World of Warcraft celebrated its 15th year anniversary last year, and it’s also been 25 years since the release of the first game. Along with the game content and amazing cinematics, the setting has been expanded to novels, children’s books, board games and TTRPG, comics and even a movie! Many players have collected as much of the content as they can, or read the story through online sources. However, a growing number of WoW players have been rather unhappy about the diversity, arguing that they should be able to follow the stories through the game. This didn’t stop Blizzard from releasing books that tie-in expansions to each other despite recognizing the feedback. As we are moving from Battle for Azeroth (I published two improvement suggestions for it) to Shadowlands (Remember the BlizzCon article?), a new book was also released: Shadows Rising.
I’ve experienced the book in both digital and audiobook form. In this article, I’ll give you my opinions on whether you should buy it or not in the form of a very simple and completely spoiler-free review.
Shadows Rising was written by Madeleine Roux, an author I was unaware of before this book. This is to my ignorance mind you. Apparently, she is an accomplished author and a New York Times Bestseller who wrote in different genres like horror and Sci-fi, including a piece for Star Wars. In fact, she wasn’t even new to Warcraft: She authored the third book of the Traveler series. Later on, she wrote the short story “A Moment in Verse”, which I had also skipped!
When I say she isn’t new to Warcraft, it’s actually more than that. She’s actually a world of warcraft player and “one of us geeks.” She has her own memories, her own take, mains a druid and has the hots for some characters. In fact, I had heard that she was into Nathanos from a couple sources, which I’ll admit made me raise an eyebrow. Now I feel bad for even having considered that. Sorry, Madeleine.
So, let’s talk about the book! First of all, this isn’t exactly a tie-in. There is no singular chain of events that grabs us from the end of BfA and places us to the ShL cutscene. Technically, the book starts around the end of BfA and does feature the cutscene around the end, but we are rather following a different set of events instead of Sylvanas’ footsteps unlike, say, War Crimes where we witnessed what happened to Garrosh. I’m really glad that Blizzard chose this path for this book in particular. For War Crimes, it made a lot of sense to see the interaction and conflict between characters, but with Shadowlands, there is a lot of mystery that makes it better and this way, not only Sylvanas’ exact actions are still mysterious, but also we get a good opportunity to look at the inner machinations of both the Horde and the Alliance after the Fourth War and I’m telling you — they are interesting.
Horde is trying to find their way in the new council system after abolishing the Warchief concept. Forsaken rule is not fully decided and Gazlowe replaced Gallywix (I can not wait to have more Travis Willingham in WoW.) While the Alliance keeps their unity, the night elves are not happy. Not at all. Anduin feels the pressure of his position and his positive naivete is not as strong as it used to be.
Through the book, you’ll follow a conspiracy based in Zandalar, stretched in many locations across Azeroth. The story isn’t told through a single protagonist either, which is one of the impressive parts of the book. There are many characters with varying difficulty and “screentime”, including but not limited to Anduin, Jaina, Talanji, Zekhan, Thrall, Nathanos and a new antagonist. The story touches many more characters and events, but it’s still mostly self-contained, which is a sign that Blizzard heard the critiques about the story flow outside the game.
You can tell through the book that Madeleine is a Warcraft fan. There are hints and details at every corner, from using the name of a Warcraft-world fauna instead of simply calling them, say, “fish” to reminding events and quests in-game. Of course, it is also possible to overdo this and turn the book into a reference-fest but she doesn’t fall into this trap. There is a good balance between the references, the spirit of Warcraft woven into the fabric and the parts completely irrelevant of setting, such as character development or setting a scene.
I really enjoyed reading the book and I definitely hope Madeleine will be back for more books and short stories later. As mentioned, I’m glad Blizzard chose this story and gave us information about how everything settled after the events of BfA, rather than focusing on Sylvanas. If you are into Warcraft lore at all, I strongly suggest that you read it.
Now, I say read, but I also tried the Audiobook version. I was really excited as it was read by Susie Wokoma — voice actress of Talanji herself. I had partially listened to an audiobook before and I had heard some excerpts over time. This was the first time I decided to fully listen to a book — especially because I’m not a fan of kindle-reading and the physical version would arrive too late.
Unfortunately, I ended up exchanging the book for “I, Mengsk”, voiced by Neil Kaplan (voice actor of Tychus among many more). I saw some pretty harsh comments on Audible that I don’t agree with, but I had two main concerns: One, some voices felt too similar, especially non-troll, male ones. Two, some important voices were uninspired and as if Susie did not know or care how those characters sounded like, which was a contrast to the book itself, which made me feel it was made with love. I’m guessing this was directed outside of Blizzard or made with a bit of rush. It is not bad, but if you have to choose and unless you absolutely don’t want to buy a hard copy or kindle, I would definitely not suggest the audiobook version over the others.
Well, I thought this would be a short article since I wouldn’t get into the story, but it seems there was still a lot to say. I’m still avoiding Shadowlands spoilers like the plague and I’m glad I experienced this book in a timely manner. I hope we get the pre-patch soon as well. Whether you are waiting for that or enjoying the beta, go on, buy and read the book. You won’t regret it. Also, Jerek says hi.