This is a World of Warcraft courtroom drama.
It's played entirely serious.
Now, either this is hilariously awesome or suspension of disbelief breaking. I lean toward the former. Does it make sense that Baine Bloodhoof and Tyrande Whisperwind have the training to serve as trial lawyers? No. Does it make sense that Azeroth has any of the legal traditions of a modern Western courtroom? I dunno, does it make sense gnomes can build rocket-trains? No, but we love them anyway. Instead, I ask, is it fun?
Yes, very much so.
Which is bizarre because this is a story about an unrepentant war criminal. High fantasy things like keeping Alexstrasza as a slave to breed dragon mounts, mana-bombing Theramore, and blowing up dissident orcs are treated with all the gravity of their equivalents in real-life.
War Crimes isn't a parody, being a straight example of the trial genre, but it might qualify as satire. It's about characters in an absurd (but awesome) fantasy setting taking conduct in war more seriously than many Earthlings today do.
The premise is Garrosh Hellscream, much-disliked leader of the Horde, has been captured by Thrall (I will never call him Go'el) and Varian Wrynn. This is, of course, references events which happened in-game. I always feel kind of bad for the player characters in these climatic battles because they never get referenced. You'd think they'd get a mention now and then like, "The Heroes of Azeroth" assisted them or something.
Garrosh committed many crimes during his tenure of Warchief. Both sides want him executed but Varian believes having tried and executed would have a greater morale-boosting effect. Thus, they turn to the Celestials of Pandaria to serve as neutral judges. This is an astoundingly bad idea, as Sylvanas points out, since all-loving gods are unlikely to deliver a verdict motivated by political expediency.
This book is almost devoid of action and, instead, focuses on characterization. We get Jaina dealing with her PTSD, Anduin trying to understand Garrosh's monstrous actions, and Vereesa Windrunner dealing with her burning desire for revenge. We also get a nice bit of characterization for Sylvanas. Golden does her best to justify Sylvanas' see-sawing between good and evil, which she's been doing for several expansions now.
Golden's take? Sylvanas is crazy man.
Some might see it as a cop-out but I think Christie Golden does an excellent job of illustrating just how twisted Sylvanas' thinking has become. I won't spoil the ending but her redemption seems further away than ever. How does redeem someone who has come to the conclusion it is better to be a monster? That's an interesting question to ask. What makes Sylvanas so entertaining is she's not misunderstood but filled with spite and hatred. Whether she can recover or not is anyone's guess but I'd love to see a Windrunner novel from the author.
I'm kind of iffy on some of the characterization. Jaina Proudmoore's sudden turn toward warmonger never sat right with me because while the destruction of your homeland would set ANYONE on a roaring rampage of revenge, the fact is that she's survived it twice before.
Jaina was neck-deep in the zombie genocide of Lordaeron and the destruction of Dalaran in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Jaina Proudmoore was never naive but a hardened piece of steel willing to do anything for peace. She's closer to Princess Leia meets Rick Grimes than the character presented here, I think.
Then again, clearly people should be listening to my fanboy interpretations of the character over an author who has written Jaina for several books.
This book does very well in establishing why the Horde and the Alliance have such problems reconciling. Thrall stands by his decision to appoint Garrosh as Warchief because he's showing he accepts responsibility for his choices. He has a very Orcish attitude that you don't wring your hands about the past but move forward.
To the Alliance, however, he comes off as self-justifying. Cultural differences are a serious hurdle for both sides to overcome. Garrosh, himself, may feel all manner of horrible feelings about his actions but he is so much of a proud warrior to ever admit it. He'd rather go down in history as a hated villain than a repentant coward.
I regret this book never got into the head of Garrosh Hellscream. I suppose that would defeat the purpose of the book, however, which is to analyze how a monster's actions may be interpreted by others. Still, I hope we get a resolution in book form. This is too complicated a character to be resolved with a simple raid boss fight.
In conclusion, I recommend War Crimes. If you can get over the somewhat surreal use of kings, queens, and warlords as lawyers in a Hague-style situation then it has a lot to go for it. Others may find Jaina Proudmoore's characterization or others to be grating. I trust Christie Golden, however, and am looking forward to the sequel.
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