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WoW Insider reviews Christie Golden's Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects

Anne Stickney
Anne Stickney|July 18, 2011 1:00 PM
Just under 10 years ago, on Oct. 1, 2001, a novel was released as a new addition to the Warcraft universe that would change the history and lore of the games forever. Lord of the Clans outlined the history and childhood of a young orc named Thrall. Son of Durotan and Draka, the former slave would break free from his imprisonment at the hands of Aedelas Blackmoore, step forward to unite the shattered and lethargic clans of the orcs, and lead the Horde in a manner that none that had played the original Warcraft games could possibly comprehend at that point in time.

Almost a year later, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos was released, and that orc's journey from the beleaguered, Scourge-ridden lands of the Eastern Kingdoms to the dusty and barren shores of Kalimdor was told in a tale that captured the hearts of players. No longer simply a character in a novel, Thrall's travels and ultimate triumph, united with the night elves and humans at the peaks of Mount Hyjal and working as one to defeat Archimonde, would forever seal his place as true Warchief of the Horde.

It is only appropriate then that the latest novel written for the Warcraft franchise, detailing the further journeys of Thrall, be undertaken by the woman who started it all -- Christie Golden. Not just an author with a host of Warcraft novels under her belt, Golden is the voice of the former Warchief, the author who gave him a life of his own. Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects continues the journey that Thrall began nearly 10 years ago -- and what a journey it is.

What we saw in Golden's novel The Shattering was just the beginnings of Thrall's latest journey toward self-discovery. In Lord of the Clans, the young orc who took the mantle of Warchief after Doomhammer's defeat was uncertain, perhaps a little unprepared, but ready to lead his people in peace and understanding. Warcraft III saw the Warchief's eyes opened to the possibility of diplomacy and peace between Alliance and Horde -- but the time between Warcraft III and World of Warcraft saw that tenuous glimpse at a carefree world shattered.

In The Shattering, Thrall questioned his place as Warchief and whether or not he really knew himself at all. Quick to point this out was Aggra (who we have now seen in game on more than one occasion) silently standing by her love or picking up the pieces and steadfastly putting them together again. What we don't see is what went on behind the scenes prior to the Elemental Bonds quest line, and the placing of Twilight of the Aspects within this timeline is a little murky. It may have happened before Elemental Bonds; it may have happened just after. The book isn't really clear, and doesn't address the game as clearly as it ought. But that is the sole complaint I have with this book, and it is a minor one.

It seems that Golden is blessed with a golden pen. I would not be surprised to see this novel hit the New York Times Bestseller List, just like Arthas and The Shattering. Golden's grasp of Thrall as a character was highlighted in The Shattering, and while most (including myself) agree it was a wonderful book, Twilight of the Aspects completely blows it out of the water.

Thrall's continuing quest of self-discovery is wonderfully written, and Aggra, a character who lamentably seemed like a footnote in The Shattering, takes a stronger role in Twilight of the Aspects. Though she is conspicuously (and rightfully) absent for the majority of the book, her influence on Thrall is a constant presence throughout the novel. Also featured are all four uncorrupted dragonflights, each with its own unique problems and issues.

There are several elements and storylines that have permeated World of Warcraft since day one of its release: the absence of Malfurion Stormrage, the absence of Nozdormu, the absence of Malygos. Each has been explained and dealt with over the course of the original game and three expansions' worth of content. Malfurion was trapped in the Emerald Nightmare, as evidenced in the novel Stormrage. Malygos was simply trying to regain his sanity -- a sanity that did little for his fate, as highlighted in the Eye of Eternity raid as well as World of Warcraft: Mage.

As for Nozdormu, his curious disappearance was explained away in The Burning Crusade, when the opening of the Caverns of Time revealed a new villain in the franchise: the Infinite Dragonflight. Though Nozdormu's exact location was unknown, in Wrath of the Lich King we saw the Aspect in a vision at the Bronze Dragonshrine in Dragonblight. But though the vision was discovered, his exact location remained an unknown until he mysteriously appeared during the Elemental Bonds quest line, with nary a nod to his whereabouts prior to the event.

That's where the muddled timeline in Twilight of the Aspects comes into play. Nozdormu's absence is directly addressed in this novel, yet Aggra and Thrall seem to already be a couple at the beginning of the book. The story centers around Ysera, no longer the Dreamer but the Awakened, sending Thrall on a random, seemingly unimportant errand that turns into a journey morphing into an epic, sweeping tale of a foe so dire that it threatens to wipe the Aspects from the face of Azeroth forever. The Aspects and the dragonflights must stand together, but the beginning of the book has the four uncorrupted flights still at odds with each other.

That conflict began in Wrath of the Lich King. When we players killed Malygos on Alexstrasza's orders, his death created a rift between the blue flight and the red. The blue flight is for the first time since its creation without a leader, and the choice of that leader plays a major part in the novel. Also a concern to all is Ysera, newly awakened and attempting to come to terms with the world around her, trying to discern reality from dream through sleepy eyes. Nozdormu's fate and the absence of the Bronze Dragonflight are another dividing factor. The dragonflights have to unite if they hope to defeat Deathwing -- but their ability to do so is brought into sharp question by the end of chapter three.

When I first heard tales of the legendary quest line included in patch 4.2 and that it involved the decision of Malygos' successor, I was a bit dismayed to realize I was going to be missing out on a giant chunk of lore that would be unobtainable to me as a rogue. Turns out my fears were entirely set at ease, as the events are also addressed in Twilight of the Aspects. The other, more looming worry was that as we saw with Stormrage, major events that originated in World of Warcraft would again be written away in a novel -- specifically the genesis, origin, and defeat of the Infinite Dragonflight.

I needn't have worried. While there is much given in the way of information, nothing is clearly resolved, and the Infinite Dragonflight remains a threat to be dealt with another day. But the novel itself traverses not only Azeroth but also the timelines and events that make up its history. Normally time travel would make me leery, but Twilight of the Aspects manages to take what would ordinarily be a very confusing trip through the timelines and present it in a manner that leaves the reader completely clear with what is going on and why. Also made perfectly clear is how a new Aspect is chosen -- a question that had been bothering me ever since Malygos' death.

And then we have Thrall. In between the events of the dragons and woven between them all is Thrall, still searching for that peace within, for the knowledge of who he really is while he is on this journey to help the dragonflights. Though The Shattering seemed to leave Thrall with a better understanding of this, it's clear within moments of Twilight of the Aspects' opening that for all his valiant words and efforts, Thrall is still struggling with his own identity. As for Aggra, though the Aggra presented in game disappointed me, the Aggra presented here in the book is still as strong, fiery, and sharp as ever. Her words, though caustic, are the sharp sting that Thrall needs to hear. Aggra is not a complacent companion; she is an equal and in some ways superior to Thrall, the foil that was needed to spur the character forward.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing in the novel are the characters themselves. Golden has a strong grasp on writing characters in a way that draws the reader in. In Twilight of the Aspects, she masterfully handles a gigantic cast of new faces and old -- in some cases, very old. Whether Thrall or Alexstrasza or a few characters we haven't seen in print before, each has their own voice; each is important to the story. From legends of the past to new faces that we'd simply brushed aside, all are handled with care and precision. You care who lives in this book; you care who dies. You care about the final outcome and what happens to all involved.

As for the villain of the book and the nature of the danger involved ... well, that would be spoiling content. I will simply say that there are far more villains presented in this novel than one would expect, and far more deaths, each a continual shock and revelation, the final name spoken only once over the course of the book. What we can gather from this is that in Cataclysm, it's not just the villains of present day we have to worry about. In a world where timelines are deliberately manipulated, in a world where the Twilight Cult corrupts everything it touches, everyone is suspect -- both present-day and those thought long left to the annals of history.

For those who want to follow the continuing story of the former Warchief and for those who want to follow the continuing story of Cataclysm, Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects is a must-read. I cannot stress this enough. What occurs in this book is absolutely groundbreaking, and it addresses several major plot points and questions that have been asked ever since rumors of Cataclysm's storyline first came to light, while leaving just enough questions to have us begging for more. The hardcover is available on Amazon for $16; it is absolutely worth every penny. You won't regret the purchase.

As for Golden, I have to applaud her on another job well done. It's been nearly 10 years since she first introduced us to a blue-eyed, unassuming orc who would change the course of history and the lore of Azeroth for good. Her work has done nothing but improve in leaps and bounds ever since.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.