A collection of short stories set in the Magic: the Gathering world of Dominaria. In the aftermath of the disastrous Brothers' War between arch-mages Urza and Mishra, these are stories of the struggle to survive.
Published by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) in 1999 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 universe. Colours was regarded as an uneven anthology. It was followed in 2000 by the better-received The Myths of Magic and in 2002 by The Secrets of Magic, both 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.
- Fantasy and Horror author Richard Lee Byers with a story of white magic, Angel of Vengeance. Byers' recent work includes a number of Forgotten Realms novels for WotC/TSR. Angel of Vengeance leads off the book and is one of the better stories. Some MtG game mechanics are evident (monster summoning, spell cards such as Circle of Protection)
but overall a sound fantasy short story with an interesting title character.
- Tom Leupold with Reprisal. Leupold is an award-winning reporter for the Palo Alto Daily News. Reprisal is a fun story about the tribulations of the 'regal Overseer' of a revered but hard-living Duke, whose many indiscretions our hero must cover up. I'm not sure that we learn anything about the white magic category from this story, but it's a nice light-hearted read. This may be one of the few actual 'fan' stories to make the final cut.
- Author Paul B. Thompson with Versipellis. Thompson is a Dragonlance author (with collaborator Tonya C. Cook) and has written some other MtG short stories and novels. Versipellis is, oddly, much more of a revenge story than Reprisal was, in which a scorned lover seeks magical help to take his revenge. I found the premise to be obvious and the story to be every bit as predictable and unsatisfying. What fun there is lies in the setup, after that the story seems to run on auto-pilot to its inevitable conclusion.
- Writer and game designer Loren L. Coleman with A Song Out of Darkness. Coleman is a popular author of MechWarrior/BattleTech novels. A Song Out of Darkness is as much about black magic as green. The story references events and situations in the MtG universe but the connections are back story and do not influence the ongoing action. I didn't connect with the characters, and I was ultimately unmoved by this tale. On the plus side, it is not encumbered by references to MtG game mechanics, and could stand alone outside the MtG universe.
- Francis Lebaron with Goblinology. Lebaron had previously contributed to Magic: The Gathering: Rath and Storm and also wrote the MtG novel Mercadian Masques but I am unable to find any current information about this author. Nominally a red magic tale, Goblinology starts out as a parody of academic infighting, but quickly reveals itself as a one-note joke which carries on long past its punch line. Despite 'sly' references to numerous goblin cards, this story tells us nothing about the essence of red magic, and is the anthology's weakest entry.
- Author and game designer Don Perrin with The Crucible of the Orcs. A self-described renaissance man, Don has written with partner Margaret Weis for Dragonlance and Mag Force series. The Crucible of the Orcs features the anthology's most apparent game mechanics (mana sources, spellcasting, even a wizard who is "tapped out") but works nonetheless as the title characters find themselves (as Orcs often do) between the hammer and the anvil.
- Vance Moore with Dark Water. Moore is author of the MtG novels Odyssey and Prophecy. I could find no current details about this author. I found that this story had an intriguing premise, but the telling was confusing and the evil-defeats-itself ending was trite. Given the myriad potential story lines of black, this was a disappointing entry.
- Author J. Robert King with Expeditions to the End of the World. King has written books in most of WotC/TSR's fantasy worlds, and apparently has a reputation for killing off major and/or favorite characters of these worlds in his novels. Expeditions to the End of the World is notionally a blue magic story, but the game elements of the story take place ashore, where the armies of Mishra and Urza battle. It seems to fall under blue only in that it takes place largely aboard ship. It would be an interesting companion piece or coda to The Brothers' War but seemed misplaced in this collection.
- Senior Wizards of the Coast game designer Jonathan Tweet with The Mirror of Yesterday. Among many other things, Tweet led the Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition design team. The Mirror of Yesterday may be the best story in the collection. It features game elements and mechanics, but in a way that's totally at one with the story. The tale is interesting and compelling and the plot is unique. If the characters seem a trifle stiff, it's more that the story gives them limited time and space for growth. If I had to point to one story in the anthology that captured the flavour and fun of Magic: The Gathering, this would be it.
(I'm not sure if this is the same Jonathan Tweet who gave us the excellent word Kirkliness (see http://www.jonathantweet.com/jotgametry.html) but I think it may be.)
- Author Kevin T. Stein with Bound in Shadows. Stein is a regular contributor to Dragonlance anthologies, and author of the Dragonlance novel Brothers Majere. Bound in Shadows is an oddity, a blue magic story with a nasty black-magic edge and the grittiest feel in the book (not only because it's set in a post-apocalyptic setting created by the literal fallout from the Brothers' War.) Its direct connection to game elements seems vague, yet its theme of magicians fighting battles by proxy through control of illusory creatures cuts to the heart of the game itself. I'm really not sure what to make of this story, but it's definitely appropriate to the theme of the collection.
- Game designer Jeff Grubb with the "gold border" (all colours of magic) story Loran’s Smile. Grubb is famous among gamers for many things, not least of which is co-design (with Ed Greenwood) of the Forgotten Realms Dungeons and Dragons fantasy milieu. Loran’s Smile is the last story in the book, and one of the two strongest (along with The Mirror of Yesterday). It does an excellent job of representing the theme of the collection, speaking to the strengths of each color of magic in the game world, while still making us care about its central character. The aging wizard Feldon (he of the famous MtG artifact card, Feldon's Cane) has lost his life's love and searches for a way to cope.
For current or lapsed fans of Magic: the Gathering the last three stories: The Mirror of Yesterday, Bound in Shadows, and Loran’s Smile are worth a read. If you enjoy those, the lead stories Angel of Vengeance and Reprisal may be worth a look too. The stories in the green, red, and black magic sections can be skipped with no great loss.
I tell you of those stories so that I may tell you this one....
In the late 1990s I was heavily addicted to cardboard crack, that is, Wizards of the Coast's Magic: the Gathering collectible trading card game. I was part of a regular gaming group which included a friend who was on medical disability. Dave had lots of free time to delve into every respect of the game. One day he pointed out to us that WotC was sponsoring a contest to submit story ideas for a forthcoming collection of short stories about the Magic: the Gathering universe, to be called 'The Colors of Magic'. Another member of our group and myself each submitted story proposals, and to our surprise both of us were invited to develop them into complete short stories for possible inclusion in the novel.
I had never written anything for publication other than some technical material, and I was very excited by the opportunity. The story below was written, polished, repolished, and finally sent off with high hopes. When neither it nor my friend's story made the final cut, I was disappointed but not shocked, and I waited to see what kind of stories would be included.
When the book finally hit store shelves, I thumbed it open and was enraged to see that instead of fan stories, the contributing authors all appeared to be WotC staffers or other professional authors. I felt betrayed by this turn of events, and spurned not only the book, but the rest of WotC's fiction. Not too long afterward Dave succumbed to The Big C and I lost interest in the game, too.
I subsequently made a half-hearted effort to "file the serial numbers" off my story so I could try to flog it elsewhere, but it was too entrenched in the MtG Fallen Empires setting. I could easily take out the Elves and Orcs, which were still a game staple at the time, but the main villains of the story were uniquely a part of the Fallen Empires set and not readily convertible to something else. I filed the story away and largely forgot about it.
When The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest started, the first submission was mblase's review of the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic. This reminded me of the MtG anthology, and my mouldering story. Was the story fit for E2? That depends on where you stand on fiction on E2. As a proponent of the views stated in In Defense and Exhortation of E2 Fiction, I think yes. But not everyone agreed.
But in order to do it right, I needed to find, read, and review the actual anthology...the review you have just seen. I have tried to be fair, hoping that five-year-old bitterness has dissipated rather than festered. I hope that I succeeded. If anyone knows the author(s) of one of the stories, or better yet is the author of one of the stories, please contact me with any corrections or comments.
Prepared for The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest.