This review of the World of Warcraft: Vol’jin – Shadows of the Horde novel by Michael Stackpole is of the spoiler-free variety. Check out the entire Blizzard catalog in our Extensive Extended Universe post.
World of Warcraft: Vol’jin – Shadows of the Horde is author Michael A. Stackpole’s first entry into the WoW universe. Fear not, Stackpole is well versed in working among the tight constraints of another’s intellectual property having penned for Star Wars and the BattleTech franchises. Shadows of the Horde is set in the current timeframe of WoW and begins with Vol’jin on death’s door. Rescued by Chen Stormstout, Vol’jin realizes that his meeting was an assassination plot orchestrated by none other than Warchief Garrosh. Severely wounded, the former leader of the Darkspear tribe has to focus on his recovering – slowed by poison – before he can seek revenge.
Stackpole uses this recovery period to address the troll condition. No longer in charge of the Darkspear and beset by antagonistic visions of the death loa Bwomsamdi, Vol’jin is must recover with the aid of Tyrathan, a human recovering at the same monastery Stormstout brought his friend to. The story digs deep, touching upon a variety of issues. The faction war, leadership, character flaws and shortcomings, the history, philosophy and environment of Pandaria; it’s all there.
Vol’jin, new to the lands, absorbs Pandaria with a lifetime of violence in his past. Stackpole works tirelessly to introduce the seasoned killer to the culture of Pandaria. From the ever present Sha to the philosophy of balance exemplified by monk life, Stackpole uses these injuries to teach readers, and Vol’jin, the true meaning of being a Pandarian resident. This enables Vol’jin to deal with his issues, internal or external, until a very real threat besieges those he’s come to care for.
The novel has so much going on that it’s easy to get lost in the story within a story, which for a while, seems to have nothing to do with the overall story arc of WoW. This isn’t a bad attribute. The author breaks the typical three act mold to rebuild Vol’jin through a collection of important points. This causes the pacing to be foreign, perhaps slow. Waiting for this beard to play out is worth it for the expert staging, sporadic battles, heartfelt lovestory and world-changing decisions.
Michael A. Stackpole simply knocks his freshman entry into the annuls of WoW history out of the park. Shadows of the Horde is a phenomenal expression and mental rebuilding of Vol’jin, tasking the former leader to deal with the greater factional war on multiple levels. As if delving into the tortured soul of the troll leader wasn’t enough, the expertly crafted setting in Pandaria and its history enabled Stackpole to wrap the new and tumultuous chapter of Vol’jin’s life into the current setting of Mists of Pandaria. This novel remains a rare feat for the extended universe.
Interested in exploring Warcraft‘s recent lore further?
Blizzard has modified its expanded universe strategy by focusing more on current events, even the leaders via Jaina Proudmoore: Tide of War and The Shattering – Prelude to Cataclysm both by Christie Golden.. That hasn’t stopped Richard Knaak from his timetraveling and timeline leaping Dawn of the Aspects.
Knaak, as the master of WoW dragonkind, has dabbled with them since he began working with Blizzard. Pick up Day of the Dragon, Night of the Dragon or the unfinished Dragons of Outland. Knaak penned the War of the Ancients trilogy as his freshman entry into the Warcraft universe, years ahead of WoW’s release.
Check out all of the novelizations of Blizzard products in the our Extensive Extended Universe rundown.