The Cursed Land
Written by Teri McLaren
Published by Harper Prism, 1995
The Cursed Land takes place on the plane of Cridhe, which only has green mana, provided by one massive tree called the Clan Tree. Our plot instigator is Malvos, a Sangrazul. Sangrazuls are immortals who feed on mana, but who are apparently otherwise indistinguishable from humans. Malvos was in the employ of the planeswalker Tempé, but he got banished to Cridhe after he tried to eat mana she was using. Now he has convinced this guy Nohr to fight his friend Haen, who is the keeper of the Tree, and to do… some vague ritual to the Clan Tree that would transport the Malvos and Nohr to another plane, where Malvos hopes to find other planeswalkers willing to help him fight Tempe. But the plan goes awry for… some vague reason. Nohr kills the Clan Tree, but he and Malvos are still on Cridhe.
Cut to 520 years later and Cridhe is almost dead. Many living things, including horses and trees, have gone extinct. Fungus and disease spread over the land. The clouds are so thick that large parts of the known world are covered in perpetual darkness.nThe people ruled by the descendants of Nohr have become predatory raiders, those ruled by the descendants of Haen hopelessly stuck in tradition. Spring wont even come unless the Keeper at Inys Haen preforms a ritual during the equinox. There is a prophecy though, that when the line of Haen and the line of Nohr are reunited the Mending (no, not that one) will occur, and Cridhe will be restored to its former glory.
The above covers the first 20 pages of The Cursed Land. The following 270 are about Aylith, the young and ineperienced Keeper who gets captured by the forces of Nazir, the last of the line of Nohr. She is then spirited away by Feryar, an elf who works for Nazir, but secretly wants to bring about the Mending. Aylith goes through some sort of spirit quest and ends up back at Inys Haen just as Nazir, who has gone completely crazy thanks to an ancestral curse upon the house of Nohr, is laying siege on it. She cures his insanity, and together they restore the Clan Tree.
Oh, and some of those 270 pages are also taken up by Ayliths cousin Jehidan who tries to save her, a Nohrish soldier called Lorris who vows to kill Nazir after he has her father killed in a fit of paranoia, and Arn, a slave-servant of Nazir who escapes and become the new Keeper in the end. But their stories mostly amount to them running around a lot and not accomplishing much. Malvos is also still around, acting as vizier to Nazir. He’s constantly plotting to restore the Clan Tree and then do the vague thing he had wanted Nohr to do centuries ago, only to get randomly poisoned, and then die in the epilogue.
My… lets call it irreverent tone in the summary has probably given away that I don’t think too highly of The Cursed Land. Let’s get the good things out of the way first though. Well, the one good thing really: I like the setting. Cridhe’s post-apocalyptic wasteland is very effectively portrayed. It is stuck in permanent twilight, and nothing grows but creepy funguses. It’s a sort of proto-Ulgrotha/proto-Shadowmoor/proto-Time Spiral mash-up. I especially like the scene where the Nohrish raiders divide the spoils of their attack on Inys Haen, and all they get is a bunch of mangy cows, some worn utensils and a butter churner. That nicely illustrates how decrepit the world has become without mana. Another interesting aspect of the world is the presence of Mirkalbions. These are mutated people addicted to a certain fungus which will die if it comes in contact with the sun. That sets the Mirkalbions up against both our heroine and our villain, who both want to restore light to Cridhe. A cool idea, though unfortunately the resolution is lacking.
First a more pressing matter: is this even a Magic story? The summary above might give you the wrong idea: planeswalkers, mana and planes are mentioned in the novel, but only in the introduction and the epilogue. Maybe in some of Malvos’s inner monologue as well. Other than that though… nothing in the book brings to mind Magic: the Gathering! There is not a single reference to a recognizable spell, artifact or creature, which is a very striking absence after the reference-fests that were the first four Harper Prism novels. Hell, they wanted to put some cards featured in the story on the back cover, but they couldn't find anything more relevant than
and Equinox! Hands up everyone who knew what Equinox did without
clicking the link. Not many people I'm assuming. But what really
drives home that this was not originally a Magic novel is the creatures that
our heroes run into. For example, there are Makanas, big, triangle-headed
lizards that can bore through the earth as if swimming through water. Cursed Land
Also, there are Shrouds, flat monster that imitate cloth and eat those that use them as blankets. Do those sound familiar to you? Well, then you’ve probably picked up a D&D Monster Manual at least once during your life.
If there had been any Magic references at all in the main part of the story I would’ve called these Bullette and Mimic/Cloaker expies an homage, but as is, they just seem to confirm that this novel was a draft for a D&D novel, with a rewritten pro- and epilogue to hop on the lucrative Magic franchise. Perhaps the Nohrish, who live in darkness and among who women can be warriors, unlike the more sexist Haenish, were originally intended to be Drow? Malvos could easily have been some sort of demon, with Tempé’s role being played by Orcus or something. No wonder Harper Prism could pump out 12 Magic books in just two years!
Being a cash in doesn’t make me dislike a story though. Nope, it actually has to be not very good for that to happen. Unfortunately The Cursed Land succeeds in not being very good. The characters are simply dull. Take Aylith for example. She's supposed to go through some sort of character growth to where she can forgive Nazir and trigger the Mending with him, but that never feels genuine. She just suddenly states that she's angry and in the end decides she's no longer angry. It doesn't help that her inner journey is show through a vision quest in which bad thoughts are represented by an evil looking plant. Metaphors are fine, but when you are using them to avoid writing actual character development you are doing something wrong.
The dialogue is downright atrocious at times. At one point Aylith sees Feryar has been beaten by Nazir. What are the first things out of her mouth? “Feryar-You are hurt. He beat you. He was angry because of me.” That is proper “As you know, your father, the king” level of stilted dialogue. Characters also have a habit of breaking out into gigantic info dumps upon meeting each other. And they talk in this odd, stilted pattern that I think is supposed to sound ye olde english-y, but just sounds odd and forced.
|But they made a promo for this book, why didn't they put that on the back cover?|
In addition to the characters and the dialogue, the plot is also lacking. The characters regularly do incredibly stupid things for the sake of moving the plot along. Especially Nazir. He has captured Aylith, and what does he do? He leaves her alone in a room with the last acorn of the Clan Tree. That mistake is actually acknowledged in the story and explained by his madness, but it's still lazy writing. Later he gets himself captured because he sends his entire army into Inys Haen but stays behind on a hill with not a single guard. How on earth did this guy remain in power is he’s this stupid?
Plots sort of meander around, often with no pay off. Some examples: In the beginning a big deal is made about Aylith’s father giving her his power, since the Haenish are stuck up traditionalists and there has never been a female Keeper. In the end Elders make a huff, it is pointed out that they have no choice but to accept Aylith since she now has the powers, so they do. No discussion, no repercussions, no resentment. After all the build up one sentence is enough to sway all the orthodox fanatics. Same goes for Lorris’ desire to kill Nazir. She mentions wanting to do this many times, and when she lies to Jehidan that she won't go of on her own to do so a big deal is made about that. “That was the first time she lied to him”, the book gravely states. So what happens? She defeats Nazir, presses her sword to his neck, and then Jehidan shows up, points out to her that they could use Nazir, and she goes “okay”. No emotion, no conflict, no nothing. Perhaps the best example involves the Mirkalbion plot. At the climax Aylith and Nazir are heading to the place where they need to do the vague ritual thing to restore the Clan Tree and they are confronted by the Mirkalbion leader. He wants to stop the Mending since it will kill the fungus his people need to survive. What do they do? They trip him and run past him. Seriously! That’s the resolution of that plot! The entire confrontation takes all of half a page!
What also annoys me is that this novel is a destiny plot. You probably know those, they're a dime a dozen in fantasy. “You are the Mender/the One/the Chosen”, “You must accept your destiny”, that kinda stuff. I can't help it, but those plots always irk me. We've seen plots like it a million times, and
brings not a single new twist to the formula. In addition to being old
hat, this worldview of accepting your destiny is diametrically opposed to my
own. Now, I normally try not to let that ruin a story for me, but Cursed Land manages to portray the whole destiny malarkey in exactly the right way
to piss me off. You see, at one point there is a flashback to Feryar
discovering that Nazir's father has raped his wife. Feryar threatens to kill
him for that, but then he is stopped by his wife because the prophecy says
someone from the rapist's line will aid in the Mending. This is not played as
her holding on to her faith as a coping mechanism, no, this is portrayed as an
entirely sane, rational and right action. So basically, as long as your
descendants are part of a prophecy you can get away with anything and no one
can punish you, is what the story seems to be saying. Just let all the bad
stuff come over you, don't even try to fight for justice, just trust in
destiny. Grrrr. Makes my skin crawl. Cursed Land
There is so much more I could moan about. How in the end a whole bunch of chapters is suddenly devoted to creating an alliance of the Far Clans, who were barely mentioned before, and who will turn out to be entirely superfluous in the final conflict, thus making all those chapters a waste of time. Or how the Lorris/Jehidan plot devolves in a confusing mess with them capturing Nazir, him immediately escaping and tying up Lorris, only for her to immediately escape herself... But I really shouldn't let this review go on for to long. You've probably got the idea. The
is not a good book, and it barely qualifies as a Magic novel. It's one
of the last books I'd recommend to people interested in the MTG storyline. Cursed Land
This book is an interesting case of how the storyline community works. You see, a number of planes and planeswalkers mentioned in this book ended up misspelled on early storyline sites, and the book is just obscure enough for these misspellings to still be in use today. For example, there is no planeswalker named Krimon. There is one named Krim, mentioned in the same sentence as Platon, so you can see where the transcription went wrong. In addition, Tempé is regularly called Tempè on the MTGSally wiki. Oh, and while Cridhe and Ilcae (the plane Malvos wants to escape to) have made it onto the lists of known planes, there is also a reference to the Seven planes of Parnash, which haven't. Apparently there are dungeons there, and Tempé has imprisoned Malvos there in the past.
|Okay, I don't want to bring any more false information into the community: there was never a promo for this book. Curse of Nazir was made for an April Fools aritcle on MagicTheGathering.com! That does mean Mark Gotlieb must have read this book though, which is quite a commitment for a joke article!|
Well, there is one benefit to barely mentioning any Magic continuity: you can’t contradict anything either.
The concept of Sangrazuls are interesting. In Roreca's Tale we saw Worzil using Rorace to hunt down mana lines, and now we have Tempé doing the same with Malvos. Later stories will move away from the "planeswalkers duel over mana lines" plot, and with that their mana finding sidekicks are also dropped. It's an interesting idea though. Later books will still have planeswalkers travel with companions, but their function is more to keep the planeswalker sane and to offer a mortal perspective.
Also interesting is the fact that without mana Cridhe starts dying. This is first seen here, but later entries in the canon like Homelands and Time Spiral will also show a plane dying because of a lack of mana. Pretty cool how later stories have at least tied
closer to the canon
in that way! Cursed Land
Nothing in the book ties into anything, so I'm just going with the Players' Guide timeline and put it approximately 4000 years after the Brothers' War.
After all that negativity I want to end on a positive note, and that is that I like how
is the first showing of several themes we’ll see a lot more of in the
future. It’s the first environmental story in Magic (By which I mean a story
about changes in the setting, not that it encourages you to recycle), it’s our
first apocalypse and our first story that ends by completely altering the
setting. In other words, it’s the first story that really makes use of the fact
that Magic has a whole multiverse to play with. You couldn’t do these kinds of
stories if all you had is one world! Cursed Land