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Literature / Alara Unbroken

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Alara Unbroken is the tie-in novel for Magic: The Gathering's Shards of Alara block. Some of the events in the book overlap with the webcomics Flight Of The White Cat and Honor Bound.

Long ago, the plane of Alara split into five shards, one for each color of mana. Each of the five shards was exceptionally rich in one color of mana, accented by smatterings of that color's allied colors, but completely devoid of its enemy colors. Alara Unbroken visits the plane of Alara at the time of the Conflux, when its five shards have started to reconverge, guided by a mysterious, nefarious force. (Hint: it's Nicol Bolas.) The protagonists are a young Ajani Goldmane, who has just discovered his planeswalking abilities and is on the hunt for his brother's killer; Elspeth Tirel, a planeswalker and knight of the shard of Bant, who struggles to come to terms with what she sees as the corruption of a paradise; Rafiq of the Many, a champion of Bant investigating said corruption; and Sarkhan Vol, a dragon-mage planeswalker who discovers in Nicol Bolas a dragon truly worthy of his worship.


Plot summary in the Recap tab (contains spoilers).

Alara Unbroken provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Ace: Rafiq. The ruggedly handsome, beloved and respected by all, most decorated knight that has ever lived on Alara with a way cool name.
  • Adaptation Expansion: This novel expands upon the occurrences of the comics "Flight of the White Cat" and "Honor Bound"
  • Albinos Are Freaks: To the Nacatl, Ajani's albinism is a symbol of bad luck (called "white as death"); as a result he spent much of his youth an outcast.
  • Anti-Magic: Ajani uses this to stop the collective armies of Naya from further fueling the Maelstrom.
  • Apocalypse How: Scope: planar. Severity: societal disruption. The five shards re-collide after millennia, and the inhabitants of each go to war after being spoon-fed propaganda that the other four shards were inhabited by omnicidal sociopaths bent on eating their children.
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  • Badass Boast: "I've survived more apocalypses than you've had chest colds."
  • Bad Boss: Nicol Bolas, who uses his magic to turn one of his minions into a gibbering lunatic in the very first chapter.
  • Bad Liar: Elspeth thinks as much of herself.
  • Big Bad: Bolas
  • Broken Ace
    • Elspeth. In her two years on Bant, she has risen ridiculously fast through the ranks of the sigiled class, outranking men more than twice her age and being well-loved and respected by everyone she meets. She also suffers from any number of crippling insecurities.
    • By the end of the book; Rafiq. He has become disillusioned by real war, Bantian Magic was unable to purify the zombified child, and the procedure to give Mubin etherium legs failed and killed him in the process.
  • The Chessmaster: Bolas again, who has been orchestrating the destruction of an entire plane from behind the scenes.
  • Combat by Champion: How disputes are settled on Bant.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Discussed by Sarkhan. He wonder what horrible thing goblins did eons ago to justify being made the bottom rung of the food chain on every plane in the multiverse.
  • Death Seeker: Marisi
  • Downer Ending: Bolas recovers his full power, Ajani never gets his revenge, Mubin's etherium surgery fails and he dies on the operating table; leaving Rafiq a husk of his former glory, and Elspeth is left in despair over the corruption of Bant following the Conflux.
    • It's actually more of a Bitter Sweet Ending since while Bolas recovers his power, Ajani makes him fight himself which led him to explode. In Rafiq's case, while he is disillusioned there is a Hope Spot for him in the form of being named the godfather to a kid.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Ajani slays a behemoth, by himself, to try to win over his pride's respect. It fails.
  • Evil Gloating: Bolas. Duh.
  • Fantastic Racism: Bolas calls humans (and most everything else) rodents or "It"s. He also finds his (literal) The Dragon Malfegor repulsive because he's part demon and the demonic aspects of him make the dragon aspects look shameful.
  • The Fatalist: Gwafa Hazid sounds like this, but he mostly uses it as an excuse to act like a huge dick.
  • Fate Worse than Death: An annoyed Bolas casually threatens to kill Malfegor and sell his body and soul to a necromancer to use as a zombie slave.
  • Finger Poke of Doom: Bolas does this to Ajani. Without making physical contact.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting
  • Furry Confusion: Ajani (a catman) is vexed by Bant's leotau (a species of riding mounts that are lions with horse legs).
  • He Knows Too Much: Bolas mind wipes one of his mooks for learning about the Conflux.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: Ajani lifts Tenoch over a cliff by his neck when he questions him about Jazal's death.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: Each of the separate instances of strife on the five shards was secretly instigated by recurring baddy Nicol Bolas.
  • Honor Before Reason: Zaliki gives Ajani a verbal beating about how his reckless activities of trying to gain the respect of nacatl like Tenoch isn't noble and selfless, but pointless and stupid, and that he's better off living for the approval of people he actually cares about.
  • Hufflepuff House: Esper receives a proportionately miniscule amount of story time compared to the other four shards.
  • Hybrid Monster: Malfegor, half-demon, half-dragon.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: Rakka Mar promises to lead Ajani to Bolas... if Ajani slaughters Kresh's entire tribe.
  • Immortality Seeker: The catalyst of the whole novel is Bolas setting the Conflux into motion to avoid his sudden mortality.
  • Irony: Sarkhan Vol traveled to Jund, home of the greatest concentration of dragons of any plane in the multiverse, to find the greatest, mightest dragon of all time, so that he may revere it as the ultimate symbol of life. He finds Nicol Bolas, a dragon planeswalker not from Jund, who is in Sarkhan's own words "An avatar of death".
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Consider it a good day if Nicol Bolas refers to you by something other than "it".
  • Jerkass: Tenoch, the bully who beats up Ajani and steals the credit for his kill. Though Ajani's empathy powers suggest that Tenoch is more of a Jerkass Woobie who suffers from a crippling inferiority complex. Still a huge tool, though.
  • Jerk Jock: Tenoch
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: Ajani ventures into himself after absorbing the remnants of the Maelstrom.
  • Knuckle Cracking: Kresh
  • Large Ham: By his own admission, Bolas.
    Bolas: I am prone to theatrics.
  • Light Is Not Good: Gwafa Hazid and the Knights of the Skyward Eye from Bant and the Seekers of Carmot from Esper.
  • Living Lie Detector: Orders of monks on Bant specialize in this for the purposes of interrogation.
  • Made of Explodium: Rakka, after practicing Grixis magic, violently explodes upon death.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Bolas, behind the Seekers of Carmot on Esper, Gwafa Hazid and the Order of the Skyward Eye on Bant, Rakka Mar on Jund, Marisi and his followers on Naya, and Malfegor on Grixis.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Bolas again, pulling strings all over the five shards to accomplish his ends.
  • Mind-Control Eyes: Elspeth noted that Mubin's eyes looked like "haunted sapphires" while under the influence of telemin.
  • More Than Mind Control: Esper's "telemin" magic.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: Gwafa Hazid starts to panic about "being arrested by the most decorated knight on the entire plane. And some Rhox."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Gwafa Hazid's pangs of regret after he brings down Giltspire Castle.
  • Mythology Gag: After mind controlling a flight of dragons, Bolas wonders aloud if Serra ever taught her disciples to do similar to angels.
  • Neck Lift: See High-Altitude Interrogation.
  • Never My Fault: Gwafa Hazid, par the course for a Smug Snake.
  • One Man's Trash Is Another's Treasure: To the Nacatl, Ajani's albinism is a symbol of bad luck. The humans, however, think it's an amazing blessing, and believe that an offering of a white lion's pelt is the only thing capable of satiating the savage behemoths of Naya. Of course they want to kill him for the pelt, so there's that...
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Gwafa abandons one of his mooks, Ghedi, in the wilderness bound with a sealing spell for stealing from him.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Ajani
  • Scaled Up: One of Sarkhan's signature abilities.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After Mubin is paralyzed from the waist down in combat, Rafiq tries to unlock the secrets of Etherium to give his friend Artificial Limbs. The procedure backfires terribly and kills Mubin in the process.
  • Smug Snake: Gwafa Hazid
  • Teach Him Anger: Sarkhan helps Ajani to channel his rage and use red mana.
  • Technically a Smile: When Bolas smiles upon learning of the impending Conflux, some of his human mooks draw back in fear and confusion, unable to discern what emotion he is expressing.
  • Technologically Advanced Foe: The armies of Bant are used to honorable Combat by Champion where participants only wear armor for ceremony and it's illegal to draw blood. Black mana doesn't exist on Bant, so there are no spells that can kill, and blue magic is weaker, so mind control is unheard of. When the forces of Bant and Esper clash, the Esper mages rout them with ease.
  • These Hands Have Killed. Gwafa. See My God, What Have I Done?.
  • Trauma Conga Line: See Broken Ace
  • The Watson: An unfortunate minion of Nicol Bolas ends up providing the audience with some exposition before... well, see Bad Boss.
  • Unhand Them, Villain!:
    Tenoch: Please let me go, I don't know anything else.
    Ajani: Oh, I'll let you go, all right.


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