Spoilers after the cut.
I love World of Warcraft, and it’s good for expanding content beyond the actual game with tie-in novels, comics, short stories, etc. Today, I’m going to make comment on recently-published Shadows Rising by Madeleine Roux. It’s the bridging novel between Battle for Azeroth and the upcoming Shadowlands expansion. It’s set after players have defeated N’Zoth and his forces and ends with Sylvanas’ PoV during the crushing of the Helm of Domination bit from the Shadowlands announcement cinematic.
The story itself was decent, the writing showing clear knowledge of the game when certain spells or locations were described. Ultimately, however, I was disappointed in a similar way that I was disappointed with the story in the expansion itself. I lay the blame for that disappointment not upon the author – who doesn’t get to dictate the overall meta of the plot – but on Blizzard and its general unwillingness to actually let the Alliance be a proactive force on Azeroth. Much like BfA itself, Shadows Rising is a Horde-primary story, with the Alliance only there to remind us the game seemingly has two factions. We have a few plotlines running through the novel and they can be summed up as: Nathanos stirring up the trolls to rebellion, the Horde and Talanji dancing around each other because of Nathanos, Zekhan’s growth, Alleria and Turalyon tracking Nathanos, and a fluffy romance between spymaster Mathias Shaw and pirate captain Flynn Fairwind.
I mean, honestly, the romance story was cute and I’m all for representation, but when that is the majority of the Alliance content in the novel in the midst of all this other deep and heavy Horde content, I have to say ‘what the actual fuck, Blizzard?‘ You know the bit I was most interested in regarding the Alliance? The actual meaty stuff involving Alleria fucking Windrunner TORTURING people for information. Jaina’s very real worries that This is Not Who We Should Be. The novel could have had another fifty or so pages just chasing down that side of the story, but nope, we have a deadly spymaster used as a plot device to get some information to both factions who spends three-quarters of his time daydreaming about a drunken pirate. He doesn’t even get his own daring escape scene once he’s locked up by the Zandalari. This would have been an excellent time to show why Shaw is the king’s spymaster, what tricks of the trade he uses to gather information, his deadliness in combat, those sorts of things… and that opportunity was so beyond wasted when he’s suddenly freed and sent back to Stormwind as a delivery boy. It actually made me curl my lip in disgust.
There was a point to include dialogue and action from every Horde racial leader – even nodding to the Lor’themar/Thalyssra romance short story by the same author – but as far as the novel is concerned, the Alliance leaders hardly exist. Genn Greymane only gets a glorified cameo, and Tyrande and Malfurion are present for a couple of scenes to set up Shadowlands content, but there’s no mention of Velen, Mekkatorque, the dwarves’ Council of Three Hammers, or the pandaren emissary Aysa Cloudsinger. A bit of an irony to be an Alliance and not actually show off the member races, don’t you think? It’s all humans and a couple of crazy elves, and does a disservice to the rest of the Alliance races. Blizzard made the Alliance boring, and it shows so much in this novel.
On the Horde side, however, there’s nuance and interest and deep diving into the story through the eyes of young Zekhan and Bwonsamdi… and don’t think for a second I missed the fanservice of the loa of graves referring to Zekhan as ‘zappy boy’. I think that if this story was presented in quest form in-game, we’d have a rich Horde questline to play through, and a couple of fetch and carry quests on Alliance side, perhaps one shadowing Anduin as he plays hooky down at Goldshire Inn during that one scene. If we were super lucky, we’d get some meat on these bones involving Alleria Windrunner and Alliance players getting to choose to side with her or with Jaina in terms of tracking down Nathanos Blightcaller. All the realistic CGI cut-scenes would be Horde, with a few shorter snippets in the in-game engine for Alliance, because they really didn’t do a damned thing in this novel, unlike the Legion-to-BfA tie-in novel Before the Storm written by Christie Golden.
At the end of the day, this novel is decent enough, but hampered by the meta dictated from upon high. If you’re a Horde player, you’ll enjoy this, because your faction shines and gets all the good scenes. If you’re an Alliance player and/or you like fluffy romances (and no, there’s nothing wrong with a silly romance in the middle of dire times), then you might like this, but that would likely be the only reason to like it. The Alleria and Tyrande snippets are the only really good bits here, and there’s not enough of them to satisfy either void or night elf players, to be honest. If I were to give it a score, I’d probably say 3/5.