Editor’s Note: We’ve tried to keep the number of story spoilers to a minimum but this review does contain details about the story that some might consider spoiler-adjacent. 

On Wednesday, Wizards of the Coast released Children of the Nameless, a novella by Brandon Sanderson set in the Magic multiverse. While I’ve heard Sanderson’s name before, I wasn’t familiar with any of his works beyond their reputation, so I went into this book blind.

That was both a blessing and a curse. Children of the Nameless is first and foremost a mystery, and there are many elements of its narrative which would suffer greatly if revealed or hinted at too early. At the same time, I was a bit put off by how odd the premise seemed when I first started reading, and it took me a while to get into the flow of the story as a result.

If you’re looking for a piece of the larger Bolas-centric arc from the past few years, this isn’t it. Children of the Nameless is a currently a standalone and self-contained story, although it very much feel like a setup for the next big story after the Bolas arc concludes this spring, whatever that winds up being.

Children of the Nameless is Set on Innistrad with Two Main Characters

Despite featuring a planeswalker as one of the two point-of-view characters, the bulk of the story takes place on Innistrad after the events of Eldritch Moon. Over the course of the story we get small hints about the fate of the plane as a whole: Sigarda is the new archangel of the church, for example, and the spell imprisoning Emrakul has left a gigantic rune inscribed on the moon that is visible every night.

Other than tiny hints like these, we get next to nothing about the established cast of characters. Instead, the story is confined to a tiny, backwoods community in Kessig or Stensia, with a small cast of wholly original characters. This story is about the people of Innistrad, who live with monsters constantly at their door and have seen their protectors turn against them when they were needed the most. To quote our newest addition to the cast of planeswalkers, Davriel Cane: What other worlds whisper, Innistrad screams. Your dreams and aspirations come second to your duty to reproduce and be eaten in turn.

Speaking of the newest planeswalker, Davriel is a walking contradiction. He is a diabolist and a demon-summoner, both fanatically meticulous and yet comically unmotivated. He’s hate-able from the very first page in a way that most villains can’t quite achieve with a full book’s worth of atrocities. On paper, he should be a frenetic mishmash between Liliana, Ob Nixilis, and Dack Fayden, but in action his personality seems like a colder take on the general Elspeth trope—a planeswalker seeking the simple things, with little desire to see the wider multiverse.

We quickly learn that Davriel is on Innistrad to hide from his past, which haunts him (literally) in the form of a mysterious voice in his head. He treats everyone around him with a contempt that borders on insanity, and yet over course of the story I found myself empathizing more and more. I won’t say that he’s a likable character, but he is an understandable one. According to Brandon Sanderson, Davriel’s character is Blue/Black, with his complete rejection of morality kept in check only by his impulsive and lazy nature.

The other main character is Tacenda, young girl who, in the grand tradition of Innistrad, is both subject to a terrible curse and the wielder of a little-understood power. Fittingly for a child of fifteen, she is idealistic and headstrong, a Green/White character to Davriel’s Black/Blue. The story picks up at a turning point in her life, as her magic fails her for the first time and her village is massacred by one of Innistrad’s many monsters. Much of the story’s emotional weight comes from Tacenda’s quest to find meaning in the remnants of her shattered life. That provides necessary balance to Davriel’s detachment, which would undermine the stakes of almost any narrative he was placed into. Likewise, the planeswalker’s presence keeps the Tacenda’s grim narrative from ever becoming bogged down by the grisly events that unfold.

At the outset these two characters stand in stark contrast, with their Black and White elements in direct opposition to each other. Yet the story revels in shades of gray. Darivel himself lives by Black’s mantra of “there is no right or wrong, only what society has labeled as such.” In fact, the very qualities that make him so initially hate-able are eventually revealed to be the only things keeping him from being a far worse monster. Tacenda’s arc begins in a place of conventional morality, where humans are good and the monsters hunting them are uniformly evil. However, as she finds herself going to greater and greater extremes, she is forced to realize that everyone has a dark side. Especially herself.

I won’t go into too many details for fear of spoilers, but I will say that the story made me feel sympathy for genuine, soul-stealing demons. And it did so without apologizing for or justifying their actions.

Children of the Nameless is Well-Written and Worth Your Time

I have very few criticisms of Children of the Nameless. Sanderson’s quality of writing is excellent and the only questions I was left after my first read-through were those Sanderson left deliberately unanswered. I will say that one of those unanswered mysteries left a sour taste, at least for me, but Sanderson clearly decided not to provide that answer.

The highest praise I can give this story is that it earns everything it does. There are quite a few plot twists, because, ya’know, mystery. But they all feel like they make sense in the world and the don’t contradict anything that came before in Magic’s story. There’s also a lot of seemingly throwaway details that come back much later in the story, sometimes two or three times after you thought they’d served their purpose. And despite all of that, it’s never a hard story to follow.

The action is clearly written if never truly breathtaking, and every named character is believable and multifaceted. (Except the ones who are already corpses by the time the prologue is over.) Davriel and Tacenda both get a lot of development, especially considering the fact that this isn’t a full-length novel, and they play of each other wonderfully. While Davriel is occasionally grating in his constant disaffection, it’s clear that everyone around him feels the exact same way. I wouldn’t call Children of the Nameless a fun read necessarily, since there’s a lot of death and most of the humor is of the gallows variety; but it is an easy read and I’d consider it well worth the investment of an afternoon or two.

Children of the Nameless isn’t really a story for fans of the Gatewatch. Or even for fans of Innistrad, necessarily. It’s just a good, well-written story that happens to take place in the Magic multiverse.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0

Levi Byrne has been with the game since Worldwake and has a rabid love for fantasy writing that goes back decades. Despite some forays into Legacy he plays Commander almost exclusively, and has a love for the crazy plays and huge games that make Magic what it is. He was the go-to advisor of his playgroup on deck construction for more than five years before joining Dear Azami.

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