The Sword of Midras Released
Here is the publisher’s summary:
The thrilling prequel to Shroud of the Avatar from Portalarium!
The world died during the Fall.
Abandoned by the mighty Avatars and their Virtues, the people who remained were left defenseless in an untamed land. That is, until the Obsidians came. Through dark sorcery and overwhelming force the Obsidian Empire brought order to chaos, no matter the cost.
Aren Bennis is a Captain in the Obsidian Army who has seen enough of what a world without Virtue looks like and is willing to do whatever it takes to establish a lasting peace. But after finding a magical sword that only he can wield, a sword his trusted scout, Syenna, claims is a blade once used by the legendary Avatars, Aren is thrown into a far more unfamiliar battle. One fought with whispered words and betrayal instead of swords and arrows.
Running out of allies, Aren’s only hope for survival is to discover the true nature of the ancient weapon he wears at his side. In order to do that, Aren will have to turn to the empire’s enemies and, in doing so, he will discover what order at the hands of the Obsidians really means.
What Is Included
Sword of Midras is an updated version of the Blade of the Avatar novel that was released to early backers of Shroud of the Avatar in serial form; basically a chapter every month or so. In the process of the release, four new chapters were penned by Tracy Hickman, and the entire novel was professionally edited and distributed to retailers by Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, a member of Macmillan Publishers. Because new chapter icons were not commissioned, the icons that decorate each chapter in the original novel can now be found on the section dividers, of which one was added to separate some of the chapters at the end of the book. With six images on each of the four, none of the original 24 chapter images are missing, although they seem a little out of place. Indeed, they appear even more strange because the chapter icon for the Prologue IS in place.
The new chapters do not significantly expand the scope of the novel. In Chapter 6: Desolis, we get to see Monk delivering Aren’s message to Evard Dirae. We learn a little more about how the Obsidian Sorcerers function, and the exact relationship of Evard to Marcus Dirae. Much of that we could already have assumed, but it was nice to get the background more explicitly.
Chapter 7: Chamber of Souls likewise shows us more of Epitaph, which is ironic seeings as we can see the same scene, albiet some two hundred years later, in the game. Otherwise, this chapter provides only a small amount of background on the Obsidians.
The new chapter is Part II is Chapter 11: Mistral, in which Aren awakens on the titular ship. Amidst some humorous conversation, this chapter serves only to help the transition of Syenna between her roles.
The final new work, Chapter 21: Practical Men, is tucked into the middle of Part III. It gives us the unique perspective of being in General Karpasic’s head just before the Siege of Opalis. We learn just how important a leader Karpasic is in the grand scheme of the Obsidians (which is to say, not very).
Despite these few additions, the editing is where I think the new version of the book shines. Tor has a wonderful group of editors and designers, so seeing the changes they made is insightful. For the most part, these are small improvements. Punctuation adjustments, turns of phrase, and occasional placement of text. However, they also improved the consistency of names, which is glorious for those of us who are lore buffs.
Of final note is the artwork. The novel now features a cover by Pierre Droal, a French freelance illustrator who works with Tor. This cover depicts Aren and Syenna in the Hellfire Rift, before the ruined statue of Alabastia. This scene was originally drawn as concept art by Stephen Daniele for the game. Also included is a black and white version of the Map of New Britannia, which appears to be the latest version that was teased during a recent video by the developers.
One piece that is noteworthy in its absence is any version of the original cover. Without it, the symbol found in the Crypt of the Avatar beneath the city of Midras goes unseen. Additionally, it is a piece the developers formerly connected to strongly, since there was formerly a cloak available which was adorned with this symbol. Since this sigil contains a lot of symbolism (three curved swords, seven multicolored gemstones, pyramid formation, etc), it seems like something that should be included in some form.
Why This Is Important
So if, as I claimed, the expanded sections are not significant, why is this new release important?
One word; reach.
Original backers of the game, rejoice. You have a limited edition version of the book. If you don’t care to buy the updated copy, don’t! You miss nothing.
But players who were not around during the Kickstarter three years ago? Readers interested in a new fantasy series? Fans of Tracy Hickman’s novels or Richard Garriott’s games? Pay attention. This is the ground floor for you to decide if Shroud of the Avatar is right for you. Or, if you are like me, an excessive lore buff and lover of backstory; it’s here.
This book is a great stepping off point for the game. Sure, it is set two centuries in the past, but don’t let that dissuade you. Things happening in here are still relevant to the game at large. The places you read about here will be in the game; some ruined (at least, more ruined) compared to their depiction here, but it does give you an idea of what to expect.
Not to mention, this new volume comes as just one part of a series. Blade of the Avatar is a trilogy, with the second book, Shards of the Avatar, being written now and expected to be completed this fall. This means it would then be sent to Tor for editing, and we would probably see it next year sometime. The third book will be written next spring, and then edited, so probably another six months to a year after Shards. That is a lot more than four chapters, since we get two more full books out of this deal!
Next month, the audiobook of Sword of Midras will be released through Audible. This fully supports WhisperSync, so you can switch seamlessly between the Kindle version and the audiobook. The book is narrated by Derek Perkins, who’s performance is amazing. A excerpt of the first two chapters is available from Audible on SoundCloud.
Don’t forget that Tracy Hickman is also writing a book for Underworld Ascendant, which ties into the world of New Britannia in that dark elves, escaping from the Obsidian Empire, find their way through a rune gate and into the Stygian Abyss, the setting for that game. Underworld is a direct sequel to the original Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, and is currently under development by OtherSide Entertainment. The writing for the book was completed earlier this year, but how much editing will be done, and what (if any) publishing will be available, is currently unknown.
Finally, Tracy and Laura Hickman kickstarted their own board game a couple of years ago. Sojourner Tales met a stretch goal in which Tracy and Richard Garriott would create a trilogy of adventures for Sojourer set in New Britannia. These would bridge the timespan between the novels and the game. The current status of these adventures is unknown, but had not yet been started the last I’d heard.
Ok, Where Can I Get It?
The Hardcover, Kindle, and Nook versions are available now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble (both online and in their brick and mortar locations). The release date for the unabridged audiobook version is July 12, with pre-orders available now at Audible. If you are interested in audiobooks, Audible also provides new members with a free credit so you can pick up another book as well!