(Editor’s Note: Welcome back to the CK Blog! Since we revamped Mox Boarding House‘s website, we’ve received a bunch of questions about the fate of our old blog posts. We took a look through the archives and found some pieces that stand the test of time, and we’ll be sharing those periodically every few Thursdays. To kick things off, here’s the first installment of “The Sick Reads,” Justin Treadway’s reviews of the classic Magic novels.)
Greetings! Welcome to The Sick Reads, the series where we explore the enthralling and often cringe-inducing realm of Magic: the Gathering “literature.” It’s like a book club that watches “B” movies and double-dog dares each other to see how long they can leave their hands over the candle flame! Our journey begins in Mirrodin. Why, you ask?
1. Modern Magic starts with Mirrodin.
2. I cannot spend one more second with the Weatherlight crew.
3. Mirrodin is my favorite block.
4. Gerrard is not in these books.
As you can see, I didn’t really have much of a choice. What can we expect from the Mirrodin trilogy? In the broadest terms we are promised A WORLD BEYOND IMAGINATION. Seriously, book? If that’s all you’ve got, I’m not impressed. One time, I imagined a world where the South won the Civil War, so I think I know how to imagination pretty well. However, I can’t really imagine anything beyond that…so maybe I don’t have the best imagination? Hmmmm, this might be interesting, after all.
But don’t fear, dear readers – this book has much more than just imagination to offer. How do you feel about not one, NOT two, BUT THREE authors? I think we can all agree, the best trilogies are always written by three separate authors. Trilogy means “three,” after all, so it makes sense.
Without further ado, let’s let Will McDermott take us on a quest for the secret hidden at the heart of the world…
prologue – “a treatise on spheres & buttresses”
We begin our tale with a prologue. Karn and Jeska drop Memnarch off on the world of Argentum, saying nothing before they Planeswalk away. We’re told that Memnarch is a metal man alone in a cold, sterile world. So what does a metal man do in a cold, sterile world? He takes in the sights.
“It was perfect, like an equation that had been solved to the very last decimal place. But the mathematician had moved on to a new problem, leaving Memnarch to tend the theorems and keep all the formulas in place.”
Most places aren’t that nice, given how few decimal places they have, but Argentum has all of the decimal places, so it’s freaking gorgeous. Karn, being a robot, loves math. So, of course, he creates a world of math. But, as with all math worlds, you have to leave someone to tend to the theorems, otherwise, your math gets dirty, and everything goes to hell.
The world is math, Karn is a robot, and Memnarch is also a robot, so time flows differently for them. After what we hu-mons would consider a decade, Memnarch decides to take a walk and check out the world. He discovers incredible wonders, things of beauty the likes of which have never been seen by any other living being.
“…many of the buttresses indeed seemed to be flying.”
I think Memnarch is really overselling Karn’s work. Flying buttresses are cool, but that’s kind of been done before. Karn created a world of metal trees, metal mountains, and, I can only assume, metal clouds, but the buttresses get the shout-out? What are your thoughts on the subject, Wikipedia?
“[The defining characteristic of a flying buttress is that the buttress is not in contact with the wall like a traditional buttress; lateral forces are transmitted across an intervening space between the wall and the buttress.]”
Never mind. That does sound pretty sweet.
Memnarch starts showing off by telling us that he’s figured out Karn’s “random plateau generator,” so he doesn’t need to go look at the rest of the world – he can tell what it looks like based on the math of what is in front of him. I bet this guy is a blast at parties, or even worse on dates. Can you imagine having your entire relationship figured out before your appetizers have even arrived? But here’s the Catch-22 of Memnarch’s smartness:
“Memnarch noticed only because of the intellect Karn had imparted to him.”
That’s pretty messed up. Memnarch only notices how rad Karn is because Karn told him how rad he is on a cellular level. At this point you might be asking yourself why Karn even bothered to make Memnarch. Argentum needs your basic math maintenance, and obviously having a robot monitor your theorems makes sense, but Karn had slightly stupider motives than that.
“Memnarch had once been a mirrored ball, a perfect sphere, the most basic geometric shape and thus the most stable – or so Karn thought.”
Alright, where do we even start with this? For those of you playing along at home, yes, Memnarch is the Mirari. You might remember the Mirari as the object so powerful and unstable that it almost destroyed all of Dominaria. Everyone wanted a piece of the Mirari’s magic, but it was so chaotic that it was bleeding raw energy everywhere, and making everyone crazy. Karn, being the robo-genius that he is, decided to put this guy in charge of Math World because, hey, spheres are pretty chill.
Honestly, what could go wrong with a plan like that?
“As he stood there watching the subtle, chaotic movement of the stars, Memnarch couldn’t help but think that the rest of Karn’s well-ordered world could be improved upon with the addition of just a little more chaos.”
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh. That’s what could go wrong.
This is Intro To Robots 101. Robots have this bad habit of making terrible decisions based on ones and zeroes. Despite being really impressed with this world of silver metal, Memnarch thinks that the movement of the stars is kind of beautiful. And as we all know, stars move in a chaotic fashion, which leads us to the robo-logic: “chaos is beauty.” Somewhere, Jeff Goldblum is smiling.
With these thoughts in his head, Memnarch returns to his palace on Argentum. For us hu-mons reading along, it seems like it’s only been about ten minutes, but for Memnarch, hundreds of years have gone by.
“As Memnarch was about to push open the door to the palace, he noticed a black smudge inside the guardhouse.
‘What could that be?’ asked the metal man. ‘An imperfection in the perfect world? We can’t allow that.'”
I guess Memnarch isn’t as into chaos as I thought? Apparently, some math has gotten dirty and it needs to be cleaned up. So, Memnarch reaches down and smears ink all over his fingers – which, surprise surprise, melts into his body. He shrugs it off. He’s seen buttresses, so this really isn’t that impressive. Although, he does have a sudden thought.
“‘I shall name this world after myself,’ he exclaimed, ‘after my previous life as well as my new life. I shall name it Mirrodin.'”
And that folks, is how we kick of the Mirrodin Cycle!
chapter 1 – “tingle in the tangle”
Glissa and Kane, two cyborg elves, are slowly making their way through the techno-organic forest called the Tangle. Spoiler alert: Glissa is the hero of this series. They are on the hunt for the deadliest game of all: Vorrac. Glissa is a skilled hunter and she has managed to lure her prey someplace special.
“It was a typical Tangle tree terrace, with one exception: It was a dead end.”
Dang! Glissa is good at hunting.
However, as she tries to stab the thrashing beast, she gets her head smashed into the ground. Remember, the ground on Mirrodin is metal, so this is gonna hurt.
Like any good hero, she gets knocked out so hard she has a prophetic vision. Glissa is shown a world made of green leaves, pink skin, and yellow sunlight. This is troubling to her because she is a cyborg who lives on a world made of math. She is awakened from the dream by her own screaming. Glissa is gripping the leg of the Vorrac, as green energy flows out of her arm.
“When she looked up, Kane was kneeling beside her, his eyebrows furrowed with concern, had he seen the energy, too? She dared not even ask.
‘I’m fine,’ she said to the unasked question.
‘Did you have another flare?’ asked Kane as he offered his hand.”
Well, it doesn’t really matter if Glissa dares to ask – Kane knows what’s up, anyway. It’s unclear at this point whether a “flare” is the weird prophecy dream, or the green energy that shot out of her arm, or maybe both? Glissa thinks for a minute how strange it is to be made of metal. It seems that, much like Memnarch before her, Glissa is starting to consider whether making a world out of metal was a good idea. She wonders if soft, pale flesh might not be a better idea. Then her mind starts to wander…elsewhere.
“She tried to avoid Kane’s eyes, but was it the strange flare she’d had, or the extra tingle she had felt when she and Kane touched that kept her silent?”
Tingles in The Tangle. Ooh-la-la! I would read that novel. I guess I am reading that novel. Kane assures her that her flare was nothing to worry about.
“Flares are nothing to worry about. Flares are just old memories resurfacing. The rebuking ceremony will take care of them.”
Kane seems like a pretty chill dude, despite his obvious non-spherical shape. So, it turns out that a “flare” is a rush of old memories? Did Glissa just see a glimpse into the past? Was Mirrodin once a world of pink flesh and green leaves? As far as we know, that is not the case. The prologue leads us to believe Karn made this world, but Memnarch is such a Karn fanboy that maybe he’s not the most reliable narrator. Which leads us to three conclusions:
1. Argentum (Mirrodin) (Math World) was at one time another world, and Karn paved it over with equations.
2. Glissa is seeing Dominaria or some other “normal” world.
3. Glissa is seeing the future. Eventually, Mirrodin with become a world of flesh and grass.
This is also the first mention of the rebuking ceremony, which is oddly not spelled with capital letters, so I guess it isn’t that special? What is this ceremony, and why should you care? Good question. Here’s why:
“She’d believed at the time that the ceremony was a conspiracy by the trolls to control the elves by denying them their past and had made the mistake of urging her friends to stay away from the ceremony. In the end, she had gone through the next ceremony just to rid herself of that memory. Most of her old friends, angry over their loss of rebuking, shunned her – all but Kane.”
Whew, that’s actually a lot to take in. First of all, we learn that the trolls seem to be the ranking class in the Tangle, not the elves. Trolls controlling elves? What a world. Second, we learn that the trolls are going all Eternal Sunshine on the elves of Mirrodin. Although it appears that the elves don’t have to participate? This is either incorrect, or a massive flaw in their plan. “You guys need your memories wiped, y’know, if that’s cool with you. If not, whatevs.” Are the trolls spherical?
Thirdly, we learn that Glissa was against having her mind messed with, so she convinced her friends to join her in abstaining from the ceremony. Then she punks out and has her brain wiped, anyway…which she remembers? I’m SUPER unclear how this ceremony works. Her friends are understandably upset that she tricked them into not having their memories erased, and now they won’t talk to her. Except Kane. He’s cool.
I can only assume that the trolls are targeting specific memories and wiping those, but that only holds for a year? I dunno, I’m sure we’ll figure it out. So, why does Glissa think what the trolls are doing is wrong?
“Memories are important.”
Glissa and Kane collect the robot they killed, and Glissa invites Kane over for Vorrac stew.
It’s dinner time! Kane shows up to Glissa’s household dressed in his work clothes. Kane is a member of an elite group called The Chosen. Glissa could have been a Chosen if she wanted to, but she turned down the post because she thinks they have stupid, uncomfortable outfits. JK, you guys! She just said that to hide her real reasons. Glissa is crafty, so watch your backs, trolls!
Glissa’s keen eyes notice something else as Kane enters her family room.
“The copper relief of the etched runes he had received when he’d become one of the Chosen shone in the gelfruit light hanging in the main chamber.
Another tingle ran down Glissa’s spine. She wondered if the polish was meant to impress her, her mother, or the trolls. Probably all three, she thought, even though she hoped it was only meant for her.”
Glissa, being the crafty elf she is, goes for a classic misdirection move: She makes fun of how Kane looks. He suspects nothing. Well played, Glissa. For most people, this would be enough to throw your love interest off the scent, but Glissa isn’t most people. She tells Kane that her sister Lyese is upstairs making herself look good for Kane. It turns out this is a funny joke because Lyese is half Kane’s age. Kids are idiots.
“‘Listen,’ Glissa said. ‘I’m glad we have a moment alone. I have something serious to talk about.’
‘Oh?’ said Kane. A tentative smile formed on his. ‘Is there someone…’
Glissa put her hand up. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It’s not that. I’m not ready to be anyone’s mate, not yet. I’m a warrior, not a wife.'”
Wow, bad read, Kane. Also, Glissa, way to take it straight to wife. Kane seems like the type of dude who wants to grab an awkward cup of coffee, but Glissa wants to make it very clear: She is not into dudes with polished copper arms. She’s seen pink flesh, and once you go pink, you can’t…not think…about pink? Then, Kane turns to the reader and says:
“You live your life apart from the world, Glissa. When are you going to join the rest of us and live here in the Tangle?”
Got it, Kane, thanks!
Glissa is also interested in helping the reader out.
“‘Why do we have the flares?'”
That’s what I want to know! Kane?
“‘We have them because the memories are too painful to keep inside us any longer. That’s why we need the rebuking ceremony: to purge those memories and remove the pain.'”
Again, thank you.
Glissa doesn’t buy this exposition. She wants to know if that’s the case, why don’t the trolls attend the ceremony. Wait? They don’t? Maybe they run it remotely? Again, unclear. I thought this ceremony was their baby.
It turns out the trolls take the memories from the elves and write them down on the Tree of Tales. However, the elves are not allowed to read what’s written on the tree. If they have questions, they can simply ask the trolls. I’m going to side with Glissa on this one – that seems pretty messed up. I’m still not quite clear on what memories are being stolen, but at this point, the core concept seems shady.
Glissa drops another bombshell: She’s read the Tree of Tales!! The entire thing! And guess what? The earliest parts have been erased! I was like, “OH @#$!, SHE READ THE SECRET TROLL MEMORY TREE!!! HOLY $%*#, THAT’S A BIG #%*# DEAL!” But Kane seems unmoved by this revelation and doesn’t react in any way, so I guess…it’s not a big deal?
Glissa tells Kane that the only way to know for sure what the trolls are stealing from their brains is to NOT go through the ceremony this year. Hold up! What about the elves Glissa tricked into not getting their rebuke on last year? Can’t she just ask them? Oh right. They aren’t her friends anymore. Kane is clearly into Glissa, but he also really needs his job.
“‘I….cannot,’ he said finally. ‘Look, I believe in the trolls. They have always been good to us. I serve them for flare’s sake.'”
Aahhahahah! “For flare’s sake!” I love when fantasy novels try to create their own slang. We have just been told that the flares are bad memories coming to the surface because they are so painful. So that reads as, “For painful memories’ sake!” I guess that’s a thing you could exclaim? Or maybe the author just said, “flare it,” and moved on.
Either way, Kane is a good employee. He agrees to keep Glissa’s secret, but he won’t help her. Before Glissa can press the issue, guess who shows up? If you said Cute Younger Sister, good call!
“Lyese was beautiful. Glissa had to admit that. She was taller than Glissa and kept her arms and legs shining brightly. The gelfruit light in the room practically glittered off her copper limbs. Glissa never bothered polishing because the molder actually helped her blend with the Tangle trees. But Lyese was no hunter, except when Kane was around.”
Sick burn, Glissa! Glissa is a hunter. She does not have time for girly stuff. Don’t believe me?
“There was more to life for Glissa than appearance, manners, and conformity.”
ARE YOU GUYS GETTING THIS?!
The family has gathered around the table for Vorrac stew, salted Molder Slug, and foreshadowing. Papa Glissa informs the group that the elders are concerned with the drought they’ve been experiencing. He tells them if the stars don’t bring them more water soon, there will be trouble. Mirrodin is either way weirder than I thought, or the elves have no idea how rain works. Maybe the trolls are stealing their memories of how rain works?
It is mentioned that there are fewer stars in the sky since the last rebuking, but again, how would they remember? Papa Glissa drops some major exposition on the dinner party. He tells them that they are only six weeks away from the ceremony, and that in addition to a lack of star rain and stars in general, The Moons of Mirrodin (THAT’S THE TITLE OF THE BOOK, YOU GUYS!) are getting dimmer. He adds that if the moons ever fail to rise, all Viridians should head to the Radix, aka the center of the Tangle.
“All Viridians but one, thought Glissa.”
But which one, Glissa…WHICH ONE?
Glissa is awakened in the night by “several shapes in the darkness.” They rush her, and she tries to fight back, but is eventually overwhelmed by the odds. She is placed in a bag, and dragged into the woods.
And that, dear readers, is the end of Chapter One.