Book review: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King

Not long ago I abused the occasion of my birthday to let someone else buy me a copy of Arthas: Rise of the Lich King. Now, I still remembered Tam's review of the book and the hilarious follow-up in which he reiterated just how much he hated it, but that didn't stop me from wanting to read it myself. To be honest I've always suspected that my own literary tastes are a lot less refined than Tam's...

In a way I was right, and I did enjoy the book, but at the same time... something felt more than a little off about it, for reasons that had nothing to do with lavender-hued prose or the occasional awkward line.

Basically, I really liked the first half, which introduces us to Arthas the young prince and his budding romance with Jaina Proudmoore. I don't really buy into the cliché of children becoming so infatuated with one another after only a few days that they then spend the next couple of years thinking about each other until they are finally grown up enough to engage in proper romance, but that aside I actually enjoyed this part of the plot. It's kind of cheesy I suppose, but it didn't strike me as particularly unrealistic (aside from the aforementioned childhood-friendship-equals-love-later trope), and I liked seeing Jaina display traces of having a proper personality for once. While her love for Arthas was obviously central to the story, she was still her own person, with interests and responsibilites that had nothing to do with the prince of Lordaeron. In fact, I found myself thinking that I'd be quite happy to read a book solely dedicated to the love triangle between Arthas, Jaina and Kael'thas, but I suppose that's my girly side coming out.

However, around the time the story got to the culling of Stratholme, things started to change. The culling itself wasn't actually that interesting to read about, seeing how I've played through it in WoW over eighty times by now, and Christie Golden pretty much copied the well-known opening scene word for word, with only a little bit of narration added in-between the lines. It's kind of strange, because I always appreciated tie-in novels giving nods to the in-game world before. I suppose the problem is that this wasn't so much a nod as it was a whole transcript.

Following Arthas to Northrend and reading about his adventures there, the feeling that something was slightly off lingered and became even more pronounced after a while. The flow of the story seemed a lot less smooth than before, choppy in fact, with a lot of details appearing disjointed and not really adding up. For example Arthas enters Frostmourne cavern with several of his soldiers, yet when he sees Frostmourne itself he's suddenly alone with Muradin and nobody is there to question the fact that Arthas is happy to leave the old dwarf bleeding in the snow.

This is when I remembered that these were all events that had taken place in Warcraft III (which I never played myself), so I decided to search YouTube for some videos to see if they would clarify things for me. In a way they did, but not as I had hoped. As it turned out, Christie Golden had faithfully copied the dialogue and the events from that game too, including some things that don't really make sense outside of the game, such as Arthas's soldier units disappearing for cut scenes when they are not needed and conveniently showing up again later. Oh dear...

And so things basically continue for the rest of the book, with everything feeling more and more rushed towards the end, leaving little room for actual characterisation between all the summarising of game missions and cut scenes. A lot of things don't get explained at all, probably under the assumption that the readers will "get it" anyway. As someone who's been playing WoW for several years now but never played any other Blizzard games, I felt kind of left out. In more than one case, the random YouTube videos about Warcraft III gave me a better impression of what the hell had just happened than the author's narration.

Also, a lot of the dialogue as copied from the game felt, to me at least, like it was completely at odds with the image of Arthas that Christie Golden herself was trying to convey, which again led to more strangeness whenever Arthas randomly started to mentally angst about Jaina's love and his lost humanity while his faithfully transcribed words and actions were completely contrary to that.

In the end I simply felt slightly disappointed. The book had been an easy read and reasonably entertaining, but even as someone who has only ever played WoW and none of the previous Warcraft games, I felt that I hadn't learned a whole lot of new information about Arthas that I couldn't simply have read on WoWWiki for free. Unless you're a huge fan of Arthas, Jaina or Sylvanas who devours every piece of content related to them that they can find, or conversely you've somehow managed to make it through WOTLK without having much of a clue about who this Lich King chap is, you won't get a whole lot out of reading Arthas: Rise of the Lich King. See if you can borrow it from someone or somewhere for free if you'd like to read it anyway, but if you can't, it's probably better to save your money.

Oh, and did anyone else feel a random urge to read Arthas/Kel'thuzad fan fiction after finishing the book?


  1. I was mostly disappointed by the book. There was almost no new content, and seems like it was written as a summary for WoW players who never played Warcraft 3.

  2. I suspect that people who write video game tie-ins are in a really difficult position as regards dialogue and characterisation, because if they wrote the character exactly as they appear in the game, he'd appear two dimensional and uninteresting, whereas if they wrote him unlike he appeared in the game he wouldn't feel like Arthas.

    The Stratholme sequence is particularly difficult because, well, canonically that is what was said at the time and I suspect Golden wasn't permitted to deviate from that.

    I suppose she could have just cut the scene entirely, but again I suspect that would have angered people as well.