The Magic: The Gathering universe is ever-expanding and after the relatively well-received novel written by Greg Weisman, War of the Spark – Ravnica, there’s now a second instalment from Titan Books hitting the shelves. The second book in this series is titled Magic: The Gathering War of the Spark – Forsaken and looks set to continue to delve into the lore at the heart of the War of the Spark card expansion set. Will Greg Weisman be able to maintain the excitement of the initial offering to ensure the fantasy tale of Forsaken is worthy of your time?
Well, before advancing any further, please be aware there will naturally be spoilers regarding the events which unfolded in the previous book, War of the Spark – Ravnica. So, if you haven’t read that as of yet then I wouldn’t advise reading this review of its sequel until you have done. You have been warned…
When the mighty Elder Dragon, Nicol Bolas, put plans into place to absorb all of the Planeswalkers’ powers on Ravnica, it became an exhilarating all-out war. Both sides of the fight lost members of its army, with a hugely influential character of the Gatewatch meeting his demise in the process. The charismatic white mage Gideon Jura sacrificed himself to enable the mentally conflicted Liliana Vess – who’d been under Nicol Bolas’ command – to play a crucial role in the slaying of Bolas. With the biggest threat taken down for good, all that’s left to do is bring his cohorts to justice…
War of the Spark – Forsaken begins in the immediate aftermath of the devastating battle, with everyone understandably weary; saddened by the lives lost and angry at the culprits. The devious duo of Tezzeret and Dovin Baan had fled to safety, but are set to be hunted down and, despite Liliana’s efforts to make amends in the climax, she too is on the hit list. As such, the main focus throughout is on the gorgon Vraska, the storm mage Ral Zarek, and the ghost assassin Kaya in each of their attempts to complete their missions to eliminate the aforementioned targets.
In the first part of Forsaken, almost the entirety of the momentum built up in the book prior is drained and the excitement is sucked out of proceedings; akin to a vampire feasting on all the positive aspects, leaving a mere husk behind. Whilst a slow-build isn’t a bad thing in itself, the preparation phase for these assassins is terribly difficult to become interested in as there are just too many rather meaningless conversations and encounters. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes politics going on and that, in collaboration with some heavy-handed ‘romance’, makes for a less than enthralling reading experience.
Granted, the second stage of proceedings does improve eventually, with plans being put into action and some great chemistry built between the hired assassins and their wilful allies; especially Kaya who cements a real bond with Teyo Verada and Rat. To keep intrigue levels high, nothing is as clear cut as it first seems and all three assassination missions transpire differently than each other. The battle with Tezzeret has a certain intellectual brilliance to its big, entertaining fight and the hunt for Baan leads to a messy scenario that could lead to serious consequences for Vraska. Lilliana meanwhile poses a question about morality, which has a very surprising outcome and really brings out different sides of those involved.
Much like its predecessor, the third and final part of Forsaken throws a few spanners in the works; providing some twists that you’ll never see coming. The biggest problem here though is that the story reaches a perfect point to end this instalment on, before continuing on a little too far, undoing some of the relationships built up earlier. Unfortunately, this leaves a bit of a sour taste, which isn’t ideal ahead of any further books that may be released in the series.
On a lighter note, it is good that the narrative allows our imagination to get transported to even more interesting planes this time, such as Dominaria and Alara. The latter of which is the home of an incredible fortress – full of inventive constructs – that’s well suited the action unfolding there. Another positive aspect is how much easier it is to follow what’s going on without the masses of less-important characters popping up like they did in the Ravnica book. It is a shame however that fewer non-character based cards in the War of the Spark expansion set have a place in this instalment, but at least they aren’t forced in.
All in all, Magic: The Gathering War of the Spark – Forsaken is a disappointing sequel in the way that it kills the series’ momentum by advancing the story far too slowly. You’ll be almost halfway through the book before it really gets going, but from there onwards it’s a worthy read. That is until a couple of odd decisions by Greg Weisman late on in the tale have the potential to curb the reader’s enthusiasm to return for what is an expected third instalment. Fortunately though, the actual confrontations are utterly gripping.
I’d just about recommend War of the Spark – Forsaken from Titan Books to those who are willing to embrace the plethora of politically motivated encounters as much as the infrequent portions of exciting action. Otherwise, give it a miss and simply bask in the enjoyment of the first book instead.