Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War by Christie Golden (Audio Review)

Quite unintentionally, I’ve started on a sort of WarCraft kick this year as far as my reading is concerned. First it was The Shattering: Prelude to the Cataclysm and then it was Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects, novels that were set in the World of WarCraft: Cataclysm expansion, and they both proved to be really good reads all the way through. They also helped me reconnect with a game that I’d long stopped playing, and the hit of nostalgia was pretty strong. and also very enjoyable. And since Christie Golden is such a good writer, the experience was better than I’d expected.

Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War is both the epilogue to World of WarCraft: Cataclysm and the prologue to the next expansion, Mists of Pandaria. In this novel, we see how the calculated brutality and savagery of Garrosh Hellscream turns Jaina Proudmoore from a pacifist to one intent on the path of vengeance. It is one of the most stunning character reversals I’ve seen in fiction for a long while, Christie handles it with aplomb. Some of the usual deficiencies of Christie’s writing are evident here, but by and large this novel was a damn good read and very emotional too.

This was my first WarCraft audiobook as well, so that’s one of the things that I’ll be talking about here, and the thing is that while I liked Justine Eyre as the reader, a lot of the times her voice-acting didn’t work for me because her female voices were a bit too grating, while her male voices were fine. And I say in the context that for many of Jaina’s scenes, her voice came across as… needy and girlish and petulant, which is not Jaina at all, and never has been. Still, she often got the solemnity of the dialogue right, so that’s something. And Justine’s cries of “For the Horde!” are also somewhat hilarious. There are very, very few people who can do that battlecry justice.

For the story itself, it all starts when the Blue Dragonflight meets in the Nexus to discuss its future. At the end of Cataclysm, all the remaining four Dragon Aspects battled the former Earth Aspect Deathwing and defeated him, but sacrificed their power and their status in the bargain. Now they are just members of their Dragonflights, though they have their millennia of experience and their status as leaders of their people to keep them buoyed. However, given the events of Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects in which Kalecgos became as the Magic Aspect by a consensus among the Blue Dragons, we see that the new leader of the Blues still has many self-doubts and self-recriminations. He struggles with his choices as a leader and as a former Aspect, and in the midst of all this, the Blues’ most sacred artifact, the Focusing Iris, is stolen and whisked away by persons unknown, throwing them all in disarray and making Kalecgos’ arc in this novel that much more intense.

At the same time, Jaina Proudmoore is struggling with Thrall’s decision to leave Garrosh Hellscream as the Warchief of the Horde in his place from The Shattering: Prelude to the Cataclysm, and she even meets with him to make him see reason, to realise that under the volatile Garrosh, there will be war soon. Thrall however is wholly given over to his duties with the Earthen Ring and he makes it plain that his path is different and that he will not go back to the Horde or bring Garrosh to heel.

And so starts one of the most torturous stories of WarCraft as war indeed comes to the world, for Garrosh has plans to conquer all of Kalimdor and he will do whatever is necessary to make that happen, even if it means destablising the world further, even though it is still barely recovered from the onslaught of Deathwing’s Cataclysm.

Oftentimes in this novel, Christie Golden’s characerisation of Jaina was spot-on. I expected that since the novel is named after all of course, but even, she often went beyond the call of duty to make sure that Jaina felt as she was the Jaina who was first introduced in WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos and who she has developed into since those days. This is actually a very important element since by nature this novel is a tie-in to a very popular game that is played the world over and Jaina has been a central character for almost a decade now. Jaina’s reminiscences about Arthas struck me especially close since that is a plotline that played out in Reign of Chaos and I was there for every single moment of it, watching as they drew apart and then came to be enemies instead of lovers and friends. So, in those respects, and in relation to Jaina being the ruler of her kingdom (of Theramore), Christie managed to hit all the right notes. In the character’s interactions with Baine Bloodhoof’s emissary, with Anduin and Varian both, with the other members of the Alliance, you can see the “classic” Jaina and chart her progress as well.

And another key thing is how Christie portrays Jaina as a mage. At times it felt like Jaina wasn’t all that proficient a mage, but I suppose that’s to be expected when she’s in the same room as Kalecgos, the former Aspect of the Blue Dragonflight, the shepherd of all Magic in the world of Azeroth. There is a huge power differential between them and Christie often uses that to her advantage since just because Kalecgos used to be the Aspect of Magic, doesn’t mean that he knows and is familiar with all types of magic. Some of the magic of the “lesser races” can escape his notice, and that’s the area that Jaina and the other Mage characters of the novel inhabit in relation to him.

And speaking of other mages, we have Archmage Tervosh here, as well as my favourites from WC lore, Khadgar and Rhonin himself. The latter is another important figure since he is the current leader of the Kirin Tor. Given that the primary character of the novel is a Mage, it makes sense that there would be a strong supporting cast of other Mages in the novel, and that the Blue Dragonflight would be involved as well. And in that I felt that Christie Golden did each character justice. She made them all stand out, and she navigated the complexities of their different personalities quite well.

But of course, Jaina isn’t the only major character here. We also have the bloodthirsty Garrosh Hellscream and the calm and pacifistic Baine Bloodhoof as well. In many ways, the novel revolves around the three of them. Garrosh wants to conquer Kalimdor for the Horde and he isn’t afraid of the cost. Baine is only recently come to his rank of High Chieftain and given the nature of his people plus the example set by his dead father Cairne, and the events of the Cataclysm no less, he is more than aware of the deep cost that Horde will pay if Garrosh remains a leader. The novel is often a tug-of-war between these three characters and we see how the chemistries between them play out.

One thing that Christie Golden does really well is make me hate Garrosh even more. It is like a rising tide of hate and by the time Garrosh committed his big atrocity in the second half, I was ready to throttle the life out of that upstart. If only I could. The Horde under Garrosh is becoming an enginer of war unto itself, much different from how things were under Thrall, and he is certainly making the Horde a power to be feared. And while (even I) some might call him mindless, he displays a keen strategic mind that is given to flamboyance and theatrics rather than efficiency and a concern for his men. He is a character that I revile for who he is, no matter what his victories, because power has indeed gone to his head. Thrall’s decision to name him Warchief is the greatest mistake that the son of Durotan and Draka ever made and now all of Azeroth is paying for that mistake.

And Baine, he is in a terrible situation himself, since he can’t rise against Garrosh even if he wanted to. His people are far too dependent on the Horde for survival, especially in the wake of the Cataclysm and the death of Deathwing, a situation that he shares with the leader of the Darkspear Trolls, Vol’jin, his only true ally in the face of Garrosh’s eccentricities. The chemistry between the two of them is one of the core elements of the novel and I would love for it to be explored at a future time.

If there is one way in which I feel that the novel disappointed me, truly disappointed me, it is that there is no “of-level” female character for Jaina to play off of. She is surrounded by men on all fronts. Garrosh, Thrall, Baine, Rhonin, Khadgar, Varian, Kalecgos and so, so many others. Sure, she has her apprentice Kinndy Sparkshine and her bodyguard Pained, but none of them are a real challenge to her as a character. Her relationship with Kinndy is one of the more delightful elements of the novel, but it doesn’t really rise up to the occasion. And Pained is often far too subservient to her to be able to go against her. And in that I mean that someone on the same level as the various champions of Azeroth, whether of the Horde or the Alliance. Shandris Feathermoon makes a very small cameo, as does Vereesa Windrunner, but I honestly wanted more out of the story.

I understand why it is like it is, that Jaina is meant to be a woman in a man’s world, further complicating her long-held stance as a pacifist and a mediator and a diplomat, but she is far too alone in that role. And that’s as much a failing of the game’s designers and creators as much as it is Christie’s, though I bear no ill feeling of any kind to any of them. It is just a simple fact. With another strong female character to bounce off of, someone who can stand toe-to-toe with Jaina, the novel would have been much better, because otherwise once the big switch happens as Jaina becomes a figure of vengeance, all she has around her are men telling her to give up, to think things through. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

But, at the same time, Christie Golden writes some amazing action sequences. With Garrosh’s plans to Kalimdor given life in this novel, we see how he marches upon Theramore in stages and how he prosecutes his new war against the Alliance. Each battle scene is written with attention to detail and there are lots of different things happening in each and Christie often uses the different player classes of the game to good effect. I just wish there were more Paladins here, since I used to be a Paladin main myself, and a fairly good one  too, if I do say so. Paladins are clearly the best!

So anyway, the action sequences, the fight scenes, they are all great. Jaina, Pained, Garrosh, Baine, Vol’jin, Kalecgos, Rhonin and the others all get to show off their various skills and these scenes are among my favourites from the novel.

At the top, I mentioned that the novel is also plagued by some of Christie’s usual negatives. Mostly, repetition. How many times do we have to be told that Kalecgos used to be the Blues’ Aspect? That Garrosh is an irreverent and warlike Warchief? The ongoing situation between the Alliance and the Horde? There is oftentimes a lot of repeated info-dumping and that takes away from the fun of it all.

Still, Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War is a pretty damn good novel, and also a very emotional one too. There are at least four different instances where you want to cry because of what happens, and Jaina’s transformation from an agent of peace and conciliation to war and revenge is one of these. Definitely among the better tie-in novels I’ve read, especially in the WarCraft setting.

Rating: 9/10

More WarCraft: The Shattering, Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects, The Tides of Darkness.

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Posted on June 12, 2014, in Audio Review, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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