Monday, 11 June 2018

Judgment


Writer - Will McDermott
Front cover art - r.k. Post.
Back cover art - Matthew D. Wilson (Uncredited. The art is Silver Seraph)
Internal art - Brian "Chippy" Dugan, Dana Knutson, Todd Lockwood, Anson Maddocks, r.k. Post, Mark Tedin & Anthony Waters
First released in May 2002

SUMMARY
We open on Kamahl burning Chainer's body at the end of Torment. In this version things play out slightly different though. Most significantly our hero initially tosses the Mirari away, but when he digs his sword out of the rubble the orb has mysteriously merged with the pommel. He wont leave his sword, a family heirloom, so takes the Mirari anyway. After fighting the people who challenge him over the sword in Cabal City he decides to go back to his home, Auror village in the Pardic mountains.

Meanwhile Laquatus is fuming over his recent loss in the civil war when Rillu Veza sends him a map of the trench he is now trapped in, just to torment him. This turns out to be a bad move as it leads Laquatus to some underground caves that allow him to escape. He starts manipulating the Order and the Cabal, planning to use them to gain the Mirari. Llawan sends Veza to the Cabal as well.

At Auror village Kamahl talks to his sister Jeska and his mentor Balthor about the Mirari, but while doing so he succumbs to its charms. He decides that he should unite the barbarians against the Cabal,the Order and Laquatus, all of whom are now converging upon the mountains. To accomplish this he sets up a tournament in which everyone can challenge for the title of leader. Kamahl wins every match of the tournament, but in the proces almost loses himself to Mirari-induced blood lust several times. Near the end Jeska decides she has to take the Mirari-sword away from her brother to prevent disaster. She talks this over with Balthor but then knocks him out to prevent him from trying to do the stealing himself. Unfortunately this is seen by a scout, who tells Kamahl Jeska killed Balthor. He flies into a rage and stabs his sister through the belly. The only reason she survives is because he wishes for her to burn in the fires of Fiers's afterlife, a wish the Mirari makes come true by keeping her alive while fire slowly burns her up from the inside. Moments later a recovered Balthor shows up, which shocks Kamahl out of his rage. He throws away the sword and breaks down crying.


The next morning Kamahl and Balthor decide to bring Jeska to the Krosan Forest, hoping Kamahls friend Seton can cure her. Kamahl wants to leave the Mirari-sword in Auror but Balthor secretly brings it, thinking Krosa will be the ideal place to lose it forever. During their journey Kamahl begins to express a desire to stop fighting, and develops new magical abilities, like the summoning of animals.

The Order and the Cabal forces who were converging on Pardia end up fighting each other, so Kamahl and Balthor can pass them easily, but they are spotted by Laquatus who goes after them. Balthor fights and kills Laquatus' champion Burke to give Kamahl a chance reach Krosa, but dies in the process.

Laquatus manages to forge an uneasy alliance between the Cabal and the Order so the two forces march into Krosa together. While this is happening Llawan's forces invade the Otaria Trench, destroy Laquatus's troops there and send an army after the forces that he requested come to Krosa via the underground tunnels. On land he has equally bad luck. Nantuko start harrying the expedition and the Order and the Cabal start showing signs of scheming of their own. Oh, and a zombified Balthor is also stalking this whole mess. Laquatus does some counter-scheming to keep the alliance together, up to and including assassinating the acting leader of the Order forces and stealing the crystal sword of leadership from him.


While Laquatus is in the underground caves inspecting his troops, zombie-Balthor manages to get into his tent. He kills the nantuko the ambassador mind controlled as his personal bodyguard, but then has to run from the Order forces that are attracted by the noise. In the chaos that follows the crystal sword is revealed, cluing the troops in to what is going on. Then Braids, Commander Eesha, Traybor (the leader of the Cabal forces) and Veza teleport in, revealing that Llawan managed to broker a peace between the Cabal, the Order and the Mer Empire. Laquatus is left stranded in the middle of the forest.

Kamahl meanwhile makes it to Seton, who shows a much more spiritual, reverent side of himself. He takes Jeska in for healing. He gives Kamahl vague warnings about how there is a storm coming, then sends him onward to talk with Thriss, "the spirit of the forest". Thriss turns out to be a giant nantuko, who gives some vague comments about the Mirari "seeking knowledge" and claims that it can be used for good. He pushes Kamahl to become its champion. The barbarian initially refuses but does agree to start learning meditation techniques from Thriss.

Laquatus makes it to the heart of Krosa and Kamahl goes to face him with the Mirari-sword, despite Thriss asking him not to. Kamahl is nearly overwhelmed when Laquatus' troops teleport in, but a timely intervention from Balthor saves him. Kamahl pins Laquatus down and Balthor reveals it was Braids who resurrected him. Laquatus then realizes Burke's dementia flesh has been infecting the zombie, gains control of him and has him attack Kamahl, which allows the merman to escape. Thriss tells Kamahl to use the Mirari-sword and he does so, killing Balthor. Kamahl then finally faces Laquatus alone, kills him, and leaves him pinned to the ground, impaled by the Mirari-sword. From the sword a wave of new plant life emerges.


REVIEW
Judgment is an okay book. Not great, not horrible, just okay. I guess its main virtue is finishing up the Mirari's tour across the five colors in a way that actually feels natural, without losing sight of characterization. It's not as character focused as Chainer's Torment, but it never feels as mechanical as Odyssey's trek across the continent either. It's hard to say much more about the plot, as it really is just about Kamahl going home, succumbing to the Mirari, then moving to Krosa to kill the main bad buy and then finally getting some peace (although we'll see in Onslaught that this peace is very short-lived). So let's instead focus the more interesting part of the book: the characters.

Laquatus really is a horror version of a telepath. He beats up people to vent his own frustration, then wipes their memory of the event so they still think he is their friend. It is quite unsettling, but well told. He should meet up with Ashiok. I'm sure they'd like each other. It is good to see his scheming to keep the Cabal and the Order in action (him taking over the Mer Empire in Odyssey and the Otaria Trench in Torment mostly happened of screen), and it is quite fun to see him out-played by Llawan and Veza in the end. Though I do think it is odd that in the end Laquatus accomplishes nothing in the entire trilogy. He fails to get the Mirari three times in book one, loses his civil war in book two, and gets outplayed and then beaten up and killed here. At least he will get to succeed in something in the anthology The Secrets of Magic, which we'll cover soon.

Actually, at one point I was wondering if Laquatus's failure as a bad guy was an intentional mirror to Kamahl. Because killing the merman is really the first thing the barbarian actually succeeds in. This became especially noticeable during the competition to unite Pardia when we are introduced to Kamahl's old friend Talon. Talon is also a big burly barbarian, except he remains an honorable good guy throughout and refuses the Mirari-sword. If only he had been the main character of this saga, Otaria would probably have been saved a lot of ruin!


Another character I really like is Balthor. I love that he is a bit of a subversion of the wise old mentor figure. Jeska is the voice of reason who continually goes against Kamahls stupid scheme to set up a tournament. Balthor actually seems to think it is quite exciting at first. When Kamahl starts showing signs of being battle-mad he does try to keep his student calm, but he goes along with the idea for far too long and only realizes Jeska is right when Kamahl has already gone way too far, chopping of one off Talon's arms and bringing Pardia to the brink of civil war.

Braids also continues to be great. She leads the Cabal forces that go after Kamahl before giving command to Traybor and for a time rolls with a death squad made up of snake monsters that were left over from Chainer's coup that have since joined the side of The First. She gives silly nicknames to one of them, and the others decide they like having names so much they think some up for themselves. When they tell Braids that they like her because she is the only one who talks to them, she actually blushes!


Finally, I even find myself liking little things like Kamahl's habit of going for a run every morning. It's very small, but just giving the guy a hobby that he's excited for when he wakes up in the morning makes him more relatable.

None of these remarks about the characters really build to any kind of conclusion, just as they don't really build to anything in the novel either. They are just sort of there. A bunch of small moments of greatness to polish up and otherwise merely serviceable story.

TRIVIA
  • Laquatus uses "Nodra" as a curse a few times, saying things like "Blast Norda to the depths!" or "Norda bless me". For a moment I thought this might be a reference to The Myths of Magic (since Will McDermott does reference the dwarven myth from that anthology here) but the figures at the center of the merfolk-related myth are Kleetok and Anelades. So I guess Norda is just a random, never-mentioned-before-or-since deity in the Mer Empire. 
  • Kamahl's house has rugs made from "firecat skins"... eh... how on earth do you skin a walking ball of flames?
  • After all the remarks made in previous books about the barbarians having bronze skin, I noticed nobody mentions Jeska's skin color here. Is she albino?
  • When Kamahl announces the tournament Jeska says it is barbaric, to which Kamahl replies "If this tournament is barbaric, it is because we are barbarians". Which made me realize how weird it is for these people to call themselves barbarian. Surely that's a term other people would apply to them? 
  • "Before the great war" (clearly the Invasion), the barbarian tribes were apparently very warlike, but now they have "challenge battles", in which disputes are settled by dueling champions. We also learn Balthor first set up his training facility and his "Judgment" (which tests people's skills in a sort of magical obstacle run) shortly after the Invasion, so presumably he was also the one who introduced the challenge battles. 
  • The strongest fighters in Pardia are the Elite Eight. Kamahl used to be one of them before he felt he had no challenges anymore and left the mountains. It is currently led by Talon. Talon loses an arm in the tournament, but remains among the Eight and leads Pardia after Kamahl leaves for Krosa.
  • Balthor says he never went back to live with the other dwarves because they are boring. Otarian dwarves to nothing more than move stones around according to him.
  • At one point Kamahl summons a big bird called a rawk. Not a roc, not even a rukh, a rawk.
  • Here is a description of Thriss, because I don't think his card really shows just how big he is:
"In the middle of the room he found Thriss, the guardian spirit of the forest, and for the briefest moment, Kamahl was terrified. Thriss was a huge mantis, easily fifteen feet tall, complete with the razor-sharp ridges on his arms and legs, each of which was longer than the blade on Kamahl's two-handed sword

CONTINUITY
  • The coordination between the ending of Odyssey and Torment wasn't great, with Kamahl's fight against a tidal wave falling through the cracks, but you could wave (heh) it away as a result of the Rashomon-y nature of the two books. Chainer wasn't a the coast, thus we didn't get to see it. But the beginning of Judgment also clashes with the ending of Torment, and this time we don't have that excuse. Now Kamahl doesn't just burn Chainer's body, he paints his own face with the ashes as part of a grieving ritual, and carries these marks for several chapters. When he goes outside he isn't challenged by a Pardic barbarian, but by a Cabal Dementia Caster. And most importantly: the Mirari mysteriously merges with his sword! That last change is really significant, as it has repercussions all the way to Scourge!
  • Speaking of the tidal wave, when Kamahl leaves Cabal City, he runs into the three apprentices he picked up in the coastal town at the end of Odyssey. So I guess those survived the flooding as well. They also start challenging him for the Mirari so he quickly ditches them again.
  • Eesha says the crystal sword of leadership passed back to her after Major Teroh was killed. But the problem is that Teroh was never ruler of the Order, just the commander of the attack on the Cabal City. Moments before his death he was even thinking about getting a message back to Bretath, the person who became ruler of the Order after Pianna's death in Odyssey. In Judgment Bretath is completely forgotten about, not even mentioned once! 
  • There is again mention of the Lady of the Mountain story from Myths. The dwarven religion apparently also spread to the barbarians, or at least to Kamahl, as he also says things like "after the return of the Lady". When Balthor kills Burke with a giant energy blast he thinks it is "a spell, it was said, that had been given to the great Balthor Stoneface by Fiers himself."
  • Kamahls sword is said to have been his dad and granddads, and it passed to Kamahl after he completed Balthor's Judgment. This clashes somewhat with Odyssey, in which it is said Kamahl got the sword in battle. I guess his dad died while he was young, and Balthor had him prove he could fight before giving him the sword? That is clearly not what was intended in that passage in Odyssey, but it is how we can salvage it.
  • Braids is now suddenly called Braids, rather than Fulla, without any explanation. Must be confusing for those people who read the books but are not familiar with the cards. Luckily, I don't think those people exist.
  • On the plus side, Seton is Seton again, rather than Seaton.
  • On the minus side... Laquatus is now suddenly Laquatas! Now, look, I can muster up some sympathy for name inconsistencies if they result from the book and the cards having to be made simultaneously. Maybe something had to change for the cards, but it was too late to change it in the novel. Sure. But you've been spelling his name with a "u" for two whole novels and two whole sets! How on earth do you suddenly screw it up now?!
  • Krosa is still called Krosan, and will be in the next three novels as well.
  • Thriss gives a description of the Mirari which matches up pretty well with the origin that will eventually be revealed for it:
"I have been observing the orb since Chainer discovered it ... It is of this world but comes from beyond this world. It seeks knowledge not power, for it has no need of power. It is alive but has no thought, no purpose beyond the search for knowledge"
  • He also gives an explanation for why it covered the Order's citadel in crystal and destroyed the Mer Empire's capitol, but it's some vague talk about how it reflects what is in its wielder and how everyone has good and evil in them. It's not very clear to me how it explains why a probe seeking knowledge gives people self-destructive wish-granting powers.

TIMELINE
Nothing new to report here. It continues directly from Chainer's Torment, so I'm following the official timeline and putting it at 4305.

4 comments:

  1. No mention of the fact that each book in this trilogy has a different author? Wouldn't that be the most likely primary cause for all the inconsistencies between books?

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure that has something to do with it, but I'd still say its the job of the editor to catch the inconsistencies.

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  2. If Thriss is the guardian spirit of Krosa, do you think that makes him its equivalent of a maro-sorcerer? I always found it weird that Krosa, despite being a large and important forest on Dominaria, doesn't have a guy like Molimo or Multani around.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I'd say Krosa adopted him to play that role.

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