Tuesday, 22 January 2013

WoW - Cycle of Hatred

I debated for a long time whether or not I should cover Cycle of Hatred. Of all the works in the warcraft universe, Cycle of Hatred is probably the least relevant. The events of the story, despite supposedly setting up the conflict between the alliance and the horde in warcraft 3, are never referred to again. It doesn't even work as a set-up to the conflict anyway. The only effects this book had on continuity were the reintroduction of Aegwynn, who plays a minor role in the warcraft comic, and the concept of Lok'vadnod, which gets mentioned in one other book.

This book is irrelevant to the point where I didn't even know it existed until two months ago. Yes, me, the warcraft continuity nerd. I have no idea how I missed this thing. Sure, there's a lot of warcraft books I still haven't read, but I do generally know the important events from them. If I'd known this book existed, I certainly would have tried to at least read it, if not do a full review, before I did my World of Warcraft post. Considering how much I liked Starcraft: Ghost – Nova, I certainly would have jumped at the opportunity to read another blizzard work by Keith R.A. DeCandido.

However, then I actually read the book. As usual, mr. DeCandido does a fantastic job on the writing. However, that doesn't mean that the story is actually good. To explain what I mean, I'm going to have to cover some literary theory. This isn't a literary theory blog, so I'm trying to keep it a bit simplified.

In my view, a writer needs to operate on four different levels.

1. The individual sentences must be interesting. You can have the most amazing story concept, but no one is going to bother reading it if they have to slog through misspelled, poorly structured or just unengaging sentences.

2. The individual scenes must be engaging. Even when the individual sentences are well-written, most people aren't going to like it when a fantasy epic suddenly has a twenty page ramble about the history of doilies. Constantly repeating the same elements within a scene or even just repeating entire scenes can also seriously detract from an otherwise good story.

3. The overall story must be good. You can write each chapter brilliantly and have each of them stand well on their own, but people are going to feel gypped if the overall story feels weak at the end. You need to develop themes and character arcs. Give your story a satisfying conclusion.

4. The universe in which the story takes place must be interesting. Even if you write a good story, people are quickly going to forget it if the universe in which it takes place isn't interesting. You need to give people a world to think about, one they want to see expanded or continued. While this is most important for fantasy and science-fiction, this applies to all writing, even non-fiction. There is a reason good biographies often go out of their way to describe the setting in which their protagonist worked. A character's actions feel hollow if we don't understand their surroundings, and the impact they've had on it.

In an expanded universe, point four is even more important. It doesn't matter how fantastic your story about Tyrande having to lead her people through the harsh Teldrassil deserts to the promised land of Undercity is, people are still going to call it a terrible book. Stories need to add to their universe, not detract from it.

Individual writers can be weak or strong in any of the categories, though it can of course vary from book to book. Richard A. Knaak (Day of the Dragon) is pretty decent at points 1 and 3, but has real trouble with point 4. Christie Golden (Lord of the Clans) is strong at 1, 3 and 4, but can often have some trouble with 2 due to repeating scene elements to the point of annoyance. Yes, we get it. Ramsey thinks Rosemary is hot and Arthas liked his horse. Can we move on now?

Today's book is extremely strong at points 1 and 2. Every sentence flows naturally, drawing you to the next. Every scene forms a strong whole, with fantastic interaction between the wide cast of characters. However, the overall story is rather weak and generic. And as for its place in the universe? Well, let's just say that in this book, Durotar is known for its forests and orcs think cutting down trees is sacrilege. I'm going to detail these points later, but first, a synopsis.

Story Synopsis
The book takes place one year before world of warcraft. Manipulation by a demon, Zmodlor, causes rising tension between the horde and the alliance, but Thrall and Jaina manage to defuse the situation before war breaks out. Also, Aegwynn is there.

See what I meant when I said the story was rather weak and generic? I'm not even simplifying all that much. Aegwynn does have some connection to both the backstory and the events in the present, but they're both so weak and brief she could easily have been left out entirely.

Specific Issues
I still have no idea how such a good writer screwed up continuity this badly, and no one at Blizzard noticed or cared. I guess if you're working on so many expanded universes at once (cycle of hatred came out in the same year as Nova, and he also wrote a buffy book and a star trek book), you're bound to lose track of all details, but still, this is just ridiculous. The fact that it was actually published despite the errors is just inexcusable. So, let's start small and work our way up the bigger ones.

The Weird Names
As I said, we're starting small. The names in this book are just outright bizarre, not fitting the established cultures at all. We have humans named Margoz, Rych, Joq and Booraven. There's orcs named Forx, Byrok and Rabin. There's a high elf named Relfthra. All in all, it's just bizarre, and can get rather distracting. It's like running into someone from the Amish named Ayibongwe Yukimoto.

Thrall the zeppelin pilot
Short, but simple. Thrall is seen with his private zeppelin several times in the book, and it gets explicitly mentioned once that there is no one else on board. When and (more importantly) why did Thrall find the time to become an expert zeppelin pilot?

Thunder Lizards
This is an incredibly minor point, but one that stands out to me. One of the incidents that raises tension between the horde and the alliance is that a mysterious logging operation in Durotar has spooked the local thunder lizards. In order to defuse the situation, Jaina Proudmoore takes every single thunder lizard in the region and teleports them to a mountain plateau at the other end of Durotar.

In a prequel story.

Despite the fact that they're still there in the actual work.

* Facepalm *

The Burning Blade and Zmodlor
In this book, the burning blade emerges in its current form. Basically, it has no connection to the old orcish clan, and they're just using the insignia and name of the clan because of its reputation. Fair enough, and it serves as a decent backstory. But then the book suddenly states that it was the demon Zmodlor that started the burning blade cult eight hundred years ago on Azeroth. That just raises new questions regarding the burning blade! How is an orcish clan (which predates the corruption of the orcs) connected to a small cult on Azeroth?

Actually, while we're speaking about Zmodlor, what's up with that guy? We're told that he's just some lesser demon and that Aegwynn killed/banished him eight hundred years ago, so how was he still capable of coming back? If its so easy to bring demons back from the dead, why haven't Mannoroth or Tichondrius been resurrected by now? Or was the guardian of Tirisfal, whose entire job it is to stop demons, somehow unable to permanently defeat a demon while savage warrior Grom Hellscream was?

Where does Jaina get her information?
Many event from the warcraft games seems to be treated as common knowledge in this book, despite the fact that the character should have no way of knowing them. Since Jaina is a focus character, this is especially blatant regarding her. How did Jaina grow up with stories about Aegwynn despite the guardians of Tirisfal being a secret organisation? How does she know that it was Sargeras who possessed Medivh?

Where did Medivh go?
One of the things addressed in this book is how exactly Medivh was resurrected. The answer: his mother did it. Aegwynn, after losing her powers, resurrected her son using the power of love.

Okay, while I am of the opinion that the resurrection of Medivh really didn't need an explanation (he was a powerful wizard, wizards are known for leaving ghosts, Medivh felt he had to redeem himself. You do the math), you're going to have to do better than that. First of all; The power of love? Really? To be fair, it did take her two decades to actually cast the spell, and its stated that it takes a whole lot of magical knowledge (and, if you don't have love, power), to perform the spell, that's still just a weak excuse.

Plus, it creates new plot holes. If Medivh was fully resurrected (rather than simply being a spirit of some sort), why did he never join the fighting during Warcraft III? Where did he go after the battle of Mount Hyjal? At the very least, you would have expected him to clean up the mess he made out of deadwind pass.

Ridiculously powerful mages
You know how warcraft players always tell you that other classes are overpowered and their own class too weak? Yeah, well, in this book, mages actually are OP and are in dire need of some nerfs. These are some of the abilities the Jaiana and Zmodlor demonstrate in this book:
  • Jaina can instantly teleport anywhere on the planet, only suffering a few seconds of weakness.
  • Jaina and Zmodlor can cut down an entire forest in a single spell.
  • Jaina and Zmodlor can instantly teleport all the wood from that forest across the continent.
  • Jaina can magically track all members of a given species on the continent.
  • If that species is non-sapient, Jaina can take control of their emotions in order to calm them or rile them up. This one takes some effort and has some risk of causing the animals' emotions to overtake you instead.
  • Jaina can instantly teleport all calm members of a species on the continent to a different location on that continent.

Despite mages now being ridiculously powerful, they never seem to use their spells intelligently. For example, the humans are annoyed that the orcs have all the good wood within their territory, but refuse to cut it down for trade. So why doesn't Jaina just cut down a swath of Feralas or Un'goro jungle and teleport it back home?

Lush Durotar
Speaking of orcs having all the good wood, what the hell is up with that? When did Durotar suddenly grow massive forests? To be one hundred percent fair, Durotar did have forests near lightning ridge back in Warcraft III, and this forest is also in that area, so that kind of makes sense, if only because of some of the weird continuity between warcraft III and WoW.

On the other hand, the book also states that Razor hill now has excellent terrain for farming, and the book seems to imply that the entirety of Durotar is rather fertile (which is a major cause of annoyance for the people of Theramore, who are stuck with a swamp). Those things are definitely not fitting with any version of canon, no matter how much you try to stretch things.

Treehugger Orcs
Orcs suddenly regard cutting down trees as sacrilege. I... I can't even begin to state in how many ways that contradicts canon. Every single game has featured orc lumberjacks. EVERY! SINGLE! GAME!

Every society is suddenly sexist
One of the central themes in this book is Jaina's feminist ideals. However, there's a tiny little problem with that; It's hard to be a feminist in a society where the genders are mostly treated equally. Because of that, every single featured society is suddenly massively retconned. Dalaran, which had a woman on the council of six in Day of the Dragon and employed an all-female squadron of high elves during the third war, suddenly regards women as lesser mages. Kul Tiras, whose elite core was led by Jaina herself during the third war, now thinks women shouldn't be part of their army. A high elf who sees women as equals is now treated as a rarity, despite the fact that their highest ranking officer was a woman back in warcraft III. And Thrall now thinks that women are simply incapable of being warriors, despite the fact that his own mother was a warrior.

Thrall's mother

This is a symptom of a cheap ploy a lot of writers employ to make certain characters sympathetic. I call it “Politically-Correct Sympathy Enforcement”. In a story that suffers from PCSE, a character is given a character trait that modern humans find sympathetic, but doesn't make any sense in the setting or as part of the story. In such a case, either the entire setting has to be bent just to fit this single character trait (such as here), or the character trait just doesn't make sense. We've seen the latter with the cenarion expedition and their concerns for bio-diversity in outland. This sort of thing isn't just limited to political ideals either, but also shows up with ethnicity or character background.

Book does not do what it was supposed to
Let's quote the author of the book first, to show what his intent was:

"At the end of ”Warcraft 3 and Warcraft 3X, humans and orcs were allies on the continent of Kalimdor. But in World of Warcraft, the two sides are enemies again. My task with the novel Cycle of Hatred, was to help explain that change.”

First of all, the book ends with Thrall and Jaina managing to defuse the tensions and ready to sign a peace agreement, so you kind of failed at that. However, to be fair, the raised tensions could eventually lead to the minor conflicts between Orgrimmar and Theramore we see in World of Warcraft, like...


Hold on a minute! Orgrimmar and Theramore are just about the only two factions who are not in conflict in World of Warcraft (with only some spying going on between the two). In fact, the conflicts that do happen in WoW aren't mentioned at all in the book. This book explains absolutely nothing! Where is the set-up for the dwarves invading Tauren territory? The forsaken invading Stormwind territory? The dwarves invading Frostwolf territory? The orcs and forsaken invading Night elf territory? The human-killing forsaken joining the horde?

Actually, while we're at it, where are all those species anyway? The tauren and night elves get one token mention each, but their existence seems to be ignored for the rest of the book. There is even a sentence that states that, without Theramore, the orcs would be in complete control of Kalimdor. What, did the night elf, furbolg, satyr, centaur, harpy, quilboar and goblin races go on vacation or something?

I wouldn't even try to give this book a grade or something. The disparity between the writing quality and the story quality is just too big to make any sort of assessment. If you don't care about warcraft lore at all, it may be worth a read, but otherwise, its best to just ignore its existence. I'm actually half-tempted to try and make an edited version of this, but I guess it would be rather pointless as I wouldn't be allowed to share it.


  1. I really enjoyed your review. I was honestly a little pissed that this was ever published, but the orc lumberjack comment made me laugh so hard I can't take the book seriously enough to be mad anymore. Thank you.

  2. I've just finished that book and decided to read more about it because it was a confusing book for me, I've been playing wow for 8 years and i couldnt find a place for that book, its a Nice one, i think it explains about the relationship between jaina and thrall and i liked to know more about Aegwynn but yea, i agree with you and the orc lumberjack comment made me lol. I think the taurens and night elves had a Nice party out of kalimdor in that period, honestly :p