So I’ve kinda been putting off this book review for awhile.
I’ll admit, I had high expectations for Arthas: Rise of the Lich King going in – Christie Golden’s novels Rise of the Horde and Lord of the Clans are two of my favorite WoW books, and I’d really enjoyed them. They’re not great, classic literature, but that’s ok – they’re entertaining and enjoyable reads with characters I liked and stories that kept me interested.
Unfortunately I’m not quite so glowingly happy with Arthas.
The book suffered from a lot of things that I think really crippled what could’ve been a fantastic novel or novels.
My first issue with it is that there was too much that was utterly glossed over, too much that should’ve been either fleshed out or left out in order to make room for expanding other sections. Were this story fully written out, it would fill two books easily. Sure, Blizzard probably didn’t want to release two books, and I’m not sure if Golden asked for more space and was denied it, or was given a length limit or whatnot.
At just over 300 pages, it felt both too long and too short at the same time, because things were mentioned in passing, instead of explained or written out. So many scenes needed to be actually filled in, rather than glanced over, that it never felt like the book settled into any pace other than headlong, breakneck, and rushed.
For example – during the part where Arthas and the Scourge are marching on Quel’Danas, they mention that there is a traitor. And Sylvanas kinda figures out that there must’ve been one. And then she retains her brain (kinda) – and so does he (kinda) – and they are both part of the scourge… and that’s all that we ever hear about it.
Dar’khan Drathir is one of the biggest betrayers in the history of Warcraft – and he gets hardly a passing glance because the story has to move so fast. You get the same feeling from Arthas’ meetings with Uther Lightbringer – and his Paladin training happens entirely without being mentioned at all. Even two pages dedicated to these kinds of little interactions would’ve helped this feel like an independent story rather than a rote retelling of Warcraft III.
And that’s my second complaint. Warcraft III wouldn’t win any awards for dialogue writing, and that same dialogue is, if anything, less effective in novel form.
Seeing the scene outside Stratholme reenacted in full was nice… but having to rehash the entirety of the game (essentially) with little or no actualy expansion of the dialogue felt forced and was a serious letdown. Golden writes better dialogue than this, and the parts that are “campaign text” stick out. The only part of the book that feels in any way original is the section at the beginning, telling about Arthas’ childhood – and that is fast, furious, and glosses over a lot of things.
Another frustration, in the words of Falconesse? Just marry the fucking horse already! (pardon my language)
One thing that I’d like to have seen, particularly with the development of Arthas himself, is a more defined transition from “wants power to save his people/land/family” to “wants power”. Especially since you see the latter early on. Plus, you have so many clues that Arthas has been mentally unbalanced – if not outright mentally ill – since he was a child that some of it seems, in a way, disgenuous.
Arthas Menethil is supposed to be self-centered, impulsive, and rash (which he is… and I’m not sure how that managed to get him accepted into the Silver Hand – something that seemed to be everyone else’s choice FOR him?) – but he’s also supposed to be good at the beginning, and there are aspects of his character that don’t come across that way even from when he is just a child. Whether this lends credence to it being “his destiny”, weakens the power of the Lich King as a temptation force, or just shows that he was one serious basket case of a man is kinda up to your own reading.
What does the book do well?
It gives us a lot more insight about some lore characters that we didn’t have before – Jaina, Kael’thas, Uther, Muradin, Terenas Menethil. Those sections of the book were my favorites – not the sections dealing with Arthas. The vast majority of the story that deals with Arthas isn’t new. In fact, it reads like a transcription of Warcraft III/Frozen Throne. If you’ve not played those games, and are unfamiliar with Arthas lore (90% of which you can get on WoWWiki), then this will be new stuff for you. Otherwise, it’s mostly old hat.
In fact, I’d say that the only really “new” idea in the entire novel comes in the last 5 pages. And I’m not sure the book supported those last 5 pages particularly well, but I can’t really talk about that without giving it away.
I’m also not sure if part of Blizzard’s request for Golden required that she use the WCIII/FT script and the lore that already existed or not. If it was, I’m more sympathetic towards the novel itself, since that is an incredibly stifling set of guidelines.
Golden’s two previous WoW books basically “set up” the lore for those characters – where with this one she was working from a very well established story, and that definitely may have affected the effectiveness of the novel. I kind of suspect that this is what happened, since the other characters in the book are more interesting than Arthas was. Arthas comes across as a one-trick pony (*mutter mutter horse mutter*), where the other characters – even Uther, who had maybe 4 cameos – had at least the impression of depth.
Should you go out and buy it?
Well, that depends.
Obviously it has some shortcomings, and largely frustrated instead of interested me as I was reading. But, if you are unfamiliar with the Arthas lore, this is a good way to get it – particularly if you’ve not played through Warcraft III. There isn’t anything groundbreaking in the book though, and the writing isn’t good enough to make me want to read it again (unlike both of Golden’s previous books, which I have read twice each). Regardless of the title, it’s a brief overview and not an in-depth character study of Arthas. It’s fast paced, glosses over really excellent opportunities for story/character advancement, and suffers from that awful horse – but as an afternoon’s worth of reading to get you the cliffnotes on Arthas, it’s quite successful.
And I really rather like Jaina. And Muradin and Uther. Would like to see more of them plz!
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