Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Shattering: A Review

No, not the event itself, but the book leading up to it: The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm

In the context of the game, “The Shattering” was actually when the cataclysm took place, so you are excused a moment to scratch your heads.  I know, right?

OK, brass tacks time.


General plot

This book tells the story of the run-up to the cataclysm from three main viewpoints: Thrall, Warchief of the Horde; Cairne/Baine Bloodhoof, Chieftain of the Tauren (both are noted, as one takes over from the other 2/3 the way through), and Anduin Lothar Wrynn, Crown Prince of Stomwind.

The Thrall plotline follows Thrall’s Vision Quest to shattered Draenor, as he tries to determine the best path forward to resolve Elemental issues on Azeroth. It covers how he meets Aggra, and how he came to be a simple shaman in the expansion.

It also explains how Clefthoof-dung-for-brains came to be in charge.

The Cairne/Baine plotline follows the arc of how Baine came to be the Chieftain of the Tauren, how Thunder Bluff got its new coat of paint, and why the Grimtotem are where they are now.

The Anduin plotline provides us with a more or less first-hand view of the events transpiring in Ironforge, including what happened to Magni, and why Moira is now one of the three Dwarves on the Throne. It does not, however, explain the presence of the Wildhammer Fact Checker. That one you’ll have to dig up yourself.

Style and Substance

In general, this books reads like your basic movie novelization or franchise book. The tracks have been laid, the author is there to translate the plot elements of those tracks into a story. There are some pretty horrible examples of this sort of book out there, including most Star Trek movie novelizations (at one point I actually /ragequit Star Trek novels entirely over one of these, and have never gone back). This is not among those, but it certainly doesn’t have the gripping power of your average grade-school adhesive, either.

There are brief, shining moments within in which real character-driven emotion is expressed, where you just want to step into the page and give someone a hug.  This almost makes up for the clunkers, of which there are a few.


And plenty of it. This was the main reason to read the book, for me, to understand the changes that were coming. We see the changes to the Horde and Alliance power structures more than anything else, though we do gain insight into what is becoming of Azeroth. The stakes are high. While nobody knows who is behind it, it looks like Azeroth is about to become like Draenor itself.

What is NOT covered are the events that reshaped the world in other ways. Nothing within this book explains, for example the massive changes to Stormwind or the way that the zones are re-arranged themselves, for example.

Character Development

The other reason I read this book was to get more inside the heads of our heroes in the world of Azeroth. This turned out to be very hit and miss.

  • Thrall – While we spend a lot of time in his head, he comes across as very one-dimensional, even when he finds Twue Wuve. He made me neither angry, sad, happy, or impassioned in any way. Thrall Go. Thrall Learn. Thrall Find Girlfriend. Thrall Forgive. Thrall Quit. Thrall Sail Away.
  • Garrosh Hellscream – Again, this guy had one dimension – the dimension of growl. In many ways I can see Q teasing him and hearing him howl impotently at the deeper waters all around him. Oh, the text says this: “Garrosh is an arrogant, prideful and yet powerful warrior that learns that matters of State are not as simple as they appear from outside the War Chief’s hall. In the end he has much to ponder and a newfound respect for Baine”.  But I don’t really get into it.
  • Cairne Bloodhoof / Baine Bloodhoof – Put together, the two almost obtain depth. The two put together almost appear to be the same character with different fur. Heck, you don’t actually ever see them together, forcing one to consider they they are actually the same character. Honorable Tauren smoke peace pipe. Ug.  My advice to Golden would be spend less time talking about honor and more time demonstrating it. (This applies to Garrosh as well)
  • King Varian Wrynn – I hate to say it, but they’re setting this guy up to be some sort of Alliance-ish version of Garrosh, and one or both may come a-tumbling down before 5.0 rolls. Golden resorts to the dual nature of the King to explain his wild and uncontrollable temper, as in “he has not yet reconciled the two halves of him that were re-merged prior to 3.0.” It would be far better to just say he’s a giant prick and be done with it if you cannot offer a gameplay-consistent explanation.
  • Speaking of which, anyone notice that the Stormwind citizens were referring to Varian as “La’Gosh” during the Elemental Invasion? What’s the lore behind that?
  • Jaina Proudmoore – Finally, someone does something to redeem this poor woman’s reputation. After years of being treated as a flighty, weepy girl by the powers that be in the WoW design office, Golden gave her back her brain and her spine. The Jaina in this book is the Jaina I want to see leading the Humans of Theramore. This is the Jaina that had to make the choice between her father and her people. Not the Jaina that got all weepy when Varian showed compassion to an honorable foe. We need more of this Jaina. Hell, giver her the 3.1 nose back. I thought big-nosed Jaina was perfect. 
  • Anyway. The one thing that alarms me is how much her involvement with Arthas has been retconned to more than it used to be. Frozen Throne Jaina and Arthas were lovers, nothing more. Shattering Jaina and Arthas are soulmates, separated by his willingness to give everything for his people (and what a mistake that turned out to be, is the message here, I guess).
  • Anduin Lothar Wrynn – The son of Varian Wrynn rides close to the Mary Sue borderline without totally crossing it. But it’s a close thing. What does save it from that is that Anduin is indeed already a player in the story, and his character does get some serious development in this book. Most notably, I hope they follow through on his affinity for the Light. That’s also scary: what would Blizzard do with a kingdom lead by, say, a Paladin or Priest as its King? Still, he was a major part of this story, and, if not for him, the throne room of Ironforge – if not the entire composition of the Alliance – might be very different.
  • Magni Bronzebeard – Of all the second-tier characters in this game, Magni turned out to get far more fleshing out than I expected, to the point that he had as much depth and personality as Jaina did. His gift to Anduin was especially appropriate and touching, and was one of those rare moments in the book that conveyed real emotion.
  • Princess Moira Bronzebeard Thaurissan – She was a bitch in Vanilla, and this book gives the Bitch a Red Bull and a cup of coffee to boot. Her motives are rather simple and trite, her plan rather sinister, her humanity lost in all the moustache-twirling – and she doesn’t even have one! While Varian’s reasons for Regicide were insubstantial, I was still rooting for him to swing that damned sword – screw the kid, screw the possibility of war. Just, please, get that bad dialog out of my life.  Anyhoo, Anduin seems convinced that she has valid points and a good heart (which he says, more or less identically, at least four times in the book), but he must have spent time with her off-screen because the short time we get to see her, she’s too busy fishing for new innuendoes to describe Anduin’s plight and laughing at him.
  • Aerin – OK, I had to include her because I couldn’t help wondering at the implications of replacing the ‘n’ with an ‘s’.  Is this as cheap as it looks?


The lore enrichment offered is substantial, and the characters do get some essential, if not exactly inspiring, backstory and character development. A great literary work, it is not. And while you won’t hate yourself for reading it, you won’t love yourself for it, either.