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They should've let Christie Golden write this.
on November 2, 2008
Richard Knaak is the most average of all fantasy writers. He tells the story in a simple style that is neither bad nor extraordinary. His books always contain the following; a good storyline, some excellent characters, some shallow characters, irredeemable more-ruthless-then-Satan villains, tons of action scenes, and no food for thought whatsoever. Knaak's WarCraft novels follow this pattern to a fault. They won't impress you, but they won't bore you, either.
As of this writing, War of the Ancients trilogy is Knaak's largest work set in the world of Azeroth. It puts the reader into the midst of the first demonic invasion, ten thousand years prior to the events in WarCraft III:Reign of Chaos. In addition, the books feature Neltharion's fall from grace, a time-travel subplot, and a twist that introduces an even greater evil into the story.
Speaking of the time-travel thing, one has to wonder; was it necessary? If Knaak had to have a character of his own in the trilogy, he could've just used the young Korialstraz. More "screen time" dedicated to Xavius, Azhara (two characters in desperate need of some depth), Jarod, Maiev, Malfurion, Illidan, Tyrande and Cenarius would've been preferable.
My greatest gripe with the War of the Ancients comes from the terrible presentation of the Burning Legion. In WarCraft storyline and games, demons and their creations are by far the most destructive force in existence. Single demons often posses tremendous powers - for example, Doomguard can rain fire on their opponents, felbeasts are nigh-immune to magic, Eredar sorcerers can corrupt a man's soul with a mere glance, Archimonde single-handedly destroys Dalaran, Nathrezim can dupe entire armies into serving them, the Daemons were the most powerful units of WarCraft I, etc. In the climax of WarCraft III:Reign of Chaos, alliance, horde and night elves are forced to unite and suffer crippling casualties, just so they could slow down the Legion's advance for forty five minutes.
In Knaak's trilogy, however, the Burning Legion is the least menacing faction of them all. The only times they ever truly dominate is when they are killing unarmed civilians. Otherwise, they regularly get routed by mortal armies. Fel Guard are nothing but a nuisance, Doomguard get slaughtered en-masse, and felbeasts enjoy being petted by beautiful night elf women. Even Eredar and Nathrezim are laughably incompetent. Archimonde almost lives up to his name... but then he is forced to flee from a novice druid.
This is further accentuated by the apparent disinterest of "greater" races (dragons & demigods) to defend the world from the demons. Believe it or not, the demigods spend the first two books deciding whether they should trouble themselves with the conflict at all. And don't get me started on the Demon Soul.
With the Burning Legion trivialized, the entire trilogy loses its epic feel. Instead of depicting a desperate struggle for survival, War of the Ancients presents us with a stalemate that could be easily resolved, if only the greater races could be bothered to join the fight from the start. Deathwing is cool, but he is not the focus of the story and thus cannot make up for the Legion's feebleness. The Elder Gods are bland and forgettable, their only purpose to further belittle Sargeras and his underlings.
War of the Ancients is as middle-of-the road as it gets. On the good side, it is fast paced, filled with interesting characters, and overall highly entertaining. On the bad side, it is a letdown because it lacks the epic feeling it deserved, and because it often stretches the willing suspension of disbelief (the way Tyrande is spared from being tortured to death by the demons is the most heavy-handed (and most literal) Deus Ex Machina I've seen in years).
Even if you don't buy this collection, you should consider reading the first book in the series (The Well of Eternity) just for the laughs. Everyone in that novel falls unconscious all the time. After a while the reader starts expecting the characters to get knocked out, and when it happens it creates a lot of unintentional hilarity.