Writer - J. Robert King
Cover art - Ron Spears
First released in May 2003
So Karona has been born and has her proper name now. She flies off into the desert, with everyone at Averru following her in a mad trance. Kamahl is the first to find her and discovers she is a bit of a blank slate, not knowing what she is or what she can do. He then sees the other people arriving and crushing each other in a frenzied attempt to get to their new goddess. She runs off. Kamahl realizes she is an incredible danger, so he vows to go get the Mirari-sword to kill her. Other than him only a few people prove immune to her lure: the numena, the unmen Sash and Waistcoat, and Stonebrow for some reason. He is entranced at first (he just can't follow because his legs are caught under rubble) but when she leaves he comes to his senses and joins up with Averru.
Karona next meets Sash and Waistcoat. After some wacky antics (they are thirsty, so she nearly drowns them, that sort of top-notch humor) the three become friends. Because they are not affected by her she dubs them her prophets. They then convince her to go to the city of Eroshia. There the entire magical infrastructure (streetlamps, cable carts) collapses merely from her presence, but the people worship her nonetheless. Sash and Waistcoat live a life of luxury there, while Karona goes out to explore, leaving chaos and destruction in her wake. She figures out that she can do essentially anything as long as people believe she can. Her prophets test this by having her cause pigs to fly and restoring and re-destroying the Glimmer Moon. At that point another horde of would-be worshipers appears, including a Cabal army headed by Braids. She removes the ground from underneath them, then puts it back, killing them all.
Meanwhile Kamahl enters the Gorgon Mound and retrieves the Mirari-sword, but then the corpse of Laquatus, which has been growing continuously since he was impaled at the end of Judgment, comes to life as a zombie and chases him. Kamahl manages to kill it. While in the Mound he is guided by the ghost of Balthor. Once he has retrieved the sword Kamahl gets seduced by the Mirari again, lashing out and "killing" ghost-Balthor for good. This causes Kamahl to snap out of the seduction and allows him to finally wield the sword in a controlled manner.
Kamahl then finds the final deathwurm. Upon the birth of Karona it escaped from the infinite shoe-box and tried to get to her, but Ixidor wouldn't allow it to leave Topos. Kamahl fights the beast and kills it, then cuts open the membrane that was holding Nivea's soul to release her, much to Ixidor's dismay. Luckily for Kamahl after a short bath in Topos's river Ixidor is fully reborn as the numena Lowallyn, who is much more cooperative. The two men go off to recruit Kuberr, hoping that the three numena combined can stand against the goddess.
Going from plane to plane, Karona visits a Mercadia that is once again ruled by goblins, and a restored Serra's Realm, even meeting Serra herself! (We'll have to talk about the continuity issues of that scene as well.) Eventually she ends up on a plane made entirely out of metal called Argentum, where she meets a metal guy called Lord Macht. He created the Mirari and is feeling guilty about it. Karona does... something to make him shiny again, after which he is very happy and wants her to stay on Argentum. But she desires to return to Dominaria, so he sends her back.
Appearing at Eroshia, she starts conquering and destroying Otaria, eventually reaching Averru. Before she does though, Lord Macht brings Kamahl to Argentum for a while to teach him how to kill Karona with the Mirari-sword. Magic still hasn't returned to Dominaria, but the numena manage to tap into some while in proximity to Karona. Still, her own power has grown tremendously so this time they don't stand a chance. The three of them are killed quite easily. Kamahl is the last opponent standing, but Karona manages to take the Mirari-sword from him. She is about to kill him when Sash and Waistcoat, who had grown steadily more horrified with their friend's actions, stab her with the Mirari-sword, on the instructions of Lord Macht.
Macht then turns up himself and takes Karona and the Mirari to Argentum. Karona turns into Jeska, who is now a planeswalker. Macht reveals he is actually Karn. He turns the Mirari into a new guardian for his plane and the two 'walkers depart to explore the Multiverse. Meanwhile, Kamahl and Stonebrow go have a drink.
|Hah! See what I did there? Cause it's "Macht", but it's also Karn! Haha! So clever!|
You know, while the summaries of Onslaught and Legions made their plots seem even crazier because they concentrated the madness, Scourge sounds halfway sensible in summary. A crazy god has risen, the hero gathers allies to fight her, neat twist where the hero realizes his allies are just at bad as his enemy and lets her get away, all of it culminating in a climactic battle where the bad guy is only defeated because her former allies turn on her. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? So why did the Phyrexia.com community call this book TSTTBTSNBN (The Sequel To The Book That Shall Not Be Named) again? Why was it long considered the nadir of Magic's storyline, the uncontested worst entry in the entire canon?
Well, partly it's that the summary removes some of the stupider parts of the story. Like the bit where Sash and Waistcoat, still getting used to their new bodies, get Karona to tell her worshipers to give them clothing. The worshipers start stripping, Either Sash or Waistcoat remarks that his new pants are suddenly too small, and then the other one tells him to go behind a bush to sort it out. Yes, a masturbation joke! That line got brought up so many times to slam this book over the years. About as much as Nicol Bolas's "goat balls" line in Test of Metal gets mocked these days. Honestly, that one line doesn't bother me that much on its own. What bother me is that those two incarnations of one of the worst character archetypes, the unfunny comic relief, are now main characters and crucial in the resolution of the plot. They are still just as annoying as last book, and now they are even harder to ignore. That's the first strike against the book.
|Magic is a very serious game and has no place for sex jokes!|
Speaking of gods and prophets, last time King was trying to teach us something about war, this time he's picked another big subject: religion. Once again he rather botches the execution though. Between all the worshipers crushing each other or Sash and Waistcoat abusing their status as prophets, I think he's going for the old "religion is bad" trope, but the portrayal here is so over the top that it really doesn't count as religion anymore. We're continually told that Karona is a goddess and that everyone wants to worship her, but in reality everyone is just getting brainwashed. There is no message, no faith, nothing but Karona causing blind adoration. Even if you're very generous and assume King isn't just taling about religion in general, but just about brainwashing cults, even those still have some kind of message or promise to attract members. The story here would be exactly the same if Karona just excreted a pheromone that turned people loopy.
|At least her card is well designed in that way. It also wanders around, making people battle-mad.|
It's worth mentioning though that most of these are not the typical "book X said this but book Y said that" continuity errors. Yawgmoth being around as a ghost could just be seen as new information, and Mercadia once again falling under the control of the goblins could simply have happened in the 100 years since we saw the plane last. The damage it does to continuity is that is erases the endings of other many stories. Yawgmoth being back makes the sacrifices throughout the Weatherlight Saga less significant. In two very short scenes the conclusions to the stories of Mercadia and Serra's Realm are undone. It turns Magic in a setting without consequence, where everything keeps snapping back to the status quo, which greatly weakens the strength of its lore. This is probably what motivated WotC to remove the scenes from continuity. They have repeatedly stated they want their stories to have lasting impact and that "dead is dead". Undoing the deaths of some of the most famous characters in Magic's history for just a few scenes is obviously at odds with that.
|I assume exceptions are made for characters whose return was foreshadowed pretty much from the moment the died.|
"It was meant to see and learn, but the people of Dominaria thought it was a prize to win. They flocked to it and killed each others over it. They saw in it whatever they most wanted, and there is no more dangerous thing in any world than desire."Way to blame the Dominarians for what happened Karn! If the thing was meant to be nothing but a probe, why on earth did it grant immense magical power? Even in this story the Mirari's lure is clearly magical. Kamahl is explicitly said to be more level headed than he's been in ages after turning away from Karona, but the moment he picks up the Mirari he gets so enthralled by it that only killing his mentor (for good this time) causes him to snap out of it! And at the moment Karn is giving Karona the above "explanation", the Mirari is the only source of magic left on Dominaria! Oh, and what about those prophecies from the last trilogy, where it was supposed to be a weapon against some oncoming storm? The thing is clearly amazingly powerful and dangerous to use, and the only explanation we get for it is "it was meant as a high-tech looking glass but people got obsessed with it anyway"? This is a terrible conclusion to the central mystery of the entire Otaria cycle!
It is also where King starts to slip back into his habit of making magic way too vague and mystical. Which would be fine in other stories, but in a setting where magic is a practical thing, a tool used by all the characters, it always ends up feeling like a cop out. Take the following scene: Karn hangs out on Argentum, calling himself "The Warden", apparently sleeping all the time. Karona appears and he says he'll take her to Lord Macht, the creator of the place, but she figures out he himself is Macht (no idea where he was taking her then...). She then says he's "seeking redemption for this mechanistic prison" and that "his whole being has turned grey" because he "has taken the flaws of Dominaria into himself", which... huh? what? I have no idea what any of that means. She then says he has become scared of desire because of the destruction he has wrought, which at least makes some sense, and that she can let him "shine" again if he only lets her. He does, she "pours light into him", which makes him turn from gray to silver again, and then he suddenly wants her to stay, but when she says she wants to go conquer Dominaria instead he sends her back. Though that last bit is possibly just a way to get her back to a place where the Mirari-sword can kill her, considering it is him who tells Sash and Waistcoat to strike Karona down with it.
I mean... it is not quite Apocalypse's "and then there was a bright light and the bad guys were defeated", but it still feels way too vague for me. I guess if the first thing I did as a planeswalker was make a simple probe that turned into magical death machine that plunged an entire continent into war I'd be reluctant to get out of bed as well, but without a clear explanation for why that Mirari acted the way it did I'm not as invested, and "a goddess pours light in him and he's all happy again" is never a good way to handle characterization.
I've heard people blame the Mirari's malfunctioning on Karn being part-Urza. Urza can't make toast without dooming a civilization, right? Let's be honest though, that is a parody of Urza, nothing we actually saw him do. Yes he was responsible for countless deaths, but always as a deliberate sacrifice or because he was tampering with massive power to travel back in time to undo the rise of Phyrexia. Something like that. A simple scrying device we have seen many times before in the canon shouldn't be hard to create.
Perhaps that's why the sentence "you've taken the flaws of Dominaria into you" really jumped out to me. Sure, it is meant to refer to "desire", but what if we decide it means something else? Urza surely counts as a Dominarian flaw in Karn? Or what about... the Phyrexians? What if he's been infected by the glistening oil all along, and that caused him to create a horrible anti-Dominaria weapon? That could explain why he went into slumber, to make sure he contained the spread of infection. Karona then suppressed it with her light spell, which is why in the prologue of the next book the oil infects Mirrodin instead, because it no longer works on Karn. And when Karn goes back in time in Time Spiral the presence of Yawgmoth causes Karona's light to fail.
This is one of those cases where I'm just spinning complete fan fiction, but come on! It's been 15 years and I just finally want an explanation for why a simple looking device turned into Magic's equivalent of the One Ring stapled to a nuclear bomb!
Believe it or not, but there is yet one more way in which this book is harmful to continuity, which is the sheer scale on which it operates. The numena are ancient wizards who once ruled all of Dominaria and who ended the rule of dragons there. Karona is THE GOD OF ALL MAGIC, probably the most powerful entity in the entire canon once she reaches her full power. These are enormous additions to the lore, and in any other continuity they would be some of the most pivotal characters, and yet... they suck! Their story is weird, nonsensical and just plain bad, and Karona is an utter non-entity driven about by two of the most relived characters ever for most of her time in the spotlight! In concept she and the numena are exactly the sort of character you'd expect to see brought back in some way, but in execution they are the sort of character you never want to see again. I guess we should be grateful that after this Magic went on a long trip exploring new worlds, and that J. Robert King was never brought back to expand upon their backstories... If you think about the damage they could have done, it is quite a relief to see the Dominaria artbook mostly just gloss over the Otaria Saga.
But we're getting a bit off topic. Let's get back to Scourge itself, and try to answer a simple question: is it as bad as it's reputation suggests? Honestly? No. While preparing for this blog entry I re-read the book for the first time since the release of Time Spiral, and I found that now the worst continuity errors have been undone, and that it is safe to assume no one is planning to revisit Karona, I can more easily judge the book on its own merits, and I find I'm much milder towards it. It's not as bad as it reputation suggests. As a standalone book, Legions is probably worse.
That said, "better than its reputation" is still a long long way from "good". It's still a story featuring one of Magic's dullest villains and two of its absolute worst characters period as its main focus, with badly written attempts at a deep message and a downright terrible resolution to a longstanding mystery. It is just plain bad all over, a terrible capstone to an already lackluster saga which in my opinion it taints even the few good parts of that story like Chainer's Torment merely by association. Nowadays we can look back at it and laugh as we wonder "what were they thinking?", but honestly, Magic's lore would be stronger if this whole trilogy had never been made.
Normally I do the trivia section first, but since this story is so famous for its wonky continuity, let's start with that today. The two big problematic scenes are the one where Karona summons her five fellow "gods", and the one where she is traveling the planes.
The scene with the "gods" is of particular interest because Teferi is one of them, but when Freyalise mentions it to him in Time Spiral he claims it never happened. That exchange combined with some remarks made by Bardy Dommermuth on Phyrexia.com is the basis of the theory that Karona didn't meet any of the problematic continuity characters. A close reading of the scenes makes it all a bit more complicated however. Lowallyn remembers being summoned in the very next chapter, so his talk with Karona definitely happened. And her meeting with Karn definitely happened, as that lays the groundwork for Jeska going off with Karn and essentially the whole Mirrodin block. In other words, we can't simply dump both scenes in their entirety, we have to go through the individual meetings and determine whether they still are or aren't in continuity.
- Let's do all of them in the order of appearance and start with Multani. When we last saw him in Apocalypse he had lost his form for "years, or decades, or centuries". Karona is actually the one who rebuilds him, so in this case previous continuity is used well. We'll next see him up and about in Time Spiral, so his meeting with Karona could very well have happened. Then again, Time Spiral is 300 years after Apocalypse, so he could just have regrown naturally. Personally I prefer to keep this scene in as it is not problematic at all, but you could go either way.
- Next up is Fiers, one of the gods worshiped by Dominarian dwarves (though here he just says "Otarian dwarves") from The Myths of Magic, who reveals he is "just" a planeswalker. He's never appeared in person before or since, so keeping his meeting in or out of continuity doesn't matter at all. Again, I prefer to keep it in.
- Then the first problem: Yawgmoth. Now, the story does make clear that he died in the Invasion, so it's not a continuity issue in that way. The problem is that he talks about how his "essence is gathering", as if he was coming back to life. Bringing the big bad of the story back in a random scene in another book would of course rob the Weatherlight Saga of a lot of its impact, and the creative team has stated time and time again that they don't want to resurrect him for precisely that reason. Yawgmoth's ghost was also notably absent when we visited Urborg in Time Spiral and Dominaria. So this meeting probably didn't happen, unless Karona resurrected and re-killed him.
- After that she summons Lowallyn. As mentioned above, he is the whole reason we are doing this exercise: he remembers the meeting later in the story, so it has to have happened.
- Finally there is Teferi, the meeting which definitely didn't happen. This Teferi does mentioned phasing out Zhalfir, wonders if it is time to bring it back, and calls himself ruler of pocket-planes, so at the time of release it wasn't much of a continuity error. Karona could just have summoned him back into the main timestream. But Time Spiral makes it clear, this never happened. Which is probably for the best, as he is described as having long braids, which is so not his look.
- Then, her interplanar travels. They immediately start out weird when she reaches the Blind Eternities and hears the names of previous visitors: the Weatherlight, Barrin and Rhammidarigaaz (who all planeswalked in Time Streams when Urza brought them along to Serra's Realm. Note that King seems to have no problem making continuity references to his own novels) as well as Akroma. Apparently that infinite shoebox Ixidor made was actually a portal into the Eternities.
- Then she goes to Mercadia, where a cyborg-goblin is called a "master" by the locals. The gobbo gets very mad when she mentioned the name Gerrard Capashen. So we're not only undoing Yawgmoth's death, but also the conclusion of Mercadian Masques? Again, it could be in continuity, but I'd really rather it not be.
- Next... oh boy. Serra's Realm. She meets Serra, who explains the Realm was "imprisoned" in the Weatherlight's power core, but it was released when the ship died. No explanation why Serra herself is back from her death in Homelands though. This was a huge continuity error at the time, and only made worse so now Dominaria has been released, as that story reaffirms her death and makes it a plot point in the story that the Realm's energy is still inside the Weatherlight's core. That's the whole reason Tiana is with the crew! So no, this meeting can never have happened.
If I may make a quick digression: at the time Scourge came out I honestly kinda liked this ret-con. (Yes! Me liking a ret-con! How shocking is that?!) Over time Serra's story had gotten kind of screwed up, as she was written by various writers who didn't seem to pay too much attention to what came before. I go into more details about this in the Homelands review, but as a quick summary: between Planeswalker mentioning her creating the Realm in reaction to a disaster on her home plane, her then leaving the Realm for Ulgrotha when the Phyrexians invade, her leaving Ulgrotha when Feroz died and then letting herself be killed rather than fight in the conclusion of the Homelands comic, Magic's iconic white mana goddess had been reduced to someone who gave up and ran away every time things got hard. Having her back alive would allow for a redemption arc for her. That is now of the table, but luckily the Dominara art book and the Story Podcasts also included a redemption story. First by suggesting those refugees she meets in Sursi could've been Serrans themselves, inspiring her to start doing better (which is exactly what I would have done in my redemption fanfic!) and then recasting the scene where she lets herself be killed as her sending her spark into the land of Sursi, like Greensleeves did in Final Sacrifice. An excellent way to rehabilitate Serra without undoing any continuity! Bravo!
- Okay, back to Scourge. After Serra's Realm Karona goes to Phyrexia, which is all blown up after Apocalyspe. There a presence talks to her, trying to get her to stay because "You need shelter, and I need magic". This is generally thought to be another appearance of Yawgmoth, but that would be a bit weird considering Yawgy wasn't at Phyrexia when he died and the ghost we saw earlier seemed to be in a living swamp, presumably Urborg. Instead, I think this is the mind of Phyrexia itself. We saw that it was a separate entity from Yawgmoth in The Thran when Rebbec briefly converses with it. I find this scene less destructive than the Yawgmoth scene, as leaving Phyrexia an empty husk of dead metal doesn't detract much from the planeswalkers blowing it up in Apocalypse, but I suppose the creative team would prefer it to be completely gone, just for clarity's sake.
- Then finally she goes to Argentum, and that is another scene which was to happen, as it it sets up the status quo for Karn and Jeska in Mirrodin and Time Spiral.
In addition to all that, there are a few more continuity related things worth mentioning.
- When Karona is going around wondering who or what she is, she asks her worshipers what they think. One suggests she's the spirit of the Weatherlight, another Serra. Other suggestions are "the bride of the sun", "the anti-Phage", "the great goddess Offkirch" and, eh... some guy's mother in law back from the dead.
- The Northern Order, which was said to be destroyed in Onslaught (Well, literally said to be "decimated", but "destroyed" seemed to be intended point) is revived as Karona worshipers. The Ixidorians also start worshiping her, splitting into the Akroman Crusaders (who see her as a transfiguration of Akroma) and the Stonebraughan Enforcers (who think Akroma was leading the religion astray and thus worship Karona as her slayer)
- The scene where Sash and Waistcoat have Karona recreate and then re-destroy the Glimmer Moon establishes pretty clearly that it was completely destroyed when the Weatherlight flew through it in Apocalypse.
- Braids retreats into her dementia space after Karona buries her. The text says her dementia creatures "welcomed her with grinning fangs and open claws. And then she was simply dead." So I guess the current day Cabal are sort of correct in their belief that dementia magic killed Braids (we learned in the Dominaria art book that they in fact worship her for it.)
- In Aphetto Lowallyn gives a load of gold to a street artist, who mentions wanting to use it to sail to Benalia City, which is being rebuild. We know from the Dominaria art book that Benalia City was still in ruins at the end of the "Years of Salt", but this is not too problematic. It could easily be being rebuild around this time, only to collapse again in the cataclysmic post-Karona years. Note that this temporary rebuilding also explains how a it could be mentioned in a "modern" story in The Dragons of Magic.
- As I mentioned last time, Scourge elaborates and changes the story of the fall of the numena a bit from what we saw in Legions. Averru didn't just cast a spell to bring all of them back, he only wanted to resurrect himself, but the other two attacked to try and steal the spell. Their meddling first summoned Karona. They tried to contain her with the same spell they used to imprison the primevals, but in response Karona blew herself and all of them up.
- When Karona leaves Dominaria we get a few scenes of magic failing around the globe. The ruins of the Grand Coliseum start sinking as the spells keeping water out fail, Topos goes back to being a desert and Skyshroud starts to freeze as the barrier Freyalise put up around it starts to fail. Most interesting is the Heroes' Obelisk. Although originally a place of pilgrimage, it has by now turned into a holiday resort, and youngsters think the monument's glowing powerstones grant virility. Once they go out all the visitors are trapped in the dark. When Karona dies and magic returns to the world, we see the Obelisk again. This time its surroundings are inhabited only by panthers, who have eaten the holidaymakers.
- Oh, and one thing I actually forgot to mention in the Legions review: Averru claims the numena named Dominaria, because the plane was their dominion! Recently Nicol Bolas also claimed to have named the plane, with pretty much the same reasoning. I like to think both of them are just grandstanding, as we've known since pretty much the very first storyline sources that Dominaria means "Song of Dominia" and has nothing to do with domination. If I had to choose between Bolas and Averru though, I would pick Bolas. At least he says "I claimed its song for myself". (Emphasis mine).
- Kuberr dubs Karona "the Scourge" at one point, giving us a reason for the title.
- Averru says he chose Kamahl to be the one to bring the other numena to him, and that his various actions (fighting zombie-Laquatus, mastering the Mirari-sword) are all labors to prove his worth. So I guess everyone is still stuck to the rails of prophecy...
- When the numena are creating Arien to lure Karona, they first create a perfect copy of her. Then Kuberr removes the copy's breasts and adds a penis, saying "Unless our Glorious Lady is a lesbian, it'll be easier to trick her if this is a male." Would've been pretty funny if Karona WAS gay and Kuberr just doomed Dominaria with his heteronormativity.
- When Karona is in full world conquering mode, she heads to Aphetto, where the Cabal is now ruled by a character simple called The Boy, a kid who supposedly channels the Cabal's ancestors, including the First, Phage, Braids and Kuberr. He dies when she destroys the entire city.
TIMELINELast time we mentioned that the temporal references in Legions were very contradictory. Scourge is a tiny bit better in that at least it doesn't outright contradict itself, but it does clash with both the official timeline and the other novels in the Otaria Saga.
Scourge definitely goes for a longer version of the timeline. Kuberr claims to be back for about a year, Kamahl says Lowallyn "touched off a world war" two years ago (Which I suspect is a reference to the end of Onslaught, even though that was just one battle between the Cabal, Krosa and Topos, not the entire world.) and when he brings Kamahl to Argentum, Karn says he's been looking through the Mirari for "five terrible years".
Of course, if the end of Onslaught was two years ago, and the end of Legions one, that contradicts most of the references in Legions, from Akroma saying the Ixidorians have been around for three years to Phage being pregnant 11(ish) months. So even if you want to go with the longer version of events over the one in the official timeline (which just puts everything from Onslaught to Scourge in 4306), the best you can say is that the entire saga happens in a span of 5 years (So... 4306 to 4309?) and just don't think about just how long the various parts of the saga took.
The Dominaria art book clearly states that the Rift Era, which begins with Karona's death, starts in 4306 though, so I feel justified sticking to that date to avoid all the inconsistencies. Maybe time was already getting wonky and running differently in different places in the lead up to Karona's birth, due to the numena returning?
The only non-problematic timeline stuff is that Lowallyn confirms that the Numena ruled for 1000 years, and that we hear time and time again that they ruled 20.000 years ago. At least those dates are so long ago that they don't contradict anyth- what? Oh, right. Those dates directly contradict Planeshift, which said the Primevals fell 10.000 years ago, and that contradiction wasn't resolved until the Storyline Podcasts earlier this year. So King couldn't even keep continuity straight between his own novels!
And so we reach the end of the Otaria Saga. Sort off. Because there is one thing still missing from this review; one final strike against Scourge, and in fact the whole Onslaught cycle. Which is that it doesn't match what was going on in the cards at the time in the slightest.
So before I am truly done with Otaria, and before I can give my final verdict on its story, we must look at the other Onslaught story, the one told partly on the cards and partly on Magicthegathering.com. I hope you will join me next time when we can finally but all of this to bed.