Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review: WORLD OF WARCRAFT: WAR CRIMES by Christie Golden

I meant to read this slowly, I really did. I had a final exam the next day, and like it happens every quarter, I always crack up a "fun book" right before an exam. Not that it hurt me so much in the end--this brief vacation into Azeroth may have preserved my sanity for the following day. I savored it the night before the exam in between reviewing flashcards, and then right after I finished the exam early, I went to the college cafe and read through the novel. IT FELT SO GOOD.

Anyway, my procrastination aside, War Crimes is the thirteenth book in the World of Warcraft novel franchise, transitioning us from the Mists of Pandaria expansion to Warlords of Draenor. Lore-wise, this takes place after the the Siege of Orgrimmar, after the Alliance, Horde, and Pandaren have united to defeat Garrosh after he has poisoned the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, a place that was not even open to the world until recently. 

Before and After: Vale of Eternal Blossoms
(Credit: Tenton Hammer)
...And this is why the Horde can't have nice things.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

If you've seen the cinematic, Thrall almost smashes Garrosh's brains after the defeat. And he's rightfully pissed--after all, he did appoint Garrosh to the position of Warchief of the Horde, against the counsel of Cairne Bloodhoof. 

The cinematic for Garrosh's defeat after Siege of Orgrimmar:
 Varian should have let Thrall kill Garrosh...but no, that would have deprived all the characters of a delightful reunion!

It's a bit awkward reviewing a novel for a game franchise, particularly since it can be hard to tell where Golden's influence ends and where the story developers' begins, in terms of allotting credit (good or bad) to story decisions. For the purposes of this review, I will just refer to Christie Golden as the author responsible for the story decisions in the novel.

Garrosh's Defense: The Job That No One Wants

To decide on the method of punishment for Garrosh, a trial is held to determine whether Garrosh deserves death or life imprisonment. Taran Zhu is the judge, the Celestials (as one of the few neutral beings in Azeroth) compose the jury, the Alliance chooses Tyrande to be the Accuser, and no one really wants to defend Garrosh, who is sitting there rolling his eyes and smirking--basically being a prick to everyone around him. 

Credit: VentasWoW
Ultimately, the Horde elects the Defender, Baine, who is the only one who can set aside his feelings to deliver a good defense for the king of genocide. Despite his extremely uncomfortable position and his personal feelings of conflict and loyalty to his friends, he still employs aggressive, below-the-belt attacks on Vol'jin and Go'el (formerly Thrall) to get his point across. His entire argument rests on the the fact that "people can change." Poor Baine...I guess.

Story Device: The Bronze Dragonflight's Window to the Past

Using "magic," the Bronze dragonflight displays the Azerothian equivalent of video footage and evidence through a little portal that functions as a window to the past, allowing the court to see what transpired, from any perspective possible. Sometimes they can zoom in (or choose not to) on a particular character's whispering behind another's back, such as Garrosh to an assassin during his conversation with Vol'jin.

Credit: WoWWiki
So what does this mean? With such an extensive access to the past, no conversations or actions are truly private. It is absolutely impossible to hide anything from the jury, and if you can't bring yourself to cough it up, then the Accuser/Defender could simply request to broadcast what transpired. This is a researcher/detective/spy/police state's wet dream come true. While it is good for justice (provided that both Accuser and Defender are competent, as well as their Bronze assistants), it creates a dangerous potential for abuse.

War Crimes: World of Warcraft Recap Episode?

It turns out that everyone's lives are more interconnected than they appear, and while people like Go'el and Anduin understood Jaina's suffering on a rational level, it was nothing compared to the horror of watching the experience of Theramore on screen (or portal), from her perspective. Although I knew it was a recap of the climactic scene from Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, I still teared up just from the emotional way the scene played out.

A Recap of Previous Plot Points
This leads me to the fact that a big part of the novel feels like a WoW lore recap of Burning Crusade through Cataclysm content. I didn't really mind a well-written rehash of all the important (and emotional) plot points that will lead to Warlords of Draenor because now everyone in the courtroom gets to know--this changes relationships. Secrets are pushed out into the open, and we finally get to see characters react to the revelations. Satisfying.

The Issue of Tyrande's Characterization...and Where the Heck Did Malfurion Go?

I'm aware that some readers had beef with the way Tyrande was portrayed, and I can see why. I would have liked to see her characterized beyond her role as the tough and graceful Accuser who becomes frustrated and even outraged at times. Malfurion expresses concern in the beginning that the experience could take a toll on her as a person, but after that he vanishes, and along with that, a perspective of what it's like for a 10,000+ year old person to witness such horrors.

Maybe Christie Golden didn't want to tamper too much with a character that has mostly been written by Knaak. Tyrande was a major character in his War of the Ancients trilogy, about the ancient war in which the night elves join with everyone to fight against the Burning Legion invasion. He portrayed her as a consistently gentle, sweet, and pure maiden who has a strong and holy moral code. In Stormrage (also by Knaak), she is still gentle but comes off as understandably tired from her long leadership.

In War Crimes we get to explore how far she is willing to go in order to obtain justice. I like her tough, but her gentleness and grace provide a subtle presence as well. I'm dying to know how Malfurion was reacting to a lot of this stuff. As a spectator of the court, he completely fades into the background after the beginning.

Subplots, Other Characters, and Relationships

As the title of this section suggests, I will go over some subplots as well as the development of relationships that are not central to the main plot, but may grow to become significant later on.

Anduin & Wrathion: I never quite understood why the subject of a romance between the two princes was such a popular choice for fan art, until I read this book. Anduin and Wrathion share an unusual, tentative friendship (or budding romance), in which they are mutually intrigued. They participate in intellectual banter as well as comfortable silences. I haven't seen such chemistry since Jaina and Arthas!  But despite his sexy, silky voice, Wrathion is mysterious about his intentions...

I don't know if Blizzard would be bold enough to allow a homosexual couple in the usually-heteronormative Wow universe, but that would be really cool. 
Anduin & Garrosh: Obviously, this relationship isn't romantic and has NO potential for romance (aside from some really weird fan fiction). Anduin and Garrosh's clashing worldviews make for an interestingly conflicted relationship in which Anduin tries to "help" Garrosh, but Garrosh is too stubborn and laughs at Anduin's idealism.

Thrall & Aggra: They make a guest appearance. Congratulations on the baby.

Jaina & Kalecgos: Continuing relationship issues from the previous novel. A conflict of values: Jaina thirsts for revenge while Kalec worries that she will lose her soul and goodness in this pursuit. He's also not sure if she is or will be the same person he fell in love with. 

Chromie: Chromie!!! So good to see you again.

Velen: Finally leaves Exodar to make a very brief guest appearance as a witness. Hi. 

Vereesa & Sylvanas: Something I had been waiting to see for a long time. So the Windrunner sisters finally reunite, and bond through old memories and vengeance. I am so glad to see this portrayed believably--neither Vereesa nor Sylvanas are complete mushballs. In their discussions, they alternate between awkward and tender feelings of sisterhood and their hate against Garrosh. 
  • I found myself partly cheering for the plotting sisters and partly dreading the potential fallout of their plan, which seemed reckless. I loved peeking inside the undead mind of Sylvanas and feeling half-understanding and half-horrified by what she was planning to do to Vereesa. 
The Three Windrunner Sisters: Vereesa, Alleria, Sylvanas

The Ending

With the trailer of Warlords of Draenor out, I already knew the ending, and that was a bummer. After about 300 pages of being emotionally ravaged by Tyrande and Baine and everyone's memories, I lost interest because I knew what was going to happen. 

On top of that, the entire court drama wouldn't have changed the outcome of Garrosh's ruling--the Celestials had determined his ruling beforehand. Ugh. I thought they were supposed to be neutral. So, was it even necessary to have a trial? The Celestials maintain that the point was to put all the participants on that they could understand each other. Oh, I get it. But this doesn't make me feel better about Garrosh's case.

If I were Tyrande or Baine, I'd be freaking pissed because I just spent the past few days sleeplessly arranging shit in order for my arguments the next day. 

So...this was all for nothing?!

Closing Statements

Overall, this novel comes across as a story with an awkward premise and excellent execution. The novel is structured around a trial in which flashbacks are used, hence the feeling of a recap episode. Some of these flashbacks are played back word-for-word from the previous novels. Plot-wise, nothing new is introduced here, and some intriguing side characters get some fleshing-out while others are somewhat neglected (such as Tyrande)--an inevitable result of having such a huge cast.

The ending bothers me a lot, particularly the fact that the entire trial--which is the center of the plot--is futile. First, the Celestials had decided on their ruling beforehand--they would have let Garrosh off the chopping block no matter how good or bad Tyrande and Baine's arguments were. And second, people acquainted with the franchise were already aware of what would happen. 

Another thing to consider: my lack of satisfaction with the ending also has something to do with the franchise's awkward release dates. I went in already knowing that Garrosh was going to break his ass out of jail. This would have been perfect if it came before the trailer for Warlords of Draenor and after the Siege of Orgrimmar raid. The *main* stakes of the novel rested on the outcome of Garrosh's trial, which we already knew. 

Despite my feelings about the ending and the recap-episodic nature of this novel's main plot, Golden's overall storytelling is delicious because she plays out the potential tensions and conflicts between characters. If there are bonds between two characters, they are well-explored and not simply accepted because they are nice people. The juiciest parts of this novel involved watching characters rub up against each other in the subplots and trying to predict what they would do next.

My Rating:

Find out more about World of Warcraft: War Crimes by Christie Golden:


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