World of Warcraft is, without a doubt, a massive setting. One of the largest in the history of the world one might argue and up there with role-playing game worlds like the Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance for sheer massive amounts of stuff printed about it. This can be daunting for new readers as they struggle to understand just who are all these people.
Paragons is a collection of short stories, previously published on Blizzard's website and in other sources, which give insight into all of the faction leaders of Azeroth. The first three-quarters of the book is composed of character pieces.
They give you insight into the characters' histories, what they believe, and how they intend to go about getting what they want. Only a few of these stories really have plots, per se, and the majority are more like meditations about how the characters see the world.
In short, this is probably not the sort of book for the newcomer to Azeroth. If you have no idea who Genn Greymane is, why he's building a wall around his country, why there's a bunch of zombies attacking said wall years later, and why he's suddenly a werewolf--this book will be confusing more often than not. On the other hand, if you're a die-hard World of Warcraft fanboy, this anthology has some real gems.
This book is pure fanservice. It's written for fans by fans and is filled with all manner of tidbits designed to tantalize those who un-ironically say, "I play World of Warcraft for the story." Despite this, some of the short stories are quite good. While all of them do a good job of demonstrating who the characters are, some do a better job of it than others.
So, if you are a die-hard WOW-child, then buy this book. Otherwise, it's probably not worth your money. The rest of my review will talk about the various short stories from the perspective of someone who knows who these characters are. So, if you don't, now's a time to bow out of this review.
My favorite of the stories is Heart of War which is one of the stories which really doesn't have a plot per se. It's about Garrosh Hellscream, future ruler of the Horde (and war criminal), thinking about why he doesn't have the respect of the current ruler.
Garrosh is painted as a man who has always been an outsider and weakling who, suddenly, finds himself as neither. We also get a sense of the origins of racism, or his racism, at least. Garrosh hates feeling weak so he makes himself feel strong by putting down others. It's the origins of a monster without needing a kind of "trigger" event.
I liked it a lot.
Edge of Night and Fire and Iron come just underneath Heart of War for stories which tickle my fancy. Edge of Night is a portrayal of Sylvanas Windrunner, basically a Vampire Elf Queen, who's tragic fall-from-grace has been chronicled on for over a decade. In a very real way, Edge of Night ends the story of Sylvanas Windrunner.
It says whether or not she's capable of being redeemed. A lot of fans would disagree with what the short-story argues but it shows the price of revenge in-detail. Fire and Iron depicts a Game of Thrones-style political thriller set amongst the dwarves, which is better than it sounds.
My least favorite short stories are Blood Of Our Fathers and Lord of his Pack. Lord of His Pack, at least, has King Greymane shown as a flawed character with plenty of bigotries he needed to overcome.
Blood Of Our Fathers annoyed me because it was one long love letter to Varian Wrynn. I like the character of Varian and have since the World of Warcraft comic but Blizzard seems determined to change him from a flawed but interesting figure into some sort of messiah.
Which is annoying because we already had a messianic leader for humanity and that was Jaina Proudmoore. Speaking of Jaina, she plays a supporting role in the story and seeing such an important part of the game's lore reduced to be Varian's cheerleader really irritated me.
The last quarter of the book is taken up by Blood of the Highborne, which is a story about how the High Elves became the Blood Elves. The story is quite well-written but kind of leaves on an open-ended note given a lot of the events get followed up in the game proper.
The fact the elves are willing to start torturing an angel-like figure for holy magic also goes to show there's something seriously wrong with those people. I don't buy for a second they're redeemed by the Draenei and believe they need to watched carefully.
In short, this anthology is great for serious lore junkies and fans of the game. Pass for everyone else.
Buy at Amazon.com