There are likely a number of folks who are going to look at Christie Golden’s latest novel entry and write it off as an episode of Law and Order with tauren and dragons in it. So let’s get a couple things out of the way first: Yes, the bulk of the book is a courtroom drama focusing on the prosecution and defense interviewing witnesses in the trial of Garrosh Hellscream. Most of what doesn’t take place in the courtroom has to do with the reactions of folks attending the trial, and while a good portion of that is introspection, some of it is a little more action-y rather than purely dramatic.
The big thing about this story is that it works. Golden’s past novels have always focused more on the more emotional aspects of the focal characters against the backdrop of the conflicts in Azeroth, so seeing that be the primary source of the drama in War Crimes is what we’ve come to expect from Golden. It’s also something that plays perfectly into the context of what’s going on during a war crimes trial. This is very specifically an event taking place AFTER a war, so it’s not really the time for battle or big action sequences… though without giving anything away, some of those moments take place anyway.
The book also definitively sets up how Garrosh gets into the circumstances we know he’ll be in to start off Warlords of Draenor. I’ll admit that knowing about that part of the scenario for the expansion does deflate the action of the book a bit; Blizzard has already spoiled the part where Garrosh must survive the book in order to set up the expansion.
However, knowing that Garrosh survives doesn’t make the trial elements of the book a pointless exercise: everyone involved in the trial, regardless of their role, sees their relationships with all of the big players of the Horde and Alliance shift. We were told during the later acts of Mists of Pandaria to watch as the Alliance pulls together while the Horde tears itself apart; that gets turned on its ear in this book, since everyone’s relationships get strained or shifted during the course of the book. Even some of those characters whom you’d never expect to change do so in surprising ways.
One word of caution: if you’ve never read any of the Warcraft novels, especially the ones written by Golden herself, then War Crimes is going to be a little hard to approach. Out of all of Golden’s works so far, this is the one that requires some familiarity with past works in order to get a solid sense of what’s going on. Golden does a lot of work to summarize what’s gone before through exposition, but it’s too much information to cover to do it justice, and for the reader I think that information is pretty vital to really get the most out of the characters arcs that everyone goes through during the book.
In order of importance, the books you really should read prior to reading this book are Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, Rise of the Horde, and maybe even Arthas: Rise of the Lich King for a good understanding of Jaina’s origins and Golden’s particularly romantic take on Arthas and his downfall. If you only end up reading Tides of War, then that’s really the only one that I feel is mission-critical.
That being said? How Golden draws upon her prior works throughout the trial is actually pretty ingenious. I won’t go into detail about exactly how that’s done, but in terms of a work where Golden pretty much plays her Greatest Hits album from across the body of her work in the franchise, it delivers in a meaningful way. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this feels like Golden’s swan song, because of much it ties together all of her past works.
Here’s a quick list of non-spoilery stuff to expect in this book:
- Golden loves Jaina Proudmoore. I don’t think there’s a single character in the franchise that Golden has written about more, and it’s demonstrated here more than ever before. Anduin and Thrall likely fill out her top three.
- BTW: Thrall really does go by Go’el, you guys.
- Every faction leader gets at least a line in this book. For some leaders, that’s all they get, but let’s be real; writing a meaningful story with arcs for over a dozen characters where they all get equal screentime is an unreasonable request for a single novel.
After the book is released and folks have had a bit of time to read it, I’ll have a more spoiler-rific review up that digs deeper into the meat of the novel. But for now, here’s the bottom line:
If you’re a fan of Golden’s prior Warcraft novels, War Crimes will not disappoint. 9/10 stars. (10/10 if you’re a Chromie fan.)
If you’ve never read a Warcraft novel before, War Crimes might be a bit confusing. 8/10 stars with the knowledge that this is an atypical story.