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

When we left Urza he had survived confronting Gix thanks to the sacrifice if his only true friend, Xantcha. Now, years later he is the disguised Master Malzra, head of the Tolarian Academy. Here he is training a new generation of mages and artificers with his partner, Barrin the master mage. Secretly though, Urza and Barrin have been conducting experiments with time in an attempt to travel backwards and stop Yawgmoth from every creating Phyrexia. To do this Urza has created his finest artifact to date: Karn, the Silver Golem.

Time Streams
by J. Robert King

The Tolarian Academy is home to some of the characters who will now be with us for at least a few novels as the war between Urza and Yawgmoth really picks up. Urza is still affixed to the past and after discovering that the Thran became the Phyrexians, Urza is determined to correct the mistakes of the past. After creating Karn, Urza begins experiments to send him further and further back in time until he can send him the thousands of years required to undo all of history.

In the meantime, through Karn’s growth as a thinking, feeling being we meet two of Urza and Barrin’s greatest students: Jhoira of the Ghitu and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Teferi is a young prankster but a genius wizard who is trying desperately to impress the 17-year old Jhoira. But Jhoira has a secret in a castaway young man she has been protecting on the shores of the island of Tolaria. His name is Kerrick and he was shipwrecked and found by Jhoira.

Of course Kerrick is a Phyrexian sleeper agent and soon the Phyrexians invade the academy and kill Teferi, Jhoira, and Barrin and surround Karn and Urza in the main laboratory with the time machine. This is where the Michael Bay version of this story begins. Urza sends Karn back in time long enough to alert everyone to Kerrick’s presence, but in doing so as Karn returns to the present the time machine explodes taking most of the academy with it. Knowing there’s nothing else he can do, Urza saves Barrin and a dozen others by planeswalking away, leaving Karn, Jhoira, Teferi, and a few hundred more to suffer the explosion.

I’m sure Michael Bay would do it justice. This is Urza: the Action Story if there ever was one. We fast-forward ten years later. Karn survived the explosion, fled the island with a few dozen survivors, and eventually caught up with Urza and Barrin who have finally decided to return to the island. What they discover is a land ravaged with pockets of time anomalies and one human survivor: Jhoira.

Tolaria is riddled with pockets of time distortion. In some of them time moves very quickly and complete cycles of life begin and end in a few minutes time. In others time moves very slowly and it almost looks as if nothing is happening at all. One thing is constant though, people can not pass through them. Having part of your body in two different time streams destroys it. There are two time anomalies of particular interest which Jhoira takes Malzra (Urza) and Barrin to see. The first she calls Malzra’s Children of Fury. It is a Phyrexian stronghold led by Kerrick. In this anomaly ten years pass for each year outside. Kerrick has had 100 years to grow a Phyrexian army and is constantly working to figure out how to escape his temporal prison.

The other time bubble is one in which time moves so slowly that in 10 years only a single second has passed. In that second Teferi was caught in the explosion of the original academy. He is a statue on fire within the time bubble. At one point Jhoira soaked a cloak in water and threw it at him. She suspects it will take 10 years to reach him, and that once he is doused of the flame he will exit the bubble and be torn apart by the time distortion.

Overall Rating: 3.5 — That is more-or-less the most interesting part of the story and I’m sure Michael Bay would do it justice visually. The  plot here starts to collapse, also much like a Michael Bay film, and the next few hundred pages feel more like one long montage. Urza builds up advanced artifacts and tries to destroy the Phyrexian encampment on Tolaria. Jhoira falls into a coma but when she awakens she can save Teferi. They travel to Shiv to build stronger metal warriors and discover a Thran Mana Rig. They travel to Yavimaya and discover Multani. During this long montage Urza assembles an army of Dominarians to defeat Kerrick.

And then, just for fun, he builds the Weatherlight and flies it to Serra’s realm to defeat the Phyrexians there as well. That part feels a bit tacked on though.

The Vorthos flavor continues to be strong and for that alone it’s worth reading the origin stories of all these fantastic characters. I’m eternally grateful that we will get more stories with Jhoira, Karn, Barrin, and Teferi because packing them all into a Michael Bay film/novel does not do them any justice. The character development feels shallow and forced. The relationships develop in a choppy fashion. Everything emotional is sacrificed for the sake of Urza Schwarzenegger. Each chapter concludes with a thoughtful monologue by Barrin, but those basically go back and forth between thinking Urza is sane and Urza is mad. In the end we think he’s sane, but we also thought that much at the end of the last book.

Next Week’s Book—Bloodlines by Loren L. Coleman

Next week we dive into Urza’s Bloodlines project which will be the culmination of his work and bring us to the Weatherlight saga in a few weeks. We continue at the Tolarian Academy six months after the events of Time Streams conclude. It turns out the Weatherlight is not enough. Urza needs to build the Legacy Weapon and he tells Barrin that he needs to breed the heir who will eventually captain it…

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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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