It’s been quite a while since the last Warcraft novel was released. They seemed to pretty much skip having any tie-ins for Warlords of Draenor and go straight to Legion stories. Given what a debacle WoD has been, that may have been the wisest choice.
Illidan, naturally enough, focuses on the story of Illidan, essentially serving to fill in the blanks of everything we didn’t see of his story in the games, especially during the Burning Crusade era.
It also does a lot to flesh out the story of the demon hunters, granting the reader a glimpse of how desperately driven one has to be to choose such a life, and the terrible price they pay for their power.
There is also much attention given to Maiev Shadowsong and her never-ending need to take vengeance upon Illidan.
What struck me most about this book is how incredibly dark it is. William King pulls no punches when it comes to either the brutality of combat or the tortured mental states of the characters.
Nobody in this book is sane. That much is clear early on. You can clearly see how ten thousand years of solitary confinement have warped Illidan’s mind. A nice touch is that Illidan will often pace for exactly nine paces — the length of his cell. Even after achieving his freedom, he can’t break the habit.
Yet despite all he’s suffered, all his narcissism and his ruthlessness, Illidan is ultimately the most sane character in the story.
The demon hunters amount to a sanitarium population given weapons and trained to kill without mercy. I’m sure you’re picturing a very bizarre, very frightening bunch, but trust me, they’re weirder and scarier than you’re imagining.
But no one’s madness can equal that of Maiev Shadowsong. King takes every possible opportunity to showcase how every waking moment of Maiev’s life is defined by naught by rampant paranoia and unquenchable hatred. How other people can never be anything but tools to her in her endless quest for vengeance.
Illidan’s imprisonment has warped him, yes, but Maiev also spent ten thousand years in darkness, and she did so willingly. She built a cage of her own hatred and locked the door behind herself.
I’ve never liked Maiev, but Illidan has really shown me what a monster she truly is.
The dark, twisted nature of Illidan is what makes it memorable, though. This was never going to be happy story, but King makes it not just dark but gloriously dark. It is a gripping, if sometimes horrifying, story, and much as I admire the previous Warcraft authors, King’s macabre style is a welcome change of pace from Christie’s Golden’s emotive stories or Knaak’s rollicking adventures.
Illidan is also the first time in quite a while that the Burning Legion has actually seemed scary, and that is long overdue. Seeing them through Illidan’s eyes — almost literally — illustrates just how horrific they are, how hopeless it is to oppose them.
And that shows you just how amazingly strong, how utterly determined and cunning, Illidan must be to oppose them even still.
All that said, the book does still have its rough edges.
By necessity given the amount of time it covers, the story jumps around a lot and is therefore somewhat disjointed. No one who hasn’t played the games would be able to make sense of it all.
Inevitably, the ending is quite a downer, and it paints players as villains almost as much as Mists of Pandaria did. That may not have been possible to avoid given the existing lore, but what could have been avoided was how incomplete the ending is. It amounts to a giant neon “BUY LEGION TO SEE HOW IT ENDS” sign.
It does increasingly feel as if the Warcraft novels are being used as advertisements for the game as much as tools to expand the lore. That’s a worrying trend, and Illidan is the most egregious example to date.
Finally, the story of the main demon hunter character, a Night Elf named Vandel, could have been handled better. It offers some good insights into the demon hunters themselves and how they become what they are, but once that’s done, his story doesn’t really go anywhere. It has no climax or satisfying conclusion.
Still, on the whole, Illidan was a pretty enjoyable read.
Overal rating: 8.3/10