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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guildpact - Non-Spoiler Review

[Note: This is a non-spoiler review, but I consider information revealed in the cards to be free game, and to a slightly lesser degree information revealed on the mothership. Information in the Primer is free game.]

      [Ravnica] - [Guildpact] - [Dissension]

Guildpact. The second book of the Ravnica Trilogy that appropriately continues the follow the mold set by Book One by representing the Guilds that are featured its in the set, namely: The Orzhov Syndicate, The Izzet League, and the Gruul Clans. With such a drastic shift in key cultures represented, I wasn't exactly sure how this book would connect with Ravnica in the larger scheme of things, but I was curious to find out.

Score: 5/10

It's been twelve years since the end of Ravnica, and the Orzhov Advokist Teysa Karlov finds herself come into an inheritance she wasn't expecting, the township of Utvara. There are some serious flaws with it however, and if she can't fix those and get the town flourishing by the deadline, then it defaults back to banks. Of course she quickly learns there is more to it than she realizes.

This story is nearly as straight forward as you can get. There really aren't many twists and turns, and our characters physically start at Point A and make it to Point B and the book is essentially over. That in itself isn't too bad, the problem is that the major threat of the book never seems that threatening. Our heroes behave and believe like it is, but since we're never told or shown why that's so and are expected to play along, is creates a large discrepancy that steals from the urgency of the book. When you pile on some gaps in logic once everything is laid out, and the fact that the book book ends on a very sour note that seems to take away much of the meaning of the pages immediately preceding it, the end result isn't as impressive as it could have been.

Score: 7/10

With only seventeen chapters of book, Herndon is allowed to spend a lot of the early books painting us a great picture of the world. Considering the straightfoward progression of the story, Herndon does a good job at revealing just enough for us to think about. There's a very nice bread cumb trail for us to follow so we know something is actually happening and our time isn't being wasted. The pacing does have some rough spots however. There are a few unfulfilled promises, some scenes that weren't woven as tightly into the story as some others, and one scene in particular sticks out like a sore thumb with no build up whatsoever and feels like a seed planted for the third book of the trilogy that's yet to come.

Score: 8/10

Pretty much all of our heroes and villains are great. Once again like Book One, the whole story mostly takes place in the span of a few days so there isn't a lot of time for the characters to grow. But
they all fulfill their roles quite nicely, and unlike the Book One, there aren't any characters that seem like they were meant just as a plot device and comic relief and all the characters actually seem like they have a role to play, with the exception of a minor character here and there. Appropriately, the star of the book is Teysa Karlov herself. With a law background and a crippled leg requiring the use of a cane, she isn't your typical hero, but manages to use her strengths to handle the problems before her. And with her White/Black nature, her ways aren't always the most heroic ways, but they stay true to her identity as part of the Orzhov Syndicate. She's a powerful force to be reckoned with and it's thrilling to watch.

Score: 6/10

As expected, Herndon does an excellent job fleshing out the cultures of the Guilds in question, namely the Orzhov Syndicate, the Izzet Leauge, and the Gruul Clans. The Gruul clans aren't as developed as the first two, however considering they're shattered guild that has no more central identity, there really wasn't much to work with or strive for. The cultures are presented beautifully, and the characters that represent each of their respective Guilds feel like they belong there. When you get down to card specifics though, this novel fell short in the number of cards represented in the story compared to the first, so that may come off as a bit of a let down.

My problem though, is with the setting itself. Most of the book takes place in Utvara valley and away from the actual city. Because of the cards and articles on the main site, I was expecting to see a world where aqueducts are the rivers and rooftop gardens on skyscrapers are the forests. Instead we're taken to one of the few places on the planet where it feels more like we're in a Western with vast expanses of wasteland and enemies hiding behind rocks. We have the Guilds, but we don't have the plane of Ravnica.

Score: 8/10

The prose is pretty on par with the first book, Ravnica. For the most part it serves its purpose. The dialogue works, with a few exceptions, and you understand what's going on in the action scenes but there wasn't a lot that blew my mind. In terms of how cheesy the book can get, thankfully Herndon does a better job of reigning that in as compared to the first novel.

However just like the first book, Herdon continues to show us his strengths, and that's in bringing the Guilds to life. The terminology used, phrases spoken, bits of history and culture thrown in, and even thought processes of each character work towards that goal.  The cover character Teysa Karlov radiates Orzhov and advokist, Ravnica's version of a lawyer, in everything she does, and the Izzet League has some good representatives as well. The same level of flourish falls a little bit short when it comes to the Gruuel Clans, but when they're actually a scattered collection of individual groups it makes sense their identity wouldn't be as easy to bring out.

Score: 6/10 (This is not an average.)

While a part of the Ravnica trilogy, there are only a few lingering threads that connect the two, and Dissension feels very much like it's own book. It's a story that moves along at a comfortable pace that keeps the reader engaged but the ultimate threat falls a bit short and the contradiction of the near empty expanse of the Utvara valley compared to the plane spanning city depicted in all the card art and spoken about in all of Wizards articles is off-putting, or at the very least is disappointing. On the other hand, the Orzhov Syndicate and the Izzet League are fleshed beautifully and given a lot of personality and we're given an adequate taste of the Gruul clans. And Tesya Karlov stands out as my preferred main character above that of Agrus Kos. In the end, the Guilds are the stand out feature of the card sets, and if they are the reason you want to take a peek at this book, you won't be disappointed.

      [Ravnica] - [Guildpact] - [Dissension]

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