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Literature / Agents of Artifice

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Agents of Artifice is a Magic: The Gathering novel by Ari Marmell. It's the first of the Planeswalker novel series, and it focuses primarily on the blue-aligned planeswalker Jace Beleren, although Liliana Vess, Tezzeret, and Nicol Bolas have central roles as well.

Jace Beleren, a powerful telepathic planeswalker, is the star of this show, and everyone seems to be interested in his abilities. Tezzeret, a powerful artificer, planeswalker, and power-hungry head of an interplanar mercantile organization called the Infinite Consortium, wants to recruit him. Liliana Vess, a necromancer and another fellow planeswalker, wants him as a friend and ally—or at least, that's what she says. And there are quite a lot of other people who'd simply like to see him dead. Agents of Artifice follows the young Beleren as he grows in strength, gains and loses friends and enemies, and struggles to keep from being corrupted by the temptations of power.

Test of Metal is a direct sequel.

Agents of Artifice provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Artificial Limbs: Tezzeret's etherium arm.
  • Batman Gambit: At the beginning of the book, when Liliana and Kallist are held captive by Semner, they manage to successfully anticipate and manipulate his actions in order to escape.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Jace's swordfighting lessons from Kallist turn out to be pivotal in his showdown with Tezzeret.
  • Cruel Mercy: Jace wipes some of his foes' minds rather than killing them.
  • Dirty Business: Jace quickly comes to feel this way as his work with the Consortium starts to push his moral boundaries; eventually, it becomes too much for him to reconcile.
  • Dispense with the Pleasantries:
    Tezzeret: You do us great honor with your presence. It is my hope, Nicol Bolas, that together we can come to a mutually beneficial—
    Nicol Bolas: Shut up. I hate you, artificer, and I find rare cause to bother hating anyone anymore. The only reason I'm not currently picking your spine out from between my teeth is because you were smart enough to arrange these wards ahead of time. More to the point, I know full well you feel the same about me, no matter how you choose to doll up your words and trot them out like perfumed trollops. So perhaps we can save the pleasantries for those who actually care about them, and simply tell me what you propose?
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: The first time Jace tries to alter a man's memory, he thinks he's surgically removing specific facts. The poor guy ends up a mindless vegetable.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Nezumi tribe that the Consortium slaughters comes back to bite Tezzeret, weakened by his battle with Jace at the end of the novel (thanks to Jace's timely Summon Bigger Fish).
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Tezzeret
  • Gambit Roulette: "This is a convoluted scheme you bring me. Convoluted; labyrinthine, even. A great many things must go precisely right if you're to deliver to me what's mine."
  • Good Running Evil: Liliana proposes that she and Jace usurp the Consortium from Tezzeret and put its power in less greedy hands.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jace and Kallist.
  • Honesty Is the Best Policy: When they meet for the first time, Nicol Bolas gives Jace a pretty frank explanation of how he lost control of the Consortium and his secret attempts to take it back. And then when Jace asks "Why are you telling me this?", he further explains that it made for a magnificent diversion to get him to let his mental guard down.
  • Faustian Rebellion: Liliana. Most of her actions are part of a complex gambit to gain enough power to defeat the demons who hold her debts.
  • Fireball Eyeballs: Baltrice has them when she's casting some of her stronger flame spells.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: Occurs between Jace and Kallist, and so thoroughly that neither one realizes what's happened; each one goes about his business normally, believing himself to be the other.
  • Lame Pun Reaction:
    Emmara: What brings you to Ovitzia?
    Jace: Nothing in particular. Just fluttering around the city, and realized I wasn't accomplishing anything, so I figured I'd visit a friend.
    Emmara: Well, of course you weren't. Isn't it you humans who always say, "Fluttery will get you nowhere"?
    (Jace blinks)
    Jace: (deadpan) Funny. How long have you been saving that one?
  • Limited Wardrobe: Used lightly with Jace's signature blue cloak, which he always wears, mostly for sentimental reasons.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Most of the Consortium's assassinations are covered up this way, and in one scene, Baltrice contemplates murdering Jace and making it look like an accident.
  • Makes Us Even: Jace saves Baltrice's life on Kamigawa, and she returns the favor when she catches him trying to escape from the Consortium, but decides to give him a head start.
  • Mana Burn: Paldor's manablade can sever mages' mana bonds, cutting them off from the source of their magic (and causing intense pain).
  • Manipulative Bastard: Liliana, and Jace calls her out on it.
  • Master of Illusion: Jace's secondary powerset, in addition to (or perhaps a corollary of) his various forms of Mind Manipulation.
  • Mundane Utility
    • Emmara uses magic for pretty much every task, no matter how simple.
    • One of the tenets of the Church of the Incarnate Soul is that all its disciples never use manual labor for any task if they can use a spell instead.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: "Tezzeret screamed, cursing Beleren's name in half a dozen languages, promised a thousand different deaths to the young mage, to any who harbored him, to any who spared him so much as a kind word or a friendly glance."
  • Playing with Fire: Baltrice, your basic pyromancer.
  • Poison and Cure Gambit: Gemreth's demon injects Jace with a painful venom before it interrogates him, promising the antidote if he passes the test.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Jace gets a case of it when he tries to block Nicol Bolas's mental attack.
  • Psychic Powers: Jace has a variety of miscellaneous mental abilities in addition to his Mind Reading, including Mind Control, memory manipulation, weak Telekinesis, and so on.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Jace (blue) and Baltrice (red), in accordance with their opposing color alignments.
  • The Reveal: When Liliana reveals her true motivations to Jace near the end of the book.
  • Secret Test: Jace becomes suspicious of Liliana's true loyalties, and administers one of these by confronting her with an illusionary version of Baltrice about to attack. When Liliana hisses at the image that she's on the Consortium's side, Jace reveals the ploy, and she realizes that she failed.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: Jace calls the Nezumi tribe that Baltrice massacred earlier on after he lures Tezzeret to Kamigawa and weakens him in a magical duel.
  • Telepathy: Jace's forte. He reads minds.