Myles's Reviews > Arena

Arena by William R. Forstchen
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's review
Jan 15, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, shared-universe, mtg

The pacing and the simple plot operate like greased pistons in Arena and there's lots and lots of gory, liquifying, burning death and PG winks towards that thing that mommys and daddys do when they love each other very very much. A very American sense of priorities. I'd expect no less from an author who collaborates with Newt Gingrich in a series of at least seven historical novels. I want to put scare quotes on that historical but...must...resist. I'm sure they're great. Arena is not a great novel, or good in most senses of the word, but it's not terrible.

The scale of violence in Arena is incredible and so impersonal. Early in the book Garth is escorted through some back alleys to a safe house and they pass a rubbish heap with some legs sticking out. His guide (and implausibly, (view spoiler)) says "So that's what happened to her." That's the only time a death of a non-central character is given any notice. Otherwise it's "hundreds" of men, women and children being crushed, snapped, liquified (happens all the time), or stabbed at a go. It's always "the mob" this, or "the mob" that. The Fighting House Masters are cartoonishly villainous, but the real disdain seems to be towards the general mass of humanity and how they need a proud noble man to lead them in the right direction.

This was the first exploration of Magic: The Gathering beyond the flavor text of the cards, and was published in November 1994, the Armada comics would follow throughout 1995 and 1996 with bimonthly novel releases. The barrage of comics and novels in those two years is impressive. People were really eager to invest in a franchise built off of a trading card game. Maybe the impending death of the Baseball card market had something to do with it?

Sidebar: By the way folks if you collected sports cards after 1985, you are shit out of luck, blank cardboard stock is worth more--no matter what your parents told you.

For the first-step of an emerging franchise Arena does well, the plot isn't expected to withstand scrutiny, it's just an excuse to describe a bunch of killer spells and fights, which it does. Forstchen doesn't go overboard and try to flesh out a fictional society. He likely knew he'd be bad at it and would wind up writing something like Dark Legacy (which, fittingly was the last of the HarperPrism books), a purpled High Fantasy mess. No, Forstchen knows that feelings have no place in THE ARENA and within Garth One-Eye. At least until the end when he can (view spoiler). I knew they would do something with that character!

As another reviewer said, Arena is readable. His assessment is spot on and I'm pleased that I'm not the only one trying to take these books seriously.
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Reading Progress

January 15, 2011 – Shelved
March 25, 2011 – Shelved as: fantasy
March 25, 2011 – Shelved as: shared-universe
October 11, 2011 – Started Reading
October 11, 2011 –
page 82
October 12, 2011 – Finished Reading
October 24, 2011 – Shelved as: mtg

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