Review: Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde + New Article

I didn’t know what to expect from this book.

Most Warcraft novels to date, barring a few exceptions, have been written by Richard A. Knaak or Christie Golden. These are both writers with their share of flaws, but you know what you’re getting, and they’ve got a lot of experience with the Warcraft universe, so they tend to capture it very well.

Cover art for "Vol'jin: Shadows of the Horde" by Michael A. StackpoleVol’jin: Shadows of the Horde is the first Warcraft novel in a long time to be written by a new (to Warcraft) author: Michael A. Stackpole. I admit I was a bit concerned this newbie might not handle the Warcraft universe as well as his more experienced counterparts.

I was pleasantly wrong.

Shadows of the Horde picks up almost immediately after the events of Mists of Pandaria’s Dagger in the Dark scenario. Mortally wounded, Vol’jin washes up in Binan Village and is rescued by Chen Stormstout. Seeing no other way to save his old friend, Chen brings Vol’jin to the peaks of Kun-Lai Summit, to the Shado-pan Monastery.

Much of the rest of the book deals with Vol’jin’s recovery amidst the monks. A little extra spice comes from the fact that Vol’jin is not the only guest — there is also an Alliance soldier recovering amongst the Shado-pan. And just to keep things interesting, there’s a Zandalari invasion brewing on the horizon, too.

What I found interesting about this book is how thoughtful and introspective it is. It’s not the brawling roller-coaster that most recent Warcraft novels have been, but I mean that as a positive. There is fighting when the story calls for it, but much of the novel is given to quiet meditations on Vol’jin’s identity, the true nature of the Trolls, and the purpose of the Horde.

I like this because it capitalizes on the strengths of books as a medium. The advantage of a novel over telling stories in the game is that you grant greater depth to plots and characters, and Shadows of the Horde does this excellently. Instead of constantly trying to one-up his own epicness like Knaak does, Michael Stackpole tells a deceptively simple story focused almost exclusively on Vol’jin, Chen Stormstout, and their Alliance companion.

Art of Vol'jin from World of WarcraftIn fact, if I have one complaint about this book, it’s that it sometimes — though thankfully not too often — gets a little too thoughtful, to the point of navel-gazing. If I had to sit through one more arcane Pandaren parable from Taran Zhu…

The other thing that I greatly enjoyed about this book is that, contrary to my concerns, Michael Stackpole seems to understand the cultures of the Warcraft universe very well. I very much liked how Vol’jin is shown to be honourable and wise figure, but still undeniably a Troll. He has a very vicious and feral side to him. His fondest memories are of breaking the bones of his enemies and smelling their “delicious” blood.

There’s a great balance struck where Vol’jin is neither a mindless, bloodthirsty savage nor a blue human with tusks and a bad accent.

Similarly, the Pandaren are very well-presented. They are shown as a very intricate and thoughtful people, with layer upon layer of complexity hidden behind their seemingly simple personas. Chen Stormstout, for example, is very much the jolly fellow we know from the games, but he is also shown to be quite wise and worldly underneath all his jokes and love of beer.

I found the quality of the prose very high compared to other Warcraft novels, as well. It’s a well-written book even beyond the story and the characters, and some of the dialogue is quite clever and snappy. My only complaint would be that the Trolls’ language is sometimes a little too sophisticated, seeming at odds with their pseudo-Caribbean patois.

Art of Chen Stormstou from World of WarcraftAnd while there isn’t a huge amount of action, the fight scenes that do exist are quite gripping. They’re frenetic, but never confusing, and they pull no punches on the goriness and brutality of battle. I also quite liked that the author seemed to take inspiration for Vol’jin’s combat abilities more from Warcraft III’s shadow hunters than modern World of Warcraft classes. Sweet nostalgia!

Warcraft novels have been in a bit of slump recently — not bad, just not as good as some of classics like The Last Guardian or Lord of the Clans — but between Shadows of the Horde and Dawn of the Aspects, things seem to be turning around.

Overall rating: 8.7/10 It got di righteous groove.

New article:

My latest article for WhatMMO talks about gearless progression.

I really wish game developers would rid themselves on their tunnel vision on gear as the only way to offer players advancement. It’s not very satisfying, and there are so many other ways to keep people engaged.

Part of the reason I’m so hooked on The Secret World is that it has much less emphasis on gear, and there are plenty of other ways to advance your character. Doing that also allows what gear does exist to be much more meaningful. On my Dragon, I used my sword from the first Mayan event for the lion’s share of a year.

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7 thoughts on “Review: Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde + New Article

  1. Personally, I didn’t like how the zandalar were vilified. The official Troll Compendium outright says that the Zandalari were never cannibals and are un interested in conquest, guess what the novel, and Pandaria retcons them as? A cannibalistic EVUL empire of EVUL that was always EVUL because they were EVUL.

    At this rate, we’ll eventually raid the Darkspear tribe for more troll raids.

    Also even as a Darkspear troll fan, I find it hard to buy the Darkspear are truer to the loa then the Zandalar, and the Gurubashi. Master Gadrin, head of the darkspear witch doctors, even sent players to kill the Spider Loa in Arathi questing.

    • I think the mistake was ever implying the Zandalari weren’t evil. Trolls are a nasty bunch — that’s always been the case. It’s the identity of their race. The Darkspears are supposed to be the exception that proves the rule. It never made sense for the Zandalari to somehow be these benevolent progenitors, flying in the face of everything we ever knew about Trollkind.

      Also, I just reread their entry in the compendium, and none of it really contradicts their current portrayal. It says they weren’t interested in conquest in the past, but that doesn’t make them pacifists or harmless. There’s a pretty good lore explanation for their recent change of heart, so even calling it a retcon is dubious.

      I’d say their portrayal has been pretty consistent. They’re for advancing the interests of Trolls above all other things. In the past, that meant we were on their side in “an enemy of my enemy” alliance against Hakkar. Now, it pits them against us, as they believe (perhaps correctly) that the Alliance and Horde are a dire threat to their race.

      • A Nasty bunch that every case of diplomacy has been a complete success? The Darkspear immediately befriended the orcs, Arthas meets Ice Trolls in Northrend, they ally with him becuase they have a common enemy. Dark Trolls team up with the Night Elves, orcs, and Humans at Hyjal because they have a common enemy. The Revantusk allied with the orcs immediately, the Shatterspear agreed to help Garrosh by committing a suicidal attack on the Night Elves, Molthor of the Zandalar counted a Dwarf as a friend, ETC.

        Sorry Pandaria and this novels portayal is a highly inconsistent. Its stated, Zandalar was able to be shielded by mages in the sundering, yet we’re to believe the Cataclysm destroyed them? The Novel portrays them as cannibalistic, but the compendium says the Zandalar were NEVER cannibalistic.
        If anything, their previous role as aloof allies interested in preserving the history of the troll race was very unique, while their cata role was cliche and idiotic. In Stackpoles, the Zandalar being evil was the result of the Devs going “Derp, we’re out of ideas, lets do Zandalar genocide” rather then his own.

      • First of all, you’re cherry-picking Troll history to a rather absurd degree, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of their interactions with other races were violent in nature.

        Secondly, I don’t think a lot of quasi-canonical mercenary camps really say anything about Troll nature. The Frost Trolls who helped Arthas were retconned to be human mercenaries in Wrath, and even if that hadn’t happened, they’d still be mercenaries, which doesn’t do anything to counter their identity as bloodthirsty and savage. It wasn’t some noble alliance against a common enemy by any stretch of the imagination.

        Heck, that same campaign had Arthas being attacked by Frost Trolls just as often.

        Finally, regarding Shatterspear, I don’t think allying with Garrosh counts in anyone’s favour. They were invading Night Elf territory, killing and torturing anyone they could get their hands on — they were bloodthirsty raiders, not martyrs.

  2. Most races in WoW have had violent interactions with others. Those examples it is very possible to do diplomacy with trolls. If anything, you’re cherry picking Troll history to say they’re incapable of diplomacy or working with others.

    Also its silly to claim Trolls are evil, cannot change, and must be genocided, except for the former Gurubashi splinter tribe, the Darkspear(as they need to be genocided in a later expansion at this rate), while believing Dark Irons, Worgen, ETC can change.

    Heck just look at the description of Theka the Martyr.

    “Long ago, the martyr Theka was slain in the brutal war between the qiraji and the trolls. Zul’Farrak still stands because of his brave sacrifice. Even in death he maintains a vigil over his beloved city, and it is said that the dozens of insectoid warriors who killed him were cursed to live as mindless scarabs, scuttling at the martyr’s side.”

    Sounds like heroism to me.

    The Shadowy Mercenaries were at no point stated to be the same ones Arthas used. Besides, why would humans be in northrend? The Arthas novel also heavily indicates the mercenaries were trolls, Arthas also calls them “creatures.”

    Arthas being attacked by other Frost trolls doesn’t discount that there were trolls willing to work for him any more then human bandits discount humanity being capable of friendliness, or Stormreaver Warlocks attacking everyone. If anything, Warcraft shows not every race is a hivemind, so why insist Trolls are the exception?

    A lot of factions in the game are ruthless towards their enemies, in the Barrens, dwarves annhililated a tauren tribe after rejecting all diplomacy, Night elves showed the Shatterspear no mercy either in that scenario, ETC.

    The Shatterspear were rather intent on impressing the orcs, giving up years of peace to do a suicidal attack on the numerically superior night elf forces. There were orcs in their village, and they wore the orcish symbol of the Horde with pride, all things considered the Shatterspear Tribe weren’t really all that different from the Darkspear Tribe.

    Back to the Zandalar, their original role was also nice for being a Neutral organization that didn’t lean towards the Alliance.

    • I didn’t say that Trolls are incapable of changing or a hivemind. The Darkspear prove they can be decent people. But their culture as a whole is vicious and cruel one, and that’s always been the case. Just because they can be on the level doesn’t mean that they choose to. The fact remains that the vast majority of their race are ruthlessly hostile, as has been clearly shown in the games time and time again.

      Honestly, at this point, you’re just delving into pure fanon, grasping at straws to prove your own viewpoint even as it flies in the face of all established Warcraft lore. I could keep arguing, but it’s clear nothing I can say will convince you.

      • Much of the race having a hostile culture doesn’t equal all being always hostile. We’ve seen many hostile trolls in the series, but since Trolls have first appeared, we’ve also seen a good deal of cases where Trolls have made Alliances with others.

        Fact of the matter was that the Zandalar weren’t hostile, and infact even exiled the Drakkari for being barbaric.

        The one grasping to Fanon is you, glossing over the Shadowtooth tribe, Trollish mercenaries, all history of the Zandalar, troll tribes allying with others, and the troll compendium.

        Maybe I shouldn’t have expected much from someone who liked Mists of Pandaria’s lore AKA “Derp, lets retcon out all the redeeming qualities of the orcs, and go into Black and White Morality.”

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