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Monday, October 3, 2011

Alara Unbroken - 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 and the Primer.]

Alara Unbroken. The story of five planes merging into one cohesive whole is the first block to be represented by the Block Novel rather than allowing for one book per set. While the story itself is pretty grand in scope, I  came into this novel with just as much interest in how this new format would be a great new change for the Magic novels or if one book is simply not enough.

Score: 7/10

Long ago the plane of Alara was separated into five distinct planes, each with access to only three of the five types of mana. Now the worlds are converging once again, an event known only by one who has been preparing to take advantage of the coming chaos, the planeswalker Nicol Bolas. Three major plots encompass the events across the five planes, and those three plots are further broken down into component minor plots that weave in and out, and between, the major ones. They're all concerned with one thing, the planes are converging, and war is at hand.

Overall, the plot of the book is fantastic. While the protagonists of the book are reacting as best they can to the chaos around them, it's nice that we get the more proactive events told through the point of view of Nicol Bolas and his minions. With that said, more and more problems arise the closer you zoom in. There are five entire worlds with it's own history and races and cultures that all need their time in the spotlight. It's just too much information to cram into a standard length novel that sacrifices to the story had to be made and are clearly felt. And to add to the that, while the ending is servicable, it doesn't feel like it was developed enough and the resolution and farewells feel hollow.

Score: 8/10

The pace of the story is blatantly derived from the structure of the book. Rather than going for the standard twenty to twenty-five chapters in a three-hundred and twenty page book, Doug Beyer chose to work with a much smaller chapter length and instead crammed in one-hundred and seventeen chapters across eighteen point of view characters. Considering the amount of information that needed to be covered, it was the right choice. The chapters are titled after the plane that's being presented so the reader is never lost, and even if a character disappears for a quite a while there is never any time to start wondering when they're reappear again because there is always something new to keep your interest. On top of that, characters constantly cross each others' paths as the plot lines converge that you expect that anyone could turn up again at any moment. At times it feels as if the story is going by too fast, that there isn't much time to really settle in and savor a moment, but for the most part it all works.

Score: 6/10

There are quite a few planeswalkers and legendary creatures that have significant roles in this book, and how I pictured them in my head to how they actually turned out to be was quite shocking on several accounts. Some were wonderful from the beginning, and some I had to warm up to, but in the end I ended up liking the nearly all the character concepts quite a bit. The problem, however, was their execution. With so many people sharing the spotlight, hardly any of them got any chance to really develop, and while Ajani was the lead protagonist and was in the spotlight for a considerable amount of time, his character was the one that I wish had the most additional work put into him. There are a few excellent character moments within the book, but it's unfortunate the lead role mostly left me feeling let down, frustrated, or confused.

Score: 9/10

Shards of Alara, Conflux, and Alara Reborn are representations of the separate planes of Alara, the merging of the planes, and the results of that convergence. The story of Alara Unbroken is a direct telling of the discover and conflict that resulted from that merge. While some of the planes aren't given as much screen time as the others, all are given some representation. When it comes to characters, center stage is taken up by quite a satisfying amount of planeswalkers and legendary creatures from the card sets, with one or two notable absences. In terms of relevancy, there is almost nothing more you could ask for in terms of setting, cast, and content.

Score: 5/10

This is the weakest area of the book. The exposition is too straightforward and much of the dialogue is fairly flat. There is nothing offensive or frustrating in terms of how the book is written, but neither is it especially satisfying. Out of one-hundred and seventeen chapters there are are only a few moments to latch on to that feel really special or keep you fully immersed. Some of this can be attributed to the difficulty in juggling around five worlds and so many characters in a limited amount of space, but that reasoning doesn't apply to the wooden dialogue. Thankfully this weakness is partially alleviated by the fast pace of the story. There isn't time to dwell on what's being presented before you have to move on to the next scene.

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

If what you want is the story of the convergence of the five planes of Alara, there's some good news and some bad news. Good news it that this is very clearly the novelization of the events before, during, and immediately after the conflux that is presented to us in the card sets. You get all five of the shards of Alara, four of the five planeswalker cards, and plenty of other legendary creatures all with prominent roles. You get the grand event of the conflux, and conflict that ranges from internal struggles to all out war. And you get it all at a chaotic pace that alternates between eighteen point of view characters told across one-hundred and seventeen chapters. The bad news is that there is too much story to fit into a normal sized novel, and the description and dialogue is in need of significant improvement. While there are a few truly captivating moments, and a few intriguing characters, the main protagonist is a bit of a mess. Overall, the book is never boring in spite of the prose because there is just so much energy in how fast the story moves along. If you can appreciate Alara Unbroken for the grand scale of the story, it might be worth a read.

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