Join us as Medros and Rho discuss the new novel, Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde, written by Michael A. Stackpole. This is a very different review style, and we hope you like it. Look for a review of Dawn of the Aspects coming soon.
M: Hey Rho, Wasn’t it super nice for Blizzard to send us review copies of Shadows of the Horde? I think we should do a review of the book just to make it worth their while. What do ya say?
R: I’m surprised you’d even think about reading this one, considering how much you are “For the Alliance” and all. That said, having read the book I think it’s safe to say that Michael Stackpole’s first venture into writing for the World of Warcraft approaches the content from a very neutral angle. Yes, this book is focused on Vol’jin. Yes, we’ve heard many people predict he’ll be the next Warchief. This novel however doesn’t tell the story of a Warchief-to-be. It tells the story of a troll’s journey to determine who he is, and who he must be… but Vol’jin is not the only focus.
M: No, and I think from the cover we can all guess who one of the other main characters is. I was intrigued to see a human character in the story, though, and one I had never heard of. If anything these books has taught me, though, is that you need to fight the urge to get attached, cause next thing you know the person is dead and gone. The ‘Martin Factor’ (come to care about and like a character only to watch helpless as the author kills them off brutally) as I have come to call it was very interesting in it’s application for this novel. I certainly did not predict some of the fates at the end of the book.
R: There were a fair number of surprises, to be sure. The biggest surprise to me, without spoiling anything here, was just how much I learned about troll and Pandaren culture. Stackpole treats the Shado-pan faction with respect to the game’s presentation of them… though I did feel that Taran Zhu comes across as a far less angry and stoic character in the book. To be honest Taran Zhu was never really that interesting to me until this book, and I wanted more when I was done. This book is full of character development for several figures, and in many ways it doesn’t disappoint. The novel is not without its misteps though. I’m not pro or anti Li-Li, but I feel that the Li-Li Stormstout I read about here was not the Li-Li I had seen during my time in game.
M: Yeah, Li-Li is a beloved character through the series of short stories, the Pearl of Pandaria graphic novel, not to mention the times we encountered her in game, and the one I saw in this book was presented very differently. Both age and attitude were vastly different than the Li-Li I knew, which was a big departure and a not insignificant shock. Another thing that threw me was timelines. I mean, as Shade is fond of saying, the Warcraft universe is all timey wimey, wibbly wobbly, and this book definitely kept up with that. Events happened in the book that somewhat mirrored or replaced stuff we had done, but it all seemed to be out of whack. Any other moments that stood out for you, Rho?
R: You know, honestly the slight continuity flaws went by me mostly unnoticed. It really wasn’t until you brought them up to me on the show that I realized “oh hey, yeah that does seem out of place.” Does the story perfectly fit point for point with in-game continuity? No, but I was so swept up with the characters and the story being told that it didn’t bother me. Li-Li’s portrayal to me was the one thing that was the most “off.” The pacing of the book is another point which I did pay attention to. The first couple of acts felt like they moved at a pretty standard pace. The last third of the book though felt… rushed? It’s not unusual really for a story dealing with elements of war and battle to accelerate toward the end, but even still it felt a bit too fast for me. I finished this book wanting more, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
M: Yes, it definitely felt like the last bit of the book went at a pace I was not expecting, but overall it was a good pace, and ended the book on a note I enjoyed. Except for Mogu babies. Ugh. Ok, well, I really did enjoy the story, Stackpole brought a fresh look to Azeroth, but not one that overly tore me out of the game world. It is always nice to read books in the time frame they are intended (I am looking at you, Arthas: Rise of the Lich King) and this book as a prelude to the next patch was just perfect. I wonder, though, from a Horde perspective, how the details of this book sync with the 5.1 story after the Dagger in the Dark scenario? Do Horde players have any indication what happened?
R: Aside from seeing Chen with Vol’jin in Binan Village, that’s all any player really gets to see after Dagger in the Dark. I recall helping Chen with Vol’jin’s recovery, and when I did that quest I thought that Vol’jin would recover rather quickly after that. Shadows of the Horde basically shows that this quest was only an immediate bit of triage, and that the real recovery essentially takes place over the course of time from mid 5.1 to just before 5.2’s launch. At least that’s how I interpreted it. I do wish we had a chance to see some of the 5.3 events played out in the book’s closing chapters. Some further insight to how Vol’jin made his return to Kalimdor with Chen, what became of certain characters that aren’t seen in 5.3. Was this book released at the right time? I feel it was, but again… and I feel like a broken record, I wanted more. I wanted the book to end just as 5.4 is about to start. Considering the time it takes to write and review and print the novel though, I can understand that being a bit too much to ask for. As critical as I sound about this point, it’s only because I liked this book that much.
M: Wow, the Alliance side sees none of that. I think they may have included that part in the book just so the Alliance folks could see what happened right after, since we did not see that part. Last I saw, Vol’jin was asking me to tell everyone he died. I too wanted to see at least 5.3 stuff, an epilogue showing their travels from Kun’lai to Durotar, inspiring the Darkspear Trolls, and the other events I have not seen as an Alliance. Like you, I do understand the potential issues, much like we saw in Tides of War, when they tried to tie the book into the game and didn’t quite pull it off. I enjoyed the book a lot, and much like Tides of War made me eager to kill Garrosh, this book has made me excited to participate in 5.3 and the Darkspear Rebellion. In fact, right before 5.3 might have been a better time for this to hit.
R: Timing aside though, Shadows of the Horde brings a new degree of depth to Vol’jin, Chen, and other characters that was lacking in the past. Whether you are for the Horde or the Alliance, you will probably find something in this book that touches you. At the last Blizzcon, Chris Metzen had noted that during our time in this expansion we would perhaps learn a bit more about who we are and why we fight. Shadows of the Horde, while not really seen in the game experience proper, definitely sheds some light on why Vol’jin and others fight. Whether or not Vol’jin ends up being the next person to lead the Horde as Warchief, this was a story that had to be told. It is not perfect, but it still ranks as one of my top three favorite pieces of WoW literature.
M: Indeed, between that Blizzcon and the expansion cinematic, we have truly seen a new depth to that question, “why do we fight?” and this book is very enlightening as to why we fight, and what is worth dying for. I think we would both recommend this book, and hope that Mr. Stackpole is able to write more in the Warcraft universe.