Writer - Greg WeismanCover art - Magali Villeneuve
Released - April 2019
SUMMARYThis book has a... high paced plot, so... *deep breath*
In the prologue we see Ugin talking to the spirit of Niv-Mizzet, who is inside the Firemind Vessel and was dropped off in the Meditation Realm by Sarkhan Vol. The two dragons talk in veiled terms about their plan to take down Nicol Bolas.
And no, you didn't miss anything, Niv-Mizzet is already dead, having been killed while trying to stop Bolas, before the book starts. This book skips over some very important plot points that are only now being covered in The Gathering Storm. We'll talk more about that below.
On Ravnica the Interplanar Beacon is switched on to lure as many planeswalkers as possible to the plane to fight Bolas. Among the first to turn up are Teyo Varda, directly after his ascension, and the Gatewatch and their allies, who were having cocoa at Pia Nalaar's place while Gideon went back to Dominaria to see why Liliana didn't follow them at the end of Dominaria.
Ral Zarek, Kaya and Lavina regroup after the conclusion of The Gathering Storm (whatever that may be exactly), in which the Rakdos emmisary Hekara was killed and Vraska betrayed the group. Vraska herself has run off back to Ixalan.
Bolas arrives with Liliana and Tezzeret in tow and starts creating his citadel and his statue. The Gatewatch attempts an assassination mission on him, but then the portal from Amonkhet opens, destroying the Chamber of the Guildpact and the leylines under it, thus robbing Jace of the powers of the Guildpact. As Eternals start streaming out of the portal the Gatewatch, Ral's group, Teyo and Rat, a Gateless girl Teyo befriended, team up to fight them. The Immortal Sun is activated at Azorius headquarters, trapping all planeswalkers on Ravnica. Nicol Bolas reveals (in his inner monologue) that he implanted the idea for the beacon in Niv-Mizzet's mind.
In an aside on Ixalan we learn that Vraska's suppressed memories, which she and Jace had intended as their ace against Bolas, were already restored by a Kraul ally of her, but that she killed Isperia during the Guild Summit anyway, because the sphinx was the judge that imprisoned her all those years ago. After that she semi-voluntarily became Bolas's minion again (she discovered Mazirek was his creature and she feared losing the Golgari queenship without Mazirek's kraul and Erstwile forces.) Now she's convinced herself she's a monster and is planning to sit out the war.
As the fighting goes on, several guilds join the battle, a few of them after some convincing. Others remained barricaded in their own regions after the failure of Niv-Mizzet's plan to stop Bolas. More and more planeswalker turn up, among them Nissa, who animates Vitu-Ghazi. When Vitu-Ghazi topples Bolas's statue the defenders have a moment of hope, but then the God-Eternals step through the portal and easily kill the animated tree. This causes Domri Rade to go over to Bolas's side, but pretty much immediately afterwards he is grabbed by an Eternal and has his spark harvested, becoming the first person to which this happens.
Dack Fayden, Ob Nixilis, Samut and Karn head through the Planar Bridge to Amonkhet. There they find Tezzeret. Dack distracts him by taking control of his metal arm and then they destroy the Planar Bridge in his chest with a doohickey Saheeli made. Tezzeret flees, hoping the good guys kill Bolas so he'll be free to pursue his own goals. Then Hazoret shows up, who reveals Sarkhan Vol helped her put the Hekma back up. Sarkhan joins the good guys, who take Hazoret's spear with them back to Ravnica. Ob Nixilis decides to piss off now he's out from under the Immortal Sun's effect, which convinces Dack Fayden, who was toying with that idea as well, that he should stay and do the right thing.
|I'm sure he'll be fine!|
Ral Zarek stops the Beacon by draining all its energy, then joins up with Kaya and company to go to Svogthos to get the Golgari to their side. Just then Vraska returns from Ixalan. The various Golgari strongmen bow down to her, and she vows to help the good guys again. They are obviously doubtful of her honesty, but they do need her. They all go to Rix Maadi, but Rakdos is unwilling to listen until suddenly Tomik, Orzhov advokist & Ral's boyfriend, shows up. He's brought the body of Hekara, who the cultists resurrect as a Blood Witch. She says she'll join the crew as a representative of Rakdos. Blood Witch Exava fights her over this, but she wins, and Rakdos does not object.
Meanwhile Gideon leads an army of planeswalkers to protect the innocents and kills Rhonas.
Meanwhile meanwhile Chandra, Saheeli and Lavinia go to shut down the Immortal Sun. They trick Dovin's weakness-sensing powers by having Lazav pretend to be Chandra (by shapeshifting and wielding a flamethrower). The trick works, Lazav puts out Dovin's eyes with throwing starts and Chandra shuts down the Sun with a spell Jace took from the mind of Azor. With the Sun disabled Dovin flees. So do quite a few no-name 'walkers, shrinking the good guys's army.
Meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile Jace, Teferi, Jaya and Vivien try to kill Liliana. Despite the Onnake spirts protecting her they nearly succeed, but then Bolas steps in to save her.
All the guild representatives unite in the remnants of the Chamber of the Guildpact, alongside Niv's bones and the Firemind Vessel containing his spirit. With the portal closed Nissa can repair the leylines, starting the ritual. This attracts Kefnet, but Teyo creates a shield to hold him off long enough for Niv-Mizzet to be reborn as the new Living Guildpact. He kills the God-Eternal... only to collapse from exhaustion immediately after.
After re-grouping the good guys decide that Chandra should go and re-activate the Immortal Sun to stop Bolas from leaving before they can kill him. The rest goes for an all-out assault on Bolas's Citadel. Poor Dack Fayden is grabbed by an Eternal just after the Sun goes back up and dies. Gideon attempts an aerial assault on Bolas, but the dragon sees him coming and tells Liliana to do something about it. She has Oketra shoot Gid's pegasus out from under him. Bolas chews Lili out over not killing him directly, but she weasels out of it by saying his indestructibility would've saved him anyway. Rakdos shows up, catches Gideon and completes the areal assault plan, but the Blackblade just shatters. Turns out Bolas himself had been spreading tales of it being an Elder Dragon killing weapon, just so people would put all their hope in it and thus not come up with something that would actually work.
Liliana finally decides that dying is better than eternal life as Bolas's slave and turns the Eternals, including Bontu and Oketra, on him. She starts to flake apart, but then Gideon shows up and gifts her his indestructibility. Gideon evaporates instead and we get a scene of him in the afterlife, reunited with his Irregulars.
Bolas manages to obliterate Oketra, but then Niv-Mizzet shows up and stabs him with Hazoret's spear, which distracts him long enough for Bontu to harvest all the sparks out of Bolas and explode. Bolas seemingly evaporates, leaving only his egg... eh, the Gem of Becoming, behind. Saheeli turns off the Sun, and Jace telepathically tells Liliana to get of the plane before the others get her. Liliana picks up the egg and leaves.
A planewide celebration kicks off. Ral & Tomik and Jace & Vraska get their big kissing scenes. Chandra is sad about Gid's death and gets to tell Nissa she loves her, but then Jaya drags her off to burn all the Eternals (which collapsed as Lili left). Kaya takes the Gatewatch Oath. As the rest of the 'Watch leaves, Niv-Mizzet approaches her, Ral and Vraska. For their role in Bolas's plan he tasks them with killing the unrepentant minions of the dragon. Ral will hunt Tezzeret, Vraska Dovin and Kaya Liliana.
The last chapter is form Jace's point of view, and reveals that he was contacted by Ugin, who told him to hide Bolas's survival from everyone. Bolas was taken by Ugin to the Meditation Realm while Jace made everyone think he disintegrated.
The coda shows the two draconic brothers in the Realm, which now mirrors Ugin instead of Bolas. Ugin reveals the Egg of Becoming was actually a part of his essence that was left behind in the Realm. After Bolas adopted it, Ugin used it to see all his brother's plans and missteps. There is one more punishment for Bolas: he has lost his names, both the one he was born with and the one he made up for himself. He is now a nameless prisoner, guarded for all eternity by Ugin.
Here we are then, the grand finale of the Nicol Bolas arc that started with Kaladesh, and it's release has been... a bit of a rollercoaster. During spoiler season, when WotC released every card in the set in storyline order for the first time, the general response was one of intense hype. Timing the previews in this way must've been quite a bit of work, but it certainly panned out, as people were very excited for the new set. Then the book came out though, and... eh... the responses were not so great. I've even seen people put it in their "worst stories ever" lists! I wouldn't go that far, but I certainly see some problems with the book.
There are two main reasons for the negative response. The first is that the book is just way too short for what it is trying to do. It has to cover Bolas's plan, Liliana's conflict with the Gatewatch, all the planeswalkers arriving and the Ravnican guild intrigue, and to do all that it races through certain events that people were evidently hoping to see more off. If you've seen the cards Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi and Topple the Statue, you've basically seen everything the giant tree accomplishes in the story. If you've seen Single Combat and Sorin's Thirst, honestly, you've seen more of the Sorin/Nahiri plot than is actually in the book, as their battle is relegated to a background cameo. It seems clear the cards made people excited for the plot, but this time they didn't just give us a taste of the story, they gave us basically the entire dish.
The list of sped through scenes and subplots goes on. The Simic are set up as one of the isolationist guilds, but later Vorel is leading them into battle without any explanation as to what made them change their mind. Between her animating Vitu-Ghazi and the God-Eternals killing it, Nissa doesn't have a single line of dialogue, nor do we get to see her thoughts. The recruiting of Teferi and Karn from Dominaria doesn't accomplish much, as they contribute little more than taking part in some fight scenes. Neheb is just there to be decapitated in a cameo, and most of the 36 'walkers in the set don't get a much greater role either. Ob's vow to kill the Guildpact is completely forgotten. All the leaders of various Golgari factions are just sort of standing around in the throne room and none of them complains when Vraska turns up to reclaim her title. Et cetera, et cetera...
Which brings me to the second mayor problem with the book: it's very weird in medias res beginning, which really threw me off. The Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance storyline spotlights like Guilt Summit and Ethereal Absolution sort of paved the way for this book, but then you start to read it and there are some massive storyline developments that were not in the cards at all, but that are presented in an oddly matter of fact fashion. Nicol Bolas's initial attack, a big guild coalition trying to power up Niv-Mizzet to fight him, them being betrayed by Vraska, Niv dying...
It also leads to some awkward storytelling where we're supposed to be sad for Ral and Vraska for losing their friend Hekara, a character we've never seen before, and an awkward scene at the beginning where Lavinia gives all the details about her death to Ral, even though he he was there it happened.
"I wasn't apologizing for killing Hekara. I was apologizing for giving Bolas' henchman the opportunity to get the drop on me in the first place. For allowing Tezzeret to slap the device on my neck that gave the dragon control of my mind"
As I'm writing this review all this backstory is being filled in by the release of the The Gathering Storm chapters, which cover Niv's entire anti-Bolas plan and actually make me care about Hekara, so this complaint is probably irrelevant to any future readers, but believe me, when this book first came out it was really weird to constantly hear that Hekara was this wicked cool super funny mega awesome good friend to everyone, even though we never got to see her. There are more problems like that. I was annoyed that we still got no elaboration on what Ral's connection to Bolas was, but this is being explained in The Gathering Storm as well, so I guess it's a good thing this review is way late, otherwise I would've looked a fool complaining about not getting an explanation?
Which brings up the question: why on earth is this crucial information being released as a prequel? The Gathering Storm clearly functions as the main story of Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance, so why were we getting more peripheral stories about minor Ravnican characters back when those sets were released? I haven't heard anybody give an explain for this yet so I can't answer that question, but I can say that it really didn't pan out very well.
All of that being said though... I really can't muster up the vitriol for War of the Spark that some other people have. My least favorite Magic novels are the ones in which absolutely nothing at all happens (Prophecy, In the Teeth of Akoum, Quest for Karn) or the completely ridiculous ones (Scourge). War of the Spark, in contrast, kept me engaged the whole time I was reading it. Yes, I was disappointed when something like the Domri plot turned out to be a dud, but there was more than enough in here that kept me entertained and looking forward to what was going to happen next.
Greg Weisman has a good grasp of the many, many characters, and manages to give some good scenes to even some of the minor ones, like Ajani roaring to inspire the others around him, Samut and Vivien speaking out when some people suggest surrendering to Bolas, or Samut naming the Eternals she kills. There are also some neat continuity references, to the Dack Fayden comics for example, and scenes like Gideon's aerial assault on Bolas or him saving Liliana still entertained me, even though I had already seen them in the cards.
The book is certainly flawed, but I still enjoyed reading it. Magic has a pretty poor track record on finishing its big saga's (the Armada comics finale was never published, the Weatherlight ended with a big light killing the bad guy and Scourge... the less said about that the better), but I think War of the Spark is a pretty decent wrap up to the Bolas arc that started with Kaladesh. It's just a shame we had to watch it in fast forward.
I'll talk a bit more about the arc as a whole after The Gathering Storm and The Forsaken have been fully released.
A few more minor points I wanted to talk about:
- I am a bit in two minds about the fact that none of the set-up to this finale seems to matter much. Vraska's hidden memories were already unlocked before the story begins, Gideon getting the Blackblade turned out to be a red herring planted by Bolas himself, Teferi, Karn & Jaya joining/teaming up with the Gatewatch and Ajani recruiting other 'walkers turns out to be pretty insignificant as most of them would've been summoned by the Beacon anyway and they end up doing little more than just filling out the crowd scenes... is this a clever subversion of expectations? Or a waste of good set-up? Perhaps having all of them happen in the same story is a bit too much. Jace and Vraska's plan falling apart is a good way to build tension, and Bolas spreading the myth of the Blackblade to prevent people from researching other ways to kill him is a very neat idea, but put them both together and it starts to feel like the previous stories didn't matter all that much.
- It's good to see Ral and Tomik's relationship in such a prominent way, and I am glad to see even more of it in The Gathering Storm. Especially since this blog hasn't covered much positive queer representation yet, having mostly covered the really old stories that tend to acknowledge non-straight people only in the most horrible ways possible. Still, I was kinda sad that we still didn't get a big damn kiss for Chandra and Nissaas well. Chandra does declare her love for Nissa, but it is kinda muddled because just before that she is talking about how she loves Gideon and Jace as brothers, and before the conversation with Nissa can continue Jaya swoops in to tell Chandra to go help with the cremation of the Eternals.
|She's even learned not to set fire to Nissa's Elementals!|
- At one point Rat says "Mistress Vraska is a gorgon. I've only ever seen three of those", which I initially thought might be a reference to the Sisters of Stone Death, the three gorgons who ran the Golgari at the start of the original Ravnica story and who were said to be the last three on the plane. Then I thought about it some more and realized the timeline made no sense at all, as at least two of them died waaaaaay before Rat was born, so it is probably just referencing the fact that while they did not turn out to be the last three, gorgons are still quite rare.
- Speaking of Rat, she was kinda left out of my summary, wasn't she? She's the kid of two Gruul warriors, the goddaughter of a centaur who left the Gruul for Selesnya, and a good friend of Hekara. She's Gateless herself, has minor telepathic powers and has some sort of innate magical power that means most people can't actually see her. That's a lot of backstory, so I wouldn't be surprised if we got to see a lot more of her in the next Ravnica block.
- Kaya is introduced as constantly exhausted by the Orzhov debts she took over when she killed the Obzedat. It doesn't really slow her down though. It's one of those things the book doesn't have the space to explore. See also Gideon remarking that the Blackblade is feeling bloodthirsty.
- Jace finds it difficult to telepathically link up to Karn, as he's got an artificial mind, which is a neat detail.
- Something else I found funny: before he loses the power of the Guildpact Jace's plan is to arrest Bolas, and then for Gideon to kill him with the Blackblade while he is powerless. Jace then would have to punish Gids for killing an prisoner, but that punishment could just be community service. "Picking up trash, maybe. Gideon might even enjoy that."
- According to my notes, "Ral is SO hot for Gids." He doesn't do anything with it of course, he's completely faithful to Tomik.
|Personally not a huge fan of the beard, but other than that I get it...|
- Speaking of which, there is a whole chapter where Ral goes to their apartment to look for Tomik, only to find the place deserted. Later Tomik just shows up with Hekara's body when Ral's crew is trying to get Rakdos to play ball. We don't get any explanation for what he was doing exactly, other than that he realized Kaya was the proper Orzhov guildmaster rather than Teysa, and was thus... doing stuff to help Kaya? It would've been nice to see that explored further somewhere, like, say, in some online stories? But I'll grumble more about that in the next review.
- "When the hell was Zegana ousted?", wonders Ral after Vorel says he's been authorized by Vannifar. When he then hears the Simic have been preparing for war long before the dragon came, he wonders "Who exactly was Vannifar preparing to war with before Bolas?" Good questions, not answered anywhere.
- Mu Yanling and Jiang Yanggu came from a place they called The Plane of Mountains and Seas. We also get something of an explanation for why Yanggu can bring Mowu along while planeswalking: He's a magic dog made of rocks. This only makes my want to have a story revolving around them more!
- Gid's poor doomed pegasus is called Promise.
- Kaya suspects the troubles in her home plane may also be Bolas's doing. We don't get the details of these troubles, but we hear something about a broken sky. Who knows, maybe we'll learn more in The Forsaken? We also hear of a Lake Keru on her homeplane.
- Kaya was also once in love with someone named Janah, but that relationship is "long gone".
- The Wanderer can absorb kinetic energy, and Sarkhan already knows her.
- Liliana, upon turning on Bolas, says "Has anyone ever told you, you have a remarkably flat head? .... Your head is very, very, very flat!" Poor guy should've kept his original look from Legends.
- The chapter with Gids in the afterlife opens a whole can of wurms about how afterlives work in the Multiverse. Did his soul snap back to his homeplane and are these the Therosian version of the Fields of Elysium? I wonder if this is setting up a (cameo) appearance in that future Theros block people have been expecting for a while now.
- Something that really surprised me was the lack of Feather in this book. The flavor text of Sunblade Angel made it seem like she was in charge of the Boros attack, but I guess she just led the swarm of angels in Parhelion II while ultimate command still laid with Aurelia. I would've like the know how they reconciled! Still, it is good to finally have a card for a character that has been around since the first Ravnica story.
- I must admit I don't 100% understand Bolas's ending. Ugin tells Jace that Bolas might be reborn as a spirit dragon... so he takes him to the very realm where Ugin himself became a spirit dragon? Of course, Jace doesn't know Bolas's whole backstory, and Ugin might just be saving his brother for sentimental reasons, so this stuff about being afraid Bolas will be reborn could be bunk.
- Also, how can Ugin take Bolas along? Is Bolas also a magic dog made of stone? Ah well, it's probably something to do with the dragon brothers's intimate connection to the realm.
- Sending Vraska after Dovin Baan makes some sense, as sending her after an Azorius guy would motivate her, but the man is probably blind now, so that does not seem like an ideal target for a gorgon...
- After the initial attack by the Dreadhorde, as the Gatewatch meets up with Ral's group, Ajani lets out a triumphant roar and "...for the first time all day, Ral felt something akin to hope", which seems to be shown on the card Ignite the Beacon.
- Also, there is a scene where Gideon gives a rousing speech and suddenly everyone wants to touch him, which is clearly Pledge of Unity.
- Not something specific to this book, but something I realized while reading it: Jaya has been in full-on Mother Luti mode ever since she came back, she doesn't act very Jaya-esque at all, which is a shame. You'd think that if you bring the biggest snarker in Magic's history back you'd write some new zingers for her.
|Well, there is this one I guess.|
- When planeswalking to Ravnica Dack Fayden appears in mid-air and falls on his ass, then feels embarrassed about it and wonders if that also happens to other planeswalkers. Could be a callback to the very first time we see him 'walking in the IDW comics?
- Before he was called by the Beacon he was hunting for artifacts on Innistrad. The list of stuff he would've liked to grab include the Seelenstone from Children of the Nameless and the Grimoire of the Dead.
- He compares the massacring by the Dreadhorde to the massacre of Drakeston, which is part of his origin story from the IDW comics. The town appears to be called Drakestown in the cardgame, but it is Drakeston in the comics as well.
- Continuing the references to those comics, when he sees Vitu-Ghazi walking around he thinks to himself that he had once saved the world-tree from a different kind of threat, that threat being the planeswalker Sifa Grent, his main enemy in the first three IDW mini-series.
- Just before dying he thinks of Sifa, as well as Atha, the girl he teamed up with in the final issues of the Theros comic, Marsh, his friend who died just before his spark flared, and Mariel, a childhood friend and old flame who was killed at Drakesto(w)n.
- He also mentions a J'dashe, the greatest fence in the Multiverse, as well as a Marik, a Leona and her daughter Kella, who all live on Ravnica. I thought those might have been some of his Ravnican allies from the comic, but a quick check tells me those were called Fadka, Maytov and Vaclav. So I've got no idea who the people mentioned here are.
- Finally, he mentions fighting off a kraken with a gauntlet, which he eventually traded to end Ashiok's sleeping curse, an event that apparently involved Ravos and the dead of Theros. The bit with the kraken was seen in his final IDW mini-series, but that ended with him descending into the underworld to confront Ashiok, so we never got to see the curse ended or the involvement of Ravos. We'll just have to accept that all happened off screen.
|Poor guy! I liked him! Even though his comics were kinda bad...|
- The Eternals attacking Selesnya are led by Makare, who Chandra met on Amonkhet, while Gideon spots the minotaur Nassor. Neheb shows up for one scene to be decapitated by Samut.
- Gideon notices Jace is more fit than ever before. He got buff on Ixalan of course.
- When Bolas said he spread the word that the Blackblade killed an Elder Dragon and set Belzenlok up to get killed with it, just so his enemies would commit everything to a plan doomed to failure, I was afraid for a moment we would have to open up the "Was Piru an Elder Dragon" debate again. Luckily later he says "Yes, the Blackblade once killed and Elder Dragon. And because of that one fact, we made damn sure millennia ago that it could never kill us"
I'm waiting for The Gathering Storm to finish before figuring out the entire timeline, so for now I'll just leave a few points of interest here as raw data for that future article.
- Niv-Mizzet is 16768 years old.
- On the other end of the age spectrum we have Teyo, at 19 years old
- Kaya has been on Ravnica for months, and guildmaster for weeks.
- Ral, Kaya and Vraska have each been guildmaster for less than a month.
- At the beginning of the story, just after Gideon gets back, it is stated Nissa left months ago, and later that Jace has been missing for "months and months". So we are going back to Ixalan's timeframe rather than the much shorter Dominaria one.
- Somewhen between his Dominaria cameo and this story Jace has spend weeks tracking down Nissa on Zendikar, but when he found her she wouldn't come. Ajani recruited Tamiyo and Kiora since his own Dominaria cameo, but doesn't give an indication how long that took.
- Liliana describes herself by saying "the woman that could allow herself to cry was a century gone." and "for over a hundred years, Liliana's sole focus had been on increasing both her life span and her power". Lili was previously described as 200ish years old, and as an immortal old school 'Walker she really wouldn't need to increase her life span until the Mending 60 years ago.