Saturday, September 24, 2011


Whachoo lookin' at?
Richard Knaaaaaaaaaaaaak's latest Warcraft Novel came out a bit more than a week ago to the adulation of WoW lore nerds everywhere.

As is becoming my habit: I'll make some appraisal of the book itself in the first part of this post, saving SPOILERS!!! (Oh no! Not Spoilers!) for after the jump.

When I remarked on the previous Warcraft novel about Thrall I noted that I would have been more interested in a book about the building of relationships-- and not the goopy one Thrall builds with Aggra(vation), but the ones with draenei and dwarves as a part of the Earthen Ring.

Be careful what you ask for, because the heavy bulk of Wolfheart is precisely that-- although the relationship being forged is between Varian Wrynn of Stormwind and Genn Graymane of Gilneas.

Most players booted up WoW right after the Cataclysm to find Gilneas firmly in the ranks of the Alliance, and many would not have stopped to consider that Greymane left the earlier Alliance of Lordaeron, turning his back on Stormwind during its ongoing fights after the end of the Second War. Varian Wrynn, of course, has never forgotten this fact, and, at the beginning of this novel, is not really excited to welcome the Gilneans back into the fold.

Somewhat oddly though: this is a Knaaaaaaaak Warcraft Novel, and though the story really is all about the Humans and Worgen of the Eastern Kingdoms learning to play nice, the primary protagonists are all Night Elves. I think Knaak may be contractually obligated to only write about Night Elves sometimes.

The framework of the story involves Tyrande Whisperwind and Malfurion Stormrage hosting an Alliance summit in Darnassus. At the same time, they are squeezing shoe-horning Highbornes back into society, coping with a murder mystery, and having to deal with a second Hellscream making trouble in Ashenvale.

As with most Warcraft novels, this is a lot of plot. But it all feels like it has no consequence. The specific timing of the action of this novel is a little difficult to pin down, but I would peg it happening sometime during that 14-hour maintenance Blizzard used to upgrade the servers to WoW: Cataclysm before any story points progress from the expansion. What's more: the appearance, demeanor and placement of certain characters contradicts what we find in world now.  It's like this novel's story is taking place in some alternate dimension of Warcraft-- maybe on a private server or something.

The centerpiece of the novel is definitely an Orc campaign into Ashenvale. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time since the Second War that we have seen full-on battle between the factions. (and no, Alterac Valley doesn't count).  But this, too, is frustrating:  the resolution of any such battle cannot, and does not, alter the map of Ashenvale that we know in the post-Deathwing world. Any battle that has Garrosh Hellscream, Tyrande Whisperwind and Varian Wrynn on the field should have led to something much more significant than what happens here.

In many regards, I think this may have been one of the more disappointing Warcraft novels I've read. I see no impact of all this writing on the greater world we inhabit. There is some good character development, but much of it proceeds far too predictably, and is not as intrinsically interesting.

(Riddle: What is the best way for manly men like Varian Wrynn and Genn Graymane to bond and come to respect each other for the manly men they are? If you need another hint, go check any Hemingway novel or short story for a good hint.)

Click past the jump for spoilery bits:


Misplaced Characters
I don't like being a Red Shirt Guy, calling out inconsistencies. But there's a lot of them in this book.

The biggest one is the presence of Jarod Shadowsong. Players learn in Mt. Hyjal that the one-time general of the Night Elf armies left his home and only mysteriously reappears as a prisoner of the Twilight Hammer in that zone. We free him, he helps us beat the bad guys in the region and then he goes on to the Molten Front, after Patch 4.2.

In Wolfheart, he stumbles into Darnassus with his dying mate and no one knows where he came from. He helps with the murder investigation and then takes a permanent job with Night Elf security forces. It's a little like Jarod from the game and Jarod from this novel never actually met each other.

On a smaller note is Anduin Wrynn. At this point, Alliance players have seen more than enough evidence that Varian needs to cut the apron strings and let his son do what needs to be done. In game, however, Anduin keeps standing around in the throne room of Stormwind Keep, complaining about his over-protective father if you get the chance to ask him, "Wassup?"

In the novel, Anduin meets the draenei prophet Velen and decides that Exodar is the place to be if the prince wants to learn more about the priestly ways he has been edging towards. Anduin leaves his father, bringing on an even bigger fit of moaning and wailing from Varian than we usually get.

Like I said, I don't really like calling out inconsistencies like these, except that it points out how the novel has so very little to do with our game experience. The characters go wherever they will and in game, it's like nothing has happened.  I think the major problem is that the precise time of this novel seems lost. I begin to think this might have been better released around the same time as the expansion came out.

The Other Shadowsong
Jarod has a sister, you know?  Maiev Shadowsong- the Watcher responsible for the imprisonment and eventual death of Illidan Stormrage.  Maiev dropped off the face of Azeroth (Outland too) once Illidan died, but makes her comeback in Wolfheart.

I have long stated my wonderment about how Malfurion and Tyrande got the news of Illidan's death-- how they reacted, what their thoughts were. Maiev's presence in the novel hints so strongly at those questions, and yet mostly nothing is revealed. Both Mal and Tyr express sadness at the way obsession consumed Maiev, and both also wish they "could have done more to help her." But they really don't have anything to say about the dead guy's contribution to this mess.

Knaak does get Maiev right, however. It was never in Maiev's nature to accept help (I think this is why she gets credit for the Illidan kill at Black Temple and not us. She keeps leaving us out of the story) And this is a highlight of the novel. She's a tough character, but Knaak gives us a lot more of her inner workings than about anyone else.

The Battle of Ashenvale
Gary Hellscream goes on a rampage and decides the Orcs need a new city, right where Astraanar should be. This aspect of the novel had so much possibility and so much tension built into it. Before this conflict is over, full-fledged armies of Alliance and Horde face off against each other, with Tyrande, Varian Genn Graymane and Garrosh all on the battlefield, and really... the whole thing is a draw.  Alliance win the day, but the "duel" you saw coming between Varian and Garrosh from Chapter 2 is basically aborted in a very honorless way.

Knaak has ignored history here: Warchiefs of the Horde go out into field, find the biggest hero of the Alliance and make it a duel to the death. The lame-oid Horde sense of "honor" demands no less. They do not fight for a bit, start to lose, conveniently get separated by some other rampaging fighters, and then let themselves by dragged away from a losing battle by the Kok'ron Guard.

What Garrosh sort of adopts here is a more flexible, adaptive reaction to battle situations. The humans win because of this adaptability. For example, when Ogrim Doomhammer slew Anduin Lothar and did a victory dance on the spot, figuring that he had just won the war, Turalyon took up Lothar's sword and beat the orc. Humans win.

But "strategy" like this is decidedly un-Horde-like. Not that I'm against letting the greenskins learn from past mistakes, but Hellscream is always taunting the Alliance for "being soft," and he should really look out for what he is turning into.

And he's still a chicken for not donating his head to a pike near Darnassus for his affronts in this novel.

Much is made of the Horde's efforts to bring Magnataurs from Northrend to set loose on the Alliance, which to me was a distracting sort of gimmick. Heck, I could solo most of the magnataurs when I was only level 73. Those things ain't very scary. Much is also made of the Worgen's abilities to successfully attack the magnataurs and really... they didn't do anything a bunch of Night Elves couldn't have done. Bah.

Some nitpicky details about the battle and all involved with it:

Tyrande walks into the battle and prays to Elune. Elune shows she is listening by shining a bright beam of moonlight directly on her.  Did anybody (even Elune?) stop to think that shining a spotlight on the leader of your people in the middle of a battle might NOT be a good idea? The Horde clearly thought about it, because when Tyrande does that, they throw every projectile they possibly could right at her. Tyrande is more than 10,000 years old. She should know better. The fact that the Elves don't understand the dangers of projecting the precise locations of their leaders and yet Garrosh has figured it out is stupid.

When Tyrande gets hit on the head by some rocks and a few arrows because she hung that "Here I Am!" sign on her head, Shandris Feathermoon and pretty well the entire (female) Night Elf leadership try to jump in the way and all get injured for their efforts. And then the novel stops the battle for a page or so so that Shandris and Tyrande can thank each other and tearfully realize that they are alright, and say things like, "You need to rest!" and "Oh no! I must return to the battle!" and "I couldn't bear it if I lost you!"

On the other hand, Anduin Wrynn takes some scrapes while tussling with Garrosh and most of his guard all at the same time, and just keeps going. Genn Graymane jumps in to distract a little, but no words are exchanged. They have just bonded over The Hunt (there's the answer to the riddle from the front page) and their bromance is complete.

Doesn't this suck? Why do the women fighters have to go have "a moment" in the middle of battle? It's not realistic, nor is it good for the fight and obviously the "real men" on the battlefield don't do that. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, or whatever. But this characterization is derogatory to these women's characters and their stature as battle-hardened leaders of their people. Female Warcraft fans (or any fans that respect women) deserve some outrage over this.


So, there it is: Wolfheart. Let's hope the next one is better.

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