NOTE: This article discusses events from the novel War Crimes. Please do not read if you do not want the book spoiled for you.
After an expansion spent watching Garrosh Hellscream destroy location after location and nearly assassinate two high-profile leaders, the people of Azeroth were in a state of hurt, and Christie Golden’s War Crimes presents those most affected and how they work through their grief in the form of Garrosh’s sensational trial. Azeroth’s citizens may not have received the trial they wanted, but they certainly got the trial they needed.
The trial itself is a narrative tool used for two purposes. Through the use of the Bronze Dragonflight, not only are witnesses called, but the Accuser and Defender (Prosecution and Defense) can also show visions of events that had happened. Early visions are used to recount Velen’s interactions with Durotan on Draenor. While ostensibly used as a history lesson about the orcs, this is simply Blizzard reminding old readers and introducing new readers of one of the major characters we’ll meet in Warlords of Draenor. There are other instances of foreshadowing Draenor as well – the book’s first word is “Draenor” and it opens by teasing a Hellscream family reunion in Nagrand. When the Iron Horde emerges from the portal and begins wreaking havoc on Azeroth, War Crimes will have prepared the narrative.
The second and more dominant purpose of the trial, however, is to force Azeroth’s leaders to relive events and face their pain, which works amazingly well. Jaina Proudmoore, having twice struggled with Horde betrayal, is caught between Kalecgos’ concern for her personality shift and her desire for retribution on Hellscream. Her calls to dismantle the Horde are revisited, and as she endures the trial (including having to testify about and witness a vision of Theramore’s destruction), she comes to terms with what happened and begins to soften to her old ways. From Tides of War, through Mists of Pandaria, and finally War Crimes, Jaina is put through an emotional gauntlet, and after much struggle, is able to make it to the other side. Her relationship with Varian is slightly wounded (after Varian learns about the aid she and Anduin offered Baine while he fled the Grimtotem invasion of Thunder Bluff), but even Vol’jin reaches out to her, and it seems that the Horde-Alliance peace she had long envisioned may be attainable.
If anything, watching Baine, Anduin, Go’el, Vol’jin, and Jaina endure the trial is engaging. Baine draws the unenviable position of trying to defend Garrosh, and quickly realizes that while he cannot assert that Garrosh is innocent, he can plead that the deposed Warchief should live. This immediately sets him at odds with everyone (except Varian and Taran Zhu) and the hurdles he jumps through to get everyone to reconsider Garrosh’s actions are impressive. Even Vol’jin, who ordered Baine to defend Garrosh and do his best, gets rankled when Baine challenges him on how he would regard a powerful Horde member who openly made death threats against him, as Vol’jin did to Garrosh. Baine nimbly maneuvers around the facts of Garrosh’s horrible acts, and is able to fluster everyone into admitting that, from certain angles, Garrosh was not the terror he seemed. His part in the trial is the most important, and he stands up to the task, finally earning his own place among the Horde leadership as opposed to simply holding Cairne’s spot.
The interesting aspect of the trial is that as it winds down and the characters finally deal with their pain, wounds begin to heal. As mentioned, Jaina and Vol’jin begin to form a bond, and everyone’s respect for Baine can only grow from the job he has done. In the climactic battle, Go’el and Varian fight side by side, and Go’el even tries to help Jaina in a moment of need. Garrosh’s tyranny hurt everyone on Azeroth, but by bringing all the leaders of Azeroth together and forcing them to endure this trial, the August Celestials may have knowingly started Azeroth on a path to peace. While there are sure to be those within each faction who still hate the other side, (especially Sylvanas, who is the lone character who winds up having her hatred reinforced), overall, relations between the Alliance and Horde have never been closer.
It will be interesting to see how the two factions regard each other throughout Warlords of Draenor. We again find ourselves united in defending the world, but there is no Garrosh to slaughter Alliance on the doorsteps of Icecrown this time. In Mists of Pandaria, every opportunity to assault the other faction was taken, with Pandaria often paying the price. How Warlords presents this reduction in hostility will be fascinating.
There are many great moments in War Crimes. The Sylvanas-Vareesa reunion is surprising and touching, and watching it ultimately fall apart is heartbreaking. Sylvanas risks becoming a cartoon villain who almost felt love and then lost it so that her heart is now hardened, but in Christie Golden’s hands she remains the compelling Dark Lady. Whereas before, there was concern that Jaina would be a raid boss in the future, now Sylvanas seems determined to remain on that path herself.
There’s also the subplot with Kairoz freeing Garrosh. This was disappointing only in how obvious it was due to the spoilers revealed at Blizzcon. There is a fun ongoing plot of a mysterious dragon assembling an A-Team-like group of Garrosh loyalists – Shokia from the ill-fated Horde scouting party to Pandaria, Warlord Zaela, the traitorous Thalen Songweaver, and a goblin named Harrowmeiser. Aligned with a band of pirates and the Infinite Dragonflight, this force helps free Garrosh and also provides the only real combat of the story. In some ways, the final fight felt tacked on – the narrative of the trial was great, but it seemed that we needed a final battle because this is a Warcraft book and fighting is inevitable. Personally, I would have enjoyed the book even more if Garrosh were to escape and everyone was left at the end of the trial coping with what happened without having to enter battle. The fighting works best in the game; the trial works best on paper.
Overall, War Crimes is an engaging novel. Every faction leader has a moment to shine, and the stories of many characters are told such that fans of just about everyone will be satisfied. Even minor plots from Mists, like the Aysa-Ji relationship, are briefly addressed. War Crimes is a great read for anyone interested in Warcraft lore, and the reliance on flashbacks and visions make it a great jumping-on point for any new readers. There is still a long way to go before Warlords is released, but this is a great way to address that new content fix for now.
Mumper shared the original designs for Tempest Keep. How long till Mists of Pandaria is eligible for Throwback Thursday? https://twitter.com/mumper/status/464658076423839744
Azeroth Choppers is up to episode four. I’m just going to wait and binge watch it on Netflix. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0I4-T0neN2Y
Any further Realm Connections are on hold. Maybe Blizzard could get them going again if they weren’t busy building bikes. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/11836453594?page=34#673
WoW‘s subscriber base drops back down to 7.6 million. Everyone will be back when they get bored with Wildstar. http://wow.joystiq.com/2014/05/06/world-of-warcraft-down-to-7-6-million-subscribers/
New Artcraft for the Spires of Arak. This zone is going to look so pretty from the air. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/13987918/
Patch 5.4.8 is on the way. Just how many numbers are there before 6.0, anyway? http://wod.wowhead.com/news=237715/patch-5-4-8-ptr-build-18224-spell-changes
Cloud Serpent Riding will no longer be needed to ride Cloud Serpents in 6.0. Now everyone will be riding Cloud Serpents around Pandaria! Thanks, Blizz!!! https://twitter.com/WatcherDev/statuses/462251115560837120