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.

In the Teeth of Akoum
by Robert B. Wintermute

Nissa is an elf who hates everything. She hates other elves. She hates humans. She loathes vampires. She is a planeswalker who hates other planes. There’s virtually nothing that Nissa doesn’t hate besides nature. She loves flowers and trees and the natural order of things. Nissa is naive, innocent, and about to get the rudest awakening of her life.

Oh, FYI, there’s a bunch of web-comics that tell the story leading up to this novel. So check those out first.

The Eldrazi brood have arrived and they’re wreaking havoc all over Zendikar. Nissa leads a group of Elf warriors to defend their forest. They all die except Nissa. Then Sorin shows up and saves Nissa. Sorin is looking for the Eye of Ugin so he can put these monsters back in their place. Nissa is suspicious but believes that they need to be dealt with, so she agrees to lead Sorin to the best of her ability.

Shortly after that the pair come across the Vampire scholar Anowon (who you’ll know if you read the web-comics) and Sorin binds Anowon (though Nissa is oblivious to this fact). Anowon becomes Nissa and Sorin’s guide to the Teeth of Akoum and the Eye of Ugin.

So they begin walking. And walking. And fighting Eldrazi. And walking. And fighting some giants. And walking. And stealing food. And killing innocent people so Anowon can feed. And then they find an insane Kor woman who is possessed by the Eldrazi titans and she has a goblin retinue and Sorin lets them tag along so that Sorin and Anowon can feed off the goblins. (Nissa is still mostly oblivious). Then more walking. More fighting. More killing innocents. Then they get to the Eye of Ugin.

Along the way you learn bits and pieces of Sorin’s past and the history of Zendikar, but nothing complete or revealing. Nissa doesn’t figure out Sorin’s a vampire until they’ve been traveling together for like a month. That’s weird, especially since Nissa loathes vampires. Apparently the author chalks it up to something vague about Sorin having white hair while all vampires on Zendikar have black hair. Okay. Sure.

Imagine if Charles Dickens wrote fantasy, in that the descriptions of places and things and mundane actions are incredibly detailed. (Perhaps, like Dickens, Wintermute was paid by the word?) Except now also imagine that the writing is awful.

Overall Rating: -1.0 — I did not give this book a negative score lightly. After all, I’ve given out plenty of low scores and even a zero. So when I say that In the Teeth of Akoum deserves negative one star out of five, what I mean is that it was physically difficult to read this book. There were more than a few occasions on which I thought to myself that I could probably skip half the book and still phone in this review.

But I did not, because I love you all too much or hate myself. Both?

Ultimately this book has zero character development, zero literary devices, and believe it or not zero plot. We spend 80% of the story on a linear journey across the continents of Zendikar as Nissa and Sorin make their way to the Eye of Ugin to restore the containment spell that keeps Emrakul, Kozilek, and Ulamog locked up. They are moving but literally nothing is happening. The novel has an acceleration of zero. Then for the last part, finally something happens. Nissa becomes convinced that if she frees the Eldrazi they’ll leave Zendikar. So she frees them. (Spoiler: they do not leave.)

We spend the final 20% of the story waiting for a conflict between Nissa, the native-to-the-plane ball of hatred and racism wrapped up in the form of an incredibly naive Elf; and her traveling companion Sorin, the obnoxious extra-planar vampire who speaks in riddles and refuses to give Nissa any straight answers about anything. But it never comes. They reach the Eye, Sorin begins his spell, an insane Kor woman attacks Sorin, and Nissa uses the unplanned distraction as an opportunity to destroy the seal keeping in the Eldrazi.

And then that’s it! Here they are, the Eldrazi! And they’re gonna destroy Zendikar! Sorry Nissa, you chose poorly and now everyone’s going to die because of you. Except Sorin, who planeswalks away back to Innistrad.

This was awful storytelling at its finest. The story is boring. The everything that happens is boring. The characters are boring. No one cares about the dozen or so different obstacles Nissa, Sorin, Anowon, and the comic relief face along the way. No one cares about Nissa. She is a very transparent character who has no idea what’s going on but insists on seeing it through to the end. At least Sorin has some hidden information about what’s really going on, which makes him mysterious, but he never divulges his secrets. Maybe if he had been more forthcoming, or if Nissa had bothered to ask more questions, none of this would have happened. But it did. And Zendikar was (almost) destroyed. The end.

Next Week’s Book—The Quest for Karn by Robert B. Wintermute

Next week is Christmas. Instead of taking the holiday off like a sane person, I’m giving you all the gift of reviewing Wintermute’s other Magic the Gathering novel. If it makes you feel better, this one has even worse general reviews than In the Teeth of Akoum. So I’m sure I’ll love it.

You may want to catch up on the Time Spiral storyline so that you remember how Karn traveled back in time to seal the time rift over the island of Tolaria. But thanks to the meddling of the Weaver King, Karn wasn’t able to return to the modern time stream. Now Venser is on the prowl looking for Karn.

Or something…

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.

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