And all the things that I’ve seen, you will always be part of my tapestry. And all the places I’ve been you will always be part of my tapestry. Let’s weave Tapestries, edited by Kathy Ice.
A Hurloon Minotaur wailing it’s grief. A dragon whelp’s egg cracking in the firelight. The crashing chaos of armies at war. These are the sights and sounds of the universe of Magic.
MAGIC: The Gathering…
Planeswalkers duel in worlds beyond imagining, while life goes on for the simple folk in a land where the very earth is filled with mana — the power that fires a magicians spell. Each of the dazzling stories in these pages, by David Drake, Morgan Llywelyn, S.M. Stirling & 14 other authors, opens a door into a place called Dominia. If youve ever played the internationally bestselling game, Magic: The Gathering, or even if you’ve never heard of it, you can share the excitement.
In addition to the many Magic novels which were published, there were also eight anthology volumes which collected a bunch of short stories. Notably, the first two were published pre-revision; meaning, like the first ten novels, they occupy a grey area of “not-quite-canon”. But hey, as some of the pre-revision novels have shown, just because some of the early stuff was weird doesn’t mean that some of it wasn’t actually quite good. So, don’t go thinking that I’ll be using that as an excuse to go easy on this volume: like everything else in Magic, it must stand or fall on its own merits. With that in mind, let’s dive right in.
The first story in the collection is “Thief’s Flight”. It’s a pretty basic tale, but I found it enjoyable enough – particularly, I thought the peculiar type of flight magic employed by its protagonist added an interesting element to an otherwise generic story.
Next is “What’s in a Name”, which pretty strongly ties into the Greensleeves Trilogy theme of planeswalkers summoning people and then abandoning them. It felt a little gimmicky, what with the payoff being based around a very literal curse and some questionable semantic interpretation, as well as the premise that everyone everywhere unquestioningly believes that someone who has acquired amnesia from a blow to the head can be cured by a second blow, but it does provide two important firsts for the Magic universe. First, the first interspecies relationship in Magic with a human who is mated to a Cat Warrior. (Yes, Dark Legacy has a human-dwarf couple; this collection came out a year earlier than that book was published). Second and more significantly, it is the first mention of the Panther Warrior planeswalker Lord Windgrace of Urborg, who is worshiped as a god by the Cat Warriors of Kyrrao’s tribe.
Then come some stories I’m not so fond of. “The Brass Man Who Would Sink” is honestly quite bizarre, being deliberately written in a sort of fairytale style. I get what it’s going for, but it doesn’t really appeal to me; I prefer harder fantasy with more defined rules, not the wishy-washy “anything can happen if it makes a good story” magic of fairytales.
After that is “Inheritance”, a coming-of-age story crossed with town-with-a-dark-secret horror, which I honestly didn’t understand. So the Family consists of women who slept with (were raped by?) the Ragman and who kill their children when they transform into new Ragmen? Why is it significant that Mita is the only female child of the Ragman when all the others are male? How exactly does the Family even work – is anyone impregnated by the Ragman sent to join them? But Keil doesn’t speak their language, so she must have traveled from a significant distance away… do a bunch of different countries have the same tradition regarding children of the Ragman? Given that this is based on the card from the set The Dark, the set with cards featuring an Inquisition, angry mobs, and witch burnings, you’d think the populace would demand a rather more pragmatic approach to the problem of Ragman offspring than just exiling the mothers and trusting them to eventually kill their children. No, it just raises too many questions.
Next is “Gathering the Taradomu”, which is fairly cliche: good king is poisoned by evil prince seeking to steal the throne, princess goes on journey to get the antidote, falls in love at first sight with strapping young lad she encounters along the way. It also had a few of what I’d call excessively convenient plot contrivances: Terena suddenly just intuitively grasping how to cast a protective spell despite having no prior training in magic, Beothach’s own spell turning back on him and alleviating the heroes of any need to dirty their own hands, Terena just coincidentally fitting the conditions of a legal loophole allowing her to claim the throne. But what I found most jarring was not actually the rather poor plot, but the use of Celtic trappings for elvish culture in this story. Elves on Dominaria, such as the Llanowar Elves in this story, are usually just treated as generic Tolkein elves – you know, tree-hugging hippies who like archery and consider themselves superior to humans. It was quite a shock seeing the story use terms like Tuatha de Ruadach; I’m no scholar of Celtic mythology, but I recognize a reference to the Tuatha Dé Danann when I see one, and it just felt weird. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded the dissonant flavor so much if the story had turned out to be good… but, alas, it didn’t.
“Smoke and Mirrors” breaks the train of disappointment by actually getting me pretty invested in the travails of a captain conducting a siege where everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, culminating in her seeking assistance from a Dwarven Demolition Team which rather unfortunately misunderstands her orders. The ending, though, felt kind of weak: it was basically a punchline, the “wah-wah-wah-waaaaah” sad trombone riff punctuating a comedy sketch. I had actually come to sympathize with poor beleaguered Captain Grinstable and wanted to see her get some closure for her struggles.
“The Light in the Forest” was likewise a fairly decent tale, if a little anticlimactic with its ending. When Brons recklessly embraced the unlimited power of the Godstone, I was expecting something a little more dramatic than him just popping out of existence. Granted, with the benefit of hindsight, it fits the setup – the Godstone had already accounted for a number of animals, so the lack of viscera splattered over the surroundings meant that nothing too violent could happen – but ending in a quiet little poof couldn’t but be disappointing when the buildup had sent my mind jumping straight to Tetsuo screaming “Kaneda! I can’t stop it!” as he loses control of his powers.
No complaints about “Dochyel’s Ride”. It’s a fine little story about a goblin innovating an improvement to their Rock Sled battle tactics, and features a cameo by Pashalik Mons, of Mons’s Goblin Raiders fame.
“Heart of Shanodin”, on the other hand, is a bleak and depressing tale about two assassins sent to kill a merchant. I didn’t find it particularly enjoyable.
“Animal Trap” I did enjoy. Despite being a rather twisted tale of a merchant who turns people into werewolves in order to kill them and harvest their pelts, I liked the plucky thief protagonist Kolli. The story does make the mistake of saying that the merchant is from Keldon, which is like saying that a man is from Spaniard, but it was good so I’ll forgive it.
Back in the not-good column, “The Theft of Bayende, Heart and Soul”: a violent and bloody tale about a pregnant woman getting stuffed in the fridge. Lovely. Sure am glad I read that.
The follow-up, “Wellspring”, also failed to entertain. It’s not so much a story, as the prologue to a story; the implication that a story worth reading might take place at some point in the future. As is, it’s a dreary affair without a protagonist.
“Dryad’s Kiss”… eh, it wasn’t the worst of the lot, but I didn’t particularly care for it, either. It’s about some dude we’ve never seen before, will never see again, and isn’t interesting enough to make me care in spite of those facts. Nothing much to say about it. Moving on.
“The Lament” was actually pretty decent, but this review has gone on really long and I’m running out of steam.
“Airborne All The Way!” is a comedy story about a Goblin Balloon Brigade and a thaumaturge who accidentally gets dragged along with them. It was pretty meh. It’s one of those stories that seems to assume that goblins acting stupid is inherently funny. Sure, goblins can be funny – the online story “Comin’ Through!” is a great example – but you have to actually put some effort into it. This story was pretty lazy with its jokes, and so I didn’t enjoy it as much as the more serious presentation of goblins in the earlier story about Dochyel. Something that did strike me was that the goblins were serving someone named Malfegor, but it’s probably just a coincidence – the setting doesn’t really fit with Grixis, which is where the better-known Malfegor is from.
“Not Just Another Green World?” was a pretty strong offering, one of the better ones in the book. A planeswalker travels to a world where only Green magic is used, and tries to trick his enemies into destroying its inhabitants in his place, only for the unamused natives to whoop his ass and transform him into a tree. There’s kind of a meta subtext to this one: for a long time, Green was considered the worst color in Magic. Green is “the creature color”; but in “Alpha” the best creatures were White’s Serra Angel and Black’s Sengir Vampire. Green had… Craw Wurm, which didn’t have any form of evasion or Trample, so it could be chump-blocked all day by Drudge Skeletons. So, when the planeswalker is contemptuous towards a world of only Green magic, players of the time would have been right there with him. Then, when the natives turned the tables on him at the end, everyone would be like “Say what!?”. But these days, everyone’s seen James Cameron’s Avatar and knows that the natives who live in harmony with nature triumphing over the arrogant foreign intruder is a foregone conclusion.
And finally, “The Going Price” is just a chapter from And Peace Shall Sleep. That’s exactly what it is. I mean, it’s pretty good, because And Peace Shall Sleep was pretty good, but that’s to the credit of that novel rather than this anthology. Unless… this story was written first and then expanded into the novel? Actually, that seems to be the case, since my edition of the book refers to The Cursed Land as “forthcoming”. Huh! That’s a really good effort, then. Kind of makes me wish some of the other stories from this collection would also get novel expansions. I’d like reading more about Kolli, or Grinstable, or a couple of the other characters. Wait, one of the assassins from “Heart of Shanodin” was from Oneah; and since this was published before Ashes of the Sun, that means this was the first mention of Oneah, which got further developed into that book. …Not the one I would have chosen.
So, on the whole, I found most of the stories in this collection to be pretty underwhelming. Still, there were enough decent ones that I enjoyed reading to give it a positive rating.
Final Rating: 3/5