Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War By Christie Golden

In recent days, books published by Blizzard Entertainment are more in line with the pace of the popular online game World of Warcraft‘s lore development.  At the end of Cataclysm, the age of the Dragons has passed.  Now, we are onto the age of the Mortals.  The so-called lesser races have proven themselves that they can and they will rise up and guard this world.  Dragons – the previous guardians since the age of the Titans – have lost their immortality in the battle against Deathwing who was corrupted by the Old God.  They have stepped down from the guardian role.  Slowly but surely, Blue Dragons have lost the notion of a dragonflight and now seek the concept of individuality.  Nexus – home to the blue dragonflight – is turning into a ghost town.  The world is indeed changing.

Human and Orc have been at war with each other for years.  Over time, Human has gathered other races namely Dwarf, Night Elf, Gnome, Draenei, and Worgen and formed the Alliance.  As for the Orc, Horde is formed with Troll, Undead, Tauren, Blood Elf, and Goblin.  The Horde and Alliance are technically at war with each other.  But they have briefly joined force with the Aspects of the dragonflights in the battle against Deathwing who threatened to destroy the world.

Now that Deathwing is vanquished and the world is on the path of healing, Horde is in a much stronger position compares to where they were years before.  No longer the orcs are enslaved by the humans like they have in the past.  Led by Thrall – the ex-Warchief – the peoples of the Horde have left Eastern Kingdoms and settled in the opposite continent, Kalimdor.  Due to Cataclysm, Thrall has answered his calling, dropped his mantle as a Warchief, and has become a shaman who has a key role to play in saving the world.  Before his departure, Thrall has named Garrosh Hellscream – son of Grom Hellscream who once succumbed to the demonic power but died a heroic death – as the new Warchief.

In the Universe of Warcraft, while good and evil is as clear as black and white, it has nothing to do with the races’ appearances.  Horde are as honorable as the Alliance.  They have bad seeds, just like the Alliance do.  During the Cataclysm era, there are disgruntle voices within our online community: Do Blizzard flavor Horde?  Thrall has turned into a savior while his counter part King Varian seems to have been sidelined.  Horde appear to have gained ground against the Alliance across the world.  Supporters of the Alliance have made a long list in justifying their claim that Blizzard has indeed flavored the Horde.

I am concerned, of course.  Because it seems to me that Blizzard is making a U-turn in order to please and retain the fans.  In the online game, we know that the fall of Theramore once ruled by Lady Proudmoore is the trigger of a new war between the Horde and the Alliance.  We also know that at the end of this new Mists of Pandaria expansion, the Horde capital Orgrimmar will be raided and Hellscream will be defeated – by Alliance and Horde alike.  As a keen observer of the lore, this a very bold plot development.  Blizzard is going to upset a lot of people.  This is a big gamble.  But, if played right, this plot twist may well bring the entire franchise back to its very root.

War.

As a fan of this franchise – be it as a Horde or Alliance supporter – I welcome this twist.  Let’s put war back to Warcraft.  In order to fully appreciate this wind of change, Christie Golden has written an excellent book called Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War.  I have read quite a number of her novels.  This book again moves me to tears.  The scale of war is nothing like what I have read before (within this franchise that is).  Garrosh Hellscream has a plan.  He is not agreeable to the ex-Warchief’s vision of peace.  Garrosh wants to bring glory to the Horde.  More specifically, he wants to be the leader who finishes off what Thrall – in his eyes – has failed to do.  Readers of Christie Golden would immediately recognize that while Garrosh is hotheaded, he is one great tactician when it comes to warfare.  He would sacrifice all that he has in order to achieve a goal.  But he would also retreat if the tactical advantage is no longer viable.  He does not listen.  But he values loyalty and he does not hesitate in exerting authority over his people and other Horde races.  Horde leaders such as Baine and Vol’jin do not agree with Garrosh’s thirst for war.  Both have secretly negotiated peace with the Alliance in the past through diplomacy means.  But for their peoples’ survival’s sake, they answer to Garrosh’s call for arm because Horde units, even when it is fragmented within.  Such is the political difference between the two factions.

Jaina Proudmoore’s Theramore is of a strategic military importance to the Alliance.  The city is located by the sea, in Kalimdor, south of Orc Capital Orgrimmar, and has a key route to Night Elf’s home land up north.  Garrosh’s vision is clear.  Destroying Theramore is only the first step.  His military plan is to barraade Kalimdor from Alliance’s reinforcement, and ultimately drive out or exterminate the night elves in the north.  Both the Undead and the Blood Elf are uneasy about Garrosh’s plan.  Because their capitals lie in Eastern Kingdoms.  Alliance will retaliate and they will be the first to suffer.  But like Tauren and Troll, it is either follow Orc’s command or face isolation.  That leaves them little options.

While Garrosh vision is sound, the execution can be less than honorable.  Slowly, we can see how power corrupts Garrosh and turns him into a tyrant, a dictator who will stop at nothing unless his goal is attained.  This time, there is no demonic corruption to be blamed.  Nor the Old Gods.  It is pure greed and ambition of the mortals, which is something new in the lore.

The center figure of this new book is of course Jaina Proudmoore.  I have been following Jaina’s story for years, mainly because in the early days of this online game, I enjoyed role playing as a human.  Jaina is one of the – if not the – most powerful living human mage.  If you roll a mage class like I do, she is the role model to look upon.

Due to her heritage, she rules Theramore and was romantically linked to the then-human prince Arthas who turned into Lich King.  While her family was slaughtered by the Horde, she believes that most Horde are as honorable as the Alliance and that diplomacy is the key to peace.

Imagine her emotional shock when Garrosh has launched an assault to Theramore.  As an attempt to halt the assault, she has to plead for help from the neutral organization Kirin Tor residing in the magical city of Dalaran, from her new friend Kalecgos the ex-Aspect of Blue Dragonflight, and from King Varian the leader of Alliance.  This is one spectacular battle when we get to see first hand the transformation of Jaina as well as King Varian stepping up as a war strategist.  This war does not end when the book does.  It is going to be escalated as more stories unfold in the World of Warcraft.

Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War is a must read for the fans and the lore lovers.

Lord of the Clans By Christie Golden

Christie Golden needs no introduction.  She has written tons of books for major fantasy franchises.  I reckon she is one of Blizzard’s favorites.  I may not be agreeable to her writing style, especially her over reliance of the word ‘had’ (who am I to comment about English grammar anyway, though this habit of hers has been highlighted by other online reviewers as well).  But every book of her so far managed to move me to tears.  If you need someone to thoroughly develop a character and to strike the emotional core of the readers, Christie Golden is the one you shall look for.

Lord of the Clan, in summary, is a story of Thrall.  It is the second book from the Warcraft: Archive series.  The demonic power that corrupted the orcs seems to have receded, leaving the blood eyed orcs docile, incapable to return to their former glory.  For most orcs, their way of life is lost.  The warlocks’ abuse of demonic power has driven the shamanic spirit away.  In this era, orcs who were previously addicted to the demonic power are now willingly imprisoned by the human.  The war is lost.  It is a dark day for the orcs.

Infant orc Thrall, son of Frostwolf Clan’s Chieftain, is left in the wild when his parents are brutally assassinated by their fellow Horde.  During a hunting trip, Thrall is found by a human called Lord Blackmoore who is in command of the encampments where orcs are imprisoned.  Instead of killing the orc baby, Blackmoore has decided to enslave Thrall and train him as a gladiator for his personal gain.  He commands his people to teach Thrall how to read and to fight.  He wants Thrall to learn the human language and master the war strategies.  Life as a gladiator is never easy.  However, Thrall is also blessed with a few friends.  One of them is a human girl called Taretha, who treats Thrall as her little brother.

However comfortable life seems to be as a slave, Thrall’s true destiny is not to be a gladiator.  He must join force with Grom Hellscream of the Warsong Clan.  He must unit with the Warchief Orgrim Doomhammer.  Together, the New Horde must rise.

Lord of the Clan is the first book that is written from the Horde’s perspective.  While the Old Horde that fell under the demonic influence is traditionally viewed as villain and the Alliance is seen as hero, with the rise of the New Horde, the line is no longer black and white.  Orcs can be honorable.  Orcs can be merciful.  And human can also be corrupted by political power too.

Thrall has become a center figure in recent lore development.  Lord of the Clans has shed much insight onto Thrall’s childhood and adulthood.  With Thrall’s unique background – born as an orc and taught by the human – it is no doubt he is where he is today.  The question to all whom indulge in the World of Warcraft is: after Cataclysm and at the end of Mists of Pandaria, will Thrall return as Horde’s Warchief?

Thrall: Twilight Of The Aspects By Christie Golden – Powerful, And Moving

After I have finished reading Thrall in Hong Kong, I said to Cynthia, “Drop everything you are reading now and start to read this!”  It is that good.  Rewind to the day when we were at the airport.  On several occasions, I struggled if I shall read another book written by Christie Golden.  Price is a factor (S$44 in Singapore while you can get a Kindle copy from Amazon for merely US$15).  I have been camping at our library website for quite some time but the book is nowhere to be seen in the catalog.  Christie Golden does not strike me as a great writer, in the genre of fantasy.  Hence that added to my hesitation.  But hack, it is a holiday trip.  On the day of my holiday, Blizzard has announced a new expansion for the World of Warcraft online game: Mists of Pandaria.  On top of that, Cynthia and I have committed for a one year subscription and will get the upcoming Diablo III free.  There were many reasons to celebrate.  So I bought Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects.

The story is epic, even for those who may have no knowledge of the Warcraft Universe.  The book has told the story well, assuming that the readers may not have any background.  In the beginning, Titans (or creators) have entrusted their power to five dragon Aspects (leaders of dragonflights) and these Aspects – together with their respective dragonflights – are tasked to protect our world.  The green dragon Aspect is bound to the waking Dream of Creation.  She touches all living beings, and sing to them the songs of creation and interconnections.  The blue dragon Aspect regulates, manages, and controls all magic that must be appreciated and valued, and not hoarded.  The yellow dragon Aspect keeps the purity of time.  The red dragon Aspect is gifted with compassion for all living things, to protect and to nurture.  Heal those others cannot, birth what others may not, and love even the unlovable.  And the black dragon Aspect is offered the earth, the basis of all things, to manage time, life, dreams, and magic.  Prior to Cataclysm, Neltharion the Earth-Warder (black) was corrupted by the old gods and has become Deathwing who now destroys life instead of protecting life.  Malygos the Spell-Weaver (blue) was destroyed by the dragonflights led by Alexstrasza the Life-Binder (red) due to his genocidal crusade against all magic users in Azeroth.  Since then, the blue dragonflight is left without an Aspect.  Ysera the Awakened (green) has recently come out from the Emerald Dream after thousands of years of dreaming and she is still somewhat dreamy, somewhat confused.  Nozdormu the Timeless (yellow) has gone missing and no one knows where he is in time and space.

In short, Thrall is a story set against the dragonflights and the unique situation the dragons are now at.  For those of you who are mesmerized by the stories of the dragons since the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, this book is going to fill in so many lore gaps that are not featured in a gaming environment.

The world event Cataclysm was launched on December 7, 2010.  In less than a year, Blizzard has transformed one of the key lore character Thrall from a leader of one faction into a protector of Azeroth and more.  Some may or may not agree on such a special treatment of a Horde character (the Alliance certainly is not happy).  But given the unique background of Thrall – an orc who was raised by humans and learned to befriend with and trust other races – is a pivot to the general theme of Cataclysm: The healing of a wounded world.  Christie Golden has done a great job in intelligently describing Thrall’s life history without making this book reads like a history scroll.  Her strength is her story dialog and it remains powerful and moving.  In more than a few counts, I was moved to tears.  To be frank, I rarely cry reading books or watching movies.  But I do have a few soft spots here and there.

Unlike some of her other books, I feel that the plot of Thrall is tighter.  There is an overall build up to climax and a conclusion to a subplot less likely to be seen in the game.  Now that Dragon Soul patch 4.3 is at hand whereby adventurers will be able to experience first hand in aiding Thrall and the Aspects to battle against Deathwing, Thrall is a must read.

The Shattering: Prelude To Cataclysm By Christie Golden – Missing Lore Explained

Flawed as it may be, this book “The Shattering” in several occasions moved me literally to tears.  For better or for worse, Christie Golden may well be one of our finest.  She has the passion to the lore, connection to Blizzard developing team, and has the time and patience to write a book for the fans whom most do not even have the patience to read the few-liner in-game quest text.  I have read her previous book “Arthas, Rise of the Lich King“.  No way I am going to miss this one.  Because I am aspired to be a lore geek.

Unless you have been in the past few months religiously following the lore development at Warcraft’s website and reading through the monthly comic book series, you may feel disoriented from where the Warcraft universe was used to be, to where it is now.  Azeroth has been ripped apart, through the Cataclysm world event.  Weeks before December 7 last year, prior to the launch of Cataclysm, for those who had logged into game, you must have been awed by the change in landscape.  New faces have appeared in our capital cities forming the new line of leadership.  For most the questions you have, “The Shattering” may have the answer.

The story begins with the triumphant return of Garrosh Hellscream who has led the Horde expedition beyond the Dark Portal and Northrend.  A character who is soon to assume the position of acting Warchief.  For most of us who are not familiar with the lore – myself included – Garrosh Hellscream is a character we have little love for.  Especially if you have already read the episode between the reckless Garrosh and the honorable Cairne Bloodhoof, the late Chieftain of the tauren.  And his clashes with the legendary Horde Warchief, Thrall, too may not sit well with some of the lore lovers.  This book has changed my perception of him completely.  Hellscream represents a new generation of leadership, with a unique personality and trait.  To join this new era, there are Baine, son of Cairne, and the young human prince Anduin Wrynn.  Moira Thaurissan née Bronzebeard is also featured as the new dwarf queen.  Varian Wrynn, king of Stormwind, is back.  The ever charming human archmage Jaina Proudmoore – ruler of Theramore – with unknown years of age is still instrumental to the plot development.  Magic must have preserved her well.

The strength of Christie Golden is perhaps on the dramatic dialogs of honor and sacrifice.  I am happy to read how different each race converses.  However, I do not think the author is in particularly strong in the romance bits, nor the battle bits.  And I wish some parts of the story have more depth, and breath.  But such is the challenge of a lore writer, with perimeters drawn by the game designers.  Through “The Shattering”, readers should have a better appreciation on the differences in culture and political climate between the two factions – Horde and Alliance.  I still think that Cataclysm as a world event is bias towards the Horde.  And it is shown in this book too.  Some readers are disappointed that not even Deathwing – the Dragon Aspect that is responsible for this entire Cataclysm –  is mentioned.  No, you cannot find Deathwing in “The Shattering”.  Because this book is a prelude to the coming of Cataclysm.

“The Shattering” is more for the fans, than for general public consumption.  Having said that, I am curious to hear how someone with zero lore background would perceive this fantasy book.  Even for the fans, if you are lost, do not hesitate to consult WoWWiki.com.  It has everything you ever need to know, in the World of Warcraft.

This is an actual in-game image of tauren's capital city Thunder Bluff. This capital is heavily featured in "The Shattering".

This is an actual in-game image of tauren’s capital city Thunder Bluff. This capital is heavily featured in “The Shattering”.

World of Warcraft: Arthas, Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden – A Book Review & More

ARTHAS !!

“Our party has defeated the waves of undeads, in the city of Stratholme.  Aiding Prince Arthas Menethil for his goal to defeat the powerful demon Mal’Ganis, we entered the town hall, greeted by groups of dragons in human form.  We hacked our way deep into Stratholme, blood and sweat and fallen bodies of the undeads, and of the dragons.  Colors of magic engulfed our party, of offense to our enemies, and of healing to us.

Then the unthinkable happened.  One of the dragons took its eyes off our warrior and attacked our undead warlock, with full force.  Didn’t stand a chance, our companion fell.  Dead.  Maybe our undead priest tried too desperately to reverse the inevitable of our party’s first death, our orc warrior did not get the healing in time, and he too fell onto the ground, dead.

Without our warrior, it looked as though our mission was doomed.  Our blood elf warlock metamorphosed into his demon form, attempted to hold off the dragons for as long as he could, but did not last long.  And soon, our healer was dead too.  I snapped into action, with heightened reflex.  I was a blood elf rogue, carrying a poisonous mace on my right hand and a dagger on my left.  My party in ghost spirit watching, as I fought side by side with Arthas.  Just me, and him.  Don’t let Arthas die, they all screamed.  I was in killing spree, ditching out as much damage as possible.  At the very crucial moment, we won.  Arthas continued moving forward as I quickly rested and bandaged myself.  We only had time to resurrect three of us, hardly had time to get prepared, and the big demon Chrono-Lord Epoch spawned out of nowhere, charging towards us.  A voice ascended from hell and said: Prince Arthas Menethil, on this day, a powerful darkness has taken hold of your soul.  The death you are destined to visit upon others will this day be your own.” – My personal journal of one of our visits to the heroic dungeon Culling of Stratholme.

Many friends ask: How can you play an online game for more than four years?  It is hard to explain.  In fact, I have given up explaining long time ago.  The analogy as such: Regularly, you and your friend arrive at a court, spend an hour or two to play a game bounded by a certain set of rules.  And in every other days, you do something else, other than basketball.  How can you play basketball or football for years?  Same type of courts, some set of rules, and at times, same group of friends.  The answer could be as simple as what has been illustrated in the first three paragraphs of this entry.  It is not the rules of the game that makes a game special.  It is those memorable moments you take part to create within a game that makes you want to do it again, and again.  I did not write the above story.  It was a journal of one of our venture into a dungeon (in heroic mode) with five online players.  Some days, we blast through the dungeon.  Some days, the same reward is much hard earned.

Of all the many game aspects, I respect the role-playing gamers the most.  Not only do they act in character while playing the online game, they write too.  Check out the role-playing forum if you have time, for an eye-opening experience.  These people are skilled writers, brilliant storytellers.  Of the thousands of fan-based lore writers, some have made it to publish books that are endorsed by the brand World of Warcraft.  No easy feat indeed.  At the back of “Arthas: Rise of the Lich King” for instance, there is a long section of “Further Reading” listing the relevant publications out there.  There is as though an unwritten rule that all the storytellers have to create stories that not only gel with the overall lore laid down by Blizzard (the creator of the Warcraft franchise), but also gel with what have been published in the past.

This book – written by Christie Golden – accounts for the story of Prince Arthas Menethil from young, his romance with Lady Jaina Proudmoore, the trial he faced, and into the dark power he turned his back away from his alliance and has become the Lich King.  It is a familiar story for those who have been soaked in the lore of Warcraft for years.  Familiar names, familiar places, even some of the dialogues – a faithful account of events.  This book is timely as “Rise of the Lich King” is our current game expansion.  For those who may be new to the lore (like Cynthia and to some extend, I, as for some reasons, I have not started on the Warcraft III Expansion pack), “Arthas” is a good book to read.  Christie Golden has portrayed Arthas’s transformation well, a character whom I have developed feelings towards.

In a way, I agree with some of the readers that the later part of the book may appear to be too much of a rush (containing too many events) in contrary to the initial part that focuses more onto the character development.  Maybe an expanded section to account for the epic battles would be welcome by many.  Cynthia has read it and calls it a children book (what happens to all the killing and the implied sex?!).  As for me, for days, I was locked inside this world of Arthas, even as I was on the plane returning from my previous holiday location.