud was supposed to be sucked up by the Null Sphere, a station designed to control artifact creatures. But the artificers running it rebel and launch the station into space, where it becomes the Null Moon. The cloud envelops Halcyon, and the people flee through the portal to Phyrexia. Meanwhile Rebbec finds Glacian's corpse and discovers the stones Yawgmoth hid inside him. Putting them together she hears her husband's voice: turns out his essence was absorbed into the powerstones. He tells her to place the stones on the pedestal in the Caves of the Damned to close the portal. When she gets there Yawgmoth is on the other side, but he dares not step through. Rebbec says her goodyes and close the portal. Then she ascends into the destructive white cloud.

Yawgmoth is locked out, but there is still a ship on Dominaria with his orders to destroy all the Thran city-states if they don't hear back from him. And thus the empire comes to an end.

Let's get one thing out of the way first: this book really, really wants to be The Brothers' War. Prequel to the Weatherlight Saga? Check. Starts on the eve of an apocalyptic battle, then flashes back to years before? Check. Heavy emphasis on artifacts? Check. Minor characters who hang around in the background? Not as many, but check. A book divided in several parts representing the escalation of the conflict? Check. Tragic main characters who keep escalating the conflict without actually wanting to? Ehm... well, Yawgmoth is clearly rotten from the start, but Rebbec fits. Of course, by now you all know the The Brothers' War is my favorite MTG novel, so clearly The Thran didn't surpass its model, but does it come close or is it a complete failure? Well... a bit of both really. It is J. Robert King, who can be really variable. There are plenty of things in this novel I like, but also stuff that doesn't really work. Let's take a look.

The main thing King does well, and this is a big thing, is that he writes a very good Yawgmoth. The guy is entitlement-incarnate, feeling he deserves power, praise and Rebbec's love, just because of how awesome he is. The real unnerving thing is that he backs up his own hype. He does figure out how to control the phthisis. He does strengthen Halcyon's army. He does manage to persuade everyone of his capabilities (or at least, enough people to put him in power), and Rebbec does fall for him. It's not until the very end that he slips up, by underestimating Rebbec and that nameless artificer in the Null Sphere. TvTropes calls Yawgmoth "Hitler but sexy" (see under "Magnificent Bastard"), but that's not quite the description I would go with. He's not nearly paranoid and frustrated enough to be Hitler. Instead I would say that he's like every self-entitled douchebag you see online, only instead of harassing people on the internet he trained to become Batman.

Now, I can see why this would annoy some people. Having just invoked TvTropes, terms like "Mary Sue" or "Creator's pet" come to mind, and there are certainly parts where Yawgmoth is unrealistically capable. This is also true for some other characters though. For example, during the first uprising Gix, an emaciated and critically ill man, manages to kill Halcyon guards with ease, and in turn Yawgmoth and his untrained bunch of doctors manage to slaughter their way through Gix's forces. Later Yawgmoth basically claims to have predicted Gix's every move for years, and his convincing Dyfed to give him a world is pretty much glossed over. During the final battle there is even a very strange scene where Yawgmoth appears to think he's immortal and rams an enemy ship with his own vessel, which he only survives through sheer dumb luck. Imagine how different the Multiverse would be if he did!

However, I would say that all these examples, except perhaps that last one, are not so much a case of King building up his pet character. Rather, it just seems convenient writing. The Thran is a good 100 pages shorter than The Brothers' War, so it doesn't have the space to show us Yawgmoth's rise to power entirely through machinations. I do think the book would have been better if we had, for example, seen Yawgmoth secretly build up a private fighting force, rather than having him hand out some swords to random doctors, but the space issues (which I will return to later in the review) make me forgive the way those scenes are handled. King skirts the edges a few times, but for me he succeeds in making Yawgmoth seem genuinely hypercapable, and it is actually pretty terrifying to have someone so inhumanely evil who you can't attack on a human failure like paranoia or incompetence. Opposing him can only done on moral grounds, and the only way to win against him is to never make a mistake yourself and hope that he eventually slips up. It's quite a scary idea.

All of this is aided by the fact that we don't really get an origin of Yawgmoth. When we meet him he has already been exiled for a few years, and later we learn that during that exile he has been just as horrific to the other nations as what we see him do to the Thran. I think it was smart of King not to show us Yawgmoth's childhood and explain his evilness either through him having some sort of abusive upbringing or by having him a born sociopath torturing animals. Instead he hints at the true, sick nature of the Thran society that might have brought forth a character like Yawgmoth. Let there be no doubt about it: the Thran are horrible people. They lock their sick into the Caves of the Damned. They are openly racist/specieist towards other humans and humanoids. They have a slave race of goblins, and when Glacian is introduced to us he wishes for a draught to weaken goblin bones so they won't scratch powerstones when they get accidentally crushed. We are naturally inclined to hate Yawgmoth and his faction because they are called eugenicists, but the point is made that the artificers, and even that nice Rebbec, are essentially the same: they also want more than anything to elevate the Thran above the rest of the world.

The Thran wouldn't have approved of Viasino wearing their stuff.
Before I move on to my main criticism of the book, let's look at a few individual scenes. They are exactly what you'd expect from J. Robert King, by which I mean they vary wildly. This is after all a man who we will see in future novels write both one of my favorite scenes in the entire canon with Barrin's "Tolarian funeral pyre", but also some of the most pointless and annoying characters ever with Sash and Waistcoat during Scourge.

One scene I really like is Yawgmoth's reunion with Xod. Xod is one of those doctors he initially hangs around with, who discovers he likes the thrill of fighting and becomes a trusted soldier of Yawgmoh. He then disappears from the story for a while, until Yawgmoth recognizes him as one of the twisted early Phyrexians and calls his inhuman features beautiful. Even better is the way Glacian's amnesia is handled. I really felt for him despite knowing what a horrible person he was. Also good is the scene with Yawgmoth possessing Rebbec. And by good I mean it is horrendous. When he talks about possessing her on a cellular level it sounds almost too unrealistic to comprehend, but King manages to sell it as a terrifying violation.

But on the other hand... The scene where Rebbec stumbles upon Dyfed being dissected alive should be gruesome, but just comes across as silly because the text compares every one of her organs to sausages, steaks and other parts of a hearty meal. I just got hungry. And the climax of the book, when Rebbec locks Yawgmoth out of Dominaria, rather loses me because her last words are "Goodbye sky, goodbye husband, goodbye Yawgmoth", and my mind immediately goes "goodnight moon..."

But those are all just individual scenes. Here are my main problems with the book as a whole: It's too short, and it doesn't answer enough questions. Which brings me back to the comparisons to The Brothers' War. Because while that is my favorite Magic novel, I said in the review that it was exactly as long as it needed to be. So how come I don't want extra pages in my favorite novel, but I do want more of this less stellar one? Two reasons:

First, the Brothers' War was but one part of a longer prequel story, so it had plenty of space to develop its own story. At the end we still had a lot of questions about the origin of stuff we were shown in Rath block (like the Weatherlight, Gerrard, and, heck, the Phyrexians themselves), but it was clear that it would be handled in later novels. By contrast, The Thran was clearly the only peek into this era we were ever going to get. So it's a shame that we are left with a hundred questions and lose ends. Here the Phyrexians are only mutated and don't graft metal onto their bodies. So when do they start disdaining flesh? Yawgmoth is out and about at the end of this novel, so when does he go into the millennia long slumber we saw in Planeswalker? Where did those geometric shapes and pictographs that Urza and Mishra used to find Koilos come from? The list just goes on and on. You can of course think up reasons for all this yourself, but it is rather frustrating.

Second, the Brothers' War is a much more grounded story. Yes, it skips over large events, especially in the latter part of the book, like the destruction of the Suwwardi Marches and the Sardian dwarves, but we know of things like scorched earth warfare and ideas like "the friend of my enemy is also my enemy" from the real world. Thus when the Suwwardi Marches are offhandedly said to have been destroyed while they were so important in starting the war it does not need an explanation. Heck, leaving it unexplained enforces the feeling that the war has escalated beyond reason. And when we are first told that the Sardian dwarves are trading with Mishra, and then later we learn that they have been exterminated, we can fill in the blanks for ourselves.

Here though... we have a society being introduced to some pretty fantastical stuff, from extraplanar portals to people mutating into monsters. Plus the politics are a little more distant from real life as well. I mean, we do live in a pretty polarized time, but I have yet to see a leading politician being accused of vivisecting another nation's king. And on another scale: quite a lot of the plot depends on the individual actions of Dyfed, yet her motivations are not developed very well. Why does she give Yawgmoth his own plane exactly? And why does she then go against him to drop the council on Mercadia? As these are decisions on a personal level we can't really take them for granted, yet we pretty much have to. Thus Dyfed ends up more as a plot device then a proper character.

What I'm getting at is that a lot of stuff in The Thran really could've done with a bit more explanation and exploration. The story just keeps on barreling towards armageddon, with barely any time to breathe. Any downtime we do get is devoted to the Yawgmoth/Rebbec/Glacian relationships. In the end I was left with a whole lot of questions. Some along the lines of "how does this fit into continuity?", others more like "how the heck do the ordinary Thran accept this?".

So back when I reviewed The Brothers' War I said that despite loving it so much, and despite wanting to read more stories like it, it was exactly the right length. Any longer and it would have worse pacing, as the extra pages would have just felt like padding. The Thran on the other hand... if I had the bizarrely specific superpower of going back in time just to alter the contents of books, my version of The Thran would be twice as long, with ample opportunity to showcase the Thran Empire and its history, flashbacks to Yawgmoth, Rebbec and Glacian's past during the artificer/eugenicist war, much more attention payed to the reactions of regular people and the characterization and history of Dyfed and a long, double epilogue showing everything that happens in both Dominaria and Phyrexia between the destruction of Halcyon and the Brothers entering Koilos.

Ultimately The Thran is a pretty decent book, and compulsory reading for any fan of the Magic storyline. It just feels like it could have been so much more than that.

  • I always though the front cover of this book was a bit dull. And the back cover... it is generally accepted that the guy in the back is Glacian and the guy in the front Yawgmoth, but if that's the case I wonder if artist Gary Riddell actually read the story. Yawgmoth is supposed to be strong and handsome, not old and grizzled, and Glacian should look withered, and covered in wounds leaking puss.
  • Weirdly this book is dedicated to Dmitri Shostakovich, "who survived a real-life Yawgmoth". So... Yawgmoth is Stalin but sexy?
  • The Thran Empire exists of 8 city-states: Halcyon, Nyoron, Seaton, Phoenon, Orleason, Chignon, Losanon and Wington. Halcyon is the capital, and improbably lies right in the middle of a desert. It is not clear just how big the Thran Empire is. Losanon is in Jamuraa, Halcyon and Phoenon in Terisiare, we know from Time Streams that there was a Mana Rig on Shiv, and considering there were enough Thran artifacts lying around to power the Nightstalker engines and Ogre weapons in Portal: Second Age, they seem to have reached as far south as Caliman. Yet there are other nations around, so they haven't conquered the entire globe, and there is talk of the empire having borders so it's also not a case of the empire just existing of those 8 cities.
  • Another thing I wonder about: what exactly constitutes "The Thran"? It's not a species, as they identify as human. It's unlikely to be an ethnicity since Dyfed identifies as Thran and she's black, while Yawgmoth, Rebbec and Glacian are white. So... is it a culture? Is it like ancient Rome, where citizenship is paramount?
  • Oh, and yes, one of the cities is called Nyoron. It can't be a reference though, this book predates the meme.
  • Early in the story we are told about the conflict that got Yawgmoth exiled. It started one hundred years before the events of this novel and was really about "city-state sovereignty". In the course of the conflict Halcyon became the ruling Thran city, after which the conflict developed to become a fight between the elites, who supported the artificers, and the "republican rabble", who supported the eugenicists. 
  • Oddly, after the Untouchables uprising it is said that there has been peace for so long that the people of Halcyon have all but forgotten the public mourning rites. I guess that civil war was fought far away from Halcyon then.
  • The Thran are often seen as pure artificers, like the Brothers, but they do have magic. We don't see a lot of it but their hospitals run on healing magic (only the exiled eugenicists use proper real-world medicine), Halcyon's gates are enchanted to keep invades out, and while there is not a single wizard in this story, the Thran are clearly familiar with the concept as they initially think Dyfed may be one.
  • There is also a new fangled theory floating around Thran society about Magic having 5 different colors. Yawgmoth sort of proves this by showing you need 5 different kinds of metal to block the powerstone radiation. These "great metals" include silver, gold, copper and iron. Unless I missed it the 5th isn't named, but going by the names of the mana Myrs from Mirrodin, I'd say it's lead.
I guess the Thran didn't have time to follow up on their theory with all that disease, war and Yawgmoth going around.
  • The acknowledgements says Daneen McDermott gave "insights into mana rigs and iconic races". Which got me thinking of the prominent races in this book, and by extension the whole Weatherlight Saga-era. We have Humans, Dwarves, Viashino, Minotaurs, Goblins, Elves and Cat Warriors. Even if we add the Merfolk, who couldn't come on account of not having legs, and assume the Phyrexians count as the black race, we still have 1 iconic race each for white, blue and black, 2 for green and 4 for red! Heck, there is even a mention of Orcs, and among the races who oppose Yawgmoth there are also (presumable red-aligned) human barbarians. How on earth did red end up with so many?!
  • Scavenger Folk show up in one scene as specific anti-artifact units in the Thran Alliance. It's such an odd reference and so misses the point of the original card that I almost wonder if it's not just a coincidence. Especially since there are barely any other references to the card game. There are no Thran War Machines or Su-Chi walking around, while the Halcyon Guards or Phyrexian Steeplejacks sound like they should be cards but aren't.
  • I think this novel is where the Blind Eternities finally get their name. They are also called the Corridors of Time, The Halls of Time and The Bastard Plane, but those are quickly forgotten.
  • The disease Glacian is suffering from is called phthisis. It's an alternative name for tuberculosis in the real world, but it is said to mean "progressive degeneration" here. By contrast, phyresis mens "progressive generation". This is why Yawgmoth calls the plane he is given Phyrexia.
  • Phyrexia is wild, green and beautiful when Yawgmoth arrives.
  • The creator of the plane that would eventually become Phyrexia was a human planeswalker, who prefered to go around as a dragon. It is said he "died a month ago" when Dyfed and Yawgmoth first visit, but it is not said of what. Maybe Dyfed killed him? Yawgmoth dissects his corpse in the hope of finding what made him a planeswalker, but the search turns up nothing.
  • Rebbec tries to rescue some people by fitting a control stone on her floating temple and flying it away, but it fails. The control stone has to be a powerstone with 20-sides, which I'm going to interpret as a reference to the game and think is a nice touch.
  • By revealing the details of the Thran's empire, this book gives us a bunch of ret-cons... sort of. Pre-revisionist stories like The Duelist's coverage of Antiquities or the Antiquities comics told us surprisingly little about the Thran, so there isn't really much to ret-con there. We do learn from Jeff Lee's site that the pre-rev Thran had an empire that spanned many planes, and that the Phyrexians stole their planeswalking-tech. Also, he states that the Null Moon rose at the end of the "Golden Age" that came AFTER the Thran empire fell apart. If we take that as gospel The Thran is one big ret-con. But lets remember that of all this information, only the fact that the Thran could make interplanar portals made it into published sources. The rest must have come from behind-the-scenes information given to Jeff from sources like Pete Venters and Teri McLaren. Which raises questions that come up quite often when dealing with Magic's storyline. What counts as canon? Is it what WotC makes up, but only partially reveals, or what makes it into published sources? If a creator reveals stuff they thought up on message boards or Tumblr, does that count? And when ephemeral information like that inevitably disappears, can and WotC replaces it, is it still a ret-con? I've got no easy answers here. But let's have that conversation some time.
Remember this flavor text from the The Gathering Dark review?
  • Of course, The Thran also goes against some things we saw in revisionist sources, like Urza's flashbacks in Planeswalker. There he couldn't tell the difference between the Thran and the Phyrexians in their final battle, since they were both mostly mechanical in nature. Here we have artifact creatures on both sides, but also mutated monsters on the side of the Phyrexians and minotaurs, dwarves, elves, cat warriors and viashino fighting for the Thran Alliance. I guess Urza was just mesmerized by all the artifacts and didn't pay any attention to the regular people. That sounds like him. 
  • Some people might also object to the nature of Yawgmoth. Jeff Lee's site claims that he was a planeswalker in pre-rev continuity (though again, we have no printed proof of this), and at various points in the Artifact cycle he was called a planeswalker and a "self made god". Honestly, I think his true identity and origin was still an open question, with Urza's claims only being guesses. And while I liked his depiction as a Chtullu-like sleeping god from Planeswalker, I also like the idea that the ultimate corrupting evil turns out to be an egocentric old bastard who blames the woman who spurned him for all of his problems. Planeswalkers are godlike beings of human origin, so it is fitting that Yawgmoth shares that origin, while his status as a god trapped on a single plane makes him a nice mirror to planeswalkers.
  • Gix being  Thran doesn't match his depiction in The Brothers' War, where he didn't know what the Thran were, but that was already a problem when Planeswalker revealed his name was inscribed at Koilos. Perhaps part of his memory had been erased at some point?
  • Here Heartstones are implanted in Phyrexians to control them. Weirdly, Xantcha was born with her stone in her hand, and it was removed from her to control her through fear. I have no idea how to reconcile these two things. Clearly Phyrexia went through a number of huge changes in the next 5000 years.
  • And then there are the questions left open that I already mentioned in the review. Where did the pseudo-Nazca-lines come from that Urza and Mishra used to find Koilos? Why did Yawgmoth go take a nap? When did the Phyrexians start abhoring flesh? Where does the "Ineffeble" thing come from? None of these are errors per se, all of them could be easily explained as changes having happened in that 5000 years gap, but the fact that they aren't answered is odd, and a little frustrating.
Okay, let's move away from errors, and talk about continuity references.
  • The rise of the Null Moon was a mystery that was brought up several times in pre-revisionist sources. The moon played a prominent role in the climax of Planeswalker, but it's origin wasn't brought up, and after that it hasn't been mentioned. Now we finally learn what it is: the biggest Thran artifact still in existence, gathering up white mana as it goes along. 
  • The Halcyon Mana Rig is said to have 10 times the power and 100 times the efficiency of the Shivan one.
  • The non-human ambassadors include dwarves of the Oryn Deeps, Daelic elves, a cat-warrior who is "the self-proclaimed Queen of a Thousand Tribes", none of which we ever heard of before or will hear from again, altough the Daelic elves are said to represent "the vast confederation of woodland nations in the Domains". In addition to them there are Shivan viashino and Talruaan minotaurs. Yeah, not Talruum, Talruaan. No idea if that's a typo, a weird conjugation of Talruum or a hint that minotaur language has shifted since Thran times.
  • Dyfed takes the Thran councilors and their goblin slaves to Mercadia, promising to pick them up later, but the next time we see her she is stabbed through the head by Yawgmoth. Since the councilors have no survival skills, we can infer why the goblins are the real power behind the throne when we next see Mercadia.
  • We see the origin of the term "newts" when Yawgmoth is gleefully looking over humans mutating in vats. These first newts are not yet creations of necrotic flesh, as the later ones will be, but mutated regular humans.
  • Rebbec hiding the fact she once loved Yawgmoth while he possesses her reminds me of Xantcha hiding from Gix's mindprobe in Planeswalker.
  • Rebbec shortly converses with the intelligence of Phyrexia itself after Yawgmoth has left. I assume this intelligence was destroyed or absorbed by Yawgmoth in the following millennia.
  • When Rebbec takes the Might- and Meekstone out of Glacian she puts them together, and Glacian can then talk to her. Is this proof that it was Glacian who blew up Radiant after the angel put the stones together?

Placing The Thran on the timeline sounds pretty simple, as there have been a lot of points in previous novels where it is stated that the Thran/Phyrexian war happened X years ago. Unfortunately, "X" has fluctuated wildly. So it needs a little sorting out.

In Planeswalker the Thran-Phyrexian War was said to have happened around -4000 AR. Time Streams then put it "6000 years ago", so about -3000 AR. Invasion will put it as late as -2000 AR, before Apocalypse moves it all the way back to approximately -5000 AR. This last date was also given in The Duelist #16, and The Duelist never moved it around, restating that date several times. -5000 AR is thus the first stated, last stated and most consistently stated date for the events of this novel. No wonder then that this is the one fans, including me, have accepted. We'll have to blame all the other dates on shoddy history writing on the part of Urza, Barrin and Tsabo Tavoc.

We have no idea how long the Thran Empire existed before this book. It is said they've used powerstone technology for "thousands" of years though.

I guess I should also mention the rising of the Null Moon here. As I said earlier, it was a mystery in pre-revisionist sources where that thing came from, and it's rise was actually used to sort-off date one story: "The Brass Man who would Sink" from Tapestries, which happens before its rise. I say "sort-off", since we didn't actually know when that rise was. Jeff Lee was the only one who put a vague date on it, at the end of the "Golden Age", some time before the Brothers' War, but even he presents it as only a theory. Even if that was once true though, that just means The Thran ret-cons it to much earlier. Luckily "The Brass Man who would Sink" and "City of Brass" (A story from Encyclopedia Dominia that has to happen even earlier since it features the creation of the first Brass Men) are not tied to any other stories and can thus be moved in time very easily. It might not be exactly what was originally intended, but hey, that's what retcon's do!

Oh, and there is one final timeline thing I should do: talk about the MTGSally timeline and issue a mea culpa about that. There you will find VERY specific dates for a whole load of events in this novel, but... I made that timeline by putting the Battle of Meghiddo-Defile exactly 9000 years before Invasion block, and then calculating back from that. But nowadays I would say it is very unlikely that the battle happened literally 9000 years earlier. It must be an approximate date. Thus on my new timeline I would only put the entirety of The Thran at "approximately -5000 AR", rather than try to create a subdivision.


  1. Does the time line match up for ugin to be the dragon planes walkers who created phyrexia? I think not, but I just want to confirm.

    Also, what is the relevance of the serra sphinx photo? I don't understand the context.

    1. In the book, the dragon who created Phyrexia is dead. I think even Wizard don't know what the origin of Ugin. They will decide as the time come.

    2. Chronologically the first time we see Ugin is, I think, at the sealing of the Eldrazi. That was about 6000 years ago from the current storyline, so well after the death of Phyrexia's creator. So if you want to theorize that Ugin is that planeswalkers' ghost, the timeline at last works.

      The picture of Serra Sphinx is just a reference to alternate timelines in Magic, as I was talking about how things would have turned out differently if Yawgmoth had randomly died during the last battle with the Thran. I had some trouble finding pictures for this review as there aren't any cards that show stuff from the Thran-era.

  2. I think you are too kind on this book. It has too many inconsistencies with all the previous books. It doesn't portray almost no magic ,besides the ones you said. None of the devices Urza and Mishra found are cited. Not a single mention of a dragon engine. If I recall, Mishra found one in Dominaria's desert.

    The general quality of the story is ok, but it sucks as an integral part of the collection. Probably the least fun MTG book for me.

    1. Are Dragon Engines stated as Thran in origin? Mishra found them on Phyrexia after Yawgmoth had been there for 5000 years. That's a long time for Yawgmoth to make, ya know, whatever the hell he wants to make.

    2. I too must admit that the novel, as a Magic entry is pretty bland. It seems that the author put only personal creations in it, and almost nothing from the game. Where are the ornithopters? There are only silly thing like "sedan chari". The portal to Phyrexia is guarded by metal crab (which surely don't resemble su-chi). There are artifact and Phyrexian creatures only seen here and nowhere else (like behemoth and steeplejacks)... really not necessarily with alla the Phyrexian creatures already presented on the cards. And what happened to the stonechargers (aka Magic nuke)? I don'├Čt remember Phyrexia using them during the Invasion(but I don't remember it well). With a major revision on the continuity with the game, this novel surely would have been better, but as it is, it's simply not well integrated in Magic.

  3. I think you are getting way too hung up on the whole contiguous Gix thing. I read Planeswalkers, the Thran, Brother's War, & other such books that mentioned Gix before I started reading your blog, & never once did I consider them all the same exact being. I only saw it as a recursion of an honored name, or maybe it's even a title now after the first Gix was such an important person. Phyrexians are not creative (at least when it comes to the identity of individuals), so constantly using the same name that already has an honored connotation seems like something they would totally do.

  4. "Halcyon, Nyoron, Seaton, Phoenon, Orleason, Chignon, Losanon and Wington"

    AKA "New York, Seattle, Phoenix, [New] Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington"

    1. Wow. As a non-American I never noticed that!

  5. Hmmm I'm a tad sad you didn't much care for this one, as this novel has a special place in my heart. It was one of my favorite books as a child and I still love the way the book never truly has anything positive happen in it. Yawgmoth is essentially Satan himself and his rise to power is mostly him manipulating everyone into helping him as he masquerades as a good guy while not being too clearly horrific until too late. I've given this book to a number of fellows who have been in need of a good read and I still enjoy discussing it with them. I like that Yawgmoth is a full character in this book where in other novels he is more of an all powerful side character or a mad, unreasonable being with unreasonable tenants and followers. Nonetheless, your points are valid. I wish you well, friend Squirle. As always, go forwards with my warmest of approvals for what you do.

    1. I wouldn't say I didn't much care for it, I liked the book quite a bit. It's just that I think it could've been so much better if it had the time and space.