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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Test of Metal - The Metal Island: Enter Leviathan

We're not done with Nicol Bolas just yet.

The Metal Island: Enter Leviathan

With Tezzeret gone, Nicol Bolas can not wait to get started with removing the device in his brain.

“You and me both, brother.”

Bolas lurched upright. The voice had been impossibly deep, impossibly dark and most of all, impossibly close.

The fabric of the universe rips open behind him and Bolas crouches down ready to attack this new, unknown planeswalker. This unknown dragon planeswalker... wait a second... This dragon that looks just like Nicol Bolas himself.

Or, as the newcomer says, more like the other way around.

This newcomer is larger, younger, and more powerful than he is. Bolas senses so much power in the other that he cannot believe he even exists.

The newcomer tells Bolas that he is the true Nicol Bolas. And that he isn't the dragon he thinks he is.

“Nice job with Tezzeret, by the way. You learn a lot about someone by how he treats you when he's got nothing to fear. And now we've got him working for us willingly. Enthusiastically. Hells, he thinks he's doing us a favor.

Bolas is so confused, and the true Nicol Bolas explains. The problem is two-fold. Constructs, like what he is, tend to deteriorate over time. And second of all, while he needed a construct believable enough to trick Tezzeret into thinking he was interacting with the real thing, he needed to make one that was stupid enough to fall for Tezzeret's trick.

The real Nicol Bolas tells the construct that he's not stupid enough to do his own dirty work in person.

The construct's only reply is to say that he seems to be doing just that right now.

Nicol Bolas scowls.

“Maybe that's the real lesson,” the simulacrum said. “You should make a note of it, so you don't forget.”

“Because when you come right down to it, none of us is as smart as we think we are.”

* * *

The Nicol Bolas Answer

So that's the answer to the question. The answer to why I hated the characterization of Nicol Bolas throughout this book. He was actually a false copy of Nicol Bolas this whole time.

I've had more time to think about this chapter than most of the others because it was so short, and I've transitioned from being shocked, angered, impressed, and disappointed.

Friend of the Blog Troaccid commented in reply to the previous chapter:

I expect by now you're starting to see what I was talking about when I said this book is much better on the second reading. If you went back and re-read the Metal Island segments with all this additional context in mind, plus the reveal in the epilogue, they'd be a lot less confusing, right?

I will have to say he's right. This book would be better during a second read through. There would be less confusion and less reason to question the characterization of the Nicol Bolas that's being presented to us.

It makes sense. Partially.

But there are still some problems with this. An expertly written novel that banks on a twist needs several components.

1) A good story/protagonist/setting/etc. pre-twist.
2) Clues scattered throughout that work pre- and post-knowledge about the twist
3) A good story/protagonist/setting/etc. post-twist.
4) The transition from one state to the other needs to make sense.

For the most part, this book is missing that first component. And considering that this book is longer than the average Magic book, and that this twist is revealed 99% way through the book, the reader has to tolerate a character that is intentionally made irritating for longer than most Magic novels for sake of the twist!

(It would be easily forgivable if the ratios were the opposite. That the prologue to the book introduced the idiot Nicol Bolas and had Tezzeret thinking he won, only to find out in Chapter 1 it was all a trick and then move from there.)

The book may be better the second time through, but that means you have to get through it the first time.

"I'm going to have the readers suffer through most of the book, but when they read these three pages it will all be worth it!"

(Not entirely accurate because I did enjoy some of what I read, but you get what I mean.)

A larger problem is that this gives some excuse to Nicol Bolas, but it doesn't excuse the bad dialogue coming out of all the other characters, and doesn't excuse the rather off-putting characterization of Tezzeret himself.

Another Epilogue to Come

The next epilogue is even shorter than this... but I have no idea what to expect.


  1. Yeah, this is why I like your analyses. A lot of what I was confused over on the first read I just glossed over. This shows that it wasn't quite as impressive as I had first thought. And no, none of the epilogues help the overall planeswalker plot, other than that nothing really happened in this book. Nothing got accomplished after the first few chapters, and so, what was the point in the first place?

    1. I'm glad that you and other people find something worth while in these posts. But for the sake of putting things in perspective when it comes to my posts, the very act of creating this blog is part of the reason whey I'm noticing as much as I do.

      I'm pretty much reading each book twice. One fairly normal read through of each chapter, then a necessary skim as I summarize it. Plus I'm reading at a slower pace because of the whole one chapter a day deal which allows the information to really settle, *and* on top of that, knowing that I'm going to be writing down my impressions means I'm constantly evaluating what my impressions are of each chapter.

      All in all, it means that I'm catching more than I would if I was reading them like normal people do. That's good for people who want to read what I have to say, and it's good for me because I know I'm getting more out of each book by reading them this way, which just means I'm not likely to stop any time soon. =)