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

This week we have a new treat for you which is the complete reading plan of 52 books for this year! You can check it out by clicking the “52 in 52 Book Guide” link above. This way you can get books ahead of time, read along or at your own pace, and then check out the reviews when they’re available! Now, onto week two’s book!

Whispering Woods by Clayton Emery

Whispering Woods, similar to Arena, is focused on introducing us to a world where powerful Wizards sling spells at one another, summon amazing creatures to do their bidding, seek powerful artifacts to fuel their energies, and sometimes even gain enough power to walk between worlds. Clayton Emery builds some of the earliest Vorthos lore by painting vivid pictures of Rock Hydras, Clockwork Steeds, Ironclaw Orcs, Goblin Balloon Brigades, and even a Fungusaur among many others. Unlike Arena, however, we follow the story through the eyes of Gull, who is not a wizard, and his sister Greensleeves, who is something of a simpleton (at least at the start of the story).

Once again, most of our cast of characters are myopic and lack any sort of depth. Gull is the eldest-born son of a woodcutter who inherited the job of cutting wood from his father and after his entire family and village are destroyed (save his simpleton sister) he is hired by one of the wizards who ruined his life. He immediately becomes the guardian/protector/white knight as he saves women from rape, protects the weaker caravan members from bullies, defends the honor of prostitutes, and of course is always looking after his (simpleton) sister. The rest of the cast is similarly hyperbolic. Towser the Wizard is bored by his traveling caravan and seeks only power and knowledge. Lily the dancing girl/prostitute is looking for love and protection. Kem the bodyguard is the bully who stole your lunch money in school. Moraven the navigator is the wise old traveler. Greensleeves is the simpleton sister who literally only exists for half the book because you know something about this “simpleton” status is going to change eventually. Seriously, it’s the most predictable thing ever.

Where Whispering Woods shines, similar to Arena, is in the descriptions of combat. Our story begins almost right in the middle of a duel between two Wizards. We don’t know why they’re fighting or who they even are. Gull is cutting wood, musing about a shooting star that crashed in the nearby Whispering Woods a few weeks back, when his entire village and family is razed by these godlike beings. Being a good Mary Sue character, Gull is able to fight off attackers, protect his sister, save a villager from rapists, and organize a resistance. Of course it’s all for naught when one of the wizards uses a Weakness spell and one of them uses an Earthquake and that’s pretty much the end of Gull’s village.

We eventually learn what the Wizards are after. The shooting star that crashed nearby is one of these:

It seems that the story here is how many ways can Clayton Emery give Gull hope and then bring it crashing back down. He saves a village from rape. She gets all flirty with Gull. Gull gets flirty back. Then she dies from plague. This happens in a span of about 12 hours. The entire village is in shambles and Gull doesn’t know how they’ll survive the winter but the wizard Towser gives him hope by hiring him to be his new freightmaster. Then that night one of the bodyguards tries to kill Gull. Later on it turns out that Towser is only interested in the “simpleton” sister and banishes Gull along with some of his friends to a remote island to rot forever.

But Gull has a secret power that Towser doesn’t know about. Gull is a Mary Sue and as such he’s actually invulnerable to whatever crap any wizard throws at him. First, even though he’s never been trained in combat, the son of a woodcutter is able to continually fight toe-to-toe with soldiers and bodyguards. We’re told repeatedly that Gull has a bad knee but it never costs him a fight. Even when he’s whisked away to a remote island, it turns out that Lily, the prostitute who’s taken a liking to him, and Greensleeves, his “simpleton” sister, are both actually wizards!

Who saw that coming? Oh, everyone?

Lily manages to summon Gull back from his expulsion just in time to save Greensleeves from ritual sacrifice (on a Basalt Monolith no less) at the hands of Towser. Greensleeves, suddenly aware of her magical powers, begins summoning everything she can think of but she can’t  control any of it. In the end she summons one of these to end her battle with Towser:

Towser’s body is never found, which is good, because we obviously need a villain for the sequel. Gull, Greensleeves, Lily, and a few other survivors form an alliance and vow to use their wizarding powers for good! There’s two more books in this series so I think we can assume a Star Wars-esque continuation for our heroes with a downer in the second book but an uplifting heroic victory in the final book. Expect more plot twists.

I have to admit, even though the book is full of tropes, and the main characters are flawless (despite all the flaws the author swears they have), I’m really interested to learn more about Greensleeves become a full-fledged Wizard and “doing good.” Her claim to fame in this book is summoning a Fungusaur! How cool is that?

Ultimately, Whispering Woods strengths are the same as Arena’s. The spell-casting is incredibly flavorful. Walls of Wood are summoned from one part of the world to another. Orcs and Goblins are contracted by wizards to be summoned into battle at a moment’s notice. It’s really a treat, especially for those of us who’ve played Magic for so long, to read the descriptions of spells being cast or creatures being summoned and conjure up the image of the card in our mind. I’m looking forward to reading more of Clayton Emery’s action writing, even if his characters are mostly uninteresting and his plot is mostly predictable.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5.0

Aside—Sewers of Estark

Sewers of Estark and Arena were the two promo cards you could get via mail order from buying these books. In Whispering Woods it is revealed that there is a city called Estark where wizards battle once a year to curry the favor of a powerful Planeswalker. This pretty much confirms that Estark is the city in Arena and that this story takes place in the same world. That world is called “The Domains” but I think we all know it’s Dominaria. I mean, what are the odds, right? Oh, and when these books went to print they may not have decided on a name yet, since the card image on the back cover for Sewers of Estark says Sewers of Cityname. Whoops?

Next Week’s Book—Shattered Chains by Clayton Emery

Shattered Chains is the second book in the trilogy and has this blurb on the back:

“To common folk like Gull and Greensleeves, wizards were a blight on the land. When Greensleeves discovered her own magical ability, she decided to use it to break the power of the other wizards.”

“Gull’s army helped, but not much—and Gull wasn’t much of a general. Their Mana Vault might have helped, but she hadn’t learned how to control it. Then a Hero of Benalia was sent to stop them and their Mana Vault came alive. Things couldn’t get any worse.”

“Or so they thought until the other wizards caught on to what Greensleeves was doing.”

Oh man, it’s going to be the Empire Strikes Back of Magic the Gathering! Also, everyone loves a good Benalish Hero!

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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