Warning: this review may contain spoilers for Cataclysm or to anyone who hasn’t already read the War of the Ancients trilogy and who is not familiar with that area of lore. Read at your own risk.
A few weeks back I took up the fun task of telling all of you about my first experience reading a Warcraft-themed novel, and how it had as a result made Azeroth feel much more alive and personal. That was upon my finishing of The Well of Eternity. Now, I’ve completed the remaining two books of the War of the Ancients trilogy by Richard Knaak — The Demon Soul and The Sundering — and am happy to say that they have not only continued to strengthen my understanding of WoW lore, but also of the Cataclysm that is soon to come.
Knaak’s writing style isn’t always my favorite, but I get sucked into the story firmly enough that it doesn’t bother me — especially when it means that I’m getting an intimate view of some of the characters who will be playing major roles in WoW: Cataclysm.
I’ll point to three characters who share two things in common — they all play key roles within the War of the Ancients and are heavily explored within the trilogy, and also all three will play a role in the coming expansion.
- Neltharion the Earth Warder / Deathwing the Destroyer
- Queen Azshara
- Malfurion Stormrage
The last two books of the trilogy provide a nice glimpse into this character much beyond the surface traits with which many of us are familiar. Several sections are told completely from his point of view, and we see first-hand-accounts of his completely self-obsessed, power-driven, maniacal thoughts as he has been slowly driven insane, at least partially from the voices of the Old Gods who plan to use him as a tool in their efforts to reclaim the world.
We see and feel his impatience as he counts down the hours and seconds until his ultimate treachery against the world, and we witness how he relishes the thought of every living creature bowing to him — be they from the Burning Legion, the masses of night elves fighting against them, or even his own kind. We mourn the deaths of the blue flight when Deathwing turns his power against them, and are pained by the futility of the other aspects who can do nothing to stop him.
We even hear his tortured cries as he affixes to his own body plated armor that is driven through his scales and into his flesh. And when two thieves take advantage of this time of his distraction to steal his ultimate death-device, the dragon/demon soul, we understand his mad pursuit of sweet revenge.
Perhaps the single-most telling aspect to his story within this trilogy, in my opinion, was the extent to which Deathwing was willing to endure through anything to win back the demon soul, just before the sundering of the well of eternity.
Check this excerpt from near the end of The Sundering, and tell me you’d like to face THIS madness in battle:
The Sundering, Chapter 18
Deathwing struck the matrix head-on. The sky around him exploded with raw energy that should have seared the insane Aspect to death, but, although his flesh and scales clearly burned, Deathwing nevertheless pushed forward. He roared defiantly at the mighty forces set in array against him. His mouth twisted into an insane, reptilian grin that grew with each inch closer to his goal.
…Scales tore from the black’s already savaged body. The crackling bolts now focused fully on the giant, scorching him again and again. Yet, although he would now and then flinch under their intensity, Deathwing did not slow.
…He [Malfurion Stormrage] found himself looking upon a dragon tortured beyond comprehension but yet who was so obsessed with what he sought that no pain could daunt him. Some of the plates sealed to the back were nearly slag and several portions of his body had been stripped clear of scale. Revealed underneath was raw flesh burnt or ripped away. The leviathan’s wings were town in several places and it amazed Malfurion that the mad Earth Warder could still fly. Deathwing’s claws were gnarled and ruined, as if he had been scratching at some impervious object…
Back to a character that won’t play nearly as significant of a role in Cataclysm — perhaps not a role so much as a cameo — but who will be present nonetheless. I believe for the first time physically in WoW, we’ll finally see Queen Azshara. Throughout the trilogy, we become quite familiar with the former night elf queen’s vanity, self-worship and use of her beauty to overwhelm anyone who she deems unworthy. Despite the fact that all this occurs after the queen’s corruption by the Burning Legion, it is more than hinted at that the queen is not quite what the people see her as.
And, although she seems to rely on that beauty throughout the trilogy, we also see insights both from onlookers and from the direct source that the queen is much more powerful than she lets on, even countering and completely preventing an attack from an impatient Mannoroth.
But that power couldn’t save her form in the end. In this excerpt, we are eye-witnesses to Queen Azshara’s transformation from the beautiful and powerful queen of the night elves into a naga, right as the Well of Eternity overwhelms her palace in Zin-Azshari.
The Sundering, Chapter 20
The rumbling grew louder. A darkness in which even night elves could not see suddenly enveloped the palace. The only illumination came from the untamed forces of the Well. Black water began pouring into the palace, washing away two of her [Azshara's] servants. Their screams were quickly drowned out.
…Then, voices whispered from the gloom, voices calling to her, promising her an escape.
There is a way… there is a way… you will become more than you ever were… more than you ever were… we can help…
…Her body was wracked with pain. She felt her limbs twisting, curling. Her spine felt fluid, as if much of it had instantly melted away.
…The Well filled her lungs.
But, she did not drown.
I’m certain that the novel Stormrage is a more complete and up-to-date version of the archdruid, but this trilogy gives a great jumping-off point and backstory of Malfurion Stormrage as he is just learning and mastering his abilities.
I’ll admit to largely being drawn into the love triangle between Malfurion, Illidan and Tyrande, but what I didn’t expect (especially as a primarily horde player) was to emerge with a new favorite pair of characters from within the Warcraft universe. Within these books, we grow with Malfurion from his first trip into the Emerald Dream, to learning about its many layers, to calling upon Ysera herself from within, to his first discovery of antler nubs growing upon his head, to even surviving against Deathwing while inside the dream.
In the end, the druid ends up playing a major role both in preventing the coming of Sargeras and in thwarting the Old Gods’ efforts to retake Azeroth. Plus, if you’re keeping score — he gets the girl.
From what I can gather, it looks like Malfurion is finally getting more than a passing role in WoW as the leader of Cenarius’ army at Mount Hyjal while battling Ragnaros. Plus, he’ll have more permanent spot alongside Tyrande Whisperwind in Darnassus, and will apparently appear in Darkshore, battling against Queen Azshara.
While no single, defining passage calls out to me, there is no doubt in my mind that Malfurion is one of the defining characters in the trilogy, and may turn into your favorite, as well.
As I reiterated in the last post on the subject, War of the Ancients is a great way to get started with a more in-depth look at the lore behind the extended universe. I’m looking forward to seeing these, and other characters in Cataclysm.