Before the Storm: Review of the Battle for Azeroth Prequel Novel by Christie Golden
Everyone that knows me knows just how much I love Warcraft. Many of my cosplays are from World of Warcraft, I’ve had my account active almost constantly since 2006, I’m super interested in all the lore, and I’ve read all the novels so far. Naturally, I was really excited to read the new novel by Christie Golden, Before the Storm. This is the official prequel novel to the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Battle for Azeroth. This is also Christie Golden’s first novel since becoming an official part of the Blizzard team.
Azeroth is dying.
The Horde and the Alliance defeated the demonic Burning Legion, but a dire catastrophe is unfolding deep below the surface of the world. There is a mortal wound in the heart of Azeroth, struck by the sword of the fallen titan Sargeras in a final act of cruelty.
For Anduin Wrynn, king of Stormwind, and Sylvanas Windrunner, warchief of the Horde and queen of the Forsaken, there is little time to rebuild what remains and even less to mourn what was lost. Azeroth’s devastating wound has revealed a mysterious material known as Azerite. In the right hands, this strange golden substance is capable of incredible feats of creation; in the wrong ones, it could bring forth unthinkable destruction.
As Alliance and Horde forces race to uncover the secrets of Azerite and heal the wounded world, Anduin enacts a desperate plan aimed at forging a lasting peace between the factions. Azerite jeopardizes the balance of power, and so Anduin must gain the trust of Sylvanas. But, as ever, the Dark Lady has her own machinations.
For peace to be possible, generations of bloodshed and hatred must be brought to an end. But there are truths that neither side is willing to accept and ambitions they are loath to relinquish. As Alliance and Horde alike grasp for the Azerite’s power, their simmering conflict threatens to reignite all-out war—a war that would spell doom for Azeroth.
For anyone that may be a bit behind on the story, during the current expansion, Legion, we were again faced with Sargeras’s Burning Legion invading Azeroth. This time they came with a larger army than ever before, and in the very first major conflict we lost many great and heroic lore figures including Tirion Fordring, King Varian Wrynn, and Warchief Vol’jin. Over the course of the expansion, we fought and defeated Gul’dan, Kil’jaeden, and finally the corrupted titan soul of Argus. As Sargeras was being bound by the uncorrupted titans, his final act was to plunge his sword into Silithus, Azeroth. The book picks up immediately after that event during the memorials to all those who fell during the war against the Legion and the initial investigation and response to the tragedy in Silithus.
The book was by no means bad, but I do feel like it wasn’t what I had hoped to get at this point in the lore. I feel as though it didn’t really add much, when compared to previous novels. If you plan to read these books and would like to avoid spoilers, I would suggest stopping here as I plan to use potentially spoiler filled information to accurately describe my feelings on this most recent book.
In the past, I have read all of the novels at a point where the game had already moved beyond where they took place in the timeline. I do admit that this could skew my viewpoint, but they were still answering questions that I had even after knowing the events that followed. Previous novels offered interesting insights into why something happened, how the relationship between characters was developing, or other things not easily conveyed in-game.
Before the Storm felt as though it detailed story events that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter. Many of the events in the novel simply serve to emphasize Warchief Sylvanas as a heartless, selfish villain, and paint the Alliance as the righteous and good-hearted opposite to the evil Horde. In a recent panel at E3, Golden said that Blizzard told her they wanted to “dive deeply into the motivations of Anduin and Sylvanas.” In that regard, the book met its mark, but it is hard to see how the events actually impact story long-term.
The emergence of Azerite isn’t entirely surprising to the Horde as the leader of the goblins, Trade Prince Jastor Gallywix, has encountered this material over the course of his deep mining expeditions on the now-destroyed island of Kezan. Goblins are the first to get to it and begin mining and gathering. Meanwhile, the Alliance is attempting investigations of their own. The Horde, namely Sylvanas and Gallywix, want only to use Azerite for their own gains and power. The Alliance thinks of ways to use it to heal and restore. Every bit of the story centered around Azerite serves to further categorize the Horde as evil, and the Alliance as good. While the interactions between characters were well written, it all felt very shallow and predictable.
The other main storyline involved the relationship between the Forsaken and humans. King Anduin Wrynn meets with the priest Conclave in the Netherlight Temple, seen in Legion as the priest class order hall. It is a neutral place filled with priests of all races from both factions, and meeting the now-Forsaken Archbishop Alonsus Faol leads Anduin down a path to providing an opportunity for Forsaken of Lordaeron to meet their still-living friends and family in a single day of cease-fire between factions. This Gathering eventually leads to Sylvanas murdering her own people as they either try to defect to the Alliance or obey her command and retreat. Again, Alliance is kind, benevolent, righteous, and good. Horde is evil.
Neither of these main storylines really did much for the lore. They don’t expand our knowledge of events to come, and really, the only character depth added was to Calia Menethil, older sister of Arthas Menethil, the Lordaeron prince who became the Lich King. Calia showed up somewhat unexpectedly during Legion as a priest order hall follower, and wasn’t really a big deal beyond that. In this novel, she takes part in the Gathering, but suddenly reveals who she is and is the main catalyst for the violent actions Sylvanas takes against her own people. Sylvanas also kills Calia, technically not violating the rules of the meeting with Anduin due to Calia not being part of the Alliance. However, through the power of the Light and the Naaru in the Netherlight Temple, Calia is brought back as a sort of light-undead. There’s no further information provided regarding her backstory with a family that could possibly be Forsaken, and no real information regarding her transformation actually means.
As a proud Horde player, I finished this novel feeling very unfulfilled. We’ve already been down this road of having a transparently evil villain leading the Horde down a dark, incorrect path, and had a revolution to remove this corrupted leader. I feel as though this direction with Sylvanas is sort of lazy and easy. She’s easy to paint as the villain since she’s always worked in an area outside the boundaries of honor that restricted the rest of the Horde. While that was interesting in moderation as one piece of a larger Horde story, having it take over as our main story just feels awful. Add on to that the goblins occupying a place of complete disregard for Azeroth and all life that stands in the way of their profits and personal gain, and the Horde now feels like it’s being run by cheap cartoon villains. The principles that the Horde was founded on, and the sense of them being good and honorable underdogs just trying to make the best lives they can for their people, feel lost.
Honestly, I feel part of the reason I am being so critical towards this book and the current story path is due to the previous books I have read being so full of interesting knowledge, and such amazing character and story depth. War Crimes, also written by Christie Golden as a prequel to another World of Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor, was extremely creative and such a fascinating read. In-game, after the defeat of Garrosh Hellscream following a siege on Orgrimmar by both Horde revolutionaries and the Alliance, Garrosh was not executed but was to stand trial for his actions so that all parties who had been wronged could be sure that he met justice. The novel detailed a huge, elaborate trial with so many major characters involved ranging from all major faction leaders to even Dragon Aspects. It featured a fascinating use of the Bronze Dragonflight and their time based magic to dive into major lore points in the past and explore the rich story of Warcraft. There were amazing side-plots with interactions between characters that had been hurt by Garrosh over the course of his rampage, and that was all new and interesting lore.
Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, Christie Golden’s novel that was a tie-in to the World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria expansion, was similarly interesting and rich in story and lore. It featured an unlikely friendship between the young Prince Anduin Wrynn and High Chieftain Baine Bloodhoof. Jaina Proudmoore’s touching relationship with her apprentice, Kinndy Sparkshine, who is lost in Theramore’s brutal destruction. The resulting tensions between Garrosh and the other Horde leaders as he begins to stray from a path of an honorable warrior.
In comparison to those past novels, Before the Storm feels lackluster. Sylvanas continues being shown as evil and manipulative, Gallywix is a stereotypical greedy, ruthless, selfish goblin, and the rest of the Horde is wary but loyal to their loa-chosen Warchief. The Alliance is now led by the young and hopeful King Anduin Wrynn, with the council of the often angry, hot-tempered Genn Greymane and wise, benevolent Velen. From the start to the end, the relationships between characters don’t really change very much. Anduin receives a hard lesson in how evil and cruel Sylvanas can be, and a few humans get to see some Forsaken are the same people they were in life. Neither of these revelations seem all that dramatic in the grand scheme of things, and overall, the characters remain who they were at the start. The only real revelation is that a secret, ongoing correspondence between Baine Bloodhoof and Anduin is ordered by Sylvanas to cease, effectively ending their friendship.
Unfortunately, I feel as though this book is entirely skippable. Knowing what we currently know about Battle for Azeroth’s story, these events are not critical to understanding what happens next. Past novels offered great insight into events that couldn’t be shown easily in-game, but I do understand that a section of the community was bothered by missing parts of the story and feeling required to buy a book. It is likely that all of the questions I have about Battle for Azeroth will be answered within the game’s pre-expansion events and scenarios instead.
Regardless of my feelings about this novel and the direction of the Horde, I am exceedingly excited for what is to come and the interactions we will have with the nations who have existed within the lore for so long, but never been in the game. Kul Tiras and Zandalar have rich histories for us to explore and I can’t wait to see where we end up next.
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