Heads up: This turned out to be an extremely long post. This is the most epic nerd rant I have produced since I saw the JJ Abrams Trek movie, at least.
Review: Tides of War:
I have very strong feelings about this book, both positive and negative. For this reason, I will be putting aside my usual spoiler-free policy.
You’ve been warned.
We all know the story by now. Garrosh Hellscream launches an unprovoked assault on Theramore Isle as part of a bid to conquer all of Kalimdor. But this attack is merely a cover for his true plot: using the Focusing Iris to create a mana bomb of overwhelming power that turns Theramore into the Azerothian Hiroshima.
It’s a calamitous event that shatters everything Jaina Proudmoore ever believed in. Her selfless desire for peace is rewarded with the grizzly death of all her friends and countless innocents, and it changes her forever.
“Tides of War” is Christie Golden’s take on the events we will also play in-game in a few weeks.
Will the real Jaina Proudmoore please stand up?
Once upon a time, Jaina was my favourite Warcraft character. If you never played Warcraft III, you’ve never seen the real Jaina.
Jaina was such a refreshingly unique character in the Warcraft universe. Before, Warcraft had been entirely dominated by martial characters, usually male. Everyone was a badass fighter.
Jaina was different. Jaina could handle herself in a fight — her first appearance involved her killing two Ogres twice her size without breaking a sweat — but she was a scholar and peace-maker at heart. She was wise and humble enough to realize the Scourge couldn’t be defeated, open-minded enough to put aside her prejudice and ally with the Horde, and strong enough to stand against the madness of her lover and the bigotry of her father.
And she did it all with a smile on her face. Even in the darkest moments, she still had a joke and a quip.
Compare that to her portrayal in World of Warcraft, where she’s done nothing but cry, and you’ll want to cry.
I had a little hope “Tides of War” might restore Jaina’s character, but I also feared it might screw her up even worse, making her just another warmonger — the Alliance Sylvanas.
In the end, neither is really the case. Jaina did go psycho for a while, attempting to wipe Orgrimmar from the face of Azeroth, but she is eventually talked down by Thrall and Kalecgos — more on him in moment. She’s probably going to be a more interesting character now than she’s been in a long time, but it’s also clear the character I once loved is now dead and gone.
Kalec, and why he’s a problem:
I was a bit surprised by how big a role Kalecgos played in this book, though I shouldn’t have been. As the leader of the Blue Dragonflight, the Focusing Iris is his responsibility.
I like Kalec. He’s a solid, likable character. But I don’t enjoy the role he played in “Tides of War” — namely, Jaina’s new love interest.
Jaina may be an extraordinary woman, but she’s still just that: a woman, a human. Kalec is a Dragon. An immortal being empowered by the Titans to safeguard Azeroth. Perhaps more importantly, he’s a giant lizard.
Let me say that again:
Why is he falling for a human woman? Yes, he’s got a humanoid form, but that’s all it is: a form, a guise. Even putting aside how improbable it is for him to be able to connect to mortals on an emotional level, let’s think about this from a practical, physical perspective. He’s a lizard. His ideal of beauty would probably involve good scales and strong talons.
I always worried that giving Dragons humanoid forms would make them just humans with wings, but it didn’t happen until now. Say what you will about Richard Knaak, but his Dragons always felt like Dragons, no matter their form.
Aside from that, the whole romance is just poorly handled. I really, really hate it when characters start falling in love in the face of constant peril. The Horde is literally breaking down your gates; why are you spending your time taking romantic walks on the beach?
My other big problem with “Tides of War” is how much of it feels like overkill. First of all, we already had an event where the Horde did something utterly unforgivable that launched a world war. It was called the Battle of Angrathar, and it didn’t happen that long ago. It makes the whole destruction of Theramore feel a little redundant.
Christie Golden lays the emotion on a bit thick, as well. The destruction of Theramore is itself a heartbreaking event. The heroic sacrifice of Rhonin even more so. And that is the best thing about this book; it is powerful.
But all that wasn’t enough, apparently, because Golden also had to introduce a new character: Kinndy Sparkshine, Jaina’s new apprentice. Kinndy is the daughter of a beloved Dalaran NPC, an adorable young Gnome girl obviously designed to be as lovable as possible, and I knew she was destined for a grizzly death the moment she appeared.
Kinndy’s death was overkill — no pun intended. The book was already brutal and heart-wrenching. We didn’t need a gruesomely killed adorable Gnome girl on top of everything else.
Taking the wider view:
The best things about “Tides of War,” oddly enough, are those that don’t deal so directly with Jaina or Theramore.
I make no secret of my unhappiness with the Horde’s current story arc. It feels like a blatant retread of the plots of the early strategy games. Horde goes too far, gets its ass whooped, and learns its lesson.
And Garrosh is a poor character to lead it. There are many members of the Horde who’ve suffered terribly at the hands of the Alliance and have good cause to hate them. Garrosh isn’t one of them, which makes his hate for the Alliance seem artificial and contrived. Not to mention how scattered and confused his portrayals have been.
But “Tides of War” gives me some hope. It seems they’ve finally chosen a clear direction for Garrosh’s character: he’s arrogant, reckless, brutal, and plain evil. It may be cliche, but it works.
Perhaps more importantly, “Tides of War” makes very clear he does not speak for all of the Horde. Virtually every race is shown to question his leadership and goals, with the Tauren and Trolls being outright disgusted by his blood lust.
But there’s nothing they can do, as Garrosh has established a secret police that will silence any opposition to his iron-fisted rule.
This shows that Blizzard is not letting Warcraft slide back into completely black and white factions, and that’s a great relief. Now, if only we could get them to stop making the Alliance look totally perfect all the time…
Speaking of the Alliance, this book has reaffirmed my belief that the Wrynn men, Varian and Anduin, are the best thing to happen to Warcraft in many, many years. Seriously, these guys are my heroes.
Actually, Anduin reminds me a lot of old school Jaina…
But perhaps the greatest thing about “Tides of War” is the sense of these being truly world-changing events. Despite a slight feeling of redundancy in regards to the Wrath Gate, the destruction of Theramore does feel like a truly massive event with an epic impact on the world. It brings the sense of scale that I so desire from Warcraft.
Other little things:
Christie Golden is a pretty good writer, and I have a lot of respect for her, but this book felt rushed and unpolished in a lot of places. A lot of times, I literally didn’t know where a scene was taking place because she didn’t bother to describe the setting. And there were other rookie mistakes, like far too many adjectives.
Makes me wonder if she was working under a tight deadline or something…
Another thing that was a little odd was that she clearly put a much stronger effort into making the book feel like the game. The Alliance doesn’t have archers and scouts; it has hunters and rogues. You’ll recognize a lot of spells and abilities from the game.
I don’t really know how I feel about this. It’s great to see a bigger connection between the books and the game, but it’s odd to read about Horde characters being ganked by rogues.
If you’re still reading…
…I’m impressed. This blog has gotten a bit away from me, but as I’ve always said, the lore is far and away the most important part of WoW for me, and I don’t know any other lore fans, so I need to vent somewhere. And “Tides of War” touches on many things that have long been sore spots for me.
In the end, the best thing I can say about “Tides of War” is what I said at the beginning: I have very strong feelings about it. Warcraft has lacked an edge, an emotional punch, a controversy lately.
Warcraft’s always been at its best when it’s a little shocking. Look at the most memorable moments from the franchise: the Wrathgate, Arthas murdering his father, the fall of Lordaeron, the Deathbringer encounter. These are all shocking, calamitous, brutal moments.
And that’s what “Tides of War” is: shocking, calamitous, and brutal. Even if there are parts of it I ardently dislike, it’s true Warcraft. I’ve been feeling a little blase about Warcraft lately, but after reading this book, I feel some of the fire of my old passion again.
The worst thing I can say about it is that it’s a book about Jaina Proudmoore whose least compelling aspect was Jaina Proudmoore.
Overall rating: 8.1/10 Ask me again in ten minutes, and I’ll give it a different rating.
If, by some miracle, you’re still reading, I do have another article to plug: New to MMOs: Where to Begin. It’s sort of intro to the genre for those whi are thinking of starting on MMOs or have just started.