Magic: The Gathering – Time Spiral [Book Review]

November 1, 2008

Author: Scott McGough
Series: Magic: The Gathering | Time Spiral Cycle, Book I
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast, September 2006
Cover Art: Scott M. Fischer
SRP: $6.99
ISBN 10: 0-7869-3988-5
ISBN 13: 978-0-7869-3988-6
Pages: 314

It’s been the better part of a decade since I last read a Magic: The Gathering book. I left off with Apocalypse (Book III of the Invasion Cycle/trilogy) which at the time I thought had concluded the story of Dominaria–and certainly concluded the story of the Dominaria that I was familiar with. By then I was no longer particularly interested in the cards that made up the game this series is tied to, and with the conclusion of a story that had been built for close to 7 years, I thought it a good jumping-off point.

I was recently re-introduced to the game, and something re-sparked my interest in the story even moreso than the cards. A friend suggested I look at the Time Spiral set since it contained “classic” cards. When I happened across some of the Magic: The Gathering books at a used bookstore, I was thus drawn to this volume, interested in seeing what the book was about, the “story” that would explain the inclusion of classic cards in the actual card set.

This volume re-introduces us to Teferi Planeswalker and Jhoira, as well as familiar lands such as Shiv, Zhalfir, Urborg, the Skyshroud Forest, and other elements. Where Teferi had once “phased” the lands of Shiv and Zhalfir, now they were returning, and the Planeswalker had to find a way to ensure their return did not destroy the world. To this end, he recruits Jhoira and several others, takes them to modern-day Dominaria, and discovers that it’s been 300-some years since the Invasion and the Phyrexian apocalypse. In that time, much has changed, leaving Teferi in need of answers–how to save the phased lands and current Dominaria, but also what has transpired in his absence. During this journey, “classic” characters/concepts are encountered while new characters are introduced that interact with the older elements.

Something about the writing as the book opened felt a bit amateurish…I was a bit nervous at how the book would feel and that I would be turned off by it while tainting memories of the many books I read in my early college days, when this series was in its beginning. However, as I got into the book, I found myself engrossed, interested in seeing what would happen next, how things would be handled. I was drawn back into the story, remembered much of what initially drew me to this series a decade ago.

Many of the characters aren’t all that developed–some are downright paper-thin, virtually stock characters. Taken solely from this volume, there isn’t really all that much to draw one in, to allow someone to invest much interest in the characters. At the same time, there is a rich history at play here, that adds a bit of depth simply for that history existing. A reader unfamiliar with either this series or the game probably won’t find anything stand-out about this novel. Existing by itself, much of this book could be essentially a fleshed-out but generic Dungeons & Dragons story with contrived situations to bring a diverse cast of characters together.

As such, this book is probably one that would be of much more interest to longtime and/or lapsed fans, those familiar with the early stages of Magic: The Gathering. One gets to know the land and characters through those earlier books, and this volume continues and builds on what has come before. I am no longer familiar with current cards so do not know how many touchpoints there are between cards and book. But for this reader, the book was very enjoyable, with some great moments of recognition and remembered points in Magic’s timeline. That one encounters an “Elder Dragon” is a cherry on the iced cake.

For fans of Dominaria, particularly those who have already read to and through the Invasion Cycle, this is very much recommended. For casual fans or those who have only played the game, this book may hold some interest, but its depth will likely vary with the individual. This is no “high literature,” but it’s still an enjoyable read.

Rating: 7.5/10