Hey folks! Faultie here, bringing you a special guest book review for the recently-released Rites of Passage from Skull Island Adventures. Rites of Passage is a collection of 6 short stories, each of them detailing the origins of the various novice warcasters that debuted in Warmachine: Vengeance. Each of the novices gets their own short story. The stories provide a view of the shaping of these new characters, as well as a window into certain aspects of the Iron Kingdoms that have only been lightly touched upon elsewhere.
As a fan of short-stories, and of Iron Kingdoms fluff and fiction, I was excited about this offering. I also backed the Warmachine: Tactics Kickstarter, got all the little toy mans, and was excited to read more about them. For this first review, I will cover the short stories dealing with what I will call, for lack of a better term, the “good guys”: Allison Jakes, Gastone Crosse, and Elara. That is not to say the other characters are bad (except the Jerk of the Meredius), I just wanted to show off my own faction biases.
The Price of a Gift – Matt Wilson
The Price of a Gift is the first tale in the book, and it was written by none other than the man himself, Matt Wilson. It is always nice to read words from the mind of the man who created the setting. The Price of a Gift follows the journeyman training of Cygnar’s Lieutenant Allison Jakes. Born to a privileged station as a child, Jakes’ talents were discovered and she was off to the Strategic Academy for training. It was in these formative years that Jakes took up the duelist’s art, and she carries this forward into her journeyman tour, for better and worse. Jakes is assigned to Commander Dalin Sturgis, an accomplished warcaster deployed to Fort Falk on the eastern Cygnaran border. Their orders are to cross the Black River and hit Protectorate supply lines providing men and material to fuel the Northern Crusade. It is Jakes’ first time in command of men in the field, and things go well enough until a deadly surprise is discovered.
The story goes back and forth between her training at Fort Falk and the engagement across the Black River, and weaves a pretty good tale of what it takes to go from trainee to combatant, and from a singular duelist to a commander of troops. As alluded to in the title, much of the story deals with the nature of the “gift” of magic and the warcaster talent–a theme that runs through some of the other stories. The gift is at times as much as curse as a blessing to Jakes, both in how she perceives it and in the responsibilities it places upon her. Jakes is encumbered by her need to command her derogatorily-named Ironclad “Bunker”, and daunted by the prospect of leading men to war – and possibly to their deaths. It also offers a great insight into just what occurs in journeyman training, and how Cygnar teaches its warcasters to fight beside their warjacks. Overall, it breathes life into an otherwise shallow character description from Vengeance, and I look forward to watching her story progress through Tactics and into future books.
For all the things I liked, there’s a few things that take some getting used to. It is the first story in the book, and the book (via the videogame) may have attracted non-WM/H players to reading it. As such, it is a touch laborious in its constant definitions and explanations of things. For those of us intimately familiar with the setting, it gets burdensome to trudge through sentences explaining what a warjack is, or an arc-node, or the like, but eventually that subsides and the story carries forward.
Fortunately, this is a criticism less relevant to the later stories, as The Price of a Gift does a good job of setting the stage for the following stories.
A Tyro’s Crucible – Doug Seacat
Written by the great Bard of Bellevue, A Tyro’s Crucible follows the early life of Elara, apprentice warcaster of the Retribution of Scyrah, and begins several years before the present time. Elara is raised within the Third Chamber, a religious sect based in/under the Fane of Lyliss. Brought up within the sect from an early age, the novices of the Third Chamber are taught ancient Iosan fighting arts, and by pact are supplied with provisions by the Retribution in exchange for novices being provided as recruits upon the completion of their training. However, her warcaster talent is discovered, and she is soon whisked away by one of the Nine Voices of the Retribution for training as a warcaster and field operative. Her training is to culminate in the Crucible, which all Retribution warcasters go through, but is seemingly cut short when word arrives that the god Nyssor has been discovered in Khador. What she encounters instead signals the beginning of her real trials within the militant sect.
The story is split between Elara’s early life within the Third Chamber, and her latter training with the Retribution of Scyrah. Although the Retribution reveres Scyrah, goddess of Spring and life’s beginning, Elara is somewhat an outsider, having been raised in the Fane of Lyliss, goddess of Autumn and the ending of life. Throughout the story, she, like Jakes, struggles to reconcile her earlier training with the requirements of a warcaster in the field. This is particularly the case with Elara, as the indoctrination and training of the Third Chamber are not perfectly tailored to the work of the Retribution, and prove difficult for her to unlearn. Her sheltered upbringing also ill-prepares her for actual combat, and her first foray is depicted in a believable fashion, both in her actions and reactions to what she does and witnesses.
Overall, I think what this book does best is to transform the Retribution’s agents, even its mage hunters, from faceless, elite, ninja-elf assassins into actual living, breathing characters that have their own hopes, fears, thoughts, friendships, and doubts about their place in the world. For that I give A Tyro’s Crucible a hearty thumbs-up.
Gypsy’s Luck – Darla Kennerud
The story begins in Merywyn, in Khador-occupied Llael, early in 607 AR. Gastone Crosse is a streetwise thief who’s just scraped by for most of his life, until he happens upon a surprise find in the course of the robbery.
This find, a hefty, rune-engraved quad-iron, at first seems to be more trouble than its worth, particularly considering that young Gastone can barely fire it. As time goes on, with the quad-iron at his side, Gastone’s luck changes drastically for the better. His thefts get bolder, his name more infamous, until he decides to hit the Khadoran supply shipment into the city. However, things don’t go as planned, and the luck the quad-iron gives comes at a price, which Gastone finds out only too late. In the end, he must make a choice, and although he ends up joining the Resistance, his motivation isn’t patriotism.
Gastone turns down offers to join the Resistance on multiple occasions, and is not himself a particularly violent person. Even after he recovers Gypsy Kiss, he relies on it mostly for luck or intimidation, and his first lethal use of it leaves him scarred and tormented. The circumstances around the killing makes him all the more tragic a character. Of all the stories in Rites of Passage, this last installment was my favorite. It has little to do with the faction (although I’ll always have a place in my heart for Mercenaries), and more to do with the fact that Gastone Crosse, for all his skills and latter-earned battle prowess, never wanted to end up as a warcaster in the first place. His is a tale of wrong place, wrong time, and every gift he gets seems to turn back upon him.
That’s it for today, folks. Stay tuned for the next review of the Rites of Passage stories, where we’ll cover Tristan Durant, Andrei Malakov, and Aiakos the big mean jerk pirate.