Review: Warcraft, Durotan

The interesting thing about this book is that it is not based on the games, as Christie Golden’s many other Warcraft novels have been, but instead the movie.

Cover art for Warcraft: Durotan by Christie GoldenThe Warcraft film has its own unique continuity, and so while Durotan covers roughly the same period of time as Golden’s Rise of the Horde, it’s a very different story. Think of it as an alternate universe, only without the headache-inducing confusion and absurdity of Warlords of Draenor.

Like the movie, it changes a lot about the established lore while still staying mostly true to the spirit of the world and its characters.

As the title would imply, the focus is given to Durotan and the Frostwolf clan. While Rise of the Horde provided a broad view of the fall of Draenor, the scale of Durotan is much more narrow and personal as the Frostwolves struggle to survive in a world that is slowly dying.

Durotan also introduces a new threat in the form of the Red Walkers, a rogue clan of vile flesh-eaters driven past the brink of madness by the ruin of their world. They serve as the primary antagonists, and they do a damn good job of it.

It’s a much simplified version of the lore, with none of the at-times overwhelming complexity that has come to define that period of history in the main universe, but while I wouldn’t necessarily want to see the game universe streamlined to this extant, it is interesting as a “what if” take. Durotan is certainly much more friendly to someone with little to no Warcraft lore knowledge than most of the recent Warcraft novels.

Ultimately, whether or not you will enjoy this book comes down to one question: Do you like Orcs?

If you answered “yes,” you will enjoy this book. If you answered “no,” probably not.

I’m not just saying that because basically every character in the book is an Orc. Everything about Durotan just oozes Orcish culture. This is the absolute Orciest, chest-thumpingest, skull-splittingest, zug-zugiest, lok’tariest book ever.

I like Orcs, so this is all good news to me. I especially like the Frostwolves and their culture — essentially the loyalty and fellowship of a wolf pack blown up to a full humanoid society — so it was a great joy to immerse myself in that mentality for three hundred pages or so.

I do have a few complaints, but all of them minor.

I know this is a very out of character thing for me to say, but I would have liked to have seen more of the Draenei. I was very curious how this newer, streamlined version of the lore explains them, but I was destined for disappointment on that front, as barely any attention was given to them in the book.

Similarly, I would have liked to see more of Garona, who turned out to be (surprisingly) a major highlight of the movie.

A promotional shot of Orgrim Doomhammer from the Warcraft movieI’m not entirely keen on how Orgrim Doomhammer is portrayed in the book, either. He mostly comes across as a bit of a simpleton, which is a disservice to a character as complex as he has traditionally been.

The ending is slightly underwhelming, too, but I suppose that’s somewhat inevitable for a book that mainly serves to set up the movie. The climax of the story happens on the big screen, not between the covers.

Still, on the whole, it was a good read. Recommended to both fans of the games and people who’ve only seen the movie.

Overall rating: 8/10

Review: The Gates of Good and Evil, book one: The Summonstone

Although it hasn’t been out for that long, it’s still surprising it took me this long to get around to reading the first book of The Gates of Good Evil, the newest trilogy in Ian Irvine’s vast Three Worlds Cycle. Ian Irvine is my favourite living writer, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book for years.

Cover art for "The Gates of Good and evil, book one: The Summonstone" by Ian IrvineThe Summonstone occupies an odd place in the mythology of the Three Worlds. It is a direct sequel to the first part of the saga, The View from the Mirror, taking place about ten years after the events of The Way Between the Worlds and once again putting the focus on the original heroes, the sensitive Karan and Llian the chronicler.

However, this also makes it something of a prequel to the other Three Worlds books, The Well of Echoes quartet and The Song of the Tears trilogy. It’s kind of a weird space for a story to be, and the competing goals make the story a bit scattered at times.

I’m going to try to avoid major spoilers for The Summonstone itself, but by necessity I will be spoiling the other Three Worlds books a bit. You’ve been warned.

In typical Ian Irvine fashion, the story wastes no time in having basically everything go wrong. Karan and Llian’s young daughter, Sulien, awakens from a nightmare, and this is no ordinary dream, but a vision.

She has seen an army gathering within the Void, the Merdrun, and they plan to invade Santhenar and claim it for their own. Sulien is the only threat to their plans, and they plan to use dark magic to snuff out her life and pave the way for the genocide of humanity.

Meanwhile, the Merdrun’s Summonstone is waking, sending out a psychic drumming across Santhenar that twists and corrupts all it touches, driving even the best of people to madness, murder, and betrayal.

And at a time when Santhenar should be uniting against the threat from the Void, war ravages the island of Meldorin as the deranged warlord Cumulus Snoat attempts to bring the land under his dominion. Soon even the Council of Santhenar is on the run from his forces.

The pacing is breakneck, perhaps a bit too much so. I found the early parts of the book felt a little rushed. I would have enjoyed a slightly slower build-up, maybe some time to see more of Karan and Llian’s family life and how they’ve changed over the years.

I was also reminded that I’ve never been a particular fan of Karan and Llian as characters. Llian is for the most part an imbecile — though for what it’s worth he was a bit more likable this time around, even if he still doesn’t do that much — and Karan can come across as a bit melodramatic at times. Yes, I know she’s a sensitive, and she can’t help it, but whatever the cause, it still gets a bit wearing after a while.

For me, The View from the Mirror was carried by the strength of its secondary characters. The good news is that’s true here, as well. We’re reintroduced to some old favourites — oh, how good it is to see Lilis again — as well as some great new characters.

A map of the continent of Lauralin on the world of Santhenar, setting of Ian Irvine's Three Worlds novelsWilm is a simple farmboy possessed of great courage and goodness, and one of the most fiercely likable characters Ian Irvine has yet produced. Aviel is an ill-fated girl with a crippled foot, but the rare ability to create magical scent potions — which is an interesting take on magic if I’ve ever seen one. Then there’s Ussarine, the massive but good-hearted warrior woman, and the troubled twins Esea and Hingis.

I’m impressed that even after all this time Irvine is still managing to create characters and stories that feel fresh and different. Usually when an author has been around for this wrong, especially if they’re mainly writing in the same universe, they inevitably fall into tired formulas.

There are some patterns that keep coming up over and again in Ian Irvine’s books — mainly his determination to adhere to Murphy’s Law at every possible opportunity and the fact that almost all his characters seem to have dead or absent fathers — but it’s far from the rote routines other long-running fantasy series often devolve into.

Ultimately, my main complaint about this book is not my lukewarm feelings toward Karan and Llian, nor even the rushed pacing, but the Merdrun themselves.

Part of this is the weight of expectation. I had envisioned this series as telling the tale of Karan’s conflict with Maigraith, which would lead to all the troubles of Santhenar over the coming centuries. There’s a bit of that, but it takes a backseat to this totally new, and frankly less interesting, threat.

I’ve certainly seen worse villains than the Merdrun, but I can’t say I find them particularly compelling, either. So far they seem to be purely evil monsters, with none of the nuance that originally attracted me to the Three Worlds books.

At the same time, they’re still less interesting than the other purely evil threats of the series. We saw Jal-Nish and Maigraith become corrupted over time, which lent them colour and depth, and their cruelties were on full display. There’s a lot of telling, as opposed to showing, with the Merdrun.

Nor can they equal the alien horror of the creatures of the Void, being still more or less human, just really nasty humans.

Oh, and stop killing dogs, Ian. You can kill all the human characters you want, but leave the puppies out of it.

That said, there’s still plenty to like. If I’m critical of this book, it’s mainly because I hold Ian Irvine to a higher standard than most other writers. The action is still exciting, the new characters (as mentioned above) are mostly very strong, and the world-building remains as excellent as ever. Very few fantasy settings can equal the depth and texture of the Three Worlds.

And the climax of the book is absolutely spectacular. Tense, exciting, and with some fantastic twists.

Also, while The Summonstone didn’t entirely meet my expectations, it’s worth noting this is just book one of the trilogy, and Irvine’s series have had rough starts before. The first book of The Song of the Tears left me a little cold, too, but it turned into one of my all-time favourite series.

I look forward to the next installment.

Overall rating: 8/10