Edit: I just noticed my brain shut down when I was writing the title and wrote Battle for Azeroth instead of Before the Storm. Link can’t be changed anymore but I changed the title at least.
Back from vacation! I finished reading Illidan by William King a few days ago, got back in WoW hype a bit, then launched Heroes of the Storm and saw the Alterac event (see picture) and I immediately wanted to read Before the
Storm by Christie Golden. Since ordering would take some time, I just bought the kindle version and finished today and wanted to share my opinions.
Before I go on, a few points: First, I’ve been staying away from spoilers for Battle for Azeroth for a while. I know some stuff, but I wanted to experience it as it was meant to. From what I’ve seen, I’ve mostly been positive about it. Or rather, I haven’t been negative about the war between sides. Second, I love Christie Golden. I had stopped reading fantasy/game related books for a long, long time until I gave her books a try. So I had good expectations.
Not the Book I Thought
My first and foremost impression is not something necessarily positive or negative, just surprising. Before the Storm is supposed to be the book to connect Legion and Battle for Azeroth. As such, I expected it to include answers to some major questions like how the war started, who started it first; especially the Teldrassil situation. Of course, I have no idea where BfA starts or what transpires on the prepatch; but I found nothing I thought I would. Obviously, a part of me was disappointed, I was hoping to see the answers. Rest of me is hopeful though, this can also mean we get more stuff in-game. A constant critique on Blizzard has been that the books had too much information, so maybe this is part of an attempt to fix the situation.
So, what is the book about? Avoiding “real” spoilers, there are two story arcs. The smaller one shows us about the potency of Azerite and is pretty much self contained that includes mostly side characters. The main one story arc revolves around some important characters (It’s safe to say Sylvanas and Anduin are among them) that explores the relation between these characters, their factions and also the Light.
Hard to talk details without spoilers but basically Anduin is still on the same path: He’s a priest and he’s a kind, good hearted and naive, but learning to be a king, learning to be a strong leader. Anduin and Varian had had a great relationship, each changing the other in their own way. Anduin had played the “What would Varian do?” game, still does, but he is his own character. He is kind, but does not hesitate to remind people that he’s the king and order them around. He is naive, but he also tries to read into the politics and “the game”, especially since he faces a wily opponent like Sylvanas.
Sylvanas was the one I was most curious about, since there were complaints that she is becoming a villain. To be honest, it’s hard to place her under a label. I would definitely not call her a hero but likewise not a villain. She doesn’t have heroic ends to be an anti-hero, nor she is an anti-villain: She doesn’t really have redeemable qualities. She is what she is, and I think she is what she’s been. Quoting one of the characters in the book, she refuses to change. I think one thing that’s important when reading into Sylvanas is to separate her words, her thoughts and her actions. She definitely acts tougher and more detached than she really is. This has been a pattern for a while. She is initially more ambitious than I would expect her (to be more precise, she has a very ambitious goal.) While normally I wouldn’t mind it, I’ve seen the same thing happening with Garrosh. Comparing his old self in the games, Theramore was too much. To this day I think it wasn’t fitting to his character, or at least we weren’t presented properly. That said, despite what people say, in my eyes Sylvanas can never be Garrosh 2.0. They are just so different characters.
I’m drifting away, but I’ll add a paragraph here: I think it’s unfair to take a very widely seen behavior (exploit, nepotism and alienation of others after having power) and attributing it to a single character. In an organization like the Horde, multiple dictators are really not so unexpected. No one calls Anduin “Varian 2.0” because he’s a fair king. No one calls Vol’jin or would call Baine “Thrall 2.0” because they were more open to other races. We can find so many parallels and patterns of behavior repeated between characters: That is really a normal thing. Anyway, getting back to the book.
Genn also has a big spot in BtS and I was unexpectedly pleased. Don’t expect anything major, but he has a few heartfelt talks with Anduin and I enjoyed reading those. He seems to be wise enough to know what’s going on inside him and some more.
I expected Nathanos to have a big spot because I heard sort of complaints that he was Sylvanas’s pop-up lover or something. I don’t know how the game stuff works, but he was pretty much her right hand and that was all.
As I said, I love Christie Golden. When I read her Warcraft books, I actually didn’t know she was the author of Vampire of the Mists. I realized that later and my admiration for her only grew over time. I also try to follow her on Twitter, her explanations etc and I think my mind set is well-aligned with her in terms of creating characters. I also have enjoyed her writing so far. This book, overall, was no exception.
However, there are a few things that really stuck with me. First is the few places where she put game mechanics in the story. I don’t know, this isn’t the first time I’ve read such attempts but this time, it just made me think of wow UI, cooldowns, skill names and it broke the immersion a bit. Second thing is a few things that I felt had too much obvious emphasis. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s because Golden didn’t want to leave any doubts but those points were mentioned again and again and I started rolling my eyes. Another dislike for me was some story points or character decisions feeling they weren’t processed properly/enough/naturally. I’m not sure which. Last but not least, the Epilogue didn’t wrap the story for Forsaken. I would doubt it was forgotten, so I’m guessing we’ll see it in game, but for me the book it felt incomplete.
Finally, I felt some parts of the book wasn’t really “necessary.” Not that each part of the book needs pragmatic necessity but I think we could have had more tangible parts instead of these “extra moments” that could have been in “director’s cut.”
What I really liked was seeing all the different perspectives and the reactions to events: Anduin is still naive in some ways, not just because of his youth, but because he trusts the light. He needs to be naive, because otherwise he won’t be true to himself and to the light. On the other hand, others are more cynical and they’ll judge him. In the end, everyone has points that were right and wrong. We also see Sylvanas and Anduin looking at the same situation and focusing on the outcome that they want to see and both are satisfied and disappointed in their own way.
I also really liked seeing more into the Forsaken society. They are almost always portrayed more or less the same since we are mostly exposed to adventurers and soldiers; especially if you aren’t Horde. BtS brings a few “civilians” under the light and shows us how it works.
If you are looking to find the answers to why the Horde and the Alliance war breaks, this isn’t the book for it. If you are looking for action, this isn’t the book. If you are looking for some insight into sides and the aforementioned characters, then you may like it.
I definitely don’t regret buying the book and will probably buy a hardcover too, but let me put it this way: I thought that I wouldn’t be able to resist the urge and get my WoW sub back after I read the book. I ended up not being so hyped up that I’ll get it back next week. Do with that what you will.
And I hope we’ll find answers in prepatch and the expansion.