Book Review: “World of Warcraft – Arthas – Rise of the Lich King” by Christie Golden

wow-arthas-cover I have always enjoyed franchise fiction.  Whether it’s Star Wars, Dragonlance, Magic: The Gathering, or something else entirely, I like having a veritable library of books at my disposal when I want to completely engross myself in a shared intellectual property.  Before now, however, I had avoided the Warcraft franchise novels because  my first experience was with Richard A. Knaak’s adjective-laden wordiness in the War of the Ancients trilogy: I stopped after the first page and never looked back.

So when I got back into WoW with my Paladin, I felt it would be a good time to give Christie Golden’s Arthas: Rise of the Lich King a shot.  And while I had read a few excerpts from it in stores and was less than impressed, my newfound interest in the lore revolving around Arthas made it tolerable and, by the end, a bit enjoyable.

While it was certainly not the most meticulously crafted novel I’ve ever read, Arthas was an interesting diversion to the inundation of Literature (big L) I was experiencing due to my teaching.

The Author: Christie Golden

Christie GoldenArthas is the first novel of Golden’s I’ve ever put my hands on.  And for an introductory novel, I can honestly say that I won’t shy away from her books in the future.  I don’t know if I will actively seek them out, but she is certainly not abstinence worthy like our old pal Knaak.

Her style is not quite the interesting words one gets from Timothy Zahn or Kevin J. Anderson’s franchise novels, but it’s passable.  She does not overly rely on adjectives to give the illusion of detail.  She’s straightforward without being terse, but she paints a good enough picture for the reader to vividly see the world many of us have only experienced in various videogames.

Long story short: She’s Hemingway compared to Knaak. I’d be content to have her writing career.

The Book: The Good

It was fun.  It really was.  Even though I’ve read the WoWwiki pages on Arthas a dozen times, seen the cutscenes from WoW, quested in WoW, and played most of Warcraft III, the narrative still interested me enough to wow arthas wlk keep me awake at night just long enough for one more chapter.  I would often find myself falling asleep in the dark (I read this book, by the way, entirely on the iPhone Kindle app), but would rouse myself long enough to finish my current chapter.

The novel gave voice, finally, to characters I’ve interacted with in WoW whom I had never been entirely familiar with.  Kael’thas Sunstrider, Illidan Stormrage, and Sylvanas Windrunner being the foremost three, not even considering Uther the Lightbringer and Varian Wrynn.

Probably my favorite part of the novel, however, was how Golden took excerpts of dialogue and quest text from World of Warcraft and used them in her novel.  The conversation that Jaina, Arthas, and Uther have before the Culling of Stratholme is straight from the instance preamble.  The scene in Frostmourne Cavern is lifted partially from the game.  Even Arthas’ burning of his men’s ships comes from the text already established in WoW.  If nothing else, Golden successfully recreates memorable scenes from the Arthas lore using moments most players should be familiar with.

Long story short: Interesting characterization and fun  action tie directly to well-known pieces of Warcraft lore.

The Book: The Bad

It brings nothing new to the table.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch. Its entire story is something that we all knew before (we being Warcraft fans).  From Arthas’ falling in love with Jaina and his Culling of Stratholme to his ascent of the Frozen Throne and donning of the Lich King’s helmet, we’ve seen it all before.  I had hoped that Christie Golden’s novel would open up some new narrative threads or explore old ones more deeply, but no.  Not really.  All readers get is a retelling of the story.  An interesting retelling, mind you, but a retelling nonetheless.

death-knight-arthas Retelling notwithstanding, the book is formulaic.  If you’ve read a single fantasy novel before, you’ve read this one.  While the main character technically being a villain (antihero?) is a decent enough twist on the formula, the events, settings, and plot direction are predictable to anyone familiar with fantasy tropes.  That’s to be expected, honestly, but I was still hoping for something…more detailed.

I really feel as though there should be a sequel to the novel chronicling the events of Wrath of the Lich King from the Wrathgate to Icecrown Citadel.  Sure, it’s still retelling something from one of the games, but at least it would be the complete story instead of the prologue that Arthas feels like right now.

Long story short: Been there, done that.

The Book: The Ugly

The whole book feels rushed.  I am unaware as to deadlines and schedules and the time involved in writing Arthas, but it really feels as though Christie Golden were given 6 months to get Blizzard a manuscript to approve.  Like I said, not that it’s bad.  It’s just rushed.  It feels incomplete.

wow arthas The whole novel is narration.  Well, not the whole thing, but a lot of it.  Dialogue is mostly kept to a minimum with exposition being the order of the day.  And that’s fine, but it makes the whole novel kind of read like a summary.  Because of the nearly excessive narration, it feels like the novel bites off too much than it can chew.  There are too many plots and events and scene changes than the author can handle, so it all ends up in one slightly jumbled/rushed mess that reads like someone explaining the Arthas saga to the readers instead of them experiencing it firsthand.

Long story short: Excessive narration makes the book feel rushed, almost like reading a 400 page WoWwiki entry over Arthas.

Conclusion

arthas_menethil If you are a WoW fan, you might as well read it.  It’s quick and just well-written enough for it not to be a waste of your time or money.

However, if you’re not a WoW fan, I’m not sure if I can recommend it.  I don’t know if it would hold its own as a non-franchise fantasy novel.  It’s decent enough, mind you, but it’s nothing special.  There are probably better ways to spend your time and money if you’re not specifically interested in Warcraft lore or Arthas himself.

Comments

  1. Longasc

    I have seen the complete Mistborn and Night Angel trilogies for sale for twice the price. You do not only get three books for the price of two, you get a complete universe on top of that. 😉

    I often feel that writers get limited by the universe they are writing in. But there are exceptions, of course. Michael Stackpole for instance enriches all fantasy worlds he is writing for enormously (Star Wars, BattleTech). He is doing even better this way than he is in creating his very own worlds, for some reason.

  2. prenden2

    After reading this post, I can’t help but ask the following question; given that you’ve said that you’d be content to have Golden’s career, do you think you’d feel constrained having to work within Blizzard’s (or any other franchise’s) framework? Would you rather work on a commissioned novel in the Warcraft canon or keep plugging away at your own, entirely new, novel?

    This post definitely opened me up to the possibility of reading a WoW novel, but I’m not sure if I can justify it until I’ve exhausted King’s, Asimov’s, Iain M Banks’ (the list goes on) works.

    P.S. Welcome back to blogging, great to find some new content on my Live Bookmark!

    • I don’t honestly think I would. As much as I’m not a fan of fanfic, I would adore working in a universe I love. Now, if I were contracted to write about a property I didn’t give two craps about, then yeah, I’d feel constrained. But as long as it was a property I was interested in, I don’t think there would be any problem.

      If I were given a choice today: I’d kickstart a writing career with a comissioned novel in Warcraft canon (or any of my other adored properties) and let my own worlds ferment and stew until I was ready to work on them. But unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

      And thanks. I’m glad to be back. It feels good to write again. 🙂 And even better to know people care that I do. 😀

  3. Welcome back! I know I’ve missed seeing your site pop up in my reader. I share a lot of the same opinions as you on Arthas. Good, but not earth moving, but leaps and bounds above Knaak.

    Though I will say, don’t hold the having to adhere to Blizzard’s dialogue against Golden. She had much more creative liberty with Rise of the Horde and Lord of the Clans, and those novels are so much better. They are definitely worth you picking up if you can.
    .-= Tart´s last blog ..Letting My Nerd Flag Fly =-.

    • Glad to hear my return was a good thing. 🙂

      I don’t know if I hold it against her, either. I can understand why they wanted her to use it, and I have to admit that the fanboy part of me really enjoyed being able to make that direct connection from novel to game. I have the Lord of the Clans novel; I picked it up a while back, but I don’t have Rise of the Horde. I have heard good things about them, but these good things are also from people who have enjoyed the Knaak books, too, so I’m not sure if I would agree.

  4. Nice review Professor. I’ve been interested in Warcraft Lore since Warcraft 2. Also played my fair share of WoW as well 🙂
    I was thinking about getting this book. But if it brings nothing new to the table as you mentioned, i believe there is no reason for me to buy it :/

  5. Received this book as a gift from a friend, having been a former wow player I thought it was kind of interesting, but I don’t think it would hold its own with people who know nothing of warcraft.

  6. Prospero

    I have a Kindle and downloaded the Sample for ‘Arthas’. A week later I got around to reading it (the Preface and some of the first chapter) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I went to buy the full version and the Kindle version – along with the ability to download a Sample – had disappeared. Not sure what the reason for this could be, but I’m quite disappointed. Perhaps someone knows if it will return to Kindle ebook format in the future?