Monday, 18 May 2009

‘Arthas: Rise of the Lich King’ – Christie Golden (Pocket Books)


One of the things running the blog has allowed me to do is try out a whole load of new stuff that I wouldn’t normally pick up otherwise. ‘Tie-in’ books (movies, games etc) is an area where I’ve only really scratched the surface but have still managed to find some gems amongst the... well... you know.
I gave a couple of Tokyopop’s ‘World of Warcraft’ manga titles a go and found them to be a fun a read although a little lightweight and probably more for fans than anyone else. I wondered if a ‘Warcraft’ novel might be a bit meatier and got a chance to find out when I was offered a copy of Christie Golden’s latest ‘World of Warcraft’ novelisation. The answer, I found, was ‘no, not really...’

If you play ‘World of Warcraft’ then you’ll know that the evil lord, casting a shadow over the world of Azeroth, is Arthas the Lich King. ‘Rise of the Lich King’ does exactly what it says on the cover, detailing the life of a young paladin whose gradual descent into evil is fuelled by the best of intentions and desire to do good for his king and country...

A problem I immediately have, with books like this, is that you already know how they are going to end. (I had a similar issue with the Star Wars prequels as it happens, don’t get me started on that...!) If you know how a book is going to end then you have to ask yourself if there is any point in reading it. The answer is... maybe. If the author can get you inside the head of the main character then the sense of impending doom and tragedy, around their actions, can make for an interesting read. If there is plenty of spectacle (battles etc) then you can let yourself be taken along for the ride and not worry too much about how it will all end. ‘Rise of the Lich King’ failed on both counts for me. It’s not a horrendously written book by any means (there was enough there for me to keep reading) but it didn’t hit the targets that I felt it needed to...

By the time I’d got about halfway through the book I found myself wanting Arthas to just hurry up and become the Lich King in the hope that his new character would be a lot more interesting. The book makes out that Arthas is at the mercy of demonic scheming, and fated to become the Lich King, but the reality is that this is a guy whose incessant whining and inability to accept responsibility for his own actions (whilst at the same time lording it over his subjects) leads him into situations that he cannot get out of without going off the deep end. He reminded me so much of Anakin Skywalker... This would have been fine if the book didn’t try and dress it up as a tragedy that it blatantly wasn’t. What I found instead was a book that was almost at cross purposes with itself. Other characters are there to drive the plot forward rather than contribute anything in their own right and made me wonder what their purpose actually was. The story was crying out for dramatic moments, the most dramatic of which could have been a confrontation between Arthas and his love Jaina Proudmoore. Notice that I said ‘could’ because these confrontations invariably happen off the page. Show don’t tell...

I also got the impression that characters were introduced into scenes as a nod to ongoing ‘Warcraft’ continuity so fans would recognise them and have someone to identify with. That’s all very well if you’re a fan and know these people when they arrive. I was left with an array of names to get used to and this took the momentum out of various battles and other confrontations...

I think the fairest thing to say is that ‘Arthas’ is a book squarely aimed at ‘Warcraft’ fans and if you’re a fan then you’ll more than likely get a lot out of it. It’s not a book that casual readers can jump straight into however and that’s the group that I fall into...

Six and a Half out of Ten

9 comments:

James said...

It makes you wonder why they bother publishing Warcraft books in the first place. How many of the millions of people that play WOW would actually bother to pick up and read a book?

They're obviously clearly hoping that the game's massive fanbase will mean massive book sales, but I can't see that happening.

James said...

Oh, and another thing - Arthas' descent into madness is covered in the main storyline of the Warcraft III PC game anyway, so I don't really see the point in writing a book about it when most of the fanbase are already aware of roughly what happened.

Adam Whitehead said...

This is what I was thinking. I'm not a WoW fan anyway, but I did play through WarCraft III and The Frozen Throne. I've already played this story through once already, so why would I want to read it again? Especially when, based on the experience with the STARCRAFT novels, there seems to be great confusion at Blizzard whether the games or the novels are canon, to the point where the novels contradict one another.

ThRiNiDiR said...

It makes you wonder why they bother publishing Warcraft books in the first place. How many of the millions of people that play WOW would actually bother to pick up and read a book?that hurts James.

lianemerciel said...

Figure 20 million people in the U.S. play WoW. This is a number I just pulled out of my ass, but the real number probably is something in the double-digit millions.

Now figure 1 in 100 of those players might read a tie-in novel. I'm making this number up too, but it might actually be a little low. The WoW players I know are pretty into inventing stories about their characters and roleplaying through their guilds, which requires them to know something about the game world's background -- i.e., to read stuff about it. But let's pretend it's 1 in 100.

That's 200,000 books. Instant bestseller. Even if it's 1 in 500 WoW players who are WoW readers, those are still very respectable numbers. And, indeed, I think this novel was on the NYT bestseller list (maybe the extended list) for a week or two shortly after its release.

Graeme Flory said...

Now I'm interested to see how many WoW fans read the books as well as play the game...

Adam's comment has also got me thinking. If the games came first (I'm assuming they did) them surely they would be canon, wouldn't they?

ThRiNiDiR said...

Warcraft story is ever-evolving and is being appropriated retro-actively (not really, though...there's lots of time-line discrepancies etc.) as new content is being realeased. I wouldn't know about any major contradiction, only minor. But then, I have yet to read a Warcraft tie-in.

shrugs

Anonymous said...

I play WoW and I read the book. I thought it was vary interesting. I knew how it would end but the book went into more detail than the game. It revelaed a few things about arthas I never knew about. I thought i was vary interesting. I like to read though so... lol :P I read the Diablo books as well.

Tito said...

I just finished reading the book. I am a huge WoW fan although I do'nt play as much these days. I'm not really into reading books at all even though I really find the WoW lore interesting. As a matter of fact this is the first book I actually read in a long time. I picked it up only because i find Arthas and his character extremely intriguing. Even though I did know exactly what the book was about, I think reading it was a completely different experience primarily because the highlight was on the journey and not on the actual ending.
I absolutely have no regrets reading this book, and I think it would probably be understood a whole lot better when one actually knows a bit of the background lore and the stories about the other characters involved.