Let me start by pointing out that there are lots of different types of reviews out there. To use film reviews as an example, you’ve got the coldly analytical (“The film runs 128 minutes, and stars Denzel Washington and Carrot-top in a film featuring the launching of a Presidential election”) all the way down to what you see on Ain’t It Cool News (“Before going to the theatre, I had chili con carne for lunch and beat my little brother with a foam baseball bat to get in the right mood”.)
I’m going to give you some of the background about the review, then share with you some of the facts about the book in question, and then give you some of my personal opinions from reading it. No spoilers, of course. So, a bit from column B, some from column A, and then back to B.
Allow me to repeat that one bit, I think it’s important. No spoilers shall appear in this review. Aside from the fact that, you know… Arthas turns into the Lich King. If I ruined that for you, I deeply apologize.
Now, a bit about how this review came into being.
I received an email completely out of the blue from one of the advance publicists, wondering if I would be interested in reading the book, and perhaps talking about it on the blog. Maybe, if I liked the idea, we could hold a contest on my blog and give away a few nice hardcover copies of the book. What did I think?
Well, I liked the idea in general, but I wanted a few specifics.
First, is the book an approved part of Blizzard’s lore? Well, of course it is. Christie Golden has written quite a few other books in the World of Warcraft official lore, and on top of that she has written quite a large number of Star Wars novels (which I haven’t read), and above all else she wrote one of the greatest D&D novels out there ever, Ravenloft: Vampire of the Mists, a book that still sits on my book shelf to this day, a GREAT freaking book, btw. Vampire elves, ftw. The whole flower thing really touched me deeply at the time. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read the book, dammit!
Second… you do understand I’m going to actually READ the whole book and write my honest impressions about it, right? Okay, just wanted to get that out of the way. I gush out of love for the game and enthusiasm for this hobby, but I ain’t nobody’s dancing chicken.
She still sent me a copy of the book. What a nice lady. Crazy, but nice.
So, I said sure. And lo and behold, there in the mail arrived a beautiful copy of the novel, addressed to The Big Bear Butt. I tell you, it sent shivers down my spine.
Allow me to take this opportunity to encourage this behavior of people sending me stuff. I’d like a little more of that, thank you. If you believe in your product and are willing to accept my honest opinion in a review here, be it about a book, a mouse or keyboard, a computer system, or a Lexus… hey, I’ll be happy to write a review of what I thought about it here. Not a problem!
Okay, so the book itself.
Arthas: Rise of the Lich King is a beautiful hardcover book, take a look at that image of the cover up there, I think that’s pretty nice. It weighs in at 320 pages total. It has a few full color high quality image plates in the front showing Arthas and then the Lich King in all his glory, followed by a few maps of Lordaeron as it was in Arthas’ time, and of Northrend. The next 311 pages are story, followed by an ‘About the Author’ section, and then by something I found extremely useful, a 3 page section on Further Reading, specifying where you can read in greater detail the different stories touched on briefly in the book.
I want to talk about that a little more.
Often, I’ll start reading a book, and something will be mentioned in passing, some event perhaps, and I’ll get the feeling that I just read one sentence used to mention an event that covered hundreds of pages somewhere else. And I have no idea where to find out what I missed. The novels of Robert Heinlein are like that in spades. The only answer for me there, for course, was to read them all. Eventually, I read the Lensman books because of the Number of the Beast. It got real crazy out there.
In this case, the story of Arthas spans the entire history of the World of Warcraft, and has been told in novels, video games, manga by Tokyopop, comic books that are still going on now, all approved by Blizzard and written by many different authors.
It was really nice to see not just a list of books about World of Warcraft, but a specific list of what parts of the story from Arthas: Rise of the Lich King that I could find covered in greater detail somewhere else.
And it left me wishing someone would do a very detailed novel starring Sylvanas Windrunner, ahem ahem.
Finally, to round up the facts, the story told in Arthas: Rise of the Lich King is that of Arthas himself, from his point of view mostly, from the age of about 9 all the way to the kickoff of the WoW expansion.
It focuses exclusively on Arthas himself, his beginnings, the forming of his character, what events in his environment and his own weakness helped to lead him along the path he eventually followed, and what other, more sinister forces were at work to influence his decisions.
Since it does follow Arthas, there are may times when he walks on scene in the middle of high drama or interacts with other characters in lore that have, themselves, some pretty awesome tales. You see Arthas come on, do his thing, and then move off to make history somewhere else. Since these events can themselves be huge stories waiting to be told, knowing where else to go to read more is pretty handy. I did mention how much I liked that part, right? Just checking.
My thoughts on the book, or, “Hey, wasn’t there supposed to be a review?”
I finished the book earlier today, in two very long sittings.
Normally, I let a book take as long as I feel it needs to for me to wring subtext, deeper meanings and interesting concepts out of.
Believe it or not, the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett are wonderful for this. There are a LOT of wonderful treasures to uncover in each page of his writing.
For this book, I read through it so fast mostly because I really wanted to have finished it before writing anything about it. So I sat my happy butt down and focused.
The book is excellent. It really is. Let’s get that out of the way right now.
I personally enjoyed it a great deal, because I felt that it brought a great deal of lore to life in a very exciting way, lore that is vital in the game right now, and did a nice job of bringing deeper meaning to events that I am very familiar with from playing all the video games. It’s a lot of fun imagining those scenes, after playing through supporting events in game.
I particularly found the story of Arthas’ early years really inspiring me to want to break out the first two Warcraft games to play all those epic events over again. The Orc versus Human battle of Warcraft really need to be refreshed in my mind. That was fun stuff.
She does a great job at every step of bringing to life what we remember having lived through in the game, I got lost in it quite a bit.
All told, the book is a great read and I had a blast.
But. And there has to be a but.
No book is perfect.
If there is a flaw in the book, to me it’s not in the writing quality, it’s the subject matter itself.
And it’s strictly my opinion here, so here is where you are welcome to read the book and come back and vociferously disagree with my thoughts on this.
Here we go… Arthas and the Lich King are epic figures in the lore of Warcraft, but in the end, the story of Arthas does not truly feel like a tragic tale of fallen pride and lost innocense, which was always how I felt that it was intended. A man-child, a Prince, that had all the world before him, all the promise, all the hope for the future, a golden age of the kingdom to inherit, who fell from grace and ended up as one of it’s greatest villains.
I just don’t really feel like the lore fulfills on that promise. And that is not, I feel, through any fault of Christie Golden. She did a great job, and shows… what she reveals of Arthas actually rings very true from what we know of his actions.
My disappointment stems from the feeling that the choices that Arthas makes, as revealed in the lore and as faithfully represented here, are those of a spoiled boy that was afraid of owning up to responsibility, and yet was shown as somehow having the strength of character and determination to impress such trainers as Muradin the dwarf and Uther the Lightbringer himself.
In the end, as great as the book is, it left me feeling that the lore itself let me down just a little, in making me wish that Arthas was a little more worthy of his great power, a little more of the hero that could stand and face down Uther at the gates of Stratholme, truly believing he was in the right, and have Uther back down in confusion. That his fall from grace felt like the actual fall of a great man-child, and less like a gradual insolent slouch in a generally downwards direction.
Seriously though, my fanboy discussions of WoW lore aside, the book is great, so don’t let my yakking get you down.
If I had a favorite part of the book, it would be everything about Uther, all of the stuff about Sylvanus Windrunner, and the dialogue of Kel’Thuzad. That was all very cool. Okay, and Thrall rocked.
Hmmm, and Jaina training as a Mage, taht was great… okay, I better shut up now.
I know our pal Ratshag is gonna read the book, because it tells us a LOT about just what exactly Jaina Proudmoore loves in a man. Or Elf. Or Orc. It shows a lot! (So Maurice, pay attention!)
I will certainly read it again, there is a ton of great stuff throughout the book that deserves a second read.
No, I don’t get any monies from those, either.
Oh, and one last thing. I mentioned a possible contest?
Yeah, that might still happen, I’m still working on it. If at all possible, I’d love to give away a book or two to you folks, and as soon as I know what the plan is, I’ll be letting you know in turn.
I hope you liked the review. Or at least got a feel for whether the book is something you’re interested in.
Take care, and have fun!