Dark Sun: first half of character backstories
Hallo hallo, Sand-dudes and sunscorch-chicas!!! Desertgrrl here with my review of DARK SUN!!! I know what you are thinking, because I am smart like that. You are thinking but wait, Desertgrrl, the DARK SUN comic — so fervently awaited by we band of brothers here at the good ol’ DHSCWA (that’s the Desert Heat & Sand Comics Web Alliance to anyone who wandered in googling “sunscorched chicas”) the DARK SUN comic isn’t coming out for, like, a month, and did I get an advance copy and since when is Desertgrrl hot enough shit that she gets advance copies like she’s Nathan Rabin or something???
I AM NOT NATHAN RABIN. I am not cool like that, I am burning out in the desert along with the rest of you. I will not have the DARK SUN comic issue one soon-to-be-collector’s-item until the BIG DAY!!! But what you might not know, what I didn’t know until yesterday, is that there is a whole PILE of DARK SUN tie-in novels!!! Prequels and shit!!! So naturally I am ALL UP ONS!!!
I got all eight of the prequel novels for ten bucks from a RELIABLE SOURCE who I have to give them back to so I’ve got copies for The Collective on-order from Amazon. I couldn’t figure out when they came out and the internet has been no help (thanks a lot, internet, she said sarcastically!!!) but the inside covers all say either CYCLE ONE or CYCLE TWO, so I guess four of them came out and then the rest did? I am not sweating it because Nigel Coldwood, Ed Brownglass, and Melissa Mahasuichi (try saying that three times fast) did not sweat it either!!!
SO FIRST I READ CYCLE ONE AND THEN I READ CYCLE TWO, YOU GUYS!!!
CYCLE ONE HAS FOUR BOOKS IN IT: THERE, QUEEN OF THE DWARVES, FLEEING ACROSS THE SANDS, and LOST IN TIME AND SPACE. That is the order that I read them in because that is the order that I pulled them out of Reliable Source’s brown paper bag in!!!
THERE is about a half-giant named Thom. I did not know that it was possible to be only half a giant and I admit that I spent the first fifty pages or so imagining that Thom had a really enormous lower body, like huge powerful legs, and a skinny little upper half and tiny head, but now, apparently he is half-giant like some people are half-Irish. The book doesn’t say whether he is half-giant on his mother’s side, or if he is the child of two half-giants (or a quarter-giant and a three-quarters-giant) but I got the sense that there were more half-giants than giants out there, like being part Cherokee. Anyway, Thom has been raised since birth to be a gladiator, in this gladiator camp out in the middle of nowhere. The middle of nowhere is all heatstroke and rocks and desert scrub plants, because this is Athas the world of DARK SUN!!! He is the best and when this mysterious rich girl Cora shows up to inspect the gladiators she’s instantly smitten with PG-rated lust for Thom and his bigness, so she buys him (because Thom is a slave like all the other gladiators) and takes him back to the big city, which is called Tyr.
I was expecting sexy good times but no!!! This is a tie-in for a desert comic so instead Cora vanishes from the book after depositing Thom in Tyr’s gladiatorial pits, which is too bad because you guys she was totes hella mysterious!!! Instead Thom fights in the arena in Tyr — there is a couple of good fight scene descriptions — but then plague hits and he nearly dies, until this healer shows up and nurses him back to health. It’s another missed chance for sexy good times cause this is a boy-healer named Trevia who spends all his time wandering around in the desert saying hello to water like some kind of Johnny Appleseed. Thom and Trevia spend like the last third of the book just hanging out arguing about whether Athas (the world of DARK SUN) is hell or just really terrible. Thom thinks that it’s pretty okay, you take the cards you’re dealt, he’s a fatalist, and Trevia has a lot of backstory-laden stuff to say about how Athas used to be pretty nice and then some evil wizards (“defilers”???) messed everything up, so DARK SUN is officially post-apocalyptic fantasy.
THERE just kind of peters out, so I picked up QUEEN OF THE DWARVES basically expecting it to continue along, but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with THERE at first. It starts out about Ledis, this dwarf (like Gimli in LOTR but bald which ew) in Tyr who works for the Queen of the Dwarfs, Zahora, in Tyr, the city from THERE. The queen doesn’t seem to have any real power, like, dwarfs in Tyr are all slaves, so she’s their spiritual leader and guru like the dwarf Nelson Mandela. So of course the cops are after her (cops are called templars) and they chase her and her guys (including Ledis) into an alley and kill them all, except Ledis, who is gives up and starts running, but looks over his shoulder and sees everybody die.
Eventually Ledis goes back to the slum-palace (which is either an abandoned warehouse or else some kind of Hooverville hobo cathedral, I don’t know which) to tell the other dwarfs the bad news about Queen Zahora, but when he gets there she’s already there! Even though Ledis saw her die. So he gets beheaded for treason, because he ran, even though he saw her die!!! And I’m like WTF???!!!
THEN there’s this really abrupt transition which I had to read like four times and I’m pulling from stuff in another book to get it BUT YOU GUYS ZAHORA IS CORA!!! She is also Mask-of-Jade, the cop who killed Zahora!!! There is this lady whose real name you don’t ever get but I am calling her Cora (COROM OTP!) and she is a bunch of different people! She changes her shape and when she changes her shape it’s like her whole identity changes too, like she can’t remember things she’s done when she was other people.
ANYWAY Cora appears in the book boom, she’s been here since page one, and she first shapeshifts into Cora!Mask-of-Jade and then Cora!Mask-of-Jade killing Zahora, the real Zahora, in the alley, and then she assumes her identity!!! So when Ledis comes home he sees Cora!Zahora and that’s why he’s all freaked out. I can’t tell whether Cora!Zahora has Ledis beheaded for cowardice because of the fleeing, or because she’s afraid he’ll figure out she’s an impostor, the book really isn’t clear.
Halfway through the book suddenly Thom shows up again!!! Cora!Zahora visits the gladiator pits where Cora!Cora dropped off Thom, and then they meet up although Thom doesn’t recognize her and she doesn’t/pretends not to recognize him. Cora!Zahora is impressed by Thom’s killing power and his bigness, so she arranges for him to start fighting off-hours in this seedy dwarf gambling place, where the fights are even more bloody and stuff. Thom bets on himself and wins enough money to buy his freedom (yay Thom!!!)
That’s not the real plot though which is this thing with Cora!Mask-of-Jade hunting for Cora!Zahora and doing all this evil cop stuff while Cora!Zahora connives the dwarfs of Tyr to protect her, it’s pretty messed up. The POV character for all the Cora!Mask-of-Jade scenes is a rookie cop named Aya who apparently was raised inside a greenhouse or something because she is all the time asking stupid questions about DARK SUN which results in a lot of exposition. At the end of the book there was a scene that I think said that Aya knew Cora’s secret but I read it like six times and I’m still not sure.
Third book (okay the book I read third) is FLEEING ACROSS THE SANDS, which is about Trevia from THERE. It’s structured a little differently from THERE and QUEEN OF THE DWARVES, it’s broken up into basically six short stories about Trevia. They’re kind of repetitive, because the first three all follow the pattern of 1) Trevia is walking alone across the desert, 2) Trevia comes to an oasis, 3) the oasis is occupied by cannibals*/half-giants**/dray***, 4) Trevia doesn’t get along with the occupants at first but 5) when templars show up to kick everyone out of the oasis 6) Trevia and the non-templar people come to an understanding before 7) Trevia moves on. That makes the first half of the book sound super repetitive, and it’s not, because the people at the oasis are really different, but there is still maybe a little more of it than there needs to be.
*Okay the book doesn’t come out and say they are cannibals but there is talk about wasting the moisture of the blood of the people they kill which just screams ‘extract the bodily fluids of their enemies Fremen style’ to me
**Apparently half-giant is a stable ethnicity, if some of the people at the oasis are quarter-giant or three-quarters giant they don’t go into it
***Dray are like dragonpeople who are (“like the half-giants”???) a race of people created by some dead wizard to serve him. You ever notice it’s always male evil wizards who create servant races then abandon them???
The second half of the book is a lot less repetitive. In the fourth story (the stories don’t have titles, so I guess they’re technically chapters???) Trevia is up in the mountains where there’s a big hidden forest (which is full of cannibals he has to evade). He uses his special shaman powers to talk to the elemental spirits of the forest, and they’re all portentous with “great change is coming,” and stuff. The fifth story was my favorite — it’s the part of THERE where Thom meets Trevia, from Trevia’s perspective!!! But they skip over the part where Thom and Trevia argue, and show us what happens afterwards — Trevia talks to spirits and finds out that the plague was engineered by some cabal of evil wizards, and he and Thom beat them up.
The last story has Aya, the rookie templar, in it again. She’s escorting a caravan from Tyr to another city, Balic, which Trevia is walking alongside, and he teaches her about non-evil wizardry (“preserving”) which she claims to know nothing about. At the end he gives her a magic wand (a “bone rod”), and I think they might have sex but it’s really vague. Boy gives girl bone rod — AM I READING TOO MUCH INTO IT???!!!
By the time I finished FLEEING ACROSS THE SANDS I was really sick of Aya, because she keeps asking stupid questions that anyone who was actually from DARK SUN really ought to know the answer to!!! So I wasn’t happy when I picked up LOST IN TIME AND SPACE, which is about Aya, but it’s actually pretty cool. Turns out Aya asks stupid questions because she’s not from DARK SUN, she’s from ancient prehistorical Athas when it wasn’t a desert!!! Ancient!Aya is an apprentice wizard, she’s learning defiling magic, which is this hot new thing, from her mentor Kalak, who learned it from the guy who invented it. There’s a scene of her and Kalak and he’s telling her about how magic is all about lifeforce, which echoes the scene with Aya and Trevia and FLEEING ACROSS THE SANDS, or maybe that scene echoes this scene??? Anyway Kalak has a bunch of apprentices but she’s his favorite because she’s so pretty and nice and stuff, apparently, and then all of his other apprentices team up to assassinate her with defiling magic!!! But it goes wrong and she’s trapped in the Phantom Zone for thousands of years!!!
Then she comes out in post-apocalyptic Tyr, where she’s got templar powers on account of her old master Kalak is now KING OF TYR!!! Which is a very clever reveal, that Tyr (apparently all the “seven cities” are like this) is ruled by a guy who was around back before the apocalypse. Maybe Kalak and his peers caused the apocalypse??? This book doesn’t say.
Anyway, Aya has the defiling powers like a templar, so she ends up a templar after some kind of misunderstanding and maybe Kalak intervenes personally??? He’s not ‘onscreen’ in the post-apocalyptic part of the book but people are talking about him and I don’t know whether they’re being totally serious. Instead most of the speechifying from the perspective of the templar establishment is done by Cora!Mask-of-Jade, who first arrests Aya for unauthorized magic/defiling use, then suddenly becomes her boss in the templars (this is all before QUEEN OF THE DWARVES I think). I’m actually not sure whether QUEEN OF THE DWARVES happens between chapters in this book, or after this book is over, because after a stint in the templars Aya arranges to get out of Tyr as part of a caravan, because she can’t believe that the apocalypse killed everything and made the world of DARK SUN a desert the way it did. This is where she meets Trevia, and we get that story from FLEEING ACROSS THE SANDS from Aya’s perspective, or, rather, that chapter in FLEEING ACROSS THE SANDS is part of LOST IN TIME AND SPACE but from Trevia’s perspective??? Confusing!!!
Trevia and Aya in this book spend a lot less time with the teach-me-the-secrets-of-preserving-magic and more with this-is-how-horribly-defiling-magic-screwed-up-the-world. I think that I was supposed to read this book first, and the stuff in Trevia’s version is mostly stuff that happens later. This would make it more like the relationship between Trevia’s story and Thom’s story.
ANYWAY THAT IS THE FIRST CYCLE. SECOND CYCLE WILL BE ANOTHER BLOGPOST HERE AT THE DESERT HEAT SAND COMICS WEB ALLIANCE!!! DESERTGRRL SIGNING OFF WITH A “WHEN WILL WE SEE THAT BIG DUNE COMICS ADAPTATION THEY’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT FOREVER????!!!!”
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