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World of Warcraft: Sylvanas Book Review
29.03.2022 um 18:15
World of Warcraft: Sylvanas
comes out today, March 29th, 2022. We received an early copy to review.
Banshee Queen of Controversy
, Sylvanas has been a favorite character with players, but she's also been inherently distant, complicated, and above all, controversial, with both players and in-game characters often finding it nearly impossible to quite figure her out. If you speak to a Forsaken, they may tell you how their Dark Lady gave them hope and a sense of family when no one else did. If you speak to a Worgen, they may talk about the terrible things she did in Gilneas, the death of their prince by her hand, and the Blight that was used on her orders. A Horde member might tell you Sylvanas was entirely innocent when it comes to the Wrathgate - betrayed by Putress as much as everyone else was - while an Alliance member may insist she was behind it all along. For years, glimpses into Sylvanas' own thoughts and motivations have been rare, and the Banshee Queen has played with her cards so close to her chest, it has often been impossible to work out exactly what she is thinking or how she feels about almost anything.
This book, written from Sylvanas' point of view, finally gives us some insight into her perspective on some of her character's most major events, and yet, true to form, a lot of it is still wrapped up and hidden away under Sylvanas' own attempts to conceal the truth - not only from the reader, but from herself.
Life in Quel'thelas
The story begins with Sylvanas' childhood, and the chapters about her life as a High Elf of Quel'thelas are, to me, the most 'Christie Goldeny' parts of the book. Golden paints, as always, a beautiful and captivating picture, filled with vivid imagery and personal relationships that draw you in until you feel these characters' joys, worries, hopes, and pain as your own. We see what pre-First War Quel'thalas society was like - the High Elves are pampered and privileged, beautiful and living desirable lives filled with art, music, and culture, but knowing next to nothing of hardship or the ugly realities of war.
The Windrunners, for their part, are positioned interestingly - as Ranger General, Lireesa, Sylvanas's mother, helps to protect the rest of High Elf society and preserve their elegant bubble from outside threats such as the Amani Trolls. The role makes her harsh, especially on her daughters, and from the start the Windrunner children show the struggling signs of dealing with a legacy that is a lot bigger than they are.
Central to this part of the novel is Sylvanas' relationship with her younger brother, Lirath. A character who has only been mentioned before, Lirath is as distant and idealistic a concept to us, the readers, as Sylvanas' own life - we know both are long gone, and that Sylvanas is tormented with memories of them, but never much more than that. In this book, for the first time, we are drawn in to understand exactly what was lost ourselves.
Of course, we know that Quel'thalas did not stay in this bubble, and it began to deal with harsher realities long before the Scourge attacked. Seeing the invasion of the First Horde from the High Elven perspective is jarring - while it may be understandable from the perspective of the Elves being invaded, the descriptions of Orcs are hard to read, and the wording used for the Amani Trolls no less uncomfortable.
As Quel'thalas is changed, we see the Windrunner sisters themselves grow and change, developing into the women they would become as they begin to interact with the outside world - Alleria, in particular, as she grows to care more about protecting the Alliance - and Sylvanas as she meets and then begins to fall in love with the human Nathanos Marris, who we will later know as Blightcaller.
Setting the Record Straight
As the book starts to reach lore moments that have already been covered in other media, the tone shifts - instead of painting a full and immersive story, Golden begins to reference key lore moments and then cover Sylvanas' perspective of them. It's understandable - there is a lot to cover and only a limited amount of space to do it in - but the effect is for the book to begin to speed up and lose a certain amount of that personal touch. Readers who are hoping for a
Lord of the Clans
style description of Sylvanas finding meaning in the Forsaken are likely to be disappointed - Sylvanas seems to grow colder and more distant with every turning page. On the one hand, this can't help but be a let down, especially after such a strong start, and if I had my way Golden would have been allowed to write a trilogy rather than a single book. On the other, Golden does a good job of shifting the tone of Sylvanas as a character where we watch her develop into the enigma she is today without it ever feeling like the core of her character changed.
A larger concern is that readers who don't know the details of the lore moments mentioned may feel lost and left behind - though I understood every moment, knowing Sylvanas' history well, I'm not sure the book can be said to be a self-contained story.
The actual clarifications and "settling" of some lore issues is done surprisingly neatly, considering Golden's task of tackling some extremely controversial subjects - such as Sylvanas' involvement with the Wrathgate incident. In a sense, Sylvanas can be said to have "given the order" behind the Wrathgate, but it would also be accurate to say she was betrayed by Putress and never intended for that particular incident to happen. In another example, Sylvanas is shown to be surprised, upset, and then angry when her arrow accidentally kills Genn Greymane's son. However, Golden is careful to tie this into the scene as we know it in the game - bringing perspective to the scene without actually contradicting or retconning any established lore.
Conversations With Anduin
As readers, we are not the only ones who are being told this story. The book itself is presented as Sylvanas explaining her history to Anduin - as part of her attempts to convince him to join her and the Jailer's side. Throughout are littered interludes where we see Anduin react to the things Sylvanas told him - he's cold and harsh, at first, refusing to accept the excuse of pain in her history as justification for her decisions to hurt and harm others - but he also begins to show insight, seeing aspects about Sylvanas' story that Sylvanas herself is trying to hide - such as her love for Nathanos.
Throughout the book, Sylvanas repeatedly claims she doesn't care about Nathanos. When Anduin points it out she clearly does, she denies it strongly - yet one of the best chapters shows how this is simply not true. Repeatedly using the excuse that he would be useful to her and therefore it would be practical to have him join the Forsaken, Sylvanas first commands Nathanos be found. Once he is, it's shown he is a mindless Scourge, but Sylvanas spends months with him trying to bring him back, eventually succeeding. This is the only known instance of a Scourge loved one being successfully brought to their senses - emphasizing both Sylvanas' love and the sort of effort she would have had to put into this task.
As we know already, Anduin never comes to agree with Sylvanas, but he does come to understand her - though not in the way she intended. A major topic throughout the book is Sylvanas' relationship with her younger brother, Lirath, and how she feels like she failed him. It's very obvious that Sylvanas is reminded of Lirath by Anduin - and, picking up on this, it makes Anduin realize the most important aspect of Sylvanas' character: That if Sylvanas can still feel strongly about Lirath, then she is able to still feel. Despite her repeated claims that she no longer feels love, Anduin recognizes that she does.
Unreliable Narrator - Despite What She Claims, Sylvanas Loves
Here, we find one of the central themes of this story - that while Sylvanas might repeatedly claim she has lost the ability to love, if we pay attention to her actions, and combine that with our knowledge about the trauma she's shown to feel over losing her loved ones, it is very clear, when Sylvanas says she doesn't care for someone, she's lying in an attempt to protect herself.
This side of Sylvanas is something that has been well-established long before this novel. The famous
where players bring her Alleria's necklace, shown from her perspective in this book, was one of our first indications that Sylvanas feels more than she lets on. In that questline, Sylvanas responds angrily to the player, telling them this trinket means nothing to her.
You thought this would amuse me? Do you think I long for a time before I was the queen of the Forsaken? Like you, it means nothing to me, and Alleria Windrunner is a long dead memory!
Afterwards, however, she sings Lament of the Highborne - it's a heartbreaking and powerful moment that showed us, back in Burning Crusade, that despite her protests, Sylvanas does love. When it comes to Sylvanas, her actions speak far louder than her words.
While Forsaken fans may be gutted to read Sylvanas claim in this book, more than once, that she only cares about the Forsaken as a means to an end - an army that exists to kill Arthas and nothing more - that claim itself is questionable. As with Nathanos, she may claim to not feel love, but the signs that she does care for and wish to protect her people are still there. When the story reaches the Battle for Lordaeron, Sylvanas blights her own city, yet finds herself unable to let her Forsaken die. For reasons she can't quite explain to herself, she sees to the evacuation of the city - putting the decision down to her own foolishness.
In one of my favorite scenes, we see Sylvanas burning with indignation on behalf of her people when Archdruid Hamuul Runetotem suggests the Forsaken exist to teach the living a lesson. Many might think the Tauren is being open minded - he is, after all, speaking up in support of the Forsaken joining the Horde - but Sylvanas is angered by the way this framing reduces the Forsaken into being defined purely by the benefit they can provide to the living. It's a scene that suggests, whatever she tells herself, Sylvanas feels strongly protective of her people.
Unfortunately, in what feels like a missed opportunity, Golden still chooses to mostly explore Sylvanas' capacity for love through the connections she formed in life. Lirath plays an important role, as does Nathanos. Ultimately, this makes Sylvanas' story even more tragic. She may have felt her existence lost meaning with Arthas' death, but purpose in her role as leader of the Forsaken has always been there for the Dark Lady to find, if only she - or those writing her - looked.
Deal With The Jailer
Of course, the book covers the deal with the Jailer. This is probably the hardest part to enjoy - the Jailer has not been a popular villain with most people - but it is heartening to see Sylvanas didn't actually agree to join him at their first meeting. She is, quite unerstandably, deeply mistrustful of him at first, and the Jailer does not demand she agree right away, but rather uses a mixture of truth, half-truths and lies to tell her exactly the right combination of worldview-affirming things she already wanted to hear to plant the seeds in her mind that will make her, over time, come to truly believe him and be willing to join him. Having gone over the chapter several times, I am impressed by how well Golden captured many of the exact methods cults use to indoctrinate even intelligent people into joining them.
It is - in fact - the most manipulative and well-written the Jailer has ever been, and it is a outright shame that the first time we really witness the Jailer's manipulation skills ourselves is in this novel that has only been released at the end of Shadowlands. While we have come a long way since
contains no major events that would leave a player lost if they don't read the book - I still can't help but feel the chapter in which Sylvanas meets the Jailer might have been better presented in a more accessible way at the beginning of Shadowlands - if not as a cinematic then at least as a short story, or audio play, or even an in-game quest. After all, the Burning Crusade quest that had us deliver Sylvanas' necklace is well-loved and remembered for a reason.
Withough hesitation, this is my favorite World of Warcraft book. This can't help be a little biased - Sylvanas is my favorite character, and the way she is presented in this book is about as close to my interpretation of her as she could be. I do wish there was a little more exploration of her relationship with the Forsaken and her time as the Banshee Queen, but then I also wish this book was a trilogy instead of one short novel. I was worried the Sylvanas I read about would be unrecognizable. Instead, I love her more strongly than ever.
When Sylvanas began to go off the rails - at least in my view - during the events preceding Battle for Azeroth, I made a certain image from a
my banner across social media: after Lord Godfrey betrays and kills Sylvanas, High Warlord Cromush standing over her body yelling "fix her!" Realizing this certianly won't be true for everyone, I feel that, without actually retconning events that can't be taken back, that's been done as well as it can for me.
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