My first substantial introduction to the world of Magic the Gathering was through the comics written by Matt Forbeck for IDW Publishing. They introduced me to the planeswalker thief Dack Fayden through some really fun adventures across the Multiverse. Since then, I’ve taken up the game itself, and now I play fairly regularly and follow tournament coverage as well. Naturally, my interests would also lead me to other Magic fiction, specifically the novels, and I’ve read a few of them in the last couple of years, the most recent being Cory J. Herndon’s Ravnica: City of Guilds.
The first of the Ravnica Cycle trilogy, this novel follows a lieutenant of the League of Wojek, Agrus Kos, as he undertakes a murder investigation that draws him into a conspiracy that will shake up the entire world of Ravnica. As a fan of the setting, I really appreciated Herndon’s detailed descriptions of Ravnica and its many citizens, which really helped to bring the world alive in my mind. I’m not familiar with any of the characters here, but that’s the thing about Ravnica: City of Guilds, you don’t have to know anything about Magic the Gathering to enjoy it, though that does help.
In terms of the card game itself, the Ravnica block is widely regarded as one of the best blocks in the game’s history. And with good reason too. When it released, it had a huge impact on playability, lore, flavour, everything, and also marked a turning point in the design and development of the game. As such, any work of fiction related to it has some pretty high standards to meet. Cory’s novel doesn’t quite hit the right notes in that regard, but it does offer a delightful overview of the City of Guilds.
What I loved most about the novel was that it was a fantasy-style murder mystery. You’ve got all the relevant elements present, and the backdrop of Ravnica, not to mention the in-universe upcoming Decamillennial festival really spiced things up. Lieutenant Agrus Kos is our main protagonist here, though we do get to see a few others such as the Golgari noble Jarad, the imp merchant Pivlic, the loxodon saint Bayul and many others besides. Cory pretty much takes a tour of the world-spanning city and its inhabitants, and that’s the really fun part. It is what I expected, and it is what I got.
However, at times I felt as if Cory was going into too much detail and stringing out the plot. This is very apparent in the way that he approaches the flashback sequences, which are through the perspective of Kos. There’s a shameful secret that he bears from his early years as part of the Wojek League, the peacekeepers of the city, and the entire mystery of it is doled out in long sequences which seemingly go off in tangents. It was easy to get lost in the long descriptions and just get bored, only to be jolted to attention when the perspectives shifted.
Nevertheless, Cory has a good command over his characters, and each of them feels fleshed-out and relevant. There are plenty of twists and turns in the novel to keep you going, and the final twist is certainly something to whet the appetite. If there’s one thing here that I can really criticize Cory on, it is that he was very ambitious in his story-telling, dealing with too many big mysteries as they pertain to the plane of Ravnica and its ten-thousand year history since the Guildpact accord that formed the basis of live and governance in Ravnica.
If you want a big, flashy story, then Ravnica: City of Guilds has something to offer you. If you want a diverse cast of fun characters, that is there as well. Something for everyone. And in the end, it is also a good introduction to the world of Magic the Gathering, though I should point out that given the nature of the setting, the setting of Ravnica offers a very small window into this fictional universe, and that a diversity of experience is recommended.