(A book review)
A collection of short stories set in the Magic: the Gathering world of Dominaria, exploring the legendary figures, races, and events depicted or referenced on the game's cards. Most of the collection's stories feature a short narrative frame, within which someone tells a story from Dominaria's past.
Published by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) in 2000 and edited by Jess Lebow, this book was part of WotC's efforts to expand beyond its dominance of the gaming world into fantasy fiction based in the same universe1. Myths' structure was less artificial than 1999's The Colors of Magic, and Myths was generally better-reviewed that its predecessor. It was followed in 2002 by The Secrets of Magic, edited by Lebow, and in 2003 by The Monsters of Magic edited by J. Robert King.
Editor Jess Lebow is the author of several MtG short stories, as well as Wind of War (a Legend of the Five Rings novel) and The Darksteel Eye (a Magic: the Gathering novel). His blog says that he is at work on a new Forgotten Realms novel, Master of Chains.
Blue Moon by Paul B. Thompson, (profiled in Colors)
Blue Moon leads off. I didn't like it much more than I did Thompson's effort in Colors. He still telegraphs the punch line, though the story is stronger. The visual imagery here is a better than the previous tale, but the narrative framework is perfunctory and adds nothing to it. Easily skipped.
The Isle of the Lost by Vance Moore, (profiled in Colors)
Isle also resembles its sibling tale in Colors. There I wrote that the "telling was confusing and the evil-defeats-itself ending was trite" and I feel the same way about this tale. Not recommended -- Moore needs to try writing a likable character into his work.
Leviathan by Philip Athans, a TSR/WotC author who has written several Forgotten Realms novels.
Leviathan is a very short tale which contains my favourite narrative framework of the collection, featuring intelligent crustaceans. Sadly, I didn't like the just-so story inside of how merfolk tribes divided and life came onto the land. Skippable -- and for even better crustaceans, read Robert Silverberg's Homefaring in Sailing to Byzantium.
Phyrexian Creations by J. Robert King, (profiled in Colors)
Creations lacks the standard narrative framework, instead mixing present tale and past legend through intercut passages. It's a well-told tale with a compelling lead character and a well-constructed dark-magic race. It contracts well with Moore's inferior effort -- King shows us how the tale of evil can be compelling and gives us a strong and satisfying conclusion. A strong entry, and a good read.
The Deathbringer by Jonathan Tweet, (profiled in Colors)
Deathbringer's narrative framework is woven into the main tale, as an apprentice assassin learns how mortality came to the world. Another just-so story, dark but tightly told, yet I couldn't make an emotional connection to the characters. I was disappointed in this story's failure to realize its potential.
Keldon Fire by Scott McGough, a WotC staffer for whom this story was the first professional sale. He has since written the MtG novel Outlaw: Champions of Kamigawa.
Fire left me with mixed feelings -- the pacing is slow, and the famous WotC sexual-equality policy seems ham-handedly grafted into an essentially male story line. Yet the core of the tale, in which a candidate warlord faces solitary trial of body and spirit in the mountains, seems to create an interesting culture for MtG's Keldon race. It's a slow, fat story with a lithe and limber one struggling to get out -- I think this is Jess Lebow's failure as editor, more than the author's. Not recommended.
The Lady of the Mountain by Will and Daneen McDermott. Daneen is a puzzle and game designer and former WotC staffer (she was continuity manager for MtG). She also placed stories in Secrets and Monsters.
Lady was one of my favourite stories in the collection. A young dwarf learns the legend of her world's creation and in so doing of her place and duty within her clan. Told with a light tough and strong characters who feel powerful emotions, this is a nice fantasy story which could stand on its own outside the MtG framework. A strong entry, recommended.
In the Blink of an Eye by Michael G. Ryan. Ryan appears to be a WotC staff writer. I couldn't find any useful biographical data for him.
Eye's narrative framework is a story told to comfort a dying soldier after a battle. There's an interesting SF/F concept in the story of a woman's attempt to outwit death, but the story felt empty to me. It needed an editor to ask the John W. Campbell question: "So, then what happens? Can you write that story?" because it quits just as it gets interesting. As is, it's a setup without much of a payoff, and the weaker for it. Not recommended.
Hand of Justice by Richard Lee Byers, (profiled in Colors)
Hand dispenses quickly with the obligatory framework and dives right into its main tale. A supernatural being that embodies pure justice is created, with the sort of dire consequences that always comes from any form of extremism untempered by mercy, pity, and compassion. Fortunately the story is not about that per se, instead the insatiable justice-bringer is the engine for the tale, driving the lead characters to understand its strengths and weaknesses in order to defeat, or at least control, what they have unleashed. Well crafted and engagingly told.
Myth and the Many-Chinned Magistrate by Francis Lebaron, (profiled in Colors)
The legend is told to an ill-favoured envoy while he is tortured to death. I've read similar but more chilling torture scenes in Michael Moorcock's works, among others, and the point of the tale within simple escaped me. I just didn't understand this one. Not recommended.
I was hoping for better based on some on-line reviews, but I didn't get a lot of joy from this one, and I wouldn't buy it (I borrowed it via interlibrary loan).
Phyrexian Creations, The Lady of the Mountain, and Hand of Justice are the best efforts. I think a stronger hand on the editorial rudder could have made several of the stories significantly better.
Prepared well after the deadline for The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest, but in that spirit, to complement my previous review of The Colors of Magic. I don't think that I'll do another.
If anyone knows the author(s) of one or more of these stories, or better yet is the author of one of the stories, please contact me with any corrections or comments.
- Master Villain says The Myths of Magic was probably also an attempt to draw people into WotC's game line.