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Review of Wolfheart, by Richard A. Knaak

Anne Stickney
Anne Stickney|September 14, 2011 1:00 PM
Let's face it: The Alliance has kind of gotten the shaft this expansion, from a story perspective. Oh sure, you can talk about the Dwarves of Ironforge and the assorted conflicts in Ashenvale and even the druids up in Hyjal with Nordrassil. But when you simply look at Cataclysm and everything that's come out of it, the Horde has seen more development and story than the Alliance, to the point of having the upper hand in the continual conflict between Alliance and Horde. The Alliance simply hasn't had much given to it in the way of novels, beyond the tales of the Worgen race and the leader short stories on the Warcraft website.

That pretty much ends with Wolfheart, the newest Warcraft novel by Richard A. Knaak. For those who were tired of hearing of Thrall's exploits or the exploits of the Horde in general, Wolfheart is very much the book for you. Though we haven't witnessed any particularly huge conflicts with the Alliance in game -- instead being treated to the somewhat chilly reception of Garrosh Hellscream and his plans for the Horde -- it doesn't mean that there hasn't been any to speak of. In fact, there's far more going on behind the scenes with the Alliance than anyone could have guessed.

Wolfheart takes place after The Shattering, Seeds of Faith and Lord of His Pack, but far before the events we see with the Cataclysm storylines in game. The Worgen's home in Darnassus has not yet been created, and along with that, the Worgen still haven't even officially joined the Alliance.

It works, as far as the novels go. With The Shattering, we saw far more Horde progression than we did Alliance -- although Magni's death and the standoff in Ironforge were both interesting, there still didn't seem to be quite as much emphasis on Alliance events. Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects took place well after Cataclysm's launch and firmly involved Thrall, the Aspects, and little else. Wolfheart is nestled between, a look at the struggles of the Alliance as it attempts to band together just after the cataclysm itself.

While Twilight of the Aspects was a story of conflict in terms of Thrall's self-conflict and the conflict of the dragon Aspects, Wolfheart takes on a very different series of conflicts. There's the conflict between the Dwarf clans of Ironforge, which is briefly addressed. But there's also the conflict between the Night Elves and the Highborne of Eldre'Thalas, who seek to be once again accepted into Night Elf society. Then there is the conflict playing out in Ashenvale, where the Horde loom as a threat so large that the Night Elves cannot hope to stand against them alone.

And on top of this, there are the Worgen of Gilneas. Having fled from Gilneas, the Worgen seek to be accepted into the Alliance. Malfurion is all for this, as he is still feeling incredibly guilty about the existence of the Worgen curse in the first place and blames himself for it. But there's one individual who stands firmly in the way of that acceptance -- King Varian Wrynn. And he also represents one of the larger conflicts in the book.

It's not an outright conflict; it's an inner one. Varian Wrynn has been struggling ever since he was merged from two sides -- his charming, kingly side, and the far more violent side dubbed "Lo'Gosh" by the Orcs who captured him. While he once again stood as one individual at the end of the Warcraft comic series, it was clear in The Shattering that he was still dealing with some sort of internal struggle. Jaina caught the brunt end of the Lo'Gosh side of his personality in The Shattering, and Anduin continues to deal with it in Wolfheart, which makes for some other interesting conflicts that pit father firmly against son.

Varian Wrynn doesn't want the Worgen included in the Alliance, and given Gilneas' history with the former Alliance of Lordaeron, it's understandable. After all, King Greymane pulled all support just after the Second War and spent the Third War locked behind the Greymane Wall as the Scourge ravaged the rest of Lordaeron. Gilneas did nothing to stop the Forsaken takeover of the former kingdom of Lordaeron, and after the events of the Battle for the Undercity, it's obvious how passionate Varian feels about that. So it's really no wonder that Varian stands opposed.

As for the Highborne, Mordent Evenshade makes a reappearance along with the rest of the erstwhile Shen'dralar, seeking acceptance within Night Elf society. Unfortunately, society doesn't seem to be as accepting, as the Highborne swiftly find themselves the targets of a series of murders. Brought in to investigate is none other than Maiev Shadowsong, making her first appearance since Illidan's defeat in The Burning Crusade. No longer in Outland, Maiev is just as obsessive about her tasks and the hunt for the killer as she was about the hunt for Illidan.

But above and beyond all the conflict, Wolfheart is at its heart about acceptance -- the acceptance of the Worgen into the Alliance, the acceptance of the Highborne into Night Elf society, even a young man's acceptance of whatever role the Light happens to have in store for him. The acceptance of mortality, the acceptance of guilt for the years spent in slumber, however vital those years might have been. And the acceptance of a man literally torn in two and put back together again -- both of the Gilnean people and of the rage within his heart.

Wolfheart is easily the best book Knaak has come out with to date. While his other novels may have suffered from the introduction of ancillary characters that didn't seem to provide a purpose, Wolfheart has none. Every character introduced has an exact purpose to the telling of the story as a whole, and there are no unexpected superheroes with powers that boggle the mind. Each moment in the book fits in perfectly with Warcraft canon, and while earlier works may have been long-winded for some, Wolfheart strikes the right balance between being descriptive without being overly wordy. As always, Knaak is particularly on top of writing battle scenes.

What impressed me the most was the one thing that I felt lacking from Knaak's previous works: dialogue. Knaak has always been impressive with descriptive phrases and making readers feel like they were at the heart of a battle, but his dialogue sometimes lacked the genuine feel that Christie Golden seems to lend to her characters with ease. However, Wolfheart was full of snappy dialogue that had me wincing in some places, particularly in discussions between Varian and Anduin -- not wincing in a bad way, but wincing in an "Oooh, I cannot believe he just said that" way.

Wolfheart was full of these kinds of scenes -- those awkward confrontations that you know are just going to be terrible to have but are delightful to read as an outside observer. Dialogue didn't really feel forced, everyone had a natural flow to speaking, and other than a few moments when I felt characterization was a little off, I was delighted. Knaak is as knowledgeable about Night Elves as he has always been, but his version of Varian Wrynn is spot-on and was sheer joy to read.

The hardcover of Wolfheart is available on Amazon for $16, and it's well worth the cover price. Or if you prefer, there's an audiobook version available as well -- which brings up the question, when will we see the rest of the Warcraft novels given the audio treatment?

For Alliance fans who are looking for a shot of good old-fashioned Alliance lore in the wake of Cataclysm, and for Horde fans who want to read more about the Alliance side of the Cataclysm struggle, Wolfheart is an excellent read. The events in this book hint and foreshadow things still to come in Cataclysm and beyond. Plus, we finally get to see the continuation of that ominous clash in the Ulduar trailer -- and let's face it, who hasn't been waiting to see that?

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.