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Written Review – The Secretist [Magic: the Gathering Novella]

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One of the things that really keeps me playing Magic: the Gathering is the winding storyline that comes behind the game. Of course the cards look cool and the mechanics are fun, but what really enhances a game is its storyline. The latest block in the game, Return to Ravnica, was accompanied by a novella written by Doug Beyer. This novella, titled “The Secretist”, comes to us in three different parts, resembling the three different sets from the Return to Ravnica block: Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Maze.

Throughout my Magic career I’ve collected the books that came with each set, explaining in detail the story of the plane you’ll be playing in (each set is a different plane of existence in Magic, where different people and beings exist). Back in the day Wizards of the Coast used to put actual paperback books in the Fat Packs for each set, but they’ve since done away with that in favor of digital novellas which they can sell for a couple of bucks a piece. This helps the die-hard fans still be able to grab the stories they want, while players who don’t care so much won’t have to end up with books they don’t need.

The Secretist tells the story of the legendary city of Ravnica, the city of guilds. In three parts we learn how the Planeswalker Jace Beleren gets caught up in the middle of a giant guild feud and fights to resolve it without losing the one thing he cares about. I’ve read each part, and I’ll go over them individually, hoping to not dish out too many spoilers for those who wish to read the series themselves.

Part One: Return to Ravnica

Jace Beleren is on to something. He’s been working hard with his Vedalken friend, Kavin, deciphering clues and examining stonework because he believes Ravnica is holding a secret. The Guildpact is no longer in effect and without it the guilds are at each other’s throats. After some clever sleuthing and use of his mind magic. Jace stumbles upon a huge secret found in the mind of the Izzet guild leader, the legendary dragon Niv Mizzet. After learning this mysterious information Jace begins to freak out, and starts becoming paranoid. Emmara Tandris, emissary of the Selesnya guild, is Jace’s one true friend in all this, and he believes she will be placed in danger if he continues to hold these secrets in his head. He effectively casts Mind Sculpt on both himself and Kavin in efforts to alleviate the situation, but it only makes things worse. After Emmara gets kidnapped, a fatigued Jace Beleren must find her at all costs. Looks like his mind wipe was all for nothing.

Part Two: Gatecrash

In the previous book Jace learned of a maze running throughout the streets of Ravnica. By stumbling in on Niv Mizzet’s mind he learned of a very powerful secret that he had to cut out of his own mind. His friend Emmara got kidnapped by Rakdos thugs and Kavin was nowhere to be seen. In his search for Emmara, Jace crosses the path of Exava, a Rakdos blood witch. She sends him through the paces, and he finally balls up the strength to dive into her mind to get information on where his friend was taken. This leads him to the Undercity, where he comes face-to-face with a Golgari troll named Varolz. Luckily he finds his kidnapped companion and learns that some Dimir influence is running things. We meet Mirko Vosk, a vampire who spends a lot of time being a lapdog, and Lazav, a crazy Dimir shapeshifter. Ultimately Jace learns that he’s under the gun of the Izzet, Azorius, and Rakdos guilds and must do something in order to set things right. Lavinia, an Azorious officer, is hot on Jace’s tail and wants to bring him in for questioning as he’s broken several laws and needs to be put in timeout. We learn together that Lazav wants to bring himself to ultimate power, so he’s whispering the wrong things into the right ears to get the job done. Things have gotten real complicated for Jace, and after being bitten by Mister Vosk himself, he rids himself of the need to stay in Ravnica, even if it’s just for a bit.

Part Three: Dragon’s Maze

At this point it looks like a war is going to break out between the guilds. The Rakdos are marching through the streets, tearing up everything in their path, and while Jace had an uncomfortable run-in with Ruric Thar, a great Gruul ogre, the beast offers his help in efforts to get Jace’s memories back. People are fighting in the streets, and Ral Zarek, the new Izzet Planeswalker, is shooting everything he can with lightning. Right before things take a turn for the worst, Zarek delivers a message to everyone from Niv Mizzet: there’s a maze running through this city, and all of the guilds must participate to make it to the end. Each guild is to appoint one runner and meet at the beginning of the maze to kick things off. The bulk of this story centers on the race itself, which I feel happens rather quickly. Jace comes back from his little Planeswalk and learns even more secrets about Azor and the Implicit Maze, and finally realizes what must happen to keep the peace amongst the guilds. He works with Emmara, guiding her, and pushing to get to the end of the maze. Once at the end the couple find the rest of the maze-runners at each other’s throats. Jace uses a big spell from his repertoire to help aid the maze-runners before all hell breaks loose. The book finally comes to its conclusion with revealing what was really at the end of the maze, and how important of a role Jace actually plays in the lives of those in Ravnica.

The Verdict

All together The Secretist was a great collection of stories. It helped explain what’s happening in Ravnica, and what’s changed since we last set foot on this plane. My issues with the story were few, but they sort of bothered me for longer than I’d have liked. Lazav revealed himself as a manipulative shapeshifter who wanted power for himself. After a run-in with Jace, and some spotting here and there during the race, he sort of disappeared at the end of the book. There wasn’t really a conclusion with him, and I really missed that he didn’t pay for his actions in twisting the guilds against each other. I also didn’t really like how Ral Zarek came off as a completely arrogant prick. Of course this was to the discretion of the author, but I feel like there was a lot with Zarek that wasn’t resolved. My main issue is that there wasn’t any real resolve with any of the main characters, and with a final set in the game where many important individuals were revealed, we didn’t really learn more about them.

On top of this, a new Planeswalker was completely left out. Domri Rade, the Gruul Planeswalker, was nowhere to be seen. I feel like this story was turned a bit too much into a love story between Emmara and Jace, and all the while Jace just comes off as a wimp throughout most of the tale. These are just things that got under my skin, but The Secretist still does a good job of giving you enough information for you to learn what the Implicit Maze was about, and the secrets that lie within the streets of Ravnica. The good thing is that the novella only costs about $2 per part, so you can afford to give it a try.