Book Review: Ikoria – Sundered Bond

RyanS

Django Wexler's prequel chapters where the only good thing about the War of the Spark storyline. But how does his new novel Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths – Sundered Bond compare with regard to storytelling, plot, and characterization? Ryan Scicluna gives us a quick review of the latest in Magic lore.


sundered bond cover

I found it very difficult to come up with the right way to review this story. On one hand, I enjoyed it, but on the other, it felt to me as if there was so much more to say. Django's writing is good. However, there's a lot of missing information. As a matter of fact, the story seems to be either rushed or clumsily edited, which leads to an unsatisfactory feeling once finished. I got the impression that Django actually wrote more, but Wizards decided only to show us half of it.

To Django's credit, the half we are given does portray some layered characters with depth. Only few occasions show little inconsistencies. The plot is fast paced and culminates in an action-packed climax. This by no means translates to Sundered Bond being a masterpiece of literature, but it does a decent enough job of immersing us in the world of Ikoria.

The General Gist of It (Beware Spoilers)


general kudro
The General

The story starts with our protagonist Lukka on a mission hunting monsters together with his Coppercoats. This introductory chapter shows us how efficient and careful this group is at doing their job. It gives us some insight into Lukka and his future plans. After this first mission, Lukka is once again sent to deal with another monster that has been terrorizing a nearby region. Only this time, everything goes horribly wrong and ends with Lukka accidently bonding with the creature. From the very start, this annoys Lukka. General Kudro, the father of Lukka's fiancée, explains how bonders are like a disease and pose a danger to Ikoria's humans. Thus he sentences Lukka to be executed because bonders are considered traitors to humanity.

Lukka escapes and meets Vivien Reid. Together they travel to a floating city to find more bonders. Along the way they discover that something is encouraging monsters to attack human settlements and that the Ozolith is at the center of it all. Lukka tries to fix the situation but ends up gaining the ability to control nightmares. This gives him the idea of using monsters as an army to protect humans. However, nothing really goes according to plan. Things escalate to a point where bonders together with the other humans fight against Lukka's army. Lukka's spark ignites at the conclusion of the battle, sending him to a random plane in the multiverse. He discovers that he has retained some of the power from before and manages to bond with creatures native to this new plane.


the ozolith
Nobody knows who is behind the manipulations of the Ozolith

A Plane of Two Stories

Something that becomes apparent while reading the book is that Ikoria's cards do not actually depict the same events. Or if they do, they seem to be out of context. Let me explain. Narset is one of the planeswalker cards in the set, which usually means that she should be a key character in the story. However, in the novel, Narset is only mentioned once in a single sentence by Vivien, the other main character, and never seen or heard from again.


Vivien facing monster
Where and when does this happen in the story?

Another example is how, if you follow the plot told by the cards, Lukka is supposed to be this compassionate human who instead of hunting monsters decided to bond with one and to become their champion. See Tentative Connection. In the book, though, Lukka is ordered to kill a monster, fails, and just bonds with it by accident. Until the very end, Lukka despises his new cat companion. He uses the monster as a tool and makes plans to weaponize his newfound abilities. Lukka becomes drunk with power and even assembles an army of nightmares, which he again uses to further his goals.

This is the complete opposite of how Lukka is depicted on the cards. We have never seen such a huge dissonance between the game's flavor text/art and the actual storyline before. People who only look at the cards would usually get an idea of what is happening without needing to read anything extra. This is not the case with Ikoria as the cards tell a completely different story.


tentative connection
I doubt Lukka ever looked at his companion in that way. False advertising?

A Mystery for Mystery's Sake

Who is the villain of the story? Who is manipulating monsters to attack humans? Well … We never find out. Now don't get me wrong. I love mysteries and having to solve puzzles while on an epic adventure. But usually a book provides answers by its end. Unless Wizards are planning to release a second novel continuing the Ikoria plot, I don't see how this mystery can be expanded upon. It certainly would be tricky to do from a different plane/new set. We do get small hints as to who the mysterious figure pulling the strings might be, but nothing is ever confirmed and it is soon forgotten when Lukka gains power over nightmares. We are missing information and are given half a story.

Overall

In Sundered Bond, everything feels like it is locked for the next time we visit Ikoria. Ultimately, it's an average story with a lot of potential that hasn't been realized. It's short with missing parts that would have definitely made for a better read. It is sad to have a writer like Django Wexler not be able to tell a complete story. The general attitude by Wizards toward Magic fiction is quite concerning. Something has to change as the level of storytelling and world building has seen a considerable dip in quality lately. Another thing that is quite annoying is how the novel was only released as an ebook. I am sure I'm not the only one who would prefer it if future books —hopefully with better quality — were published in print.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.



8 Comments

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Elrohir-the-wit(2020-06-03 02:01)

I totally agree, flavor texts in Ikoria's cards provide sometimes a different, if not contradictory, tale then the one in the novel. Lukka is depicted like a laid back good guy in the cards while the Lukka in the novel is more complex. I think the novelist did a good job with Lukka, building a a character aligned with the turmoils and instincts of red mana but also someone that a common reader/player would know from the cards to be a planeswalker: meaning that his path had to meet a big trauma to awaken his spark.
Anyway, judging from some flavor texts, it almost seems like the Mtg Staff did non read the novel with the expected attention!
What do you say about the mystery unsolved is also true and my bet is that Ikoria has some magical mass enviroment manipulation behind, and of course some mastermind aswell but I also think that those kind of plots could take years (and many books) to come out of the closet like the whole Bolas saga.
I also have the same feeling i got reading Marvel/DC comics: their focus is on creating something new every time, something interesting, catchy, worth reading and playing. The continuity is left in the aftermath.
Looking forward for the next set/story/novel but haven't found anything about it yet (except that we are going back to Zendikar).

RyanS
rsci1(2020-06-03 08:56)

Elrohir-the-wit Yes, I agree that they are going with the long format story, thus building the world and the mystery first but it can be done in such a better way. Also, now that you mention it, I think you are right. MTG staff did not read the story probably because it was being written while the cards were being designed thus the confusion. I think Ikoria's ebook might have been a quick fix by Wizards due to the backlash of the missing story from Theros Beyond Death. So it all boils down to mismanagement.

macassar(2020-06-02 20:37)

Should we even try to question this anymore? It seems that the authors are only being provided part of the story, and the 'book' and the flavor texts are being created at the same time. I'd rather stick to the lore one takes from the cards.

RyanS
rsci1(2020-06-02 22:20)

Macassar The flavor texts complements the game and enhances the story/lore. It should never contradict the main story of the set as that creates a dissonance. It would be nice to return to the old times where the set's story complemented the cards instead of card design influencing the story.

vimcc(2020-06-02 11:20)

Maybe the sentence "Lukka was ordered to kill a threat, he chose to make a friend" was a reference to his -2 ability into agent lol. What it's a pity in my opinion is that Skysail and the parallel sotry of Narset doesn't appear too much in the cards (I don't know if it's the same in the story) but it seems one of the coolest places of the plane and I wonder what Narset is doing there.

RyanS
rsci1(2020-06-02 11:31)

Vimcc Everyone was wondering what Narset is doing on Ikoria, even the main characters of the story haha. Thats what I mean by having half of a story. Its so obvious that there was so much more going on but that we did not get to see.

Timmys-Emporium(2020-06-01 08:51)

I just hope its better then the TERRIBLE war of the spark books...

RyanS
rsci1(2020-06-01 11:24)

Timmys-Emporium It is slightly better but nothing amazing :)

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