summer book exchange #2: Arthras: Rise of the Lich King

As some of you know, I have opened myself up to being pummeled with books to celebrate my birthday this summer.  You send me a book, I read it, I review it, I send you a book.  Over and over until I’ve read all the books sent to me.

I will only be writing positive reviews.  If you send me a book and I hate it – or at the very least don’t have anything pleasant to say about it – I will not write a review.  I want this to be a largely positive experience!  If you see that my running tally skips a number, you’ll know I read a book I didn’t review.  (Note that my first review is book #2, so that already tells you something!)

For my first review, then:

World of Warcraft: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, by Christie Golden

If you told me a month ago that I’d read a book based on a video game, let alone enjoy it, I’d have probably laughed at you. Yet read one I did, and enjoy it I did as well!

I have never played the computer game World of Warcraft (or WoW, as I’m sure its fans refer to it) – not once. I tried another game of its ilk, Elder Scrolls, but found it unfun in a most thorough fashion. All that running – and I got killed by rats!

While I have played and greatly enjoyed other RPGs, I like to look forward into the future, to embrace my sci fi consciousness and revel in it. Mass Effect. BioShock. Fallout. Those kinds of games.  I played Fable and enjoyed that, but it’s far more cartoony (and easier) than Elder Scrolls. In short, Fable was fun, but ES was not.

My brother Jeremy gave me this book, saying, “You have to read this. Really.” I was kind of stunned, to tell the truth. He knows I’ve never played WoW. I did play (twice, I think) a version of WoW that is a board game – a very long (and pretty good) board game, with lots of little plastic monsters to use.  Plus, I don’t picture my brother reading for pleasure, and if he did, I didn’t imagine him reading novels like this.

See, my brothers used to pick on me incessantly when we were younger due to one of my hobbies – playing Dungeons & Dragons. If you ever played D&D, you’ll probably really dig this book. I know absolutely nothing about the WoW world and found the book engaging. It’s a well written tale of swords and sorcery, rife with magic users (mages), demons, zombies, kings, elves, dwarves, orcs, banshees and cavaliers (paladins).

The core of the story is the life of Prince Arthas Menethil, who starts as a boy and becomes a paladin – a type of warrior/priest that draws upon the Light for his strength, stamina and healing abilities. Arthas embraces the Light as a young man, then falls from grace in spectacular, gruesome fashion. The Light exists in this book as an unexplained, unexplored, fully established religion; in a lot of ways, it reminds me of the Force from the Star Wars universe. It simply is, and we’re given no explanation of its intricacies.

No matter, though, because the rest of the world is utterly familiar. Villages, farms, castles, cities, frozen fortresses, giant spiders – all of it is eminently understandable to anybody who’s read any amount of fantasy. The elves are tall, lean and beautiful; the dwarves are short, stout, bearded (possibly even the women) and inexplicably speak with a Scottish accent.

Golden weaves Arthas’ life experiences into both his rise and his fall; his most significant path takes him through gaining, losing, regaining and re-losing the love of a powerful mage, Jaina Proudmoore, who, though not royal, is a noble and a leader in her own right.

While the story contains a lot of fantasy/D&D cliches (like enchanted swords), it’s a solidly written, well paced book that was quite an enjoyable read. It’s well placed for a sequel, and I understand that there are several other books tied into this world that explain more about the other characters and some of the events they refer to.

I’ll leave you with one quote that I think sums up how the story ends:  “All that remained of him was the bitter keening of the wind scouring the tormented land.”

There is one very passively described sex scene and a lot of violence, including the brutal killing of children and animals.