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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Planar Chaos - 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.]

Planar Chaos. The second book of the Time Spiral Trilogy. When it comes to the cards, the Time Spiral Block is the "Nostalgia Block." Time Spiral is about nostalgia for the past, while Planar Chaos is about nostalgia for the present, as represented by alternate reality versions of existing cards (aka "planeshifted" cards). I felt that Book One did a good job setting up the major dilemma of the trilogy, establishing our characters, and introducing us to the tattered Dominaria. Coming into this book, I was expecting things to ramp up when it came to the time rifts, and expected some shocking alternate reality intrusions into the story.

Score: 9/10

Teferi and company have managed to seal the time rift above where Shiv used to be, just in time for the continent to phase back to reality without ripping apart the entire multiverse in the process. But that's only one down, with plenty more to go, and now Teferi is powerless. Our heroes need new allies to help save the multiverse, and to help face off against some new threats.

Planar Chaos is much like Time Spiral in that it continues with our heroes attempting to stop the breakdown of the very fabric of the multiverse, and do so by attempting to recruit other planeswalkers to their cause because only a planeswalker can seal a rift. Although the book differs in two ways. The first major difference is that it centers around the sheltered artificer, Venser, as the main protagonist

Score: 8/10

This book starts off with a bang. It immediately picks up where Time Spiral left off, with Teferi and company under attack, and Teferi no longer with his planeswalker powers. The overall threat to the multiverse remains the same, but the number of rifts our heroes take on escalates, and some new threats appear. Whereas the Gathans seemed more like a faceless environmental villain that was a distraction from the main threat, the new villains introduced become much more directly involved in events and have enough personality that they get several of their own POV sections.

Elevating the danger and events that our heroes have to juggle is great thing for the book, but there were a few issues that did pop up that I wasn't completely on board with. There's a personal issue between two of our heroes that I can't completely connect with that gets dragged out. The situation versus the reaction just didn't sync up in my mind, and so instead of being something I could sympathize with it seemed more like an overreaction. Actually, that wasn't the only seeming overreaction in the book that just didn't quite make sense, which then gave the feel that the author was trying to move pieces around rather than feeling that characters were reacting to their situation for part of the book. There was also one section of the book that did feel unnecessary.

And finally, towards the end of the book, because there are multiple events happening in multiple locations are nearly the same time, there is an overlap between some of the chapters that isn't quite communicated to the reader as effectively as it could have been. There is a need to reevaluate when in the story you are once you hit those key phrases or sentences which happen at the end of those chapters rather than the beginning. With all that said, the book keeps on moving, and overall did a good job of keeping my attention.

Score: 9/10

We mostly get a refresh of the same characters introduced in Book One of the trilogy, with only a few additions, but there are some significant changes. Venser is the clear stand out of this book. There's a reason why he was given the cover. While he was mostly introduced as a contrast to Radha in the first book, here he finally comes into his own. Magic's fiction begins with the artificer Urza, and it was great to see an artificer take center stage once more as we end this era of Magic's storyline. While I tolerated Teferi in the first book, the way the depowered Teferi is handled was done in a way that actually got me to really enjoy him whenever he showed up. In fact, nearly every character was able to win me over at some point, even ones that took a while to warm up to.

Score: 8/10

Planar Chaos the set was the alternate reality set of the block, but sadly there wasn't actually much alternate reality to it. It's not completely ignored, but it is far less prominent than I was hoping when coming into this book, especially because of the dual nature of Karn in the background of the cover. There was one particular character in mind that was given a card that I was hoping would pop up, but it never came to be, but that isn't necessarily McGough's and Sanders' fault. And speaking of the cover, it completely threw me off because that does not look like the innocent and wide-eyed Venser from the first book, but he's Venser alright. With all that said, it can't be denied that the book is just full of nostalgia. A great change is happening to the multiverse with both endings and beginnings and we're all allowed to come along for the ride.

Score: 8/10

For the most part the prose was pretty great. I could have used a bit more internal dialogue to help me understand what some of the characters were going through that just didn't quite click with me, and there is one relationship between two of the characters that didn't come across as the author intended so some of their reactions did seem out of place, but for the most part the dialogue was decent to pretty good and the action was almost always great. On top of that, there are certainly several stand out moments throughout the book that were just so beautifully done that I did take a moment to let it soak in after reading them. It's easy to excuse a few hiccups when those moments also come in the package.

Score: 9/10 (This is not an average.)

Much like how Radha was the focus of Time Spiral, Venser was the focus of Planar Chaos. Considering how much I love the concept of the artificer, and the associations I make with artificers and how much I enjoyed Urza's storyline, that was definitely a plus in my book. Although there is some strange pacing toward the end of the book, and some personal conflicts that I couldn't quite connect with, the larger scope of the story felt like a proper extension of the problems set up in Book One. While the book didn't have as much of an alternate reality aspect to it that I was hoping for, the threat of the end of the multiverse is still quite imminent and that problem as well as some new threats that have appeared are quite enough to keep the story engaging and enough to keep that potential disappointment at bay. This book was an improvement in several key areas compared to the first, and there is no doubting that the end is nigh.

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