Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Dark Legacy

Dark Legacy
Written by Robert E. Vardeman
Published by Harper Prism, 1996




SUMMARY 
First things first: this feels like a very dense book! It has 50 pages more than the other Harper Prism novels, and it really uses all of them! To give you an idea: last week we looked at And Peace Shall Sleep, which had 14 chapters. Dark Legacy has 52, none of them feeling like padding. I quite like that. This is the last Harper Prism novel (Still two anthologies to go before we get to the Acclaim comics though), but the line gets to go out on a high.

So... as the blurb on the back cover mentions, part of this story deals with Yunnie, a human orphan who is accepted into the Urhaalan minotaur community. The minotaurs are at war with the elves of Eln forest, but Yunnie quickly discovers that there is actually a third party involved. These rock/lava elementals, called the Niroso, and their Coal Golem minions, are manipulated by the witch Sacumon to burn down both elven and minotaurish homes, which of course the warring factions blame on each other, exacerbating the war. Sacumon tricks Yunnie into donning a Living Armor, which prevents him from speaking out about all he has seen to his minotaur brethren, as well as transforming him into a berserk warrior to lead them.

At the same time though, the book also deals with Maeveen O'Donagh, a soldier who protects Vervamon the Elder, a scholar who wanders Terisiare to write about its history, cultures and geography. They get tasked by lord Peemel of Iwset (who has a real funny name to Dutch readers) to find the Sigil of Iwset, the missing seal of his office. This quest, which is made more difficult by several members of both the Inquisition and various other factions in Iwset infiltrating their party, eventually brings them the Urhalaan valley. Turns out Yunnie has the Sigil, since he is the bastard son of the fourth wife of lord Peemel (*pffft*) and Vervamon! Maeveen's group helps defeat Sacumon and end the war, though at the cost of much blood on both sides. (The "stone idol Tiyint" mentioned on the back of the book is not actually Yunnie's, it's a giant statue of the god of the minotaurs that they animate to kill elves, but later lose control over.)



But there is also a third plot in this book! Lord Peemel (*hihi*) has declared war on the neighboring island nation of Jehesic. A war that is made more complicated by one advisor of the queen of Jehesic plotting against her mistress, and no fewer than three advisors to Peemel (*hahaha*) trying to oust him! We see this plot mostly through the eyes of Isak Glen'Dard, a shapeshifter who is secretly working for several sides as a messenger. Through him this plot interacts with the minotaur/elf plot. Several factions in Iwset want the elves and minotaurs to be distracted by their own war so no anti-Iwset alliance between them and Jehesic could arise. In the end Maeveen brings Yunnie to Iwset, which triggers a massive backstabbing train that leaves Peemel (*snort*) and most advisors dead, and the one advisor who wanted peace with Jehesic in charge.

The book ends with most minotaurs and elves dead, Yunnie mourning his minotaur brothers, Maeveen being down because Yunnie ditched her (oh yeah, she had begun to develop feelings for him. Told you this was a dense book!) and drowning her sorrows, and Iwset and Jehesic being ruled by usurpers with questionable legitimacy, while the Inquisition and other political schemers are still in place. The only one who ends up happy is Vervamon, who gets to teach the Niroso about above-ground customs while simultaneously studying the elemental beings. No wonder this set was called The Dark!

And even Vervamon doesn't get a happy ending in the long run...

REVIEW
At first I thought I was in for another story that was only vaguely tied to canon like Song of Time, with its talk of places and people that you've never heard of, like Iwset, Jehesic and the Urhalaan minotaurs (There aren't even minotaurs in The Dark!) But before long characters from the flavor text like Maeveen and Vervamon turn up. That was a nice surprise. I've said before that I don't mind if a book is peripheral to the game or the rest of the canon as long as the story itself is good, but good continuity can certainly raise a flawed book up to a good grade in my eyes. And Dark Legacy is indeed a flawed book. 

Characterization can be a bit hamfisted at times. Peemel's (*kekeke*) dwarven advisor is jumping up and down with rage in virtually ever scene he is in, Vervamon sometimes comes across as a complete idiot jelling indignantly at people who could easily have him killed. The relationship between Yunnie and his minotaur adoptive brother Mytaru is not developed very well. They are said to be blood brothers, but their closeness never comes across. Mytaru never takes the time to listen to Yunnie, dismissing his claims outright. Stuff like this makes some characters feel very flat. 

Oddly enough, it's really only some of them though. Others get nice little personality touches. Yunnie shivers whenever the minotaurs say the name of the Mist Moon out loud, since that was taboo for the humans he lived among before. Isak casually mentions wanting another Serra Angel feather, cause it makes his hat "even jauntier". Those are the little things that make characters come alive. As such, the hamfistedness elsewhere just seems to be the result of a lack of space. Even with the 50 extra pages Robert E. Vardeman tries to cram in a whole lot plotlines, each going through various twists and turns. To do that he has to paint certain characters and relationships with broad strokes some times. While that is a shame, it didn't ruin the book for me. The scope of the story and the continuity references more than made up for it. I applaud it's ambition actually. The various interconnecting plots may not be as sprawling as in A Song of Ice and Fire, but hey, at least this story has an ending! So in conclusion: this is an ambitious book, sometimes a bit rushed, but still very enjoyable. Maybe more so for hardcore storyline fans than for other readers though.

Also, Coal Golem has awesome art, but a very meh card, so it was nice to see them kicking ass for once.

TRIVIA
Dark Legacy happens on a part of Terisiare that is a not very well documented, neither in-continuity nor in the storyline community. Over on Wikipedia you can find maps of Terisiare during the Brothers' War, the Dark Age, the Ice Age and one of the current state of the continent. They were made by Hunter, a storyline old hand, None of those include the Urhalaan Valley, Iwset, Jehesic, Eln Forest or Shingol (The fishing village Yunnie lived in before going to the minotaurs). Hunter did include New Sumifa, the setting of Song of Time, which should tell you just how obscure Dark Legacy has become over the years! For those wondering: there are several references in the book to this being on the north-western coast of Terisiare, so I'd say Urhalaan Valley is somewhere in the southern ranges of the Colekgan mountains, while the cities are at the coast near it. Another interesting note: Hunter based his maps on maps of Terisiare we had of Antiquities and Ice Age. For the Dark he assumed that sea levels had already fallen to the point where Lat-Nam was connected to the mainland, but this book reveals that is not the case, as characters mention Lat-Nam being "across the straits".

The Null and the Mist Moon are once again mentioned, but this time they are called Iontiero and Fessa respectively. I like how those two are a constant in the Harper Prism novels, and thus one of the first very well established parts of continuity, but still get a different name from just about every culture we meet!

A short reference I found funny: Yunnie realizes that it's not goblins manipulating the minotaurs and elves because they always use rocks, not fire, for their weapons. That's a bit of continuity that, quite accidentally, stays true for a long time!

Speaking of the manipulators... the Niroso are creatures made of living, molten rock, who can pass through the earth as if it was water. Vervamon theorizes they may have been created recently in the "poisoned land of Lat-Nam", thanks to the magical fall-out from when the Brothers destroyed the College. A nice continuity reference to what we saw of Lat-Nam in Final Sacrifice, though unfortunately later sources have made that a contentious piece of continuity. One more entry for the list of things about Lat-Nam we'll have to resolve when I finally get to the Ice Age cycle!

I liked the Niroso though. A newly sentient race, naive to the ways of overworlders, manipulated by Sacumon... it's a cool idea. I wouldn't have minded if they, like the Viashino, had graduated to the card game. Or maybe they are already there? I mean, creatures made of shifting, molten rock, with featureless faces, living in caves under the ground...

 

...are we sure Robert E. Vardeman wasn't just the last in a long line of people trying to work out what was going on in Drew Tucker's artworks?

Isak Glen'dard mentions visiting a brothel in Sarinth. Sarinth was referenced in the flavor text of Wall of Spears, which also mentions pikemen. Pikemen is a card from The Dark, but "dudes with pikes" has hardly a setting specific reference. I say this since I believe Sarinth was destroyed during the Brothers' War... which either means that it was rebuild, or than Isak is really rather old. Either seems possible. I'll keep my eyes peeled for references to Sarinth when we get to The Brothers' War.

Final piece of trivia: "Uncle Istvan piss on it" is a fantastic curse I should start using. Anytime I can't figure out the continuity placement of a story? OH UNCLE ISTVAN PISS ON IT!

In other Uncle Istvan news: I need as many of these minatures as possible!

CONTINUITY

I've already mentioned the reference to Lat-Nam's state. Well, the story gets even more complicated here... While searching for the Sigil of Iwset Maeveen and her crew end up in the City of Shadows, an abandoned city made of volcanic glass that gives everyone the creeps. When they sleep in it Maeveen gets visions of the future, while the other soldiers get random nightmares. Only Vervamon sleeps soundly, as in his dreams all the scholars on the continent applaud his intelligence. There is never an explanation for what the place actually is. Which is unfortunate, since The Gathering Dark will later state that The City of Shadows is simply the name the College of Lat-Nam assumed during the Dark Age, before switching to School of the Unseen in Ice Age.

So if the Final Sacrifice/Eternal Ice inconsistencies suggest that there are two Lat-Nams, one destroyed by the Brothers and another that went on to become the City and then the School (presumably founded by survivors of the Brothers' attack), now we also have to invent a second City of Shadows? That's becoming a bit much... Perhaps this actually is the same City of Shadows as mentioned in Gathering Dark, and the eerie nature and the nightmares are just a spell the (invisible) wizards use to get invaders off their lawn? Giving Maeveen, the leader of the troupe, visions to get her to move on, and giving Vervamon nice dreams since they like his scholarly nature? 

Again, I'll get back to this when I've re-read all the relevant sources. That article I'm going to have to write eventually is shaping up to be quite long already!

There are also a few references here that suggest the Brothers' War was a war in which magic was used a lot. A choice quote: "Magic fights magic, as it was in the Brother's War". Luckily we can just chalk this up to this story happening centuries later. I think it's probably the Inquisition's propaganda that has twisted the image of the Brothers. After all, if you're trying to eliminate all wizards, what better way to slander them then to claim the two guys who broke the climate were wizards?

Oh, and then there is the fact that Vervamon believes for a while that the Sigil of Iwset could open the Tomb of the Seven Martyrs, which would apparently hold the secrets of the Brothers' War. "What do we truly know of the artificer twins and the Brothers' war? The answers lie with the seven martyrs in their eternal repose", he claims. We never get an explanation who those Seven Martyrs are supposed to be, or how they tie into the War, but it doesn't really matter, since the whole Tomb turns out to be a lie Peemel (*lololol*) told Vervamon to get him to search for the Sigil.

TIMELINE
There is nothing in Dark Legacy that helps us place the story any more specifically than "between the Sylex Blast and the start of the Ice Age", but the official timeline places The Dark in approximately 300 AR, so that's where I'm putting Dark Legacy.


FINAL THOUGHT
"Peemel" is phonetically the same as "Piemel", one of the many Dutch words for penis.

Yes I'm twelve sometimes. Sue me.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked this book and felt that it serves as a prequel to "the gathering dark"

    I enjoy the doom/gloom atmosphere and "magic is bad" tone that so many of the early novels enforce. Introducing the inquisition and then knowing they appear I Jeff grubb'z novel is good continuity.

    The weirdest thing in this novel is Maeveven being attracted to Vervamon and Yunnie, since they are father and son. Maeveen even slept with vervamon! Did the editors overlook this taboo relationship? Surely yunnie would not want to date someone that slept with his dad!

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