Monday, 27 August 2018

Legions


Writer - J. Robert King
Cover art - Ron Spears
First released in January 2003

SUMMARY
We open on the deathwurms still rampaging. Braids is riding one, but then they all get absorbed into Phage as we saw at the end of Onslaught. Braids plummets to the ground. With broken legs she crawls into a hole in the ground to hide.

Everybody goes home after the war. Akroma rebuilds Ixidor's forces in Topos. Phage heads back to the Grand Coliseum, and Kamahl goes to Krosa, where he retreats into the Gorgon Mound to meditate. Zagorka, Stonebrow and a bunch of other refugees of the war discover a city in the middle of the desert. They start new lives there, calling it Sanctum. As they start attracting more people, ancient glyphs start appearing on the ruins which talk about the rebirth of mysterious "numena".

There aren't any Magic cards dealing with the numena, so have something numen-y from another card game.



Braids is found by Akroma's forces, who brainwash her. While doing so Akroma learns her secrets, like that she was in love with the First, and that the First was in love with Phage but that he was convinced she would eventually kill him, just like he had to kill his family for Kuberr, and thus made plans to kill her first.

Akroma has Ixidor's will o' wisp disciples convert people all across Otaria, but this mostly happens between chapters. Phage converts the other half of the continent to the Cabal's cause with franchise arena's, also mostly off screen. She herself turns up at Sanctum to gradually corrupt its people. Akroma's army also shows up there, but Zagorka tricks them into a prolonged siege instead of an all out assault by challenging them to a game of dice to determine their strategy and then cheating. The besiegers are welcome to spend their leisure time inside the city and in turn become corrupted by its vices. Amidst this all Akroma shows Phage what she learned from Braids.

Phage returns to the Coliseum. Not to try and kill the First, but to conceive a baby with him, as she has figured out Kuberr saved her from the First's touch so the two of them could make him a new body. When she arrives she is very weirdly seduced by the First (he starts by having minions throw rose petals on her path, he ends with a giant naked statue of her, with himself lying so still under the foot of the statue that Phage initially thinks he is carved out of ivory as well) They have sex, and she becomes pregnant. Afterwards he tries to kill her, but finds he can't go through with it.


Stonebrow meanwhile heads over the Topos to kill Akroma to protect Sanctum, but he is captured and brainwashed into becoming an Ixidorian. While Akroma is entertaining rulers from all over Otaria it is discovered the shoe box next to the door of Topos has a bottomless pit in it (we later learn this was Ixidor's idea of a joke: making an infinite shoe box when he wasn't expecting to ever have visitors) and that the deathwurm that ate Ixidor is in it. Akroma dives in and stays there for months, seeking the monster and fighting it. In her absence Stonebrow (whose task up to that point was serving drinks) is made the figurehead of the Ixidorians by high priest Aioue and prime minister Lindeloth.

Interspersed with all this are the "adventures" of Sash and Waistcoat. Ixidor had created a bunch of  living portals called unmen which he kept close to escape danger. They were supposed to be mindless, but when the deathwurm came for him two of them ran off, not wanting Ixidor to use them because that would mean they would close/die. We now see them head out to explore the world hoping to find a way to get proper bodies. They name themselves Sash and Waistcoat after they steal some clothes. They hang around in the city called Eroshia, hoping to find a wizard, until they piss of the locals enough (by eating the mayor's harpsichord) that they are chased out of town. The two are then found by a third unman, Umbra, who was send by Akroma to track them down. The three are captured by the Cabal. The First tries to get them to kill Phage in an arena battle as he himself keeps failing but they fail as well.

Sash and Waistcoat don't appear on any cards either, so have a different Sash.
Phage is now 4 months pregnant, but decides to go kill Akroma. The First turns the three unmen into giant cockroaches and sends them along with her, with the mission to kill both Phage and Akroma. They first go to Sanctum, where they rescue/capture the brainwashed Braids. Phage orders the cockroaches to bring her back to the First. Phage continues on to Topos. 

In the infinite shoebox Arkoma gets swallowed by the deathwurm. She finds the soul of Nivea trapped inside, with a raving Ixidor telling her to leave. She does, but when exiting the shoebox she is attacked by Phage, who manages to rot off the angel's legs again. The two grapple and are then attacked by Stonebrow, who now wields the Soul Reaper axe (Akroma had stolen it from Kamahl at the end of Onslaught, so it was still at Topos). Phage is grievously wounded but saved from death by Kuberr. Stonebrow realises he tried to kill a rotting angel and a pregnant woman and stops fighting in shame. The three combatants leave.

Stonebrow goes to Sanctum. There the glyphs have turned into humanoids made of glass who say they are the minions of the ancient wizard Averru, one of the numena, who is reincarnating as the city itself. They take over the city by force. Phage also drags herself to Sanctum. The glyphs say she's the mother of another numena and send her off, barely healed, to the Coliseum. Akroma rallies Topos's forces, and gets some metal legs grafted upon herself to replace those that have rotted away. Yes, Akroma is now an angel-cat centaur with four metal legs with blades instead of feet.

When Braids gets back to the First, he brainwashes her back into being a cabalist again, though she is not quite her manic old self. The First also kills the cockroaches, but they just revert to being unmen. He sends them out to kill Phage and Akroma again.


At Sanctum the Glyphs eject or kill almost all the locals, but keep Zagorka (who is seen as the mother of Averru because she led the city of Sanctum), Stonebrow and some others as prophesied "witnesses". Then they start killing all the witnesses in a big ritual, but Stonebrow and a few others make it out. Averru is reborn and the city spreads over the entire Corian Escarpment.

Stonebrow heads to Krosa, where he finds an almost mummified Kamahl. He convinces the druid to come out of meditation to take another stab at killing Akroma and Phage and gives him the Soul Reaper.

At the Grand Coliseum the First kills all the attendees with poisoned entrance tickets to create a gigantic undead army to fight Akroma. Phage, who reached the Coliseum just in time to see this slaughter, gives birth to Kuberr. The First once again tries to kill her, but with Kuberr reincarnated the First is no longer immortal, and Braids decides to cut him in half, the act returning her to her former maniacal self. Kuberr takes over the Cabal. He grows a day for each death in his name so he sends Phage to lead the undead army against Averru. Akroma's forces also march on the city. On the way she captures the unmen. She gives Sash and Waistcoat bodies just so she can then kill them, but Umbra sacrifices himself to save them: he shoves their bodies through his, teleporting them away but closing himself.

As Akroma's army marches into the city they are given medallions by the glyphs, who put up no resistance. These medallions cause them to start worshiping the numen Lowallyn instead of Ixidor. Turns out Lowallyn was trying to reincarnate in the body of Ixidor before he got eaten by a deathwurm. On the other side of the city the glyphs also let Phage's army in, as the warfare between the armies will fuel the resurrection spell of Averru further. The Krosan forces just fight their way in. In the climax of the battle, as Phage and Akroma face off, Kamahl swings Soul Reaper in an attempt to kill them both. Just at that moment however Zagorka jumps from a tower on top of the two other women and is also cut up by the axe. This bizarre simultaneous death of the three "mothers" of the numena causes a big flash of light. When it retreats and new figure stands, who says...
"Behold, Otaria. Behold, Dominaria. I am Karoma. I am magic."
Yes, KaroMa. It'll be fixed to Karona, like on the cards, in the next novel.

Apparently Karoma is a wolf thingy from World of Warcraft.
REVIEW
This book just makes no sense whatsoever, does it? It was bad when I read it, but now I'm reading back my summary and all the stupidity just hits you so much harder when it is concentrated like that. The shoebox. The weird seduction. The writing in Sanctum coming to life and Averru being reborn as a city. Everything with the unmen. (I haven't even talked about the parts where they get infested with cats for a chapter!) And that's just the entertaining weird things. There is also stuff that is just plain stupid. Like the First, leading of an organisation of trained killers, continually sending the unsilled unmen to kill Phage and Akroma without any kind of plan, or the Ixidoran army for some bizarre reason accepting Zagorka's bet and then just settling in for a pointless siege when they lose.

But what strikes me most off all is the way the story keeps introducing plot lines only to drop them. Just like in Onslaught there is a lot of wasting time until the final battle. Stonebrow goes from Sanctum to Krosa to Sanctum to Topos to Sanctum to Krosa to Sanctum. Phage goes from the Coliseum to Sanctum to the Coliseum to Topos to Sanctum to the Coliseum to Sanctum. Every time they have some sort of plan or revelation, so it is not quite as tedious as Kamahl going up to the Mirari and back several times in a row like in Onslaught, but in the end most of those plans are simply abandoned, and when you take a step back you realize there really is a lot of shuffling the pieces around the board, seemingly just to kill time until the final confrontation.

I'm assuming one of the women in the back is Zagorka?
Making the whole thing even funnier is that I think that amidst all this nonsense King is trying to make some deep and meaningful statement about war. There is a very heavy handed mirroring going on with the attacks on Averru at the end, with both Akroma and Phage thinking they are cleansing Otaria of the other, and the glyphs convincing both of them the other has already taken the city. There is more of this going on between Phage and the First, with each only try to kill each other because they think the other wants to kill them. I think the message is supposed to be something about how both sides are to blame in every war, or how conflict arises from misinformation, but of course any impact is lost among all the silly weirdness going on around it.

Another reason the deeper stuff doesn't come across is because the characterization in this book is pretty bad. Everyone feels way too mechanical. People do stuff because the plot demands it, not because it makes sense. Literally. They are bound by prophecy to play out the resurrection of the numena. Stonebrow makes this especially clear when he finally goes to get Kamahl. He says he's not sure whether Kamahl is good or evil, but then goes on to give him the soul destroying axe anyway, because that is what he has to do.

In addition to this, sometimes it feels like King has a very bad grasp on these characters, as they start acting widely differently from what we've seen before. For example, at one point the First calls Phage, Braids and Zagorka his "trinity" and feels weak without them. Briads? ZAGORKA? We've never seen the First care one bit about Braids, or about any other cabalist for that matter. And did he even know who Zagorka was? She was a random mule driver that was recruited into Phage's crew to help build the Grand Coliseum! The lovesick putz we see here has nothing in common with the inscrutable mastermind that was introduced in Chainer's Torment. Maybe I could have bought it if him falling for Phage was well told, but there is no chemistry there at all, as Phage is one of the most personality-less characters of them all. She's completely on auto-pilot here, all her actions stemming from either the First or Kuberr telling her what to do. In Onslaught she at least had some understandable anger towards her brother to motivate her. Here she's just a cipher, a tool of prophecy with barely any character of her own.

I miss the Weatherlight Saga, when I had some story-relevant cards I could use for my reviews...
And then there are Sash & Waistcoat. For a long time the uncontested champions of the "most hated characters in the canon"-competition. One of them is supposed to be the wacky one, the other the straight man, but I can't be bothered to figure out which one is which.

When they are first introduced, as two bumbling fools who get caught up in a story far greater than them, you get the impression that they are supposed to be the normal ones commenting on all weirdness around them, but that goes out the window when they spend half the story in their own plot cul-de-sac, not interacting with any of the main characters at all. And when they do get captured by the Cabal they just happily trundle along with all the strangeness (being turned into cockroaches et all...). Most they just take up space and make dirty puns. Really, really terrible dirty puns. I'm no prude, so if you have a character saying stuff like "When it comes to girls, Sash is all thumbs, but I'm all fingers." while trying to flirt with a lady, okay, fine. But in the end their "humor" degenerates into just mispronouncing words so they sound dirty. First they say brassieres instead of braziers, then rectal instead of retina, then scrotum instead of Sanctum... really, that is not even trying! Those two don't even sound remotely alike!

And then, after you've spend an entire book growing to hate these two for their terrible comedic relief, the way their plot takes up way too many chapters and the horrible tonal clash of their "jokes" with the gory fighting they witness... King attempts to do some serious scenes with them! They decide that they wont kill Phage because they think she's their friend. Umbra sacrifices himself for them because he has become their friend. Attempts at sentiment that are completely unearned. I'm sorry, but it is far too late to get me to have any emotion other than loathing over these two.

Look, I don't know either. This is what I got when I googled Unmen.
If anything works well in this story it is the build up to the rebirth of the numena. Various scenes with the elf Elionoway uncovering the runes at Sanctum that slowly reveal the upcoming resurrection, the readers knowing that Kuberr is another numena but the characters instrumental in his return being unaware, and us wondering where exactly the third numena fits into the story are all good ways of building mystery and tension. The eventual revelation that the numena are the wizards that killed the primeval dragons and stole their powers is also quite cool for hardcore storyline fans, as it gives these news characters some instant credibility and ties the primevals closer into the rest of the continuity. Unfortunately when they are reborn their whole motivation seems to be getting people to fight to gain power (Averru), getting people to fight to grow from a baby into an adult (Kuber) and... eh... get manipulated into fighting by the others (Lowallyn). And then their entire plot gets derailed when Karon/ma shows up.

So yeah. This book is pretty terrible in all sorts of different ways. Still, it could be worse. It could be Scourge...

TRIVIA
  • Like with the expansion and mutation of Krosa in Onslaught, here we have the glyphs being introduced as liquid glass creatures that almost sound like one of the mutants from the set, except the concept is warped by several games of Chinese whispers. These are runes made by Averru that have come to life, not wizards infused by Mirari energy.
  • The battle at the end of Onslaught is now called the Nightmare War. The place it was fought, with all its holes in reality due to the deathwurms, initially gets called the Nightmare Lands, but at some point becomes the Stubble Fields. Akroma has the holes in reality filled with big stone plugs.
  • We are told middle aged elves are 500ish years old, and middle aged dwarves 200ish years.
  • I'm a bit unclear on how the unmen work. They are living holes in space who can't touch people, but they can steal and wear clothes? How does that work?
  • When the First tries to get the unmen to kill Phage he sets them up against her in a pit fight, with loads of monsters hiding in their portal-bodies. How this is supposed to kill Phage when her touch simply kills all the monsters, I have no idea. At one point she jumps into one of the unmen and just rolls around in ogres, killing them. Among the monsters are an Argoshian , dogmen, crocodillians and scythers. An Argoshian is a man with 10.000 eyes all over his body. No further description is given for any of the others, but I'm assuming the latter are pokemon.
  • While he is ruler of the Ixidorians Stonebrow gets visions of the entire continent from the little will o' wisp disciples Ixidor created. Here we learn that they are converting people all over the continent, including the Pardic barbarians, who have started killing those who refuse to convert. It all sounds far more interesting that what is actually happening in the book.
  • Near the end we are told only Eroshia and Krosa are free of Ixidorans and the Cabal. So... I guess the Mer Empire was also converted somehow? Or were they taken out by the slivers off screen? No idea how Eroshia, which is just a random city state, kept the two factions out.
  • As for what the Ixidoran faith actually preaches... something about beauty being good? That's about the full extend of what we get explained.
CONTINUITY
  • At the end of Onslaught Stonebrow was with Kamahl and said to be "wishing for more wars", but at the beginning of Legions he is suddenly with Zagorka in Sanctum. I guess though that we could say the scene at the end of Onslaught could take place slightly later than it seemed, during Stonebrow's first short sojourn into Krosa, before he gives up on Kamahl.
  • The numena are said to have killed the primevals in the service of King Themeus. We first heard about this king in Planeshift, where he was said to have befriended and then betrayed Darigaaz. There were originally five numena, but after killing and taking the power of Darigaaz, Crosis and Dromar the three we see here turned on the other two to prevent even more competition for power. They also toppled Themeus and set themselves up as kings, ruling Dominaria from Otaria for 1000 years. When he had finally grown feeble, Averru set up a spell that would eventually resurrect them, then started a war with the other two to power it. Scourge will slightly alter this story, saying that Averru had only intended to bring himself back, and that the others attacked to steal the spell for themselves. Their interference then led to the first birth of Karon/ma. The three numena then perished while taking her down.
  • Elionoway says the elves still remember that the numena overthrew the primevals, as it only happened 20 of their generations ago. Which raises the question how the dragons forgot about them over the years...
  • There is some debate over whether the Null/Glimmer Moon survived the Weatherlight flying through it in Apocalypse. The Wiki says just has a big hole in it now, but here Elionoway says he remembers "the way the Glimmer Moon once tugged", suggesting it is gone completely.
  • Kuberr calls The First "Virot of the Maglans". What happened to his secret name? J. Robert King clearly did not pay close attention to the story of Family Man, as the whole point was that Virot had to give up his name to become Calchexas/the First.
  • At one point a bunch of elven refugees turn up at Topos as their "ancient homeland" of Krosa has been destroyed by the growth. So I guess there were elves on Otaria all along!
We'll talk more about the supposed refugees coming into Otaria when we deal with the online coverage of Onslaught block.
TIMELINE
As if this book isn't bad enough, now we also start running into problems with the timeline, as there are temporal references in Legions that contradict the official timeline, which puts all three parts of the Onslaught trilogy in 4306. However, these references are then contradicted by other temporal references in the same book!

For example, just before diving into the shoebox, Akroma tells the gathered representatives of other nations that they have been neighbors for 3 years! But then about 75 pages later it is supposedly only 1 year since Stonebrow fled to Sanctum. So... it has been both 3 and 1 years since Onslaught?

Some more problems: the story says Zagorka is 440 years younger than the elf Elionoway, which would make her about 60. Later we hear her son has been dead for 60 years. Even if we allow for some rounding off, that would make Zagorka a ridiculously young mother! And speaking of mothers, at one point Phage is 11 months pregnant, then another month passes in the unmen part of the story, and when we get back to Phage she's still 11 months pregnant!

So clearly neither J. Robert King nor the editor was thinking about time very closely. But what do we then do with our timeline? Usually I would take the book option over the official timeline, as I consider story to have precedent over supplementary material, but here the book is a complete mess. So I'll have to fall back on my other rule: more recent sources trump older sources. And hey, one of the most recent sources available is The Art of Magic the Gathering: Dominaria, which puts the start of the Rift Era (aka Karoma's death) at 4306, confirming the date from the official timeline. Using that date does mean 4306 is a veeeeery busy year, and that a bunch of temporal references no longer work (for example, Phage now suddenly has a really really short pregnancy instead of a rather long one), but what can you do? Its the book's own fault for screwing its own timeline up so badly! If it had just been consistent I would've championed it over the art book, like I did with the Benalia reference in Hazezon!

There is still one more timeline bit of interest though, which is that the Numena are said to be 20.000 years old, and ruled for 1000 years. Luckily those numbers are so huge that any confusion over when Legions itself happened becomes irrelevant just by rounding off. These days do contradict the dates given for the fall of the Primevals in Planeshift, but the ones given here are corroborated in both the Dominaria art book and the discussion about the Primevals and Elder Dragons from the recent Storyline Podcasts (triggered by a question by yours truly!)


Well, that's Legions's, once known on Phyrexia.com as TBTSNBN (The Book That Shall Not Be Named). Now I'll just have to make it through TSTTBTSNBN (The Sequel To The... you get the idea) and it will all be uphill from there!

3 comments:

  1. Yeaaaaah, King had a very big issue with actually sticking to the actual universe he was supposed to be writing in, and just basically wrote what he wanted. (Like another, much later author we'll see, come the planehopping era.) Pretty sure that this tendency on his part is why this was the last time they asked him to write anything.

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    1. I haven't even finished the book yet, about 2/3rds the way through, & stuff is just bonkers. Definitely see why they never asked him to write something again, but I'm also sympathetic, because I doubt they gave him much direction in the first place.

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  2. I knew of Scourge's fearsome reputation, but seeing that just trying to read (and coherently analyze) it has caused poor Squirle to take their longest hiatus since February... now I know fear.

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