I recently finished War Crimes by Christie Golden. Overall I think it was a decent World of Warcraft book. I’m not going to recount the entire story, but spoilery thoughts will follow! I will start with a brief synopsis for those who aren’t going to read it, but still want to understand what I’m talking about.
It centers around the trial of Garrosh Hellscream. The Bronze Dragonflight have found a way to use the hourglass from the Timeless Isle to show visions in full color and sound so that everyone in the court can see what happened. To aid in this, Chromie is chosen to work with the Alliance and Kairoz–our “friend” from the Timeless Isle–is chosen to help the Horde. The entire trial is for the benefit of the four August Celestials who are the jury. Everyone else is the audience and the witnesses called to testify by Tyrande Whisperwind, the Accuser, and Baine Bloodhoof, the Defender.
These flashbacks are moments taken straight from other books. Usually a moment is shown and then the witness who was shown in the vision is asked questions about it. Interspersed with the trial and its lore flashbacks there are a few other stories happening.
We have a plot to murder Garrosh going on between the Windrunner sisters. There is also a plot to rescue Garrosh led by Warlord Zaela–Surprise! She survived the Siege of Orgrimmar–and a few other key members of Garrosh’s Horde. You can probably guess which of these subplots succeeds.
The trial ends with an unexpected bang. We all knew Garrosh would escape – this book tells you how it happened. There is an attack from…dun dun dun…the Infinite Dragonflight and the baddies that Zaela has gathered to help her. Also key characters must fight their evil selves in addition to the other attackers.
So, now that you know the barest details, here is what I thought about them. I’m afraid this is going to be a very long post.
The first thing that comes to mind is the trial of Garrosh Hellscream. Personally, I think the entire premise was a little silly especially knowing how it ends. While it was an interesting way to spotlight past lore moments, it also felt like they were being shoehorned into the story. “Look at this past event! Look at it! It is IMPORTANT to the story of Warlords of Draenor!”
Garrosh’s comment about it being a spectacle similar to the Darkmoon Faire was pretty spot on. It was all flash and drama and didn’t seem to fit the world of Azeroth to me. I also have a problem with the idea that Garrosh was responsible for all the crimes his allies ever committed even if those crimes were something he had no part in.
I had a lot of trouble believing this type of court was really a Pandaren custom.
It was also hard to buy Taran Zhu as an impartial judge. I love Taran Zhu, but his character changes completely in every bit of supplemental fiction we see him in.
He has never been impartial towards the Horde or the Alliance.
So, yeah. I had issues with the whole premise of this book.
I was disappointed that we never got to know how Tyrande felt about being the Accuser. She was always observed by other characters. In contrast, we got to see Baine’s thoughts about the entire process. I would have liked to know more about what Tyrande was thinking beyond knowing she was angry or occasionally compassionate towards a witness. There is more to her than an angry woman seeking vengeance against Garrosh.
We also never got to see if Garrosh felt anything about his trial. The things he said to Anduin and to the audience at the end could have been true things or they could have been yet more bravado. I would have liked to get inside his head at least a tiny bit.
I understand why we didn’t though. He flat out knew from the beginning he was going to escape all justice and there was no way to show his thoughts without also showing that.
We also knew he was going to escape and I think that lessened the impact of a lot of the story. I knew as soon as I got to the subplots which one would fail since I knew Garrosh would be pulling his time travel shenanigans.
Christie Golden writes characters really well. I loved how she wrote several people in this book: Baine, Sylvanas, Vereesa, Anduin, and Wrathion to name a few. Others though…the things they said made me want to throw my kindle across the room. Kalecgos was the main offender.
I know she writes the story Blizzard asks her to, so I have to assume that the characters she made me really dislike were written that way on purpose. Or maybe there are just some personality types that I will never like.
First off we have the men that deserve to be punched.
I freely admit to being biased against Kalecgos. I have never liked him dating Jaina and this book made me really dislike him. Despite being a dragon with hundreds of years more life experience than Jaina, he has no empathy for her feelings. Her anger makes him feel bad so he threatens to dump her. This occurs in the middle of the trial when she is already vulnerable and upset because she is having to relive all these horrible events. Instead of supporting her, Kalec is a jackass throughout. Jaina deserves better.
His attitude really made me angry. Jaina’s anger is a completely rational reaction and he treats her like she should just get over all her friends and city being killed. Not only should she stop being angry, she should also forgive Garrosh. Her “choice” to live under a cloud of anger distresses him to the point that he can’t deal with it.
I dislike this message so much. A victim is not wrong because they are angry about being hurt. They aren’t bad if they can’t learn to forgive either; some things are unforgivable.
Jaina’s responses during the trial are very realistic. People who have suffered trauma really react that way. Unfortunately they also sometimes have people in their lives who blow off their feelings like Kalec did to Jaina. He made it all about him and how he felt about her not being instantly okay and forgiving because his feelings are somehow more important than hers.
Those awful things she is feeling? Those nightmares she continues to have? They are all her own fault according to Kalecgos because she is choosing to feel that way. That is just wrong.
Comparing Jaina to Alexstraza was also not fair. One is a human woman with maybe thirty-five years of life experience and the other is a eons old dragon who was once the Aspect of Life. If Kalec is going to date a human, then he should be compassionate and understanding of human responses to trauma instead of expecting her to act like a dragon.
Unfortunately he made Jaina feel like she was failing him by being so angry. She desperately wanted to keep their relationship and so I bet (even though this was not explicitly written) she swallowed her feelings so he would stay with her.
She definitely feels like her “bad” feelings are hurting him.
Ugh. I could rant about this all day, but I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that I think the best thing that could happen to Jaina is for her to dump his lame dragon ass.
The other man to make my ‘Needs To Be Punched’ list is Varian Wrynn. His punching moment also came when dealing with Jaina.
This occurred during the trial when Jaina’s previous dealings with Baine Bloodhoof were revealed to the court. Jaina once aided Baine after Magatha Grimtotem staged a coup at Thunder Bluff. In return, Baine was the one who warned her about the impending attack on Theramore.
(You can find the full backstory in The Shattering and Tides of War, both by Christie Golden.)
Varian basically became furious as soon as this was known. He threatened Jaina in the courtroom–even though she was visibly upset at seeing her former home–and then bitched her out soundly as soon as court was dismissed for the day.
I wanted to punch him because he treated her as if she had no right to do any sort of diplomacy or decision making without talking to him first.
Jaina Proudmore was the sovereign ruler of Theramore. Though she is allied with Varian Wrynn and the Alliance, she was not ever subservient to him. She alone ruled her city and she was such a good diplomat that even the Horde respected her.
I was really annoyed by the way Varian treated her during this argument. I can understand that he was angry, but he did not have to talk down to her. He did not act very much like the fair minded High King he was for the rest of the book. Instead he treated her like she was obligated to ask his permission before doing anything at all. Would Varian ever treat another ally and leader of the Alliance like that? Would they continue to follow him as High King if he did?
The saving grace to this scene was Jaina basically telling him to fuck off. I wish she had said the same to Kalec.
They seem to echo troubling trends within Blizzard regarding women and how they are treated. Those echoes bother me a lot because I continue to feel uneasy about Warlords of Draenor and so far nothing is making that unease less.
Now on to the things I liked. Despite the long rant, I did like some parts of this book. Terrible messages aside, it is definitely one of the better WoW novels I have read.
(Granted I do not rate any of the WoW novels very highly. I often find them interesting, but that is solely because I enjoy playing the game. I probably would not enjoy them otherwise.)
The Windrunner sisters and their mutual revenge plotline was awesome. This was my favorite part of the entire book. It is told mostly from Sylvanas’ point of view.
Vereesa contacts Sylvanas and asks her to meet at their old home in the Ghostlands. Sylvanas agrees because she is curious and because she has missed her little sister. She also understands completely when Vereesa tells her that her motivation for revenge is Garrosh killing Rhonin.
Once together, the sisters discuss their disquiet with the entire trial. They want Garrosh dead and do not trust that the August Celestials will pick that option. So they decide to take care of it themselves. Ultimately they decide to poison Garrosh and then go about setting their plan in motion.
Sylvanas has an interesting attitude towards Vereesa. She still loves her sister and wants her to move to Undercity. Vereesa is someone she could trust and confide in. The only catch is she wants Vereesa to be a banshee too. Sylvanas quietly plots her sister’s death every time they talk.
It was really interesting to me to see how she thinks now that she is dead. Sylvanas had no thoughts that killing her sister might be wrong. Instead she was looking forward to Vereesa rising with a new power and ambition that she currently lacked as a living being. She even planned on killing her in her sleep so that Vereesa would have an easy death.
Sylvanas did balk at the thought of also killing her two nephews. She totally would have done it had Vereesa insisted on bringing them to the Undercity, but her main thought was, ‘She’d rather not have to kill them.’
Vereesa seriously considered moving to the Undercity to live with Sylvanas even though this would mean abandoning the Alliance and everything she had stood for. (She had no idea that her sister was planning on killing her though. I think she was planning on being alive and spending a lot of time in Silvermoon.)
Ultimately the thought of leaving her children behind caused her to change her mind. While she did successfully poison Garrosh’s food, she told Anduin it was poisoned at the last minute and left him to decide what to do about it.
The last time we see Vereesa she is in Dalaran watching her boys play in the fountain. Anduin decides not to tell on her so her standing in the Alliance is unharmed.
Sylvanas is left feeling hurt and betrayed because she knows her sister has chosen the living over her. The Banshee Queen is filled with more anger than ever and ends up feeling like it is impossible for her to really care about anything now that she is undead.
Neither sister is present for the events at the end of the trial.
Though this ending means they will probably not interact again, I hope that they do. I really liked seeing them together. Both of them were shown to be more than just crazy angry women–though that element existed as well.
Another unlikely pair in this story was Anduin Wrynn and Wrathion. The two really are friends although Wrathion admits that his friendship only extends as much as it is possible for him to be a friend.
I really enjoyed their conversations. We never see inside Wrathion’s head, but it is pretty obvious from his actions that he does care about Anduin. He seeks him out when he sees the Prince looking depressed and cheers him up. At one point he says that once he is older he would be willing–if asked nicely–to take Anduin away where they ‘would have such adventures that his father would age ten years in one night.’
Of course it turns out that Wrathion was in on the plot to free Garrosh. This is interesting because we have been told we won’t be seeing much of him on Draenor. I wonder what he will be doing instead this next expansion?
I really like Wrathion so his betrayal made me sad. I’m not really shocked because he is a black dragon afterall, but I don’t want him to be a raid boss. Maybe he will avoid that fate. He made a point to tell Anduin he was sorry for what he was about to do and mentioned that he hoped they would meet again one day and be allies.
I think it is weird that Garrosh decided he wanted to talk only to Anduin. I can see why this was done as a story device, but not why Garrosh would ever actually choose to do that. I can’t see what he hoped to gain from it.
Anduin felt like he was being asked to be there as a priest, but I don’t believe that was true. Honestly, this part of the book made no real sense to me.
Garrosh escaped only after proudly telling the entire court that not only was he not sorry – he would do it all again. So we know for sure that he is unrepentant to the core.
The entire end battle was a bit odd too.
Kairoz summoned the worst possible selves of several people from the hour glass and let them loose in the courtroom before leaving with Garrosh. So the summoned Jaina was a Jaina that had destroyed Orgrimmar. The summoned Baine was a Baine that had killed Garrosh in anger and become Warchief of the Horde. The summoned Thrall never learned to become Go’el. Summoned Anduin was a terrified boy king and summoned Kalecgos was insane because evil Jaina broke him. There were probably more of them, but these are the ones who stood out to me.
These “evil” twins–with the exception of King Anduin–immediately start attacking the unarmed audience in the courtroom.
At the same time, Warlord Zaela and friends arrive on Infinite Dragons and start attacking the outside of the Temple of the White Tiger. This is mostly an aerial attack. They are armed with small mana bombs created by Thalen Songweaver and also make use of Shokia, who is a famed sniper.
These dual attacks are used as a diversion to cover Garrosh’s escape. Once Zaela sees he is gone, the attackers retreat. Unfortunately they leave many wounded and dead behind including Jaina Proudmore.
Jaina gets shot in the chest by Shokia and no one has enough magic to save her. She is left dying on the floor while everyone sort of wrings their hands and wails that they can’t do anything at all.
Remember the August Celestials? Yep. They have been hanging out at the top of the room for the entire book without interacting until now. Guess they were waiting to magically save everyone – if they decided they deserved to be saved.
As it turns out the whole stupid trial was never about Garrosh at all. The August Celestials had decided before it even started that Garrosh would live.
The people on trial were actually the Alliance and Horde. The Celestials wanted to judge us.
So yeah. I have mixed feelings about the messages in this book. I was left feeling like the whole trial was just a big joke. This story seemed like a filler arc in an anime – the main characters were all there but some of them acted odd and the situation completely didn’t fit the main story.
I really did enjoy the Sylvanas and Vereesa story though. It was worth reading just for that.