What I got was Warcraft: Mage, a book written by Richard A. Knaak, illustrated by Ryo Kawakami. The book tells the story of a young mage in training named Aodhan, who we've never seen in game before, and an assault by the blue dragonflight on Dalaran that nearly led to the city's destruction, which we've also never seen referenced in game. This already had me questioning the book, but the premise seemed interesting enough given that the blue dragonflight did have their own story going on in Wrath, so I picked up the book and gave it a read.
It's hard to review a work when I so desperately wanted to like it -- as I mentioned above, Warcraft: Death Knight was an extremely well-done book that had me eager to see the rest of the series. This was in large part due to my apparent misconception of what the series was; I'd assumed that we'd be hearing the stories behind some of the lesser-known Warcraft characters that have played a part in lore, however minor. Death Knight did an excellent job of shedding light on the death knight class and exactly what it means to be a death knight; I'd expected the same for the rest of the series. Unfortunately my assumptions were wrong (which is what I get for making them), and Warcraft: Mage doesn't seem to have much to do with its precursor.
Unfortunately, it appears that his lack of attention to backgrounds carried over to Warcraft: Mage. Complex scenes like the assault on Dalaran pictured above just didn't quite come across. The screentones used for shading were done with flat fills rather than using them to emphasize curves or shadows. In the image above, it's hard to discern the dragons from the background of Dalaran, and the white outlines around the attacking blue dragon forces only complicate the image further. While I really do like Kawakami's work, I think it's probably better if he stick to the shorter stories for now; they give him more time to work out the details and shading in a way that suits the story being told.
The part that really irritates me -- and again, this was me making assumptions about a graphic novel line when I'd only read one book in the series -- is that this volume had so much more potential from a story standpoint. There are countless mages in Wrath lore that could have benefited from a manga novel -- Aethas Sunreaver, Ansirem Runeweaver and Archmage Koreln, to name a few. Yet instead of tackling one of these lesser-known lore figures, the book gives us another throw-away character, this one with no special discerning powers of his own, and a throw-away story to a throw-away event that didn't exist anywhere in game. With Death Knight, we got a good look at a character we'd spent some time seeing around Icecrown; with Mage, we didn't get that.
Warcraft: Mage also doesn't seem to have any reasonable lesson or motive behind it. With Death Knight, we saw first hand what it means to be a death knight, the sorrow and loss, the struggle of trying to fit in with a society you once belonged to after you'd betrayed it. Mage is simply a story about a young aspiring mage and an event that played out in his life; however, Aodhan doesn't appear to be on the path towards some great destiny -- and the most important lesson he seems to learn in the book is "focus," which in the grand scheme of things, doesn't really hold the same importance as any of what we saw in Warcraft: Death Knight. To be perfectly blunt, there's no real sense of dire threat or conflict in the book, nothing to draw the reader in. Even the final battle between the main "villain" and Rhonin didn't really hold any sense of urgency.
Warcraft: Mage is a book that had a lot of promising possibilities that sadly never happened. The book covers a small section of time that players never really saw referenced in game, featuring a character that players have never encountered in game, with a resolution that again, will likely never be referenced in game, leaving little for the average Warcraft player to care about. The artwork sadly falls a little flat due to lack of detail, especially in comparison to Kawakami's work in Legends vol. 5. While the writing is technically apt, the story itself doesn't really seem to hold any importance in the Warcraft universe, leaving me wondering why I bothered picking up the book in the first place.
Despite the lack of background detail, Kawakami is still just as good at drawing people and expressions as always. The villain has a distinctly "creepy" vibe about him, and Kawakami did a good job of capturing that slightly "off" feeling you get when you sense someone isn't quite right in the head. Knaak's writing is solid in this book, and the story itself is easy to follow -- the attack by the blue dragonflight and their motives for doing so is never brought into question; it's made crystal-clear.
Warcraft: Mage ultimately left me confused as to what exactly the common factor was between the class manga series. While Death Knight was very clear on its story, motives and what it set out to tell us, Mage fell sadly short and makes me question whether there really is a cohesiveness to this series beyond the titles. If you are a fan of Warcraft manga, Richard Knaak or Ryo Kawakami's work and want to complete your collection, go ahead and pick this manga up. If you're looking for nail-biting entertainment or expansion on Warcraft lore, I'd give this one a pass -- the story itself has no bearing on current events in game, so it doesn't appear you'll be missing anything lore-wise from skipping this book.