Book review: Beyond the Dark Portal

After being reasonably pleased with my last couple of purchases of Warcraft fiction, I decided to also acquire this novel by Aaron Rosenberg and Christie Golden when I spotted it on the shelves of our local book store. Unfortunately this one was a bit of a letdown for me. It wasn't bad per se, but neither plot nor characters really managed to pull me in and hold my attention. I'm a slow reader when it comes to books these days, but the way I could only get myself to read a few pages of this one at a time and then always proceeded to not even touch it for days was lackluster even by my standards.

As far as the plot goes... well, I felt that it didn't have that much to begin with, and what was there was awkwardly structured. It starts with the Dark Portal being closed after the Second War, then Ner'zhul opens it again, then some Alliance come through the portal to Draenor and close it again. In a nutshell. And since the opening and closing of the portal is what everything is centered around, the fact that it starts with being closed and ends with being closed makes it feel like the story goes exactly nowhere. Everyone is constantly referring to all the interesting stuff that happened before the start of the book (the Second War), and there are hints at more interesting stuff happening after the end of the book (the Third War, among other things), but the actual book you're reading feels like it's just a bit of filler in-between, and that just didn't cut it for me in this case.

That's not to say that nothing of interest happens at all: You find out how the Alliance got established on Draenor ("Oh, they just built the Allerian Stronghold! And that must be Wildhammer Stronghold!"), get to follow Deathwing through the Dark Portal and get to experience the destruction of the planet. Yes, you get to read about how Outland came about, but somehow the authors manage to make even something as massive in scope as the destruction of an entire world sound relatively unremarkable. Oh look, there's some earthquakes and floating rocks and the sea is gone... but never mind, we must catch that Ner'zhul guy! /facepalm

Character development was also lacking in my eyes. Ner'zhul is an interesting character, but compared to say, his portrayal in Rise of the Horde, his second descent into madness in Beyond the Dark Portal doesn't get fleshed out in nearly as much detail. There are more interesting personalities roaming around on Horde-side, but they all tend to only make brief appearances before disappearing again, making it hard for the reader to ever get particularly attached to any of them.

On Alliance-side we have a more consistent but less interesting ensemble: I loved Khadgar in The Last Guardian, but what he gained in experience and power since then seems to have come at a loss in personality. Turalyon the paladin is such a goodie-two-shoes that it hurts sometimes; at first you wish him well and root for him, but after a while his eternal and unwavering faith in the light and all its goodness just gets boring. And Alleria? She basically starts out as a traumatised and angry bitch, which for some reason everyone sees as an obvious sign that she needs some man-loving from Turalyon (no really), and when she finally caves to the peer pressure and lets him have some, she then transforms into an empty shell of a love interest who's only there to encourage her man by occasionally squeezing his hand and giving him loving smiles. Blech.

Also, I'm all for creative use of language, but "young-old" as a casually used adjective needs to die in a fire. Okay, so Khadgar is a young person in an old man's body. I don't mind being reminded of that occasionally, but if you do so then take the time to bloody type it out. Casually throwing out a phrase like "the young-old mage said this and that" is just... no.

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