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Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn: Scars of Mirrodin Block (Magic the Gathering Novel: Mirrodin Cycle) Mass Market Paperback – April 26, 2011
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Having just finished the abysmal "Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum" (Robert Wintermute's first Magic: The Gathering novel), I was admittedly biased from the very start of this book, but I have to admit that "Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn" is an improvement. It's still far from good or even adequate, but take what solace you can in knowing there are worse reads out there.
While "Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn" exhibits thankfully fewer typos than most recent novels in the series and its author has learned to vary his sentence structure beyond an 8th grade level, its characters are still shamefully underutilized. This time around, Wintermute has established names to work with - Venser, Elspeth, Tezzeret, Karn - but I'm not convinced he's actually read any of the materials they've previously appeared in. If he has, he certainly doesn't respect them. Venser in particular breaks from his canon origins and abilities frequently and without any real purpose or explanation: apparently, the timid, self-taught artificer who fascinated the protagonists of the Time Spiral block with his ability to planeswalk despite having no inherent magical talent was actually a studied mage who learned he could teleport as a child. Elspeth's history with Phyrexians is mentioned at every opportunity, but somehow manages to have no real impact on the story. Miraculously, Wintermute does not ruin the Tezzeret Matthew Stover perfected in "Test of Metal". Karn, however, is not so lucky: any self-respecting Vorthos should know the history and importance of the heart Wintermute unceremoniously rips from Karn's chest. Koth and Melira make their debut here, but neither are particularly well thought-out. Koth plays the archetypical stubborn muscle who constantly complains about taking direction while doing it without fail. Melira - the key to stopping the Phyrexian contagion - has zero background and less personality. Her compliance to tag along with the planeswalkers until her convenient healing abilities are relevant again is taken as a given. Melira blends into the scenery so completely, that the author literally forgets to include her in descriptions of the party for chapters at a time.
This brings us to the plot. "Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn" plods along at a decent enough pace. Yes, there is a lot of walking (again) through a frankly ridiculous number of vast rooms whose walls and ceilings can't be seen. Yes, everything smells of rancid meat, as the author feels the need to remind us at least twice per page. But at least on this plane there are foes to meet and mysteries to solve. We even get a grand total of one chapter devoted to characters other than the unchanging protagonists. Indeed, the first half of the book sets up for one potential bombshell of a climax. Where did the Mirran elders go? Where does the glistening oil come from? Why are blinkmoths immune to its effects? How did a secret chamber full of boulders come to be on the wholly-metallic plane of Mirrodin, and what purpose do they serve? All compelling questions... all remain unanswered. Just as in "Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum", Wintermute ends this novel the moment it's in danger of getting interesting: namely with the release and purification of an unguarded (!?) Karn, Father of Machines.
"Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn" is, in short, a disappointment. Only readers well-versed in the history of the Magic: The Gathering storyline will be invested enough in the plot and characters to see them through, and those readers will therefore be especially dissatisfied with what they find.
We follow the three planeswalkers Elpeth, Koth and Venser, and you really have to visit the official MAGIC website and read the free comics there, in order to get the events prior to this book.
As Venser is a recurring character from the Time Spiral block, he doesn't at all behave or seem like the same person. Granted, a lot of years has passed, but references to the cataclysmic events of Time Spiral are non-existant, as if the writer didn't bother to do his homework.
The events depicted in this book, could've been a good story. Could have - but isn't. The action scenes are pretty flat, and yet they keep coming, in the most uninspiring way I've seen in a long time.
The universe itself is built around the current events of the Mirrodin plane, and as such, it could have functioned if depicted better.
The characters are given a lot of opporunities to develop and interact in interesting ways, but all these balls are thrown into the air without being caught again.
I cannot recommend this book in any way, not even to those curious to see the continuation of the storyline in the MAGIC universe.
This book is NOT worth your time. Go find a plot summary so you can skip all of the blinding rage as character after character is forever ruined in your eyes. I can only be thankful that Tezzerret was merely a bit character in this (despite him being one of my favorites), because I know Wintermute would have ruined him, with time. From what I've heard, Venser isn't a whiny douchebag in other materials, so why should he be in this book? Character motivations are vague, personalities are strictly one dimensional, and as other reviews have stated, characters (like Melira) will disappear for several chapters on end only to reappear as if they had always been there. Nothing is ever explained, and the climax, where *spoiler* Venser SACRIFICES himself to save Karn is rushed, glossed over, and... boring. It was boring. He teleported his heart into Karn so that Karn could be free of the taint, and that was it. Main character death, treated like it was nothing.
In short, do not read this unless you want to hate all the main characters (and several of the bit characters).