Oct 12, 2010

[Books] Mercadian Masques (Magic The Gathering Masquerade Cycle - Book 1)

Mercadian Masques (Magic The Gathering Masquerade Cycle - Book 1)In 1997, Wizards of the Coast decided to change the way they produced their Magic: the Gathering card sets by introducing a tighter story told in the flavor text of the cards and even the cards themselves. Before this they had only relied on the barest of back story with the flavor text being almost random in nature at times and wildly different from one card to the next.

The Weatherlight Saga formally began with the expansion set by the same name. Thus we were formally introduced to the story of Gerrard Capashen, heir to The Legacy, along with the rest of the crew of the skyship Weatherlight. Their quest to gather the artifacts of The Legacy in preparation for an eventual invasion from the artifact forces of Phyrexia is a tale that spans many years (and thus many expansion sets) and is often referred to as the most important storyline in all of Magic the Gathering history.

While the cards weren't all that popular, the story eventually gained sufficient fame amongst fans of the series, including myself. Thanks for a friend who was willing to part with his collection, I was able to gather up most of the books in the series, thus allowing me to finally get a clearer picture of what happened behind the cards.

Mercadian Masques is the first book in the Masquerade Cycle and the direct requel to the anthology Rath and Storm. The book was written by Francis Lebaron, who is said to be Peter Archer.

The story starts with the remaining crew of the Weatherlight barely escaping Rath with their lives. In the escape Mirri was killed and Ertai was left behind as he tried to maintain the portal that allowed them to get past the Predator, under the command of Greven il-Vec. The portal that Ertai had opened led to the plane of Mercadia, whose unique feature is an upside-down mountain.

While still gathering their bearings, the crew are attacked by a group of Chi-Arrim water sorcerers who manage to steal the Weatherlight along with Orim, the healer. Just as the crew prepare to recover their skyship, a group of soldiers from nearby Mercadia City arrive trying to claim the Weatherlight as well. With the prize lost, they take Gerrard and the others hostage and drag them back to Mercadia to face judgement in their strange merchant city.

While I was no major fan of the card series in itself, the world of Mercadia was nicely brought to life in this novel. You can really feel how each of the races are somehow unique and thus still aligned to the traits associated with their card color. And I'm not referring to some sort of a Power Rangers kind of color coordination - they were all truly embodiments of their magical natures.

The characters are also quite vividly real in how they're written, which is no small feat. You don't just find yourself trying to figure out what cards are involved in the scene - you eventually end up really wanting to know how the characters will surmount each challenge they are made to face. They are all highly complex individuals with their own motivations and aspirations that further define them as individuals. Thus you can really see the quiet sensibility of Orim, the bravery of Gerrard, the quite nobility of Karn and even the mischievous innocence of Squee. Clearly the author did his homework before fully committing himself to the writing of this book.

The overall story was decent enough, although admittedly nothing too special. The only real item of interest remains to be the whole legend of Ramos and how it ties into all of the unique histories of the various races and divisions of people. For those who know what happens in later expansions, a lot of the stories will make sense more and more. For those who don't, there's nothing to worry about. It means that the final reveal will be all the more fulfilling for you.
This is a hard book to read if you did not have a chance to read Rath and Storm or at the very least took time to familiarize oneself with the characters associated with the Weatherlight Saga beforehand. It'll still be enjoyable on its own, but all the back references will get annoying in time.

Mercadian Masques is a good addition to the expanded universe of Magic the Gathering novels and a key piece of the puzzle in terms of the story of The Legacy. It gets 3.5 Bones of Ramos out of a possible 5.

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