Warcraft: Tides of Darkness (Review)
“A statue?” Turalyon laughed. “What could either of us possibly do to earn statues?”
– Tides of Darkness, a Warcraft novel by Aaron Rosenberg
Warning: some spoilers below.
Given my immense backlog of books and e-books, I thought I’d finally start clearing it up one by one. Choosing which novel to read was not a particularly difficult decision though. As a long time player of Blizzard games, ever since the days of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, Diablo and StarCraft, I have been enamoured of the worlds the company has created. And having read some previous novels such as The Last Guardian and Rise of The Horde, I was rather keen to delve into this novel, which is their chronological sequel.
I played Warcraft: Tides of Darkness ages ago and going through the novel, I realized that this is very much a rough novelization of the events there-in. Video game novelizations generally tend not to be as good as the original material. Some aspect of the writer’s approach usually brings these novels down, which is a real shame. Character development, mission flows, dialogue, something always takes a hit when a video game is transformed into a novel.
Unfortunately, that trend has continued in Tides of Darkness. Yes, I last played the game more than a decade ago and the novel is not an exact novelization but there are clearly strong links between the two.
So where does the novel go wrong?
The pace of the novel experiences severe hiccups for one. The different scene sequences are barely held together by convincing plot threads. There is just too much jumping around in terms of location and time and this really ends up hampering the development of several key characters, most notably the Elven ranger Alleria Windrunner, the Paladin Turalyon, the Orc Warlock Gul’dan and Lord Anduin Lothar, the Alliance Commander.
As a Paladin novitiate, Turalyon is an interesting character because he is marked out as Lothar’s second and is therefore a warrior first and a Paladin second. That distinction may not be clear to a few of the people reading this but it essentially rests on Lothar and Khadgar’s observation that Turalyon is not as much a deep-believer like Uther and the other novitiates are. It would have been great to see Rosenberg take this and run-away with it, but given that this concept is reduced to an extremely lacklustre plot-device, that is sadly not the case. We see more of Turalyon the General and not enough of Turalyon the Paladin. This is one of the greater failings of this novel.
Alleria is a calm and assured character in the beginning when she is introduced but when we get to the invasion of Quel’thalas it is like she is a completely different person. Her grief grips her in a rather comical and stereotypical manner and it is really jarring. Perhaps I am too used to the High Elves of Warhammer Fantasy or the Elves from Raymond E. Feist’s novels, but Alleria behaves far more like a human warrior rather than an accomplished Elven ranger. Not to mention that there is almost nil character development for her. Events keep trying to shock her and she doesn’t really learn anything over the course of the entire novel.
Gul’dan, the great villain of the Warcraft universe, gets little in the way of character development as well. Yes, we know that he is evil through and through with a mad, blinding lust for power but he just comes across as rather stereotypical. And that is when in the games, especially in World of Warcraft, his lore is so much more richer and long-lasting. This is the Orc with the greatest legacy in the Horde, yet he merely twirls his proverbial mustache again and again and his incessant plotting-behind-the-back just comes across as pathetic.
Lothar, the character with the most development potential in the entire novel, is nothing more than an active figurehead. His lore is so rich: the Champion of Stormwind, childhood friend to King Llane and to the Guardian Medivh, the last of the Arathori bloodline, the first Commander of the Alliance. He gets precious little screen-time and the novel suffers from the lack of it. His moment of glory in the novel is not until the climax when he leads the charge against the Orcs at Blackrock Mountain and I was left with a knot of disappointment throughout the novel because I really wanted to see more of him.
The action scenes, of which there are many, are decent enough but they lack cohesion and clarity. They are simply variants on the Horde attacking the Alliance with an element of surprise, the former with an unexpected weapon in their arsenal, then the latter counters that and wins. I get that in the actual canon, the Alliance defeated the Horde in the Second War, but Rosenberg has made it all too linear and straightforward with little in the way of nuance and subtlety.
What did I like about it though?
In two words which say it all: Orgrim Doomhammer.
If Gul’dan is the greatest Orc villain, then the second Warchief of the Horde is the greatest Orc hero. Even Thrall pales in comparison to him. Orgrim was one of the shining lights in Rise of the Horde and thankfully, he has continued in that regard here as well. When he delivers his speeches, I actually do feel caught up in his excitement. His frustrations, his goals, his exultation, his fury, I definitely connect with him.
Other neat little things that made the novel likeable were all the little cameos of characters who have literally become immortalized in World of Warcraft. Zuluhed, Alexstraza, Marcus Redpath, Kael’thas Sunstrider, Sylvanas Windrunner, Teron Gorefiend. I could continue that list, to show how delightful all these cameos were, but then I’d be unable to control my excitement. I have fought some of these characters, killed some of them, bowed before some, accepted quests from them and what not, so their cameos were really excellent. Sadly, there is only so much that can be packed in an average-length novel, and I am left a little saddened that these characters only get cameos.
All in all, if I compare Tides of Darkness to Nocturne, a Warhammer 40,000 novel previously reviewed here and one with a far richer cast of characters and yet a tighter plot-line, then the former really fails to impress. If I compare it also to Jeff Grubb’s The Last Guardian or to Christie Golden’s Rise of the Horde, then also the novel fails to impress even more spectacularly for these two novels are excellent in nearly everything. In the end, the novel feels like the nature of the medium played second fiddle to the original source material, the game itself.