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Friday, October 28, 2011

Showdown - Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum vs Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn


In the comments to my Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum Non-Spoiler Review, Troacctid says:

Huh, surprising. That seems like a very generous rating.

I'm dead serious here. Scars of Mirrodin is your zero, right? So I'm shocked that this gets higher than 1. Maybe 2, but even that seems like pushing it. If this is a 3, what does a 2 look like? I'm willing to say with some confidence that Zendikar and Scars are by far and away the two worst Magic novels ever written. Nothing else is really in the running. So if this isn't a 1, you must be hedging on the possibility of future Wintermute books, which terrifies me. O_O 

First of all, Troacctid isn't too far off in thinking that a 2 might be the highest score the Zendikar book deserves. I was actually struggling between giving this book a 2 or a 3, and reluctantly settled on the latter.

While my typed out feelings of the book are solidly set and written out, assigning a number to those feelings isn't easy. I may adjust the numbers some day in the future as I read and review more books.

(Overall isn't the only score that struggled with. I actually was fluctuating between assigning a 6 or a 7 to the white circle, Pertinence.)

For reference, here are the scores.

[Note: There will be SPOILERS from this point on.]

There is no question that I think Zendikar is the better book. Here's why:


We actually did get to see a good amount of Zendikar, and because of that we were presented with a lot of variety in terms of locale, despite real plot development moving at a sluggish pace. In the Scars book nearly every chapter opened up with our heroes entering a "large room."

Idiocy vs Bickering

Nissa was an idiot and all of Sorin's teasing and superiority made him look foolish, but Venser's and Koth's barbs at each other made reading about them a very wearing experience. This is likely because of Wintermute's style when it comes to writing confident characters. Put one in a room and they just seem like a jerk. Put two in a room and they fight amongst each other and have a need to show off and acquire and/or maintain dominance and that makes matters much worse for the reader.

Size consistency

Wintermute's lack of consistency in terms of how big the size of each enemy and room was in Scars was outrageous. It would just happen over and over again, such as the Phyrexians that were so big that they were crushing other Phyrexians with their knuckles and yet where knocked over by thrown a bone at their faces, or the scene where they fought the Phyrexian the size of a ship. In the Zendikar book Lorthos perched on top a small rock, but for the most part there wasn't much that was so blatantly wrong as in the Scars book.


The action in the Zendikar book was better than the action in Scars because of the variety. There was often a lot of movement within the scenes and use of terrain while in Scars it was just empty room after empty room. And while Sorin's song of rot made things too easy, Elspeth's special where she would strike with her sword at every angle in a single instant is ridiculous. Nissa's attack where she controlled the bacteria within the trench giant's intestines absurd, but at least it only happened one time.


While there was the "scat" and "flora" mishap with Nissa's attack, at least she wasn't constantly inhaling to allow mana to flow through the folds of her cranium. And I will take the constant lack of pluralizing "baloth" in one or two chapters over the repetitive use of the "fleshling" by someone whose thoughts shouldn't have that word his vocabulary any day. On a related note, that would have been less frequent if any of them had ever bothered to ask Melira for her name before Ezuri did it for them.


While Smara didn't do much, we did know her name early on and always knew where she was. Melira on the the other hand was actually left out of several chapters in a row even during scenes where it seemed like everyone was getting their turns in the spot light as they were exiting the slow fall tunnel.


There is nothing as ridiculous as the slow fall tunnel in Scars that can be found anywhere in the Zendikar book. Yes the behemoth pulling the boat the Zendikar crew stole likely couldn't have been swimming for forty-eight straight hours, but at least we can pretend she switched out creatures to do the tugging. In the Scars book they fall asleep several times while free-falling. And on a different note, let's not forget Wintermute's demonstration of his complete and utter lack of understanding when it comes to planeswalkers when describes that the drug that Venser is addicted too a substance that requires components from multiple planes and is created in large enough quantities to have a market of addicted customers who may need to take a hit as much as every day.


Nissa's backstory was inconsistent. Once it was mentioned that she was away from her Joraga tribe because it was part of her leadership training, while another time it says she was cast out. Venser on the other hand has a sob story about entering an empty amphitheater that he's always wanted to enter. The first former made me think "What?", the later made me think "WTF!?"


Having the Eldrazi show up and ending on a cliffhanger was disappointing, but at least they were in the final chamber. On the other hand, leaving Tezzert and Glissa to fight it out off screen and having Geth not show up at all for no reason was more disappointing by far. Zendikar felt like it ended on a huge cliffhanger. Scars felt like it ended with something missing with the final chamber being empty.


While Zendiar ended with a completely illogical decision by Nissa and Anowon, Scars ended with a failure in the physics of the fictional universe by inserting Venser's human heart into Karn's silver body. People acting stupid is more believable than the physics breaking ending of Scars.

* * *


It's important to note that I read The Quest for Karn before I read In the Teeth of Akoum. I hope that whichever book you read first, that it's the worst book that you've ever read. But because you can't read them both simultaneously in any practical sense, the impact of one will no doubt dull your negative experience when reading the other. I have no doubts that I was affected, but listing the reasons above does make me more comfortable with my score.


While I may eventually change the Zendikar score to a 2 in the future, after coming up with this list of ten points why Zendikar is better than the Scars book I'm more comfortable in giving it 3 now than I was before writing up this post.

What does a book that scores at a 1 or a 2 look like?

    It would fall somewhere between the quality of these two books, and now there are some clear comparisons to help measure that out. Maybe like Zendikar but with characters that make me angry at how they constantly bicker rather than make me roll my eyes or by using a significant deal more anatomical terminology in an attempt to sound smart. Or maybe like Scars of Mirrodin but with a cliffhanger ending rather than empty room which was a non-ending and with some dynamic action that makes physical sense.

    Do I ever expect to see a book that will score a 1 or a 2?

      No. I expect average books to be at about the 5 or 6 level, and I expect most books to be average or better. However, when I get to the Onslaught Trilogy, from what I remember from having read it over a decade ago, I wouldn't be surprised to see an Overall score of a 4 for at least one of those books, and that may bump the Zendikar score down a point. I just need that point of comparison to be able to make the decision.


      1. Again, I agree. I too am also scared of the score of 2, but then again, I've read the Onslaught and Ravnica, and Moons of Mirrodin book sets, all of which contained bad writing, but not nearly as atrocious as Wintermute.

        Hope the next book goes better, Purifying Flame isn't phenomenal, but is miles ahead of anything ever Wintermute related.

      2. First, I want to say again how glad I am that you slogged through these books so that we didn't have too. :)

        Honestly, everything about Robert B. Wintermute is baffling and weird to me. Who the heck is he? Why does WotC keep publishing his terrible, terrible novels?

        Firstly: "Wintermute" is a pen-name, right? (Wintermute is after all the shadowy, pseudonymous central character in William Gibson's Neuromancer... sure, Wikipedia confirms that Wintermute is also a real last name, but what are the chances?)

        Ari Marmell, Laura Resnick, and most other MtG novelists have a well-established publication history and internet presence. RBW is a blank slate. His weird one-paragraph bio on the Wizards' site is practically the only information about him anywhere.

        My pet-theory: Wintermute is someone-- or maybe a collaboration of several people-- on the WotC Creative Team. He/she/they were handed-down an assignment to throw together a novel on extreme deadline, they didn't even have time to finish a rough draft, and then someone at WotC said "Okay! Let's publish!"

        And he/she said "But, but, it doesn't even have an ending!" And the WotC higher-up said "Don't care! Publish!" And he/she/they reluctantly agreed, provided that Wizards took his/her/their name off it and published it under a pseudonym instead.

        Call me crazy, but it's the only explanation that makes sense to me. Why they'd do it *twice* is just baffling to me, though.

      3. Hello, firstly I am Brazilian and not without almost no English.
        Game 13 years ago, I love to read but only now had the opportunity to read the novels of the game. Just read only two books in question, the first Zendikar and am now in chapter 21, Scars, and although I can not find anything as bad as in his analysis. Because like magic and being nearly two years without playing me these books are falling well. I plan on reading another of ramances read but do not know what I'm trying to read the latest update in the game for me, have any tips on what I can read that in your opinion is good for me to spend my mornings reading?

      4. I forgot to mention that I started reading The Brothers' War but stopped halfway to read the two books mentioned above, it may seem silly but as I said above I'm out of date and I'm a fan of Urza and I must say I know much of his story, so preferred to read the latest boost for me to play again.

      5. From what I remember, Onslaught was okay, and it was Legions and Scourge where things went south. I'm still annoyed that they passed up the opportunity to tell the story of the Riptide Project and the Slivers (and the potentially interesting story of who Pemmin was) in favor of spending time on characters as useless as Sash and Waistcoat or dumb plots like Phage getting pregnant.

      6. On a hunch, I did a search on Amazon.com.
        Ari Marmell, author of "Agents of Artifice", has their name on quite a decent number of D&D manuals, ranging from versions 3.0 to 4.0.
        Laura Resnick, author of "The Purifying Fire", has her own set of books, though they're less fantasy and more...chick-flick on paper?
        Matthew Stover, author of "Test of Metal", has also written three Star Wars novels: Shatterpoint, Revenge of the Sith (which I highly recommend to help the film make actual sense), and New Jedi Order: Traitor.
        However, when I look up Wintermute on Amazon...I get psychology books, some specifically dealing with sexuality.
        I have to wonder what has possessed WotC to get a psychologist-writer to write fantasy-based novels.