By Rand Miller and Robyn Miller, with David Wingrove
There are two really neat things about the Myst series. The first thing you'll notice (if you are reading the hardcovers) is the treatment of the pages. Atrus has a faded reddish brown blend creeping in from the edges, a faux antiquing of the book. The treatment in Ti'ana is teal and much more noticeable. D'Ni has light blue pages. (Or so I think. It's on order as I type this.) Overall, the presentation of the book makes for an interesting feeling, one of having just discovered these ancient books. Paperback readers do themselves a disservice.
The second really neat thing is the artwork inside the books. All three books have pencil drawings contained in the book. Atrus contains drawings and sketches of places the main character goes to and explores. However, the sporadic drawings in Ti'ana seemingly have little to do with conveying the sense of the story. Although the drawings in D'Ni better attempt to illustrate what is mentioned in the book, they are all, without fail, incorrect representations of the book.
The artist character in Ti'ana is said to be sketching with charcoal sticks, yet the line drawings in this book are pencils. Unlike the first book, where the drawings and sketches had some meaning or at least some relevance to the story, the illustrator who worked on Ti'ana must have picked random passages from the work and drawn those out. In passing, the character Aitrus hammers a piton into rock and uses that as a support for a rope. The illustrator feels a close up of the piton was worthy of a full page illustration. (This is doubly maddening as the artist character is nowhere near this event, and even if the character was, there were so many other interesting things to illustrate.)
Other images presented aren't in sync with the story. There's a brief mention of a bridge with three spans a boat passes under, yet the bridge depicted has four spans. The artist character does a sketch of one of the D'Ni Lords, yet there is no sketch of the D'Ni Lord in the book. Two characters have a map of an outdoors area in the text of the story but in the spot illustration, it's of the cave system.
Rather than illustrate what the artist draws, or illustrate some things that can be found only in the D'Ni society, the illustrator focuses on the most mundane, idiotic things to draw. The piton. A rock. Something that looks like a rock, but it hard to tell what it is. A pile of rocks. Something that looks like an open drawer on the side. A near-featureless bridge. A map of a cave system. Where's the illustrations of the excavator? The mural on the floor of the great shaft? The sketch of the D'Ni Lord? The Council Chamber where every third scene takes place? The D'Ni city? Ko'ah?
Whereas the first book's illustrations actually fit in the story, the second book's illos are schizophrenic.
The third book is even worse. Not only is there not a character who sketches (which was a reason for having sketches in the first place), the illustrations are just wrong. Here, the illustrator actually decided to illustrate things and places that were mentioned in more than one line. (Except for a close up of a spoon. It's a spoon, for crying out loud!.) The first illustration on page 14 shows four-sided buildings with sloped roofs. In the book, they're "six great circular lodge houses". The next illustration occurs nearly eighty pages later, with a boat approaching a rocky island that has all of six trees on it. The book describes it as having a forest with a cabin on the top of the island. Also, there's supposed to be a granite wall at the end of the lake, the illustrator draws a horizon line.
The worst is next to come. There's a round door atop a rise of a dozen steps. The door is set in a circular frame, a circle of stars. That is, if you read the book. If you go by the illustration, the door is square (or perhaps square with a peak), at the top of six steps, and there are four or five stars above the frame. How do you get that many details wrong?
Then there's the crane mechanism on page 133. Just how is that platform built? It's like one of those optical illusions where three chimneys build out of a two-chimney base.
On to the story.
Atrus concerns itself with telling of a travelogue, cunningly disguised as a biography of Atrus, a boy who lives with his grandmother in the desert and the changes that happen to him when he is reunited with his father. For the first half of the book, up until Atrus journeys to the Thirty-seventh Age, the Millers are happy to show us the aftermath of D'Ni civilization and some of the interesting places they've created for this story. The first half of the book is slow, yet interesting. However, the end game of the book is confusing -- I dare anyone to read it and tell me where every character was when various events happened. There's a lot of running back and forth between D'Ni, K'Veer, Riven, and Myst during the final act as various characters try to run around between Ages.
Ti'ana tells the story of the downfall of the D'Ni. We already had an abbreviated version of this story from Gehn in the previous book. It will please the reader to no end to discover where Gehn was incorrect and correct. I have enjoyed the second book better than the first (and the third) of the series.
Despite the title, the final book is not "The Book of D'Ni", it is "The Book of Terahnee". Atrus sets out to rebuild the D'Ni civilization by looking for survivors. The first two-fifths of the book is taken up with Artus and some of the survivors searching many other Ages for other survivors. The later half of the book has the survivors finding a utopian society, thousands of times better than the D'Ni. Of course, like almost all science-fiction novels that feature utopias, there is a dark secret in the Age of Terahnee. Atrus and company eventually discover the secret and instantly pass their morals on an alien culture. It feels like one of several Star Trek episodes, except that there was no computer for Kirk to blow up.
Nagging question: Why is it that the D'Ni, a society who lived underground throughout almost all history, a society who has never been on the surface of the planet, why is it that the D'Ni are capable of creating worlds? Worlds with open blue skies, one sun, mountains, forests, rolling hills, and prairie grass? They've never had the opportunity to see such things, so why does every world (Age) they create have these elements? Despite assurances by the writers that when a Book (the transport between worlds/Ages) is written, it may link to a place that already exists (or has existed or will one day exist), this cannot be. This cannot be as the D'Ni can go back and edit their Books and then revisit and observe immediate changes. These changes can be anything from altering the temperature of water to adding another moon around the planet. The D'Ni are creating these worlds. So why don't they all look like giant caverns?
This point is never addressed.
Upon reflection, the only book that had anyone writing a book and changing things was the first book, which Robyn Miller co-wrote. In that book, the writers of Ages were clearly creating the worlds. In the third book, there is a mention that the Book of Terahnee had several passages written over and over, which the characters refer to as if the writer was "trying to reinforce the earlier phrases" to either make the age more stable or more specific. Clearly, the writer of the Book of Terahnee created the Age.
Then there are several discussions about how writing a book only links the writer to an existing world, which contradicts everything mentioned earlier. It's like the Millers haven't decided how the writing of Ages works. This contradiction makes their characters seem not as intelligent as they should be.