Writer - Scott McGough
Cover artist - Greg Staples
First printing - March 2003
After last book's failure of imperial assassin Ramses Overdark to quell rebellion in the Edemi islands, the emperor of Madara sends in the army, headed by Marhault Elsdragon. Overdark is ordered not to interfere, and imperial champion Tetsuo Umezawa and his crew are punished for their interference in Overdark's attack on the Edemi's by being forced to serve under as army officers for the time being.
Aerathi Berserker Jorgan Hage, the second in command of the army and secret minion of Overdark, attacks the island of Kusho. Among his troops are Tetsuo's armorer Ayesha Tanaka and Kolo Meha, a Bogardan mage. Ayesha gets captured by the island's defenders. She eventually escapes with the help of the apparently-just-passing pirate Ramirez DePietro, but finds that she has become addicted to Kusho's blue mana. Meha ends up in a conflict with Hage after creating an earth fissure to separate the two forces. The bloodthirsty Hage wanted to slaughter Kusho's reinforcement troops, and takes his anger out on Meha by nearly killing him.
Tetsuo and Kei, who is still part-Eumidian, go to Sekana to make sure Wasitora, who has given birth to a litter of kittens since we last saw her, doesn't attack the troops passing through the village. They then sail with Elsdragon and a second fleet to the Edemi's. When they arrive at Kusho they find the island mostly empty, as Gosta Dirk has been evacuating his people. Kei and Tor are told to remain with the occupying forces led by Barktooth Warbeard, while the rest of the cast moves on to Argenti, which is to be razed completely on the emperor's orders. The emperor himself casts a spell to destroy the Greater Realm of Preservation protecting the island and the invasion begins.
Ayesha volunteers to lead an attack on Lord Magnus's Sylvan Library. She secretly plots to use its magic to cure her addiction and Kei's mutations. She takes the library and tries to reach Kei but finds that she can only communicate with Kusho through some evergreen trees from Argenti that were transplanted there, but Tor and Kei discover Warbeard has been torching them. Ayesha does discover that there is black mana being infused into Kusho's blue, which caused her addiction.
The Kentsu and the forces of Lady Caleria fight destructive battles on the north of Argenti but reach something of a stalemate when Caleria sends out an Akron Legionnaire that destroys the Kentsu siege-engines. Xira Arien arrives and, despite the emperor's orders to Overdark to stay out of the Edemi's, offers help. Elsdragon accepts and Lady Orca shows up. She kills the legionnaire but then turns around and attacks the Kentsu. Tetsuo manages to kill her, but in the chaos and slaughter Jorgan Hage kills Elsdragon and he and his Aerathi clansmen take over the army. After this Hage turns on the resisting Kolo Meha, but Tetsuo teleports himself and Meha away.
Meanwhile on Kusho Kei and Tor have found Ramirez DePietro, Kasimir and an emaciated Gosta Dirk, ill due to the poisoned mana on his island. Kei stays behind to help while DePietro takes Tor into the woods to investigate a sound. This leads to Tor being ambushed by Xira Arien, and Kei by someone posing as Tor. This is the shapeshifter Halfdane, another minion of Overdark has been posing as DePietro and Warbeard and was responsible for poisoning Kusho. The two baddies think they manage to kill Kei and Tor, but when they leave Kei uses his last power to heal his friend.
Back on Madara Tetsuo has had enough and renounces his title of imperial champion, vowing to take down Overdark and the emperor.
Meanwhile Overdark himself thinks he is very successful, having taken control of the army and being in a position to replace the champion with a minion of his own. Yet the emperor reveals he had known about these plans all along. Deciding that this proves the old way to rule the empire wasn't working he appoints Overdark as his regent and grants him leave to use all the resources of the empire to destroy Tetsuo.
Oh, and in that epilogue the emperor also reveals his true identity. I'll just copy the entire speech here, as no summary can do it justice.
"I was old before this world was even born. I watched my brothers rule for a thousand years until little worms like you overcame them. But I am not my brothers. I am older than they are, greater. I have devoured stars and shattered worlds. I have sired whole races, populated entire planes, and then hunted them to extinction for my amusement. I have bathed in the blood of gods and used their bones to build my nest. I am the mind-ripper, the deathbringer, the winged dark that terrifies your dreams. I was the first to witness the sun rise on this world, and I will be the last to watch it set for the final time. I have no beginning and no end. I have always been, and shall always be. My name is the foundation of all that is, and those who hear it will obey or became as nothing."
"I am Nicol Bolas. Planeswalker, elder dragon, the oldest and most powerful being that has ever or shall ever exist."
I think that last speech pretty much sums up what the whole Legends II trilogy is like. If you think it sounds grandiose and epic, these are the books for you. If you think it sounds a bit silly and overblown... not so much. Luckily for me I fall into the first camp. Yeah, it's a bit cheesy perhaps, but I think it really works as the culmination of a book full of old school legends throwing grandiose magic at each other.
The last review was short, but this once is going to be even shorter. Pretty much everything that applied to Assassin's Blade also goes for Emperor's Fist. Simple but spectacular action, broad but fun characters, just a whole lot of good stuff injecting some fun back into the storyline. It is no wonder that these books were so popular, they are a fantastic alternative to the concurrently published Onslaught cycle.
The main change is an increase in the the scope of the plot by bringing a full-on war to the Edemi's, but this actually changes little in the style of the story. The focus still lies on the immensely powerful magic users in the employ of the empire. Characters like Tetsuo, Meha, Elsdragon, Orca and Kasimir have such strong magics that they are essentially one man armies, and duels between them are the great set pieces of the war. If you look back to the last book, even there the imperial assassin, whom you might expect to be stealthy and sneaky, sends a bloody siege demon to do his dirty work on the islands. These high powerlevels might seem ridiculous to some, but I feel McGough manages to strike a good balance, making the characters capable of amazing feats, without making them feel overpowered compared to the rest of the setting. In the final part of the trilogy though... well, we will talk about that next time.
This book introduces a number of new characters, some of which have become fan favorites. Elsdragon is another stern honorable type in the same vein as Tetsuo, and Jorgan Hage is just a bloodthirsty madman, but it is the more humorous characters that really stand out. Ramirez/Barktooth/Halfdane is a bit of a silly jokester, but never gets too silly in my opinion, and Kolo Meha is probably my favorite in the trilogy. A pilgrim from Bogardan looking to increase his powers by seeking out red mana sources all over Dominaria, he signed up with a Keldon army but was then sold to the Kentsu when the Keldons bought off a battle. He's mostly a happy-go-lucky character that takes everything in his stride, though when he doesn't agree with Hage's bloodlust he is willing to accept the beating he knows will come from telling his commanding officer that he's nuts. He's funny, and thus a much needed addition to the good guys, who can get a bit dour at times between all the stonefaced characters with their codes of honor. Yet he is also a fully realized cast member, not just comic relief. It's a shame that he never got his own card, but at least one of his (less fiery) family members eventually turned up!
Finally, to pad this review out a little, I guess there is one more thing to talk about: it has been brought to my attention that if you go looking for these books online you'll be lucky to find them for 50 dollars/euro's/pounds. Most of them go upwards of 100 moneys! Which is ridiculous. Usually I just talk about the quality of the story, not value for money, but as much as I like this trilogy, I would not advice anyone to pay that much for them. Even if you are a massive storyline fan and can find them for 50 bucks I couldn't in good conscience tell you to go for it. Perhaps the window has passed with the ending of the Nicol Bolas arc, but I really hope WotC will one day put these stories out as an online story or e-book. Then the people without bottomless purses can also learn when Bolas stopped being the really weird Elder Dragon that combined the best ability with the silliest art and became the vile mastermind that would eventually become Magic's main bad guy.
- Tetsuo's first two kills happened when his father Haki lost an eye in a duel and his son had to act as a replacement.
- Tetsuo's grandfather, Chanto, is said here to have been a peasant farmer pressed into kentsu service, becoming rich as a sword maker later in life. Next book we'll learn the Umezawa manor is much older than three generations, so I guess the family fell on some hard times at some point and Chanto bought the place back when he had the money again.
- There have been twenty years of rivalry between Tetsuo and Ramses, though we get no details on what that entails exactly.
- We learn Kasimir the Lone Wolf's name is actually Shasido Mayasi. He used to be a kentsu marshal before Elsdragon came to Madara. The reason he ran away to Kusho and was stricken from the imperial records remains a mystery until next book.
- There is a big hint about the emperor's true form when he takes care of the Greater Realm of Preservation. The spell bringing it down manifests first as an falcon, phoenix and owl, the banners of the kentsu, champion and assassin, and then as "a long-necked, winged reptilian nightmare".
- Keldons revere Bogardans as holy men for their fire magic. The two nations have a mutual defense pact, where the Bogardans train the Keldons and the Keldons fight for the Bogardans. This would explain why Olvresk used Bogardan fire magic in the story Keldon Fire, which was also written by Scott McGough.
- This is the obligatory "there are troubles between the depiction of Legendary Creatures from the Legends set between the Legends I cycle and the Legends II cycle, there will be a separate article on those eventually" remark for this review.
- It is said the Aerathi once had an island home, until "many years ago" when they resisted the emperor. The kentsu destroyed the Aerathi nation, leaving fewer than a thousand warriors alive to be pressed into service. Back in the Johan review I said the depiction of the Aerathi there caused no problems, but at the time I forgot about one crucial word here: "island". Over in that book the Aerathi lived in the Blue Mountains above Tirras. It's not a huge deal though. Perhaps they simply moved house in the several centuries between these stories. Or maybe Tetsuo is not as brilliant in geography as he is with everything else.
- The Akron Legionnaire that shows up here is the one on which the Grand Creature Type Update based its choice to make the card a Giant Soldier. In their previous appearances (in Distant Planes and Jedit) they were only human sized. Jedit revealed they were all covered in many enchantments though, so that could explain the size difference.
- Last time I mentioned that the Meditation realm caused some problems. Now that you know who the emperor is, you should see where this is going. Nicol Bolas's personal realm being used by some human underlings for everything from locating each other to clearing their mind? That sounds off, but the really big trouble will come in Champion's Trial...
We'll also talk about the timeline next time. Just for reference though: Halfdane says he killed Ramirez DePietro two years ago.