Book Review: World of Warcraft: Illidan by William King
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Media Tie-in
Series: World of Warcraft
Publisher: Del Rey (April 12, 2016)
Length: 336 pages
You have to hand it to Blizzard—when it comes to creating the coolest and most badass villains, they sure know their craft. Even those who are only peripherally aware of their wildly popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft should be familiar with Illidan Stormrage, also known as “The Betrayer”, but just in case a reminder is needed, we’re talking about this cheerful gentle-elf right here:
In a nutshell, Illidan is the story of how our eponymous character earned his epithet and his resulting release after 10,000 years of imprisonment, after which he then went on a tour of Outland, vowing to drive back the Burning Legion. But of course, his methods leave a lot to be desired, especially to those disturbed by Illidan’s recruitment of fel orcs, naga, blood elves, and other twisted undesirables to his cause. The self-proclaimed Lord of Outland even goes as far as to train his own elite army of Demon Hunters, putting aspirants through a number of grueling and barbaric tasks to weed out the best of the best. Illidan may be the only one who can stand against the Legion, but there’s also nothing to hold him back once he sets his eyes on a goal.
Of those who have never trusted Illidan and believe that letting him out of his lightless prison was the worst mistake the Night Elf leaders could ever make, Maiev Shadowsong is perhaps his greatest and most bitter detractor. Formerly his jailer, Maiev is utterly convinced that Illidan is orchestrating another power grab, so she starts amassing her own army of Broken and other denizens of Outland in order to put the Betrayer down once and for all.
Fans of World of Warcraft will probably recognize this description as the sequence of events leading up to and surrounding the game’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade (which, in my opinion, was the best WoW xpac). For a scatterbrained individual like myself though, who is frequently fuzzy on the lore and is forever forgetting a bunch of details behind the characters, timeline, and major happenings in the game because its world is just so damn big, these kinds of books are actually amazing in terms of providing a full and expressive narrative. That said, if you are new to the Warcraft universe, this might not the best place to start picking up the books. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a quick crash course on the history of Illidan and his army of Demon Hunters to get ready for the impending expansion Legion, then this is the perfect novel for you. Admittedly, the desire to know more about the story behind the upcoming new hero class was what spurred my own motivation to pick up this book. “You are not prepared”? Whatevs, I’m trying.
Illidan by William King pretty much does for the Betrayer what Arthas by Christie Golden did for the Lich King. Basically, we may already know the gist of the story, but the novelization gives us a deeper insight into the minds and deeds of WoW’s greatest big baddies. I got to know the character a lot more, and even when I didn’t agree with his warped ideals, at least I felt like I was given a reason to care and understand why he did the things he did. I also liked the portrayal of Maiev Shadowsong, whose hatred for Illidan is practically legendary. The fact is though, Maiev and Illidan may have more in common than she would like to admit. While it isn’t exactly a new idea, I thought this book did a really good job depicting their relationship by painting them as two sides of the same coin.
As far as I know, this is the author’s first novel in the Warcraft universe, and it was also my first experience with his writing. I was impressed, especially given that my expectations for media tie-in novels are higher these days. Even though I thought the prose was somewhat clunky at first, it smoothed out as the book progressed, and King also writes excellent fight scenes and gives those big battles the epicness they deserve. Illidan might actually be the best World of Warcraft book I’ve read in years, probably since The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, and I certainly enjoyed it more than a lot of the recent “character-focused” novels like Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde, Wolfheart, or even the book about Illidan’s own twin, Stormrage.
In the end though, I suspect what will interest readers most about Illidan is the wealth of background information into the forthcoming Demon Hunter class. In this novel is a character arc about a Night Elf recruit named Vandel who is made to go through a horrifying and very brutal process to become a Demon Hunter. Are they giving us a glimpse into some of the content and quest lines we’ll be seeing in Legion, perhaps? There’s no doubt I’ll be rolling one, so I guess we shall all soon see.