Writer - Clayton Emery
Cover art - Michael Sutfin
First released in December 2001
At the end of last book Johan set of east across the Sukurvian Desert on the back of a drake to look for Efrava, the home of the tiger warriors. Now his drake crashes at the edge of the desert and Johan is saved from being eaten by sand wurms by Jedit Ojanen, the son of Jaeger. Using some sorcery Johan manages to convince the tigers not to kill him, and he is allowed to wander the Efravan oasis accompanied by Jedit and his friend Hestia. While this goes on Jedit's mom has a vision about the Prophecy of None, One and Two, which convinces her that Johan must be imprisoned. But the mage escapes, and with some lies about having fought side by side with Jaeger he convinces Jedit to come along with him back to the human realms.
They eventually arrive in Bryce, where Johan tricks Jedit into trying to kill Adira Strongheart and Hazezon Tamar. They and their friends manage to subdue Jedit and reveal the truth to him about his father and Johan. Everyone chases after the evil wizard, who flees into the western desert. There he has a vision of a pretty lady named Shauku, who claims to have a book on the origin of the tiger-warriors in her library. Johan goes back to Tirras to gather a crew, and then sets of to find this library. Jedit, Adira and her Circle of Seven follow, wanting to end the threat of Johan once and for all. Johan leaves behind some minions to stop his pursuers, but those are all defeated. (Sometimes at the cost of another few members of the Circle.)
They eventually find Shauku's lair, the Caverns of Despair, in a forest called Arboria, but her story turns out to be a trap. She doesn't have a library, but an imprisoned Cosmic Horror which she uses to gain otherworldly knowledge. Furthermore, she has imprisoned Johan in an Amber Prison next to the Horror to suffuse him with its knowledge and power, planning to use him as a puppet to conquer Jamuraa for herself. The good guys try to stop this, but Shauku is simply to strong. Adira frees Johan, hoping the mage could tip the scales, but instead he just runs away. The day is only saved when the wall of fire around the Cosmic Horror is breached, allowing its power to get out. It realizes it can't escape so decides to call down a meteor to commit suicide by crushing the entire building. Most of the good guys get out, and they head back home.
Johan had a number of pointless divergences, like the island of slavers and the underground merfolk.
This book steps it up even further, by making its entire second half a pointless divergence. The beginning sets up Johan's interest in Efrava and introduces Jedit to Adira's crew, but after that? Shauku says she has a book on the history of the cat-warriors, but that turns out to be a lie to lure Johan. She just wants him as a minion. Then she is defeated and (spoilers) will not play any role in the next book. So from the moment Johan runs into the western desert this novel has nothing to do the rest of the trilogy. Clayton Emery must really have been reaching to find a way to fill the pages.
It's not all doom and gloom however. Emery clearly wasn't that interested in the whole Jedit Ojanen plot, and it showed in his writing. When he gets to leave that behind though, he seems to come alive. An ancient vampire who is powerful enough to kill people just by telling them to die? Gaining knowledge by draining the life fluids of a horror from beyond the stars? Said horror then committing suicide by calling down a falling star that destroys Shauku's entire lair? This is all a hundred times more epic than Johan's bumbling attempts at conquest! Big, out-there ideas, an actually really menacing bad guy, links to the larger Magic canon by importing a character from Mirage? Awesome! This is what I want to read, and I would've loved to see Emery devote an entire book to that plot. So I can easily forgive the fact that it has nothing to do with the rest of the trilogy!
Unfortunately even in this divergence there is padding, as the pointless battles Adira and her crew fight against Johan's minions on the road to Arboria and with random Floral Spuzzem's inside that forest go on for far too long and add nothing to the story other than killing of a few more of her boring crewmen so they can be replaced with new characters, who somehow end up being exactly as boring as their predecessors.
Speaking of the characters, once again Johan is by far the weakest part of the story. This supposedly charismatic, manipulative trickster comes across as a frustrated loser who loses his temper at the drop of a hat. In the comic he actually befriended Jedit, simply be showing interest his his stories and by feeding his curiosity about the outside world. Here he is such a thin-skinned, un-diplomatic arse that has to rely on charm spells to befriend the tigers. And that's only the beginning. At the end of the book, when Adira releases him so he can help fight against Shauku, the text literally has him hiking up his skirts to run away. At that point there is no longer any chance of saving the character for me. All I can see is him running in and out of corridors, chased by Scooby-Doo. But possibly his worst showing is when he and Jedit reach Palmyra. Once again we are still told of his plans within plans, but here his whole idea seems to be to send Jedit to attack Hazezon, Adira and a room full of their most loyal companions, while, get this, STAYING IN THE ALLEY OUTSIDE, PEEKING IN THROUGH THE WINDOW! Which obviously ends with the crew subduing Jedit, then looking outside and immediately seeing him and discovering he's not dead. This idiot even killed one of his own minions just a few pages prior to this to keep his survival a secret, only to immediately blow his cover afterwards, for no good reason at all!
Honestly, Johan is such a terribly written bad guy, that I almost wonder if Emery deliberately wrote him as a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He did seem to have some contempt for him in that article I linked to last time, thinking it silly that a powerful wizard can't teleport, and his work on Shauku shows that he can write a villain who is genuinely smart, scheming and menacing.
|At least he has a cool design...|
The early settings of Magic (Aerona, Terisiare, Corondor, Sarpadia, Ulgrotha, Shandalar) almost all had a bad case of "standard fantasy world demographics": 90% white people, maybe one tribe hanging around with more Middle-Eastern influences (Fallaji, Whirling Dervishes), and some random black individuals with no explanation on how they got there. The only exception to that was of course the Arabian Nights setting. That is obviously bad representation, but it is also terrible worldbuilding. How on earth can Dominaria end up with that demographic spread on every one of its continents?!
Then we got to Mirage, and we learned there was a massive supercontinent straddling the equator, filled with cultures based on African and Middle Eastern influences. The sheer size of it makes the demographics of Dominaria as a whole a lot more realistic, though the fact that it was only featured in a handful of sets left some more work to be done to balance out the earlier representation issues. Well, here we have a trilogy set on Jamuraa, that should help fix things, right?
Well, not really. Not if you introduce a tribe of blonde, blue-eyed barbarians living in the mountains above Tirras, and another bunch of blond, blue-eyed people living in Buzzard's Bay on the western coast. And while you technically could argue that the book only rarely actually describes the color of someone's skin, in the few cases that it does it is always for the characters with "dusky" or "ebony" skin, which should tell you everything you need to know about what the assumed skin-color of everyone else is. This is also a problem in the comics, but this adaptation should've been used to fix this. They've ignored too much of the rest of the comics for that to be an excuse.
It's a really big missed opportunity if you ask me, but I guess we could use the "white people are the default" attitude of the book against it. I'm just going to assume that every character whose skin isn't mentioned is black. At least that way we can get some halfway sensible demographics on Dominaria!
- We've now reached the point of the story originally shown in the Jedit Ojanen comic, but it quickly deviates from that plot. Jedit befriending Johan is turned in him being enchanted, and Johan's short stay in Efrava is turned into a long trek through the entire oasis. In the comic the two are captured by the Robaran Mercenaries, then Jedit befriends his captors and at the end of issue one overhears Johan's plans, setting up a fight against the summoned Beasts of Bogardan. Here Johan sends Jedit to kill Adira and Hazezon, only for that plan to backfire, and he summons the Beasts in the ensuing battle. The comic immediately follows that up with Johan's invasion of Efrava, which will not be seen until the last chapters of the next novel! The entire Shauku plot is new.
- The lady on the cover is presumably Adira Stronghearth, but the book mentions her having curls quite a lot. Going by those descriptions she is supposed to look just like she does in the comic.
- We are told there are four tribes of cat-warriors living east of the Sukurvia Desert: the Khyyiani, Hooraree, Sulaki & Efravans. They exchange cubs every 6 years to prevent inbreeding, but otherwise they don't like each other much.The Efravans call the Khyyani cruel torturers and the Sulaki apparently sacrifice people to the bloody god Ergerborg.
- The Prophecy of None, One and Two gets expanded. The way Jedit's mom describes it, it goes:
"When None, One and Two clash, only Two shall remain to usher in a new age."
- We also get another possible explanation for it. Jedit's mom thinks None is the ocean, because it's "a black gap", One is the single mountain behind Tirras and Two the two mountains on either side of it. That sounds to me like the ocean should be One, since it is big and singular, and the mountains should be Three. See how vague this prophecy is?
- Anyway, later Johan claims the entire prophecy is bunk made up by Shauku to lure him to her. That doesn't stop the thing from coming back into the plot next book though.
- Before sending Jedit after Adira and Hazezon, Johan has a witch minion of his place a "kismet" spell on him, which she does by flicking a veil around. So I guess that's Jedit in the art of Kismet?
- We finally get an explanation for Johan's looks: he is just human, but twisted by spells to have red skin and horns. His tattoos, including the big arrow on his forehead, are by choice, designed to intimidate and draw attention to his face.
- This book does not come with a map, but we do learn more about southern Jamuraan geography.
- West of the river Toloron, on which Bryce, Palmyra and Tirras are located, lie the Western Wastes, "are dreary expanse of pebble hills and crooked draws with little vegetation." West of that is the Great Wall, which looks like a mountain range on the map from Johan, but is actually a gigantic wall build "by hand and magic." On top of it lies Arboria, a pine forest. We never learn who build such a massive structure.
- Somewhat confusingly you can apparently head west from Arboria and then reach the cost, called the Storm Coast, and the city of Buzzard's Bay. I guess the wall is build more like a cliff, creating a huge height difference between Arboria and the Western Wastes, but with the land further west just slowly sloping down.
- Whatever the case is, Buzzard's Bay is one of those places full of blondes. It is also where the Seafarer's Quay and the Adventurers Guildhall are located.
|Fixed version of the map shamelessly stolen from Ethan Fleischer. Thank you Ethan!|
- Jedit weighs a 1000 pounds. In case anyone cares.
- Before attacking Shauku's lair the good guys hang out with the People of the Pines, the natives of Arboria. These people apparently have too little genetic diversity to thrive, and thus drug the entire crew into getting randy and try to have sex with them. Luckily this drug induced rape scene is cut short by a random Floral Spuzzem attacking. After the whole ordeal at Shauku's place some of these People of the Pine join the Circle of Seven and the whole rape thing is never mentioned again... *exasperated sigh*
- During all that unpleasantness there is a quick mention of some women feeling each other up, and the female leader of the People kisses Adira. That seems a bit counterproductive when the whole affair is supposed to be about breeding with the strangers, but those two mentions bring the number of references to non-straight people in Magic up to 5 in its first 8 years! And only 4 of those were non-consensual! *very deep exasperated sigh*
- Actually, when Circle of Seven red shirt Simone dies she says "Oh, kiss me, Adira". I guess that brings the number of references up to 6? Though up to that point there are no hints that Simone has any interest in Adira, so maybe she just asks for a friendly kiss? Then again, she doesn't show any kind of personality at all, so maybe she was totally in love with her commander but just never said anything. Still, I'll take it. Anything to get some queer representation into the Magic canon without bringing up rape, even if it comes with the "Dead Lesbians" trope. (Look, I love the old storyline. But stuff like this makes me long for the Gatewatch era.)
|Only 12 more years after Jedit until the existence of queer people is acknowledged in the game itself!|
- On a lighter note... Cosmic Horrors apparently grow a bit like plants, and if you eat the amber they poop out you turn into a Floral Spuzzem.
- Last time I showed you pictures of the sand wurms from the comic and the cover of Johan. This time they appear on the back cover, but be honest... aren't those just recolored Carrion Crawlers? Which were just referenced in The Dragons of Magic?
- One of the new Circle of Seven is called Whistledove Kithkin, who is described as "either a brownie or a halfling". Eventually the text settles on calling her a brownie. The Grand Creature Type update turned all brownies into ouphes, so I guess Whistledove is an ouphe, but calls herself a kithkin? Ah well. Creature types have never completely made sense in the game, so why should they in the storyline?
- Shauku employs Akron Legionaries from Corondor. In the game these guys have been errata'd into Giants, because they will be depicted as gigantic in the Legends II cycle. They also appeared in the pre-rev story The Old Way to Vacar Slab, but there they appeared to be ordinary humans who could come back from the dead for some reason. The awesome thing about their appearance here is that it essentially explains away the inconsistencies between those two depictions! You see, here they are said to be enchanted in all sorts of ways, to make them stronger, quicker, et cetera. So a simple enchantment could explain both the mysterious resurrection in Vacar Slab and their gigantism in Legends II. Now only their creature type is a bit weird, but again, those have never made sense.
- Another new Sevener is Jasmine Boreal, who is a druid. (Creature type: Human. Which I guess is correct, just incomplete... okay, I'll stop with the typing complaints!) She starts sleeping with Heath, the half-Elf half-Radjan Spirit Sevener and in the end she stays with the forest people in Arboria. She fails to develop any sort of personality in between.
- Shauku and the Amber Prison are obviously references to Mirage, which is nice considering both that story and this happen on the western part of Jamuraa. Shauku was also one of the few things about Mirage referenced in Prophecy (with her Agent and her Revel) making her the one character that ties all these stories on the same continent together. Kinda odd considering she was such a minor part of Mirage, but still cool to see.
- Shauku says that to reach her library "shifting" is needed, which Hazezon describes as "the first step towards true planeswalking". Which brings the confusion about planeswalking from the Greensleeves cycle right back into the revisionist era. We can chalk this up to characters not knowing that becoming a planeswalker requires a Spark, or we can accept the explanation in "Theft of Bayende", where it was explained that non-Planeswalker mages could also travel between planes if they sacrificed enough for it. If I was the editor though, I would've asked to remove that bit just to prevent confusion. By now the idea of planeswalkers needing a spark to ascend was very firmly established, no need to bring in these old school ideas.
- We are told Hazezon and Jaeger would spend "hours arguing about which was None, One and Two", but I must have missed that in the last book. They talk about it for a moment before Jaeger leaves for his pirating trip, but otherwise the two don't even spend that much time together!
- While in Buzzard's Bay, Jedit is randomly attacked by two centaurs, who say their kind hates cat-warriors "because they eat meat". Another reason may be extrapolated from the next novel, when we will delve into the actual history of Jedit's people.
- At one point the Circle of Seven finds themselves shipwrecked and are saved by the merfolk from the underground river they befriended last book. The merfolk say there are "water-tunnels", essentially long distance portals, everywhere beneath the seas of Dominaria. We don't get any explanation for that, but I wonder if they are linked to the cavern portals Jodah used in the Ice Age trilogy, or the water portals the Mer Empire will use in Odyssey block.
- Not too many references to random Legends in this book. Someone yells "Stangg's Benighted Name" once, and there is another reference to "Scarzam's Dragon".
- "The Glass Mountain" turns up again, but this time she is not called Xira Arien, she just goes by her nickname. She's shown in Johan's entourage for a single scene and then doesn't get mentioned again in this novel or the next. For all we know she was flattened by the meteor at the end. I wonder why she doesn't go by her "card-name" here. At first I wondered if maybe by now, behind the scenes, Scott McGough had claimed her for the Legends II cycle, but next novel we will see Tor Wauki, who will also have very conflicting appearances in Legends II, so that's probably not the case. What is perhaps more likely is that Emery just wrote in some random "Glass Mountain" character, after which WotC demanded more legendary creatures to be included in the story, so they changed that character into Xira, only forgot to alter every scene with her. We'll probably never know, but whatever the case is, it's weird.
- Continuing from last time, we have some more talk about elder land wurms:
"Wurms were decadent dragons, so the legends said. Once mighty, long-ago elder wurms had, for cowardice or sloth, been stripped of their wings and memories and magic and cursed to live underground where no one would see them."
- Now they are called Wurms rather than Wyrms. Should I be annoyed by the inconsistency within the trilogy, or happy they brought the spelling in line with the rest of the canon?
- Either way, the quote doesn't tell us a whole lot about them. No mention of any kind of war, though someone must've gotten annoyed with them for their "cowardice or sloth".
- In addition to this talk about Elder Wurms, we also get some very short references to two Elder Dragons! Nothing fancy, their names are just used in exclamations and curses, as we've seen with other Legendary Creatures. So one character says the Beasts of Bogardan are "hard like Arcades Armor" and then later somebody yells "By the balls of Bolas!"
- Yes, you read that right. "By the balls of Bolas." People love to complain about how the novel Test of Metal wrote Bolas out of character, and the one line they always point to is Bolas describing the taste of a human as "like goat balls". But clearly when Matthew Stover wrote that line he was just referencing a long literary tradition of associating Nicol Bolas with testicles!
This book begins only 4 days after the last one. In the comic Jedit says he waited for 3 years for his father to come back. It seems that time has been shortened immensely (unless Jaeger took a huuuuuge detour to reach Bryce) but of course any inconsistencies here don't matter, as the novel simply replaces the book.
This book again states that it has been "400 years since the glaciers vanished overnight", so that's nice and consistent. One possible point of interest: Buzzard's Bay is also 400 years old, so its creation is probably linked to the Ice Age ending. It's a very minor place that never gets mentioned again, so "point of interest" is a relative term, but still. Worthy of at least a mention here, though not on the timeline.