Welcome to our 2016 52 in 52 series. This year I will be reading 52 Magic: the Gathering novels spanning two decades of Vorthos lore. Each week I’ll share my review of the book along with a synopsis for those of you who are just interested in the core of the story.

52 in  52

Welcome back to 52 in 52! This week we read Final Sacrifice by Clayton Emery which is the final book in the Greensleeves Trilogy. Before continuing make sure you check out my reviews of the first two books in this series: Whispering Woods and Shattered Chains.

Final Sacrifice
by Clayton Emery

After a few years of putting evil wizards in their place, our heroes Gull and Greensleeves have now amassed an impressive army and are continuing their crusade to rid the domains of these scourges. Unfortunately for them the wizards they’ve compelled with their mystic artifact have all been able to communicate with each other and are now working together to exact revenge.

Whispering Woods introduced us to our major characters and Shattered Chains served as a glorified training montage all leading up to the closing of three major loose ends in Final Sacrifice. The first two have been obvious since the start: what is the true purpose of this crazy artifact that’s been driving our story since page one and how will Gull and Greensleeves finally exact revenge on Towser, the wizard who brought all this suffering upon them? There is a third loose end being closed up as well, which was strongly hinted at in the first two books, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Clayton Emery once again excels in presenting incredibly gorgeous magical battles. There are fewer conflicts in Final Sacrifice but many of them are on a grand scale as the full might of the evil wizards led by Towser is set against the volunteer army of our heroes. Emery eschews much of the one-on-one combat and skirmish combat from the previous two novels in favor of grand battles across a myriad of landscapes between the magical and non-magical.

At times, unfortunately, it is difficult to keep track of which forces are battling on which flanks, and which magical beasts are part of which army, but the action remains focused around Gull and Greensleeves who actually have some character depth in this story. Gull is now a father and a true general, no longer uncomfortable in either role and as this book goes on he finally comes to terms with the fact that he will never go back to being a woodcutter. This is important because it’s the first true evolution for Gull’s character that we’ve seen in these stories. For the most part he’s been the reluctant hero, forced into his role for revenge, wishing only to go back to the way things were, and mostly relying on luck to even be alive. Seeing him mature is a refreshing bit of character development, something Emery has mostly avoided in these stories.

Greensleeves on the other hand is a bit more sudden in her development. In each story there has been kind of a leap in character evolution for Greensleeves the epic, amazing, unstoppable, all-powerful archdruid. In Whispering Woods it happens when she is finally away from the voices of the woods and able to clear her mind and speak and harness her magical abilities. In Shattered Chains it happens when she meets Chaney the dying archdruid who teachers Greensleeves everything she needs to know about magic. What’s interesting is that Greensleeves is almost never responsible for her own growth. She is taken from the woods by her brother in the first book and Chaney seeks her out in the second. So what about the third and final evolution of Greensleeves?

Before we get to that we have to talk about a loose end that Clayton Emery has been foreshadowing since the early parts of Whispering Woods. After the battle that destroys his home and kills most of his family, Gull is stricken with grief and can’t even bury the dead for fear of plague. One point that Emery makes however is that his younger brother Sparrow Hawk is nowhere to be found. Gull assumes he fell into a fissure or his body was carried away. That would have all been well and good but Emery made a point to keep bringing up the fact that Sparrow Hawk’s body had never been found every time Gull recounted the battle of White Ridge. So of course we all knew that Sparrow Hawk would return at some point in dramatic fashion and this happens in Final Sacrifice.

Towser has a secret weapon to use against Gull and Greensleeves. It’s a Keldon Warlord who is able to rouse an army to fight to the death no matter what the odds. The Warlord is vicious and leads the combined evil wizard army into battle and defeats Gull in their first meeting. Emery lays on the foreshadowing pretty thick. Gull recognizes the Warlord’s voice but can’t place it. Gull sees something familiar in the Warlord’s red beard, though most of his face is covered by a helm (true to the amazing fantasy art). But then Gull has a dream about his dead family and in that dream he sees Sparrow Hawk on a ridge, away from his dead family, and Gull takes it to mean his brother is alive.

So, moving things along because now every reader knows what’s coming, Gull convinces Towser to let him fight the Warlord one-on-one. Gull then convinces the Warlord to remove his helm. Then it’s revealed that he’s Sparrow Hawk, perverted by Keldon magic, and Gull turns him back to the good side at which point the evil wizards attack Sparrow Hawk and Gull who are defenseless. And then things go full-on Mary Sue.

This is the point where Greensleeves goes super saiyan. It’s when she realizes she can see the matrix. It’s when she discovers that the power was in her all along. Throw in whatever cliche you want. When she sees her long lost brother she is overwhelmed with joy. When she sees both her brothers killed by the evil wizards she snaps. She starts lobbing spells left and right. She’s obliterating every foe in sight. Lightning bolts rain down. Wizards are whipped up by storms. And then she summons something that no archdruid should ever summon because it will devour every bit of magic in sight…

At this point it’s full Vorthos euphoria. Gull has bested the Keldon Warlord but it wasn’t enough so Greensleeves summons the most Timmy/Tammy creature of all time: Force of Nature. You can’t lie to me. If you played Magic in the mid-90’s you had a Force of Nature deck. How could you not? Llanowar Elves, Sol Ring, Force of Nature. Was there a better way to crush your opponent on turn three? Just pray they’re not packing Terror.

Greensleeves now has more power than ever and becomes a god of sorts before remembering how much she loves her friends and family and comes back to earth and releases the magic of the monstrosity she’s summoned back into the damaged lands. And then everyone lives happily ever after because how else was this story ever going to end?

Overall Rating: 3.0 — Reading Final Sacrifice reminded me a bit of a TV show that you enjoy watching but then you know how it’s going to end but the producers drag that ending out for a few more episodes than is necessary (see Jones, Jessica). While the bit with Sparrow Hawk was cute, it doesn’t really lend much to the story. Gull could have figured out a way to best the Keldon Warlord with his wits instead of his brawn, and Greensleeves still could have snapped when the evil wizards struck down her brother. Overall, once again, the action was enjoyable but the story left a lot to be desired as the happy ended was all but assured.

Still, for those of you who have a longing for the Vorthos of old, this series is absolutely worth reading just for the magical combat and the myriad allusions to Magic cards from the earliest expansions.

Next Week’s Book—Tapestries edited by Kathy Ice

Next week we’re going to shift gears a little bit with Tapestries which is a collection of over a dozen stories set in “Dominia,” the same land as our first four books. Chronologically, Tapestries came out just after Final Sacrifice, and will help to further flesh out the world of Magic that will soon become Dominaria. Here’s the excerpt from Amazon:

An anthology follows the stories of a grieving Hurloon Minotaur, a dragon whelp’s hatching egg, and warring armies, and includes the writings of popular fantasy authors David Drake, Morgan Llywelyn, and S.M. Stirling.

I’m expecting a nice collection of short stories highlighting a variety of early Magic cards, so the Vorthos in all of us should be very excited for this one. I’m not holding my breath for great plot or character development, but maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. There are eight of these anthology-style books in total, and we’ll be reading the first two before we get back into long-form fantasy novels set in Magic’s earliest days.

Full Disclosure: The images of books in this review will take you to Amazon.com where you can purchase these books (and many more items, so I’m told). If you do so, Hipsters of the Coast will receive a small percentage of your money which will be used to ensure columns like this and many others can continue to exist.

52 in 52 is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.


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