War of the Spark: Ravnica kicks off a new set of books set within the iconic Magic the Gathering universe and brings an electrifying tale for fans old and new.
While novels set around the world of the iconic card game aren’t exactly new, it’s been a while since the last official Magic The Gathering book for fans to enjoy. War of the Spark: Ravnica has arrived, tying in with the game’s latest expansion (which dropped on May 3rd). Both the book and the game expansion follows the story of the Planeswalkers (who can travel the multiverse at will) battling it out with the Elder-Dragon, and God-Emperor hopeful, Nicol Bolas.
If you’re a long time fan of MTG, there’s a deep history already associated with this particular evil dragon and the warriors gathered to try and take him down. For years the Gatewatch has endeavored to take Bolas down, and after a recent failed attempt, all the cards are now on the table.
Holed up on the City-World of Ravnica, the Dragon has staked his claim and lies in wait for his enemies to come to him. Where the Planeswalkers think they have the Dragon trapped, Bolas has plans within plans and is more than prepared for their arrival. Upon entering Ravnica, the Planeswalkers find their ability to travel between planes cut off, and a beacon is turned on to summon all other Planeswalkers to the world…Even those who were unaware of their power.
As all out war engulfs the world, the Planeswalkers must set aside their differences/rivalries in order to try and unite Ravnica’s guilds (which have often been at war with one another) and find a way to stop Bolas forever.
There’s a lot more going on, as new characters are introduced along with characters long-time players are probably very familiar with. Those are the basics, however, and I don’t want to delve into the details much more so as to keep this spoiler free. It’s very much a fantasy centered story, bringing in all the magical elements you could ever want.
From the outset, the story makes it clear this is meant to be the final confrontation and it wastes little time in thrusting you into the heart of the action. The entire book plays out as one gigantic battle sequence, with bits of the story told as characters go from one desperate encounter to another.
The first few chapters set the parameters for the confrontation and introduce some new (pivotal) characters, but within a short amount of time the novel grips you by the wrist and hurtles you forward at a breakneck pace. It doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath as you zip from battle to battle, each somehow more epic than the last, until you arrive at the last chapter feeling worn out (in a good way) and able to breathe easy right alongside the characters who survived.
Greg Weisman manages to craft stunning action pieces that somehow manage to feel fully fleshed out and detailed without relying on lengthy exposition to do it. It’s impressive writing that managed to hook me fully into the story, despite not being very familiar with Magic The Gathering at this point (which I’ll talk about more in a bit).
Coming in over 350 pages, it’s a decently sized fantasy story, but it never feels drawn out. The short chapters kept me turning pages long past the point when I said I would stop for the night. It’s a tough one to put down, but the chapter structure makes it easy to find a stopping place when you need one.
The Gathering Factor
The story itself is very much rooted in the world of Magic the Gathering and filled with all manner of characters, spells, artifacts, and story beats you can find in the card game itself. In this way, it’s definitely a treat for fans of the game and the lore they’ve established over decades. But what about people who aren’t as familiar with MTG?
I mean, just about everyone has some passing familiarity with the Magic The Gathering brand. It’s been around so long that it’s nearly impossible to have not heard about it in some capacity (even derisively). As a big nerd myself, I’m obviously pretty familiar with it, but coming into War of the Spark, I knew next to nothing.
It’s been at least 15 years, probably closer to the 20 year mark now, since I last touched a game of Magic The Gathering and I know things have drastically changed since then. A combination of things have kept me from card games in general (even though I love them), but that means I went into this novel as a newbie.
On the whole, I’m happy to say War of the Spark does a solid job of being engaging and fun for those who aren’t familiar with MTG. That said, it can be a little tough to keep up with at times. It throws a whole bunch of names at you in short order, and expects you to already have an understanding of how the magical systems in the world works.
As such, there were plenty of scenes where I couldn’t keep track of which character could do what. The novel’s structure, where each chapter is from a specific (and notated) character’s point of view, helps mitigate this issue quite a bit. Coupled with the story’s blistering pace and constant action, it was easy to get lost in the fun and ignore the minutiae.
The biggest downside to this, however, is that certain character moments lacked the emotional impact they were supposed to have. Since the book jumps right into the action with established characters who already have plenty of lore behind them, there’s a definite feeling of disconnect to certain moments. I can’t say it lessened my enjoyment of the overall book, but I imagine fans with more direct connections to the current game will have stronger reactions to certain events. That’s not to mention the amount of Easter eggs and fun nods I undoubtedly missed out on.
Regardless, it was still an enjoyable read that pulled me along at a fast-paced. The action was engaging, even if I wasn’t entirely sure WHAT was going on. Imagine watching an action movie sequel without seeing the previous film. You can piece together some of the story from context clues and you feel like you’re missing some things, but it’s still highly entertaining for what it is. In fact, it was so engaging that it made me want to go back and look into the stories that I missed and dive back into that world.