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.

Alara Unbroken
by Doug Beyer

Nicol Bolas has fled Dominaria and tried to outrun the wave of destruction known as the Mending that was triggered by Jeska. Unable to do so, he is stripped of his near-omnipotence and reduced to a mere mortal. Well, as mere a mortal any 20,000 year old dragon-planeswalker can be. Bolas is hell bent on recovering the power that was stolen from him by the multiverse and that brings us to the strange world of Alara, which was seemingly setup simply for Bolas’s usage.

Sarkhan Vol has traveled throughout the multiverse since his spark ignited on the world of Tarkir (known to us but not to the reader of this tale). He is obsessed with dragonkind which has gone extinct on his home world but runs rampant through the planes. He finds himself on Jund, one of Alara’s five shards. There he finds countless dragons he can test himself against. Eventually he comes face-to-face with Nicol Bolas, the mightiest of dragons, and Sarkhan pledges his allegiance to his new master.

Elspeth Tirel comes from a world overrun with monsters. She fled when her spark ignited and has found her way to Bant (though we know she took a detour to Theros along the way). Now there, she is determined to defend the innocent people of Bant from the horrors that exist beyond the Blind Eternities, a place none of her fellow knights could even begin to conceive.

Ajani Goldmane is an outcast from his tribe on Naya. He is a white-furred leonin, an albino of sorts, and has thus been outcast his whole life. His brother, Jazal, is the kha of their nacatl tribe and Ajani reveres his brother. When his spark ignites he learns of the four other shards of Alara and the impending catastrophe. Before he can warn Jazal, his brother is murdered and Ajani begins his quest for vengeance.

The four threads of these planeswalkers bring them together as the five shards overlap. Nicol Bolas has set each shard at war with each other and is collecting all of the mana from the conflicts in a maelstrom at the center of the plane. Our heroes are struggling to survive against Malfegor and his zombie army from Grixis. There are plenty of side stories including appearances by Rafiq of the Many, Mayael the AnimaKarrthus, Tyrant of Jund, and Kresh the Bloodbraided.

Unfortunately the stories never really intertwine in an interesting way. They overlap somewhat, but eventually they all just kind of end up at war in the middle of the plane, allowing Bolas to steep himself in the massive amounts of mana at the center. Ajani confronts him, and knowing that he can’t defeat Bolas he dives into the maelstrom himself and gathers whatever energy Bolas didn’t consume. The outcast leonin then uses his mystical ability to see the “truth” of a person and create a shadow copy of Bolas’s true self.

Bolas and Shadow Bolas duel and eventually leave Alara forever. Sarkhan flees, not knowing what punishment to expect from his new master. Elspeth and Ajani are left to pick up the pieces of the new unbroken plane of Alara.

Overall Rating: 2.5 — This story was a bit of a disappointment. We’re led to believe that Nicol Bolas is somehow teetering on the edge of his mortality, suffering with the effects of the Mending. In the meantime he’s able to manipulate pretty much everyone he meets including the ancient demon/dragon Malfegor and can also extinguish his enemies’ lives with just his thoughts. He seems be doing pretty okay and his plans unfold pretty much exactly how he wants them to. In the end, Ajani prevents Bolas from completely destroying Alara but the damage is done.

The real focus of the novel is the development of Ajani Goldmane, one of the Lorwyn five, as a major character. We first meet him as the outcast of his leonin tribe and get to experience his rage at the murder of his brother. Throughout though, even after his planeswalker spark ignites, Ajani is honorable and does the “right thing” time and again, choosing to take the high road instead of the easy way out to avenge his brother.

The side focuses are Sarkhan Vol and Eslpeth Tirel, both of whom have come to Alara (Jund and Bant respectively) looking for meaning in their lives. Sarkhan finds it in the dragons of Jund while Elspeth finds it in the knighthood of Bant. Sarkhan of course ends up manipulated by Nicol Bolas while Elspeth strives to protect Bant from the horrors of the multiverse (such as Nicol Bolas).

In the end, none of the characters have terribly engaging stories though the overall tale of Alara’s shards coming back together is an entertaining one. The story is worth reading, especially for lovers of Vorthos content with four planeswalkers present, but it doesn’t have the same depth of Mirrodin or even Time Spiral.

Next Week’s Book—Agents of Artifice by

We leave the strife and suffering of the newly formed Alara and move on to the first novel featuring the most beloved/most hated of the post-Mending planeswalkers: Jace Beleren. If you ever wondered where all the angst comes from, where the history with Tezzeret comes from, why Ravnica is so cool, or just what went down between Jace and Liliana this is the novel for you.

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. Please note that if you click the link then anything you purchase from Amazon in the next 24 hours (even if it isn’t this book) will provide us with a small percentage, so if you want to help support Hipsters of the Coast and need to buy a new vacuum cleaner then click away!

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.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.