I toyed with the idea of changing the tag for our The Novel Post for Illidan: World of Warcraft. If you’re remotely in tune with the massive MMORPG’s universe then you know why. Even if your knowledge is as holey as the best swiss Illidan Stormrage’s standing in the universe is one of the best known. He was killed by adventurers nearly 10 years ago. Illidan, the novel from William King that is, is his swansong. The happenings in the years to the very hour of his fall. We’re introduced to new players, meet old favorites and plow headlong into the penultimate culmination of The Burning Crusade, WoW’s first expansion, through King’s tale. But why do we care?
That’s an incredibly fair query. After all, if you didn’t know before you began reading this review you now know that Illidan, brother of Malfurion and failed romantic interest of Tyrande, is dead. Why read a novel dedicated to an elf, even one of formerly of near elven royalty, when you know the end? That’s difficult for many. How to enjoy something you know the closing act to, or, perhaps were even a part of? I wasn’t sure, but having read every other novel in the universe and interested in Blizzard newcomer King’s take on the matter I gave it a go.
King, best known for his work in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 novelization universes, sets Illidan during the rise and fall of the Black Temple. Having wrested the fortress from Magtheridon, the demon lord of Outland (and name of my home server), the Betrayer puts the pitlord into his servitude as he consolidates his power, expands his basic ranks and begins creating an army none has seen before. An army modeled after his own transformation from just a powerful sorcerer to a demon hunter. Illidan manipulates countless elves, blood or night elf, to his cause, offering them redemption and power, if their psyche can handle the ever-consuming power of demonic fel energy.
The torture of the transformation is articulated through newcomer Vandel, an elf that was seconds too late to save his son from a felhound. Instead he witnesses the beast feasting on his son’s innards before it turns to attack him. Crushed with grief, Vandel nearly notches another night elf death for the demonic invasion force before he comes to his senses. He turns to Illidan, the only person he believes that can aid him in seeking vengeance for his son. No matter the personal cost, torment or agony.
In the meantime, Warden Maiev Shadowsong continues to bide her time, consolidating her own power, to strike back at her former prisoner. She begins her journey as a ragtag bunch that stumbled through the Dark Portal after the Betrayer only to witness his power over this strange land and its citizens. Flummoxed by her position, Maiev scrambles around Outland seeking aid. Having been Illidan’s jailor for over 10,000 years, her diplomatic skills take some developing but her pursuit of justice remains unphased by her setbacks.
Sadly, all of these storylines are one dimensional. We see no less than three characters run through their lives with horse blinders. They’re hell bent on a singular purpose, vengeance, justice by another name. King doesn’t write Illidan as the Betrayer’s redemption story. Few would buy that. Instead, we’re put into his mind, his presence that steeps you in his mindset. A mindset that infuses those that fight for him as well as against him towards a single purpose. Illidan builds a kingdom, becomes the de facto Lord of Outland and watches it wash away once its usefulness has waned. Vandel kills demons, because that’s all he believes he has to live for. Maiev throws lives away in countless miscalculated plans to capture or kill Illidan.
There is Akama, a bright spot in the triangle of singular purpose. The leader of the Ashtongue clan of Broken is the only multidimensional character in King’s fleshing out of Illidan’s demise. He’s flawed, torn between endless battles with the old guard of Kil’Jaeden or this usurper that he can’t get a read on. He uses diplomacy and people’s predisposition of the broken to play both sides. His plans fail, only to easily slip into plan B, or F. He’s a planner. But many interested in this universe already know that.
William King works with what he’s given well. He was assigned a group of characters set in a timeline that constrained his creativity. He flexes his muscle where he can, but, ultimately, Illidan never made me care about anything or anyone. I knew what was ultimately coming and that stopped me from investing in any of the characters, let alone the storyline. That made Illidan a slog to read. Make no bones about it, King has flashes of brilliance in the piece. Particularly the transformation Vandel and his ilk must go through to become a Demon Hunter. He also scribes one hell of a violent battle sequence, the darkest and goriest of any writer to pen for the Blizzard universe. It’s unfortunate that his assignment was so pigeonholed, causing the novel to be entirely skippable. We look forward to King’s next entry. He deserves to spread his creative wings across this universe unabated.
Interested in exploring World of Warcraft’s recent lore further?
Illidan is the freshman entry in the WoW universe for William King, but one of the many novels to focus on the more popular figures. His brother Malfurion has his own and Vol’jin received the latest treatment for Horde figures. Unless you count War Crimes. Heading to the past generations, the just-released Warcraft: Durotan: The Official Movie Prequel brings Christie Golden back to the universe in a movie tie-in. We’ll have that review for you ahead of the movie’s release.
Check out all of the novelizations of Blizzard products in the our Extensive Extended Universe rundown.