The war in Northrend has taken its toll on both the Horde and the Alliance. Both sides lost tens of thousands of soldiers and citizens in the year-long battle against the Scourge and the Lich King, but some losses cut deeper than others. Anduin Wrynn lost a father figure in Highlord Bolvar Fordragon, and the Horde lost one of its finest up-and-coming heroes, Saurfang the Younger. And it's not just people who were lost -- the war was costly in terms of money and supplies, leaving Stormwind and Orgrimmar in dire financial straits. Orgrimmar has also suffered unnatural droughts, causing Durotar's already slim resources to dry up.
Things are so bad in, fact, that the Alliance and Horde have actually agreed to a truce, ending all hostilities on all three continents. Not everyone is happy about it, including the Horde's favored son, the Hero of Northrend, Garrosh Hellscream.
What drives The Shattering are politics and personal relationships between Alliance and Horde, teacher and student, tauren and orc, father and son, even Azeroth and Draenor. Golden wisely spares us the introduction of super-powered characters we've never met before, instead relying on strong characterization of lore figures we've grown to know and love over the game's six years.
Garrosh Hellscream, who's been the subject of much vitriol from some Horde players (and Alliance players alike), is given a fair shake in this novel, which finally sheds light on events that have been rumored for some time to occur pre-Cataclysm. But beyond that, we also learn what drives Garrosh, sometimes from inside his own head. He's presented as an individual, not a caricature; he's fiercely loyal to the Horde and an excellent warrior, even if his decisions aren't the correct ones 100 percent of the time. He really does want what's best for the Horde -- the issue being that perhaps his Horde isn't today's Horde, but the juggernaut his father could have built were he alive today and Warchief.
It's that dream and that attitude that worries tauren chieftain Cairne Bloodhoof, who is constantly at odds with the young orc. Cairne is given extended screen time in The Shattering, showing us what we've always known about him -- that he's an honorable, wise and old-fashioned old bull. It's because of these qualities that he can speak his mind to Thrall, who is faced with some very tough decisions after a fire rages through Orgrimmar.
Thrall is given his own story, mostly separate from the intertwined events that take place throughout the novel. He's depicted as world-weary; he realizes that many of his decisions in running the Horde may not have been the right ones, and Eitrigg notes that Thrall has done little for himself since becoming Warchief. He has no mate, no child, no one to take his place should he "return to the ancestors." The mag'har of Draenor end up providing him with more than just knowledge of the elements, and Thrall emerges from the book as a much stronger and fleshed-out character than he has been previously.
Dealing with sabotage from within and without, and losing their venerable Warchief even temporarily, causes ripples throughout the Horde that turn into tidal waves, sometimes literally, while the shadow of the Cataclysm looms overhead.
But the Alliance also gets plenty of time in The Shattering. The Alliance storyline almost exclusively follows Anduin Wrynn, crown prince of Stormwind, as he interacts with notable leaders on both sides of the world (and of the Horde-Alliance conflict). His father, Varian, has been struggling with his dual nature, the result of the ritual that originally fused his warlike and kingly sides back together following his run-in with Onyxia. He lashes out at those around him, from Anduin to Jaina Proudmoore, and wisely suggests that Anduin spend some time outside of Stormwind Keep.
It's through this suggestion that Anduin gets to know "Aunt" Jaina and "Uncle" Magni Bronzebeard better, spending time both in Theramore and Ironforge. Jaina serves an important role in the novel as Anduin's surrogate mother; Anduin is an uncommonly well-behaved and mature kid, but he's still a kid with no mother and only half a father. Through tutelage from both, he discovers a side of himself that he always knew existed, far removed from the warrior his father wished he would become. And it may be that side of him that keeps his father from making a huge mistake.
The theme of father and child is present in another part of the Alliance story focusing on Magni Bronzebeard as he desperately tries to determine what's causing the elemental upheaval that threatens his people. Throughout this process, we learn the nature of his relationship with his estranged daughter Moira, and some shocking events, both elemental and political, occur that threaten to destabilize one of the oldest pillars of the Alliance.
What's interesting about this book is its focus. As stated previously, Golden deals almost exclusively with existing lore characters, which is a wonderful departure from books like Stormrage and the War of the Ancients trilogy. But for a book that acts as a prequel to Cataclysm, there's little (if any) discussion of Deathwing or of the goblins and worgen. Even races like the blood elves, Forsaken and draenei have little to no face time with readers. The book deals mainly with orcs, tauren, humans and dwarves. Those who were expecting some exposition regarding other races might walk away disappointed, but not for lack of information on the aforementioned races.
The Shattering thrives in much the same way Rise of the Horde did -- on its characters, not its plot. That's not to say that the plot isn't well-crafted or interesting, but the nature of the novel as necessary, not ancillary, material to fill in gaps between Wrath and Cataclysm means that it follows a particular structure. Despite that, or possibly because of it, the book moves very quickly, making it an incredibly brisk read. There are plenty of action sequences amidst the dialogue and intrigue, so those who, like Garrosh, would rather bust heads than drink tea and chat will appreciate the book too.
Avid players will appreciate appearances by minor NPCs they've met in the game, and small details in descriptions of action, environments and spells will keep sticklers happy as well. You're right, Anduin, that is what dropping a totem sounds like.
My only real complaint with The Shattering, and it's a very minor one, has to do with the dialogue. Understand: I don't mean that the dialogue is bad in anyway. Characters are treated with all due reverence, and the dialogue is rarely cheesy or ham-fisted and never out of character, as it could be in previous novels. In fact, the dialogue tends to do a great job bringing out sides of characters we haven't seen before -- Cairne's angry side, for example.
Rather, it's small things that caught my eye; for example, characters' full names (and titles) are repeated a lot in speech, and I'm unsure if this is to make sure that readers new to Warcraft lore will be able to follow the multitude of characters or whether this is actually how people address each other on Azeroth. I'm willing to give Golden the benefit of the doubt on this one.
All told, The Shattering is one of the finest, if not the finest, Warcraft novel to date. Those hoping to bridge the gap between Wrath and Cataclysm will need it, and those stinging from the poorly-received Stormrage will appreciate the heart and soul that Golden, a WoW player herself, has given their favorite heroes and antagonists.
Verdict: Any Warcraft fan would be remiss not to read this book, both for its respectful treatment of the Warcraft universe and for its wealth of lore information.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it; nothing will be the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion (available Dec. 7, 2010), from brand new races to revamped quests and zones. Visit our Cataclysm news category for the most recent posts having to do with the Cataclysm expansion.