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.

Of Blood and Honor by Chris Metzen

Chronologically speaking, Of Blood and Honor is the last book of the Warcraft: Archive series.  This book is written by the esteemed Chris Metzen, generally regarded as the father (or one of the fathers) of Warcraft.  It is of an honor to finally read his work.

Of Blood and Honor, on the surface, is a rather short story.  Lord Tirion Fordring, a human paladin and a follower of Light, one day finds an old orc in his province.  In his days, every orc is a monster and must be eliminated.  Tirion fights the old orc and is being defeated.  As the tower collapses threatened to kill the unconscious Tirion within, the old orc saves his life, binds him onto his horse, and sends him back to his Keep.

Deeply affected by how the situation turns out, Tirion has decided to return to abandoned tower and confront the old orc once again.  Why would a monster save its enemy’s life?  To his surprise, this old orc speaks his language and has a name.  Eitrigg further enlightens Tirion on how some orcs have decided to leave their ranks because they do not wish to be corrupted by the demonic power and lose their way of life.  Do orcs have honor?  This one seems to have, so thinks Tirion.  In return to Eitrigg’s saving his life, Tirion has vowed to leave Eitrigg in peace and never seek him out.

Unfortunately, words are out and people now know that there are orcs in the area (although there is only one).  Is Tirion willing to risk losing everything he has in order to uphold his honor and his vow with an enemy?  To those of us who have been playing World of Warcraft since the beginning, the interaction between Tirion and Eitrigg marks a pivoting moment in the history of Warcraft – Horde and Alliance can collaborate.  They can fight side by side if a situation calls for.  This is exactly what we do today, when we face the worse adversity the world has yet to face.

Of Blood and Honor may not be rich in complexity.  However, without a doubt, it is a book that is rich in honor and sacrifice.  The path to heroism is not easy.  Especially when most don’t see that you are one.

The Last Guardian By Jeff Grubb

For those who have played Warcraft 3, the real time strategy game released decades ago, you may recall a black raven that transformed into a human prophet at will speaking to both the Horde and Alliance.  It was the prophet’s plan to bring both sides’ attention to the looming danger of the demonic invasion – The Burning Legion.  The game ends with the glorious battle of all races of Azeroth against the demons’ final assault to the World Tree.

Perhaps the name Medivh means something to you.  The Last Guardian tells the story of Medivh, the most powerful mage known in Azeroth, before he has become the raven that some of us are familiar with in Warcraft 3.

To my best knowledge, The Last Guardian is the only Warcraft novel written by Jeff Grubb.  I do not know why he no longer writes for the Warcraft series.  I happen to enjoy his writing style – slower pace no doubt, but with a certain mysterious underlying to the overarching story.  The Last Guardian almost reads like a detective story.  Magic is explained in the finest technical detail.  The entire book is written in such finest detail.  I feel as though I am living inside the tower of Karazhan, together with the visions within and all.

Medivh is an enigmatic character.  His tower of Karazhan holds many secrets of the past and the future.  To tell the story, Jeff Grubb relies on the young Khadgar – a human mage highly recommended by Kirim Tor (an organization of mages residing in Dalaran) to be the apprentice of Medivh.  Khadgar has an inquisition mind and his undying curiosity makes him a perfect spy to learn the secret of the tower.  Medivh knows of Kirim Tor’s intend but is confident that by building trust, Khadgar may one day stand by his side.

The stories told within Karazhan are epic.  It goes all the way when Medivh’s 800 years old mother Aegwynn battled the evil Titan Sargeras.  Throughout my interaction with the Warcraft franchise – be it as in-game or the bits and pieces of lore scattered in books and at Blizzard’s website – it is the closest moment I have read about the Titans.  There are plenty of visions that explain what the past was, and what the future is to be.  The stories further explain Medivh’s background and why the most powerful mage in Azerorth is going insane.

After reading The Last Guardian, there are still many questions in my mind.  If Medivh is the Guardian of Order of Tirisfal, how does he relate to the Aspects of the five dragon flights – who are also named as the Guardians of Azeroth?  If the Aspects are empowered by Titans, what empowered the Guardian of Order of Tirisfal?  Sargeras appears to be one tough Titan to defeat – though it does not seem impossible – would this Titan be the ultimate villain in the online game World of Warcraft?  If so, when would that be?

The Last Guardian is the third book coming from the Warcraft Archive series.  It reads differently from others.  A worthwhile read nonetheless.

6,311 Hours Of Played Time: World Of Warcraft

At times I ask myself: Am I playing too much World of Warcraft?  It is hard to comprehend what 6,311 hours mean without a context.  My record shows that I have played this online game since the beginning of 2005, spent more than US$1,000 on subscription fees.  I don’t play WoW every day.  As of now, I haven’t touched the game for months.  But when I touch it, I could go crazy with it.

Theramore, Destroyed.  Jaina Proudmoore’s hair has turned white.  Hellscream is safe and sound.  What’s next?

Typically for me, a video game takes around 40 hours to consume.  A good game may eat up 80 to 120 hours of my life.  The third expansion Cataclysm was released two year ago.  That expansion alone I have clocked in roughly 1,700 hours –  the most played expansion of all.

There has been great debate on how Cataclysm flares compared with the previous expansions, even with the original game released in 2004.  There are fans who say that it is disappointing.  The sales figure also seems to support that sentiment.  Towards the end of the expansion, even the developers feel the heat and the need to reverse a good portion of their design philosophy.  This clearly has an impact on WoW’s next expansion Mists of Pandaria, which is due to be out in a few days’ time.  The question is: Is Cataclysm all that bad?

Personally, I welcome a better emphasis on skill-based rather than gear-based approach.  The content at the beginning of the expansion was significantly harder than before.  That required us to reexamine our priority system.  I love the challenge, although I must say, Blizzard seems to have over-engineered some of the game mechanics.

The problem of this increased challenge is that some players no matter how hard they tried or read from the Internet simply could not bridge that gap.  In the previous expansions, we could compensate skill with gears earned through persistence.  That did not seem to work for the first year of Cataclysm.  To make it worse, the then-high-end content failed to reward the effort required.  The net result?  People were frustrated.  Relationships were strained because not everyone performed or could perform at the same level.

On the plus side, I like the bite size stories spread across the new zones.  I also like the new dailies hub that evolves as we progress.  The quests do not feel too taxing either.  And I like how Blizzard opens up raiding to the less hardcore players.  Being able to collect an armor set that was used to be exclusive to raiders who invest immense amount of time and sacrifice is one good news (ironically, I do not seem to invest any less played time either).

What’s Next?

Having played the beta of the new expansion Mists of Pandaria and having seen some of the new game updates, I must say that I am underwhelmed.  The graphics look dated.  World of Warcraft indeed plays like an aging game.  Fans would defend this online game by pointing to the fact that game play is the most important aspect of all.  But there is a limit to how far this saying could go.

My friends and I have recently logged back in and tried out the new scenario mode.  That was insanely boring.  Perhaps if we haven’t tried the latest massively multiplayer online game, we could have overlooked these flaws.  Would I continue to pay US$14.99 a month to play this game?  Cynthia’s commitment to the annual pass deal will continue till end of this year.  Hence, we may still get the new expansion and try it out.

This time round, I doubt I would pushed the played time beyond 7,000 hours.  I sure pray that I won’t.

While the scenarios from both the Horde and Alliance perspective are incredibly boring, we took a screenshot nonetheless.

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?