World of WarCraft: The Shattering by Christie Golden (Book Review)

As far back as I can remember, the first video game that I owned, good and proper, was the Game of The Year edition of WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness. An elder cousin, on holiday from college in US, got me the game and I was hooked on it immediately. It was my first real taste of a fantasy game like this. I finished both campaigns, Human and Orc, in short order (a few weeks or something), and spent several weeks playing the various maps and stuff. It was awesome. Eventually I played the other games too, and then came World of WarCraft in my senior year of college. And it was magnificent. I was exposed to a type of game I hadn’t imagined before, and it was glorious. And I played a paladin as my main, first as a healer, then as dps, then tank, and then whatever I wanted.

In all of this though, I didn’t read a WarCraft novel until quite late. A friend in college loaned me The Last Guardian by Jeff Grubb. Knowing what I did from the days playing the original WarCraft and then WarCraft II, it was an enthralling book and I loved it. Soon after, I read Christie Golden’s The Rise of The Horde, which stands as one of my favourite fantasy novels to date. Others have followed so far and recently I got the chance to read Christie’s The Shattering, which serves as a prelude to the events of the World of WarCraft expansion Cataclysm. And I think Christie has another hit on her hands with this. I loved this almost as much as I loved The Rise of The Horde and The Last Guardian.

The Shattering I haven’t played Cataclysm, but I know the broad strokes of the narrative changes that happened with it, in-world. How certain characters were killed and so and so forth. In The Shattering, Christie explores these losses and she tells a grand sweeping tale that really covers the length and breadth of the World of WarCraft experience. Her attention to detail and her characterisation is as good as ever, even though the novel is a bit rushed, given all the different events and characters that she covers, or all the… changes that she sets in motion that are reflected in the game itself with regard to some of the race/class combos.

I knew going in that this would be a painful novel to read because of what happens to two of my favourite characters from the game lore. I wasn’t sure if those events would be covered, but I was anticipating that. And let me tell you, it wasn’t a positive anticipation. Because I love these two characters and what happens to both of them is quite horrific. But at the same time, it also shows that in the world of WarCraft, no one is safe, and that evil and bad juju must indeed triumph before the forces of good can make a comeback. WarCraft is a setting with a somewhat cyclical nature as far as the balance between the good and the bad is concerned. First we had the invasion of the Orcs into Azeroth, and they won ruthlessly, but it was countered by the rise of the Alliance and the destruction of the Portal. Then we had the rise of the Lich King, but new heroes also emerged at the same time. And then followed the events of World of WarCraft and its expansions.

What I’m trying to say here is that Christie captures one of the core concepts of the setting really well in this novel. And it is almost perfect. It is painful and depressing to read as someone who loves these characters, but she does provide a ray of hope in each case, and sets up the seeds for something bigger, something grander, something that will end up validating these unlooked-for sacrifices. Which is pretty fantastic when you think about it.

And even just generally, Christie’s portrayal of the marquee characters like Jaina Proudmoore, Cairne Bloodhoof and his son Baine, Garrosh Hellscream, Varian Wrynn and his son Anduin, Magatha Grimtotem, Moira Thaurissan, Thrall, Greatmother Geyah, Aggra and the others was always spot on too. She captured the core of each of these characters, and gave it narrative life. My… dislike for Garrosh was reinforced by the novel, but I also got to see a very different side of this hothead, something I hadn’t really expected. Cairne’s nobility was always forefront, but he also had a darker side to him that I had never seen before. Varian’s struggle with being who he is, a man of two personalities (one Human, one Orcish) was endlessly fascinating. I’ve only read about his history in passing from a friend and what little I bothered to find through a wiki ages ago, and the way that Christie brings that history out was excellent. Thrall’s inner pain at the conflict of the elements in the world of Azeroth, and his journey to find a solution was also something that appealed to me.

It really is mind-boggling how Christie can juggle so many different characters and yet remain true to them all. The Jaina in this novel is how Jaina has been in the games, especially WarCraft III. Anduin in this novel is the big surprise though because I haven’t seen him in narrative form like this before, only as an NPC in World of WarCraft so it was great to see that different side to his character. And he becomes one of the most central agents of change in the novel, so his part in the overall story was doubly welcome. How could I really resist a novel like this?

Reading through the novel, I finally began to understand why WoW-gamers were so passionate for and against the changes that happened when the Cataclysm changes went live in the game. They can be frustrating and awesome at the same time, which in itself is a pretty fascinating juxtaposition. For me, the journey of discovering this bold new world that is happening, before the dragon aspect who was once the most stalwart of protectors of Azeroth and is now one of its greatest villains makes his return, was all about the nostalgia, since I stopped playing the game almost four years ago. I’ve only gone back whenever I’ve gotten free time from Blizzard, which usually happens twice a year for about a week each time. I miss playing WoW and given that void in my life, since I used to be a hardcore raider to some degree (with my protection/retribution Alliance paladin), The Shattering becomes an important novel for me. It connected me to the larger world that I have missed, especially since I quit the game before Cataclysm launched.

And I think that’s the biggest beauty of the novel for me. The pacing is off at times and sometimes the characters appear to be going through the motions, but overall, this is still a pretty damn good read. Really, the only negative of the novel is that it is a bridging novel between two expansions of the game, and thus it has to toe certain lines with respect to characters and events and so Christie doesn’t have the kind of freedom that she enjoyed in books like The Rise of The Horde, where she really could let her imagination run wild. But still, the novel is better off for all of that, truly it is.

And I think that this is going to mark a revival in my interest in reading the tie-in novels, because I am very eager to discover more. I want to read more of Christie’s work in the setting, plus all the other novels by the other writers who have contributed to the ever-expanding world of Azeroth. The Shattering is just that kind of a book, you see.

If you are looking for a novel that bridges the gap between the Wrath of The Lich King and Cataclysm expansions for World of WarCraft, then this novel should be your absolute first stop. It will recap the events of the former quite nicely, and then setup many of the major events of the latter as well, by the end of the novel. I certainly enjoyed this, and I say that as a fan of the games and the lore.

Rating: 9/10

More WarCraft: WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness.

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Posted on March 18, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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