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
Arthas 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 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.
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.
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.
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.