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Spoiler Free Review
on July 24, 2011
"Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects" is a book that might be unique in the WarCraft franchise in that it is a story about intimate, personal journeys. The tale centers around Thrall who, questioning his recent decisions and uncertain whether he is doing the right thing, finds his focus fragmented and his ability to contribute to the Earthen Ring's efforts at the Maelstrom hampered. Ysera the Awakened (formerly the Dreamer) comes to the former Warchief in this period of doubt and gives him a seemingly simple task to perform that, as Thrall learns more, morphs into something far larger with the fate of the dragonflights and the future of the world at stake as the Twilight's Hammer Cult prepares to awaken a new weapon of terrifying power. Only by standing together can the dragons defeat this threat, but the unity of the Wyrmrest Accord has been shattered following Malygos's death and the dragonflights and their leaders are in disarray: Ysera's dreaming has given her visions of the future that even she doesn't fully understand, Nozdormu is lost in the Timeways, Alexstrasza has succumbed to grief, and the Blues are divided over who should be their next Aspect. To save Azeroth Thrall must help the dragonflights overcome these wounds and their divisions and, in doing so, rediscover who he truly is.
Christie Golden is this story's author and quickly demonstrates that, nearly 10 years after first introducing Thrall to the WarCraft universe in the novel "Lord of the Clans," she still understands this character and that there is still space for Thrall's identity to change and grow. Moreover, Golden structures the narrative so that, above and beyond the basic plot of Thrall uniting the dragonflights against the Twilight's Hammer's dark scheme, the challenges the Aspects are struggling with reflect Thrall's own. Ysera is confused by how things are supposed to fit together, Nozdormu has become so obsessed with the past and future that he can no longer find himself in the present, Alexstrasza is paralyzed by her mournful sorrow, and Aspect-candidate Kalecgos is afraid that becoming something new will fundamentally change who he is. In helping and healing them Thrall has the opportunity to help and heal himself, and this multi-layered approach to storytelling where the external and internal mirror each other gives this novel an emotional power that few books in the WarCraft series have attained.
At the same time, while the Twilight's Hammer are in some ways secondary to the central and intrinsically personal heart of the story, they pose a legitimate threat to the protagonists that brings past and present elements of WarCraft history together in their new weapon. And, just as Golden did for Aedelas Blackmoore back in "Lord of the Clans," the main antagonist of this novel, a man known as the Twilight Father, is more than the sum of his parts. He is despicable but compelling, cowardly yet powerful, and unsettlingly intelligent and dangerous. The revelation of his true identity near the end of the book could have used more grounding in the story because those who don't play World of WarCraft might not recognize him, but otherwise he is an effective villain that stands out in a tale filled with such large and well-known characters as Thrall and the Aspects.
"Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects" is at its strongest when it focuses on the implicit parallels and relationships between its title character and those he encounters and lets actions and events speak for themselves, such as the unspoken yet poignant meaning of what transpires when Thrall meets Alexstrasza for the second time. It is at its weakest when these character explorations are rushed to advance the Twilight plot and when the story feels like set-up for future MMO Cataclysm patches because, for all that happens here, Deathwing and the climax of what began in Christie Golden's previous WarCraft novel, "The Shattering," are saved presumably for the current World of Warcraft expansion's conclusion. In a certain way, though, this is appropriate because this is a story of journeys, and while Thrall travels far in this book his journey -- both personal and otherwise -- is still ongoing.