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Literature / Test of Metal

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Test of Metal, by Matt Stover, is the third in the series of Magic: The Gathering's Planeswalker novels (after Agents of Artifice and The Purifying Fire).

A direct sequel to Agents of Artifice, it follows the artificer planeswalker Tezzeret in his quest to discover the true nature of the mysterious magical metal, etherium. The rest of Agents of Artifice's cast of planeswalkers, including Nicol Bolas, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, and the pyromancer Baltrice, make return appearances as well.

For trivia fans, this book is notable as the first Magic novel to be narrated (primarily) in the first person.

Test of Metal provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Actually a Doombot: At the end, Nicol Bolas is revealed to have been a simulacrum of himself the whole time, with only a small fraction of the real Bolas's power and intellect.
  • Anachronic Order: Most of the story is told through Tezzeret's flashbacks, mixed in with chapters that take place in the present. Two chapters even swap the perspective of the flashbacks, one telling the story from Jace's perspective and one from Baltrice's, offering clues to the motivations of each.
  • Anti-Hero: Tezzeret. He has very few redeeming traits, but with Bolas as his antagonist it's hard for him not to look better by comparison.
  • Batman Gambit: Tezzeret considers his greatest strengths to be anticipation and preparation, and he shows it in his machinations against both Nicol Bolas and Jace Beleren.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Lots of discussion on the subject, since Tezzeret is an artificer and takes a few opportunities to talk about applying the principles of building machines to building people. If you can rebuild a broken mind and make it useful, why shouldn't you? Particularly if it has the incidental effect of making the individual a happier person. That's what Bolas did to him, and he doesn't mind. That's also exactly what Jace did for Baltrice. And when Baltrice figures it out, she does object. Violently.
  • Character Derailment: Discussed In-Universe. Tezzeret notices that after Bolas resurrects him, his personality seems to be drastically different (mostly less prone to outbursts of temper). He speculates to Baltrice that his mind may have been altered somehow, and that as he was he might have been upset, but as he is it doesn't bother him.
  • Cloning Gambit: Nicol Bolas pulls alternate versions of himself and Liliana Vess out of parallel timelines to battle Tezzeret.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Nicol Bolas?
  • Expendable Clone: The time-displaced Lilianas and Nicol Bolases die swiftly, messily and without exception.
  • Fantastic Time Management: Tezzeret's solution to the labyrinth is to borrow Renn's time-manipulating clockworking powers and explore every single passage in the maze by observing an unlimited number of alternate reality versions of himself doing so.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Tezzeret. He tells a story of how he amused himself as an apprentice by saving his fellow students' scraps and building incredible contraptions out of the stuff they threw away.
  • Hates Small Talk:
    His voice faded to a gurgle as the dragon leaned on his chest hard enough to spring a couple of his ribs. "Banter," said Nicol Bolas, "gets on my nerves."
  • Hypocritical Humor: Count the number of times Tezzeret refers to Jace as a "vicious little gutter monkey" in his narration, then ponder just how well that describes Tezzeret himself growing up in the slums.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Jace and Tezzeret play this game early in the novel — each tries to anticipate the other's moves on Esper, each knowing that the other is doing the same thing.
  • Indy Ploy: When Tezzeret fights Renn, he has to make up his strategy on the fly — and he hates improvising. It involves injecting himself with sangrite (without any of the usual tools for doing that) slowly enough that it won't immediately make him explode.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: After a while, Tezzeret and Doctor Jest go this way and stridently lampshade it — after all, it's not often the part about "becoming one flesh" is so very literal. It turns out Doctor Jest is an aspect of Tezzeret himself, basically representing who he might have been had he not been a Tidehollow gutter-rat, which explains both his nasty sense of humour and why they seem to have so much fun arguing.
  • MacGyvering: Tezzeret manages to perform an impromptu heart surgery on himself in an empty cave with no tools, in the span of just a few minutes. He doesn't even have a box of scraps.
  • Naked on Arrival: Tezzeret is naked in the first scene. He spends a lot of time naked in the book, since he keeps getting yanked across space and time and his clothes don't come with him.
  • Paranoia Gambit: Played by Tezzeret against Jace at the end of the book.
  • Place Beyond Time: The Metal Island, where it is somehow always "now".
  • Punched Across the Room: Nicol Bolas casually backhands Tezzeret when he wakes up, knocking him into the opposite wall of the cave.
  • Pun-Based Title: One so obvious that it's easy to miss. People don't often refer to a "test of metal". The phrase is usually "test of mettle", as in spiritual integrity and resilience, but the peculiarities of Esper philosophy (where some regard flesh as inherently sinful, to be replaced with sinless metal) and Tezzeret's situation (undergoing a quasi-spiritual quest to find the source of said metal) make the punny version weirdly apt.
  • Riddling Sphinx/Riddle Me This: This story is chock-full of sphinxes, so this is a major plot point; Tezzeret has all sorts of riddles to solve.
  • Super Mode: Thanks to a quick injection of sangrite into the bloodstream.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Third-person omniscient in the Metal Island sections, first-person in Tezzeret's sections, third-person limited from Bolas's point of view in the epilogue, and with one chapter each from the point of view of Jace and Baltrice.
  • Time Master: Clockworkers. Silas Renn can manipulate the flow of time and even reach into or travel between alternate timelines.
  • Understatement: After biting a man in half for telling a bad joke: "[Nicol Bolas] was not known for his sense of humor."
  • Unobtainium: Etherium. As far as anyone knows, the one who invented it left a finite amount, some allusions to the way to create more, and then vanished completely without elaborating.
  • The Watson: Doctor Jest often serves this purpose, giving Tezzeret someone to converse with and explain things to when the story demands it, as well as someone to bounce off so that he doesn't spend the entire novel in monologue.
  • Which Me?: Turns up when Nicol Bolas uses clockworking to pull alternate-timeline versions of himself (as a zombie) and his minions into the present timeline.