Thursday, January 28, 2016

January re-read IV: Until the world ends

OK, given the book I'm reviewing today is straight out of a table top role playing game, I feel that I should do my best to summarize the setting before actually reviewing it. Bear with me here, the world building was huge with the setting. (I kind of wish Blogger had a "cyt" command so I could hide this section rather than make people familiar with the Original World of Darkness sit through a brief summary of several years and 3 editions worth of metaplot.)

Vampire: the Masquerade 's in game history starts in Genesis, when Cain (here spelled Caine) slew his brother. God delivered a series of curses to Caine that basically made him the original vampire. Some legends say he met up with Adam's first wife, Lilith, and she gave him some powers... Caine created 3 childer, vampires like himself. (The 2nd generation) They built a city, Caine destroyed it. Those three made 13 childer, who became the 3rd Generation, who are the clan parents of the 13 clans that exist in game. (Over time, bloodlines formed, who didn't have a clan parent or really stretch back much farther than the 8th Generation.) The 3rd generation became known as the Antediluvians.

Fast forward several millennia, a few of the Antediluvians are really dead, a few no longer particularly inhabit the plane of existence where they started from (or particularly inhabit what could be considered a physical body), one was diablarized (cannibalized to the point someone drunk his soul), one was almost diablarized, but it was found out he still existed in another form. None of this particularly matters that much, since modern vampires generally think of them as legends. (Regardless that one sleeps in Vienna, and everyone knows about him.)

Ugh, anyway, there's a whole series of prophecies that concern what happens when they all wake up. Most of those pretty much say they will consume their descendants and the world will end, but again, not amny particularly believe them. (Of the major factions in the setting, the Camarilla [who were pretty much the focus of the early additions] subscribes entirely to the idea that Gehenna is myth. The Sabbat, who allegedly killed off their clan founders [ed note: they failed], believe in Gehenna like some folks believe in Revelation. The Anarchs and the independents all seem to fall in between somewhere.)

Which should be enough background to start with the review of Gehenna: The Final Night by Ari Marmell. As one could guess by the title, this book concerns what happens when the Antediluvians wake up. We spend much of the book following Beckett (of Clan Gangrel, who's major power includes shape changing and who's founder, Ennoia, essentially became one with the Earth at some point) as he tries to understand why vampires exist. He's assisted in this by Kapaneus, a much older vampire Beckett meets in the ruins of Kaymakli. (Very long story short. Cappadocius, who founded the Cappadocian clan before being mostly destroyed by the Giovanni who took over the clan towards the end of the Dark Ages, got mad that his progeny weren't following directions, so he sealed them in a cave for eternity.) Beckett manages to break Cappadocius's seal on the entrance, thus waking up a few things that weren't exactly happy to be woken up. (Mind you, at the point this all starts, it's assumed Ravnos's founder had already woken up and been destroyed in Bangladesh, which was a whole other story told elsewhere.)

We also spend time following around Lucita (of Clan Lasombra, who killed her Sire back during the Clan Novels and has since taken over his place in the Sabbat Hierarchy) and Theo Bell (Clan Brujah. Theo is one of the Camarilla's main enforcers) who wind up working together as the Withering starts. The Withering is some sort of disease that affects the eldest vampires first, and gradually works its way down towards the youngest. It weakens the vampires affected, occasionally killing them. Some of the elders figure out that these effects can be treated by diablerizing other vampires, which is more or less what drives Lucita and Theo together.

And then there's Fatima (of Clan Assamite, the assassins  out of the middle east. When the Final Nights start, the clan has had a schism caused by one of the oldest expecting the clan to worship the founder rather than Allah.) Fatima, who knew Lucita of old, basically shows up mostly to pass on vital information at key points, as does Anatole (of Clan Malkavian, who are all lunatics. Anatole died before this book, but that doesn't seem to have slowed him down much.)

We follow everyone around across most of the Western World, finding that the Tremere are all dead (Tremere was a clan formed right around the start of the Dark Ages by Hermetic wizards trying to preserve their magic. Finding vampiric society to be even worse than mage society, they basically ate their way to the top of the food chain) and the Tzimisce are all pretty much gone as well. (Clan Tzimisce came out of eastern Europe and got very involved in body crafting. Their founder is basically like the Blob, only it's resting under Manhattan and calling its descendants home for dinner.)

As everyone slowly begins to realize that indeed, the Final Nights have started, just about everyone wants to kill Beckett, and Holy Lord, what's the complete blackness that keeps swallowing the sky?!?, everything slowly resolves with most of out party meeting fates one way or another. Beckett finally gets his answers in the epilogue, not long after he figures out who Kapaneus really is.

Of the three world ending books in the trilogy, this is probably the best, followed very closely by The Last Battle by Bill Bridges. (That one concerns the end of the world for Werewolves, which is also REALLY GOOD. The last book, concerning the end of the world for Mages, Judgement Day by Bruce Baugh, is horrid. I don't even own a copy any more. Which is sad, since the actual game supplement they released for Mage was the best of all the series enders.)

While I doubt all of my readers are into Table Top gaming, the original World of Darkness was one of the best. Yes, some of the mechanics were terrible, but the focus was so much more on the story than combat. I realize the reboot fixed the mechanics quite well, but the new story line was beyond bad. The oWoD was also one of the few series where the sourcebooks were so much fun to read, since they often were written at least partially in character, making it much more like reading a story than a dry dusty tome of rules

I recommend this and the second book to anyone who enjoyed the games, and even to those few who are willing to work with contectual clues to figure out what they've missed to get into a good world ender.