Several weeks ago, I was given access to a copy of Overwatch: The Hero of Numbani (review here), and World of Warcraft: Shadows Rising — the Shadowlands prequel novel tie-in. Special thanks to Random House and Rogers & Cowan PMK who reached out.
I feel privileged to be able to read the novel after 87 days playing Shadowlands Alpha to understand the lore from both media.
Especially, after playing the Shadowlands Intro Questline where players participate in a ritual at The Frozen Throne to open a way into The Maw in the Shadowlands.
Reading the novel helped me fill up the gap of what led to the new expansion.
Throughout this review, I will offer minor spoilers without names in some instances, or without going into detail. So keep this in mind beyond the break below. If you want to skip the soft spoilers, but want to check out the Table of Content with chapters listed, skip to the image.
At the very beginning of the novel we learn that Malfurion and Tyrande have left Stormwind. They now reside in Nordrassil (Mount Hyjal). That gives us a picture of what happened after the Warfront: Darkshore.
The Worgen returned home after helping the Night Elves reclaim Darkshore, but Tyrande and Malfurion stayed in Kalimdor. It seems Tyrande wasn’t too happy with Anduin. She won’t answer Anduin’s courier messages.
The novel starts with Anduin and Mathias Shaw riding their horses through Westfall. They find someone who was witness to what happened in Arathi when Sylvanas turned on her own Forsaken. This is a reference to Christie Golden’s World of Warcraft: Before the Storm.
Anduin meditates about what happened during the most recent events: the Legion invasion, Sargeras plunging his sword into Silithus, early Battle for Azeroth events, and N’Zoth’s defeat. In short, everything they have been able to come victorious from. Yet they haven’t been able to find Sylvanas. Not even with their best hunter: Alleria, who has spent weeks on the trail.
The novel has a good pacing. It is not this super large story about Anduin, Anduin, Anduin. Or Thrall, Thrall, Thrall. It is balanced across several characters.
There are 32 chapters, and Madeleine Roux manages to tell us the story from the Alliance perspective, and the Horde perspective — keeping the reading dynamic and easy to read with momentum.
As readers, we switch from Stormwind to Orgrimmar and back in the initial chapters; but eventually the action goes deep into Zandalar — switching between Zuldazar and Nazmir — as seen in the Contents page (seen below). There are a few chapters held in Arathi Highlands as Turalyon and Alleria hunt for leads to Sylvanas; and a chapter held in Tiragarde Sound (Kul Tiras).
After the Westfall prologue, Chapter One takes us to Orgrimmar, focusing on Thrall. The last time that we saw Thrall was at the mak’gora… Saurfang had come to Draenor to convince Thrall to join the rebellion against Sylvanas.
Both are attacked by Forsaken agents, and Thrall accussed Saurfang of being followed. In fact, it was Saurfang who had followed the Forsaken assassins. That felt like a cold shower to Thrall as he realized he had been targeted for assassination — as seen in the SAFE HAVEN cinematic.
The rebellion ended with Saurfang challenging Sylvanas to the Mak’gora duel.
Sylvanas ended her leadership as Warchief with only one death: Saurfang’s. Sylvanas abandoned the Forsaken and fled. After this, the Forsaken joined the Horde in mourning Saurfang.
We don’t get to see any of this in the novel, except for a few mentions, but serves as a backdrop of what happens next. Thrall is now in Orgrimmar, alongside the new Horde Council. No leaders here. Everyone is here as equals. Talanji is here for this meeting.
Gazlowe is presented as the new Trade Prince of the Bilgewater Cartel. Eventually, though late, Calia Menethil and Lilian Voss enter Grommash Hold to join the meeting in representation of the Forsaken. Curious to read more of the novel — because at this point in time, Lilian Voss is presented as the interim leader of the Forsaken.
I haven’t played Battle for Azeroth for a while now, busy testing Shadowlands Alpha, but to my limited knowledge I don’t recall a transition of Calia Menethil accepting her role as leader of the Forsaken via questline. Apologies if it already happened, but makes me wonder if we will get to see that in the world event questline leading up to the Shadowlands launch; or earlier. Or if Lillian Voss is later becoming the defacto leader of the Forsaken; or whether Calia steps up later on. I guess too early to know for sure.
So far the Horde Council is composed of 11 members representing their own race: Thrall, Baine, Thalyssra, Lor’themar, Trade-Prince Gazlowe, Rokhan, Queen Talanji, Kiro (vulpera), Ji Firepaw (pandaren), and Lilian Voss/Calia. Not sure if I missed the name of the mag’har or if it was left out on purpose by Blizzard.
Zekhan (zappi boi) is now Thrall’s page. Derek is now Forsaken. The latter merely mentioned and makes no cameo.
This Horde Council gets into hot waters quickly. The Alliance is not the only one having internal issues — with Tyrande growing a grudge for Anduin turning down assistance to reclaim Darkshore. The Horde now must face an uneasy Talanji. Just yesterday, the Alliance invaded Dazar’alor and killed her father. Today, we have an armistice with the Alliance, and no justice for their transgressions on her kingdom. Rokhan surprisingly sided with Talanji on this matter, as well as the Mag’har.
It might be interesting to see how that fleshes out in the novel.
Talanji returns to Dazar’alor and she calls out to Bwonsamdi. As usual, Bwonsamdi talks how you would expect: sarcasm, jokes, jabs, and mockery. Always wanting to strike a deal. The author captures his personality very well.
The next chapter goes to Nazmir where Nathanos Blightcaller and Sira Moonwarden make a deal with zandalari rebels who want Talanji dead and the Horde gone from Zuldazar.
There is a hint of a story I haven’t heard in-game or elsewhere. The timeframe isn’t mentioned, but the fact that Nathanos asks Sira if she remembers what he told her about Zuldazar earlier, makes me think that there was a mysterious mission in Dragonblight that we don’t know of. Why would Sylvanas send Nathanos and Sira to the Dragonblight for?
If you recall, Sira Moonwarden was transformed into a Undead during the pre-Warfront: Darkshore questline. So between then and Shadows Rising — she was in Dragonblight. Come to think about it… it’s been a while since we saw Nathanos. So this happens likely while he is gone in-game. Makes me wonder if we will hear about this Dragonblight mission story in-game or in another format later on.
Their mission in Nazmir? To kill a loa… Bwonsamdi.
I won’t spoil how their plan evolves and concludes, but whatever happens in this story might tie-in with our encounter in De Other Side dungeon. In the dungeon, Mueh’zala has Bwonsamdi prisoner. Bwonsamdi asks you to collect anima he borrowed to three people he stroke a deal with. He can use this anima to help you defeat Mueh’zala. Watch the dungeon video.
Zekhan is given the role of Horde ambassador posted in Zandalar. I am sure many would want to read how this young troll evolves in this story. That’s just page 50/263.
There is another plot in the novel that seems promising. The Earthen Ring Yukha has come warning the elemental spirits are angered and not listening to the shamans. Something is troubling them and Thrall will investigate. Thrall’s mission takes him to… Nordrassil, of all places.
Considering that most of the novel (as seen in the contents page) happens in Zandalar, I can pretty much guarantee the novel is mostly focused on Talanji, Zekhan, Nathanos, Thrall, Jaina, Anduin, and Bwonsamdi.
In Chapter 9, Alleria and Sylvanas interact. Alleria makes a reference to what the Void whispered to her during the comics: Three Sisters.
A portion of the novel revolves around Nathanos striking a deal with a Zandalari rebel faction, the Widow’s Bite, which is led by Apari — a former follower of the loa Shadra. The Widow’s Bite followers oppose Talanji for serving the loa of death: Bwonsamdi, and despise the allegiance with the Horde. The Widow’s Bite is composed of Zandalari who come from Dazar’alor and other areas of Zuldazar. They live in Nazmir now.
Apari seems to be Yazma’s daughter. At least hinted a couple of times within the first 100 pages, but not confirmed. One of the hints is Tayo saying that Yazma would be proud of her. This could be interpreted as: Apari is a daughter, or a loved disciple. Apari is also Queen Talanji’s childhood friend. Update: Yazma relation confirmed in Chapter 20.
Something that caught my attention in this novel as well is that the name of Thrall’s second child has been revealed in this novel (around page 118, Chapter 14).
Also mentioned in Chapter 14 is the fact that not all the kaldorei undead joined Sylvanas. Some of them are among the Forsaken who pledged loyalty to the Horde after Sylvanas killed Saurfang. We saw these forsaken kaldorei in great numbers training beneath Orgrimmar when we rescued Baine Bloodhoof during the Nazjatar questline. Watch the video.
This opens up an opportunity that we shouldn’t forget could be introduced in the future. As a precedent, Blizzard Entertainment introduced hints of kaldorei highborne mages joining Teldrassil as early as patch 3.2.2 (in 2009) and time later World of Warcraft: Cataclysm introduced playable Night Elf mages in-game.
Maybe this novel is doing the same thing. Blizzard could at some point in the future allow undead customization: Undead kaldorei, undead dwarf, undead gnome, etc. This is something I have discussed before in an article. Or simply give the customization only to Night Elves.
However, this would be a difficult system to implement into World of Warcraft. Don’t hold your breath this feature coming in Shadowlands at launch day.
THRALL IN NORDRASSIL
Early in the novel, an Earthen Ring agent told Thrall he and the Horde Council needed to know there was unrest among the elemental spirits. Thrall was requested to go to Nordrassil and to talk with Tyrande and Malfurion.
Toward Chapter 14, Thrall makes preparations to travel from Orgrimmar; and Thrall can’t just waltz in into Nordrassil. Tyrande requested the messenger to tell Thrall he had to bring what he owed. Thrall had no idea what this was, but it certainly worried him as he arranged his travel. If that doesn’t convince you to pick up the novel to find out, then how about Thrall doesn’t go alone? He goes to Nordrassil with Baine and… Calia Menethil. Interesting the companion choice here… considering it was Sylvanas’ Forsaken who set Teldrassil ablaze.
As a reminder, it was in Nodrassil that Thrall and Aggra got married with Tyrande and Malfurion as witnesses. This time they aren’t as amicable.
That’s amplified with Shandris and Maiev attending the meeting throwing in their own opinions. Especially with a mourning Night Warrior Tyrande empowered by Elune’s vengeance. So you can imagine how this encounter with Thrall goes.
Madeleine Roux made this entire chapter make my day. The way she describes Tyrande’s eyes, and the ambience as her rage grew internally in crescendo. This is not the lovely Tyrande or the somewhat harsh Tyrande we have met in past incarnations of the character. This is the ummdaphookin Night Warrior of Elune’s vengeance Tyrande. This woman was listening intently every word from Thrall, Baine and Calia for what seemed hours. When that woman opened her mouth — she was terrifying. I could hear in my mind Thrall saying: “Swallow me earth!”
At the end of Chapter 14, we learn exactly what Tyrande meant Thrall owed her. I’m looking forward to see this scene come to happen in the Shadowlands expansion… someday. It can only happen in a cutscene or cinematic.
Chapter 15 revisits Rastakhan’s Pact with Bwonsamdi. We learn how deep this pact affects Talanji, and whether she can recover her freedom.
If you don’t mind spoilers of what happens to Bwonsamdi in the Shadowlands, you can read some of the in-game text as Bwonsamdi guides us through De Other Side dungeon.
ZEKHAN: AMBASSADOR OF THE HORDE
Zekhan was given one task as ambassador of the Horde in Dazar’alor. He must fold Talanji back into re-joining the Horde, but that might end up not been such a hard task to accomplish, considering what is happening to Bwonsamdi and Talanji.
What I am more interested in with this novel is an opportunity that I didn’t see coming. It doesn’t seem pure innocent happenstance by the author that Zekhan ended up here.
Is this the beginning of a story arc that is going to evolve over the next few years? Are we going to read Short Stories or Comics at some point in the future? Once you read the novel, and see the signs, you will know what I mean.
MATHIAS AND FLYNN
It is difficult to see Mathias Shaw and Flynn Fairwind together. One is basically a comedian, the other one is dead serious. Yet, the author finds a way to make this duo shine. Madeleine captures the vivid personality of Flynn like a charm. Things get pretty ugly for them both as they infiltrate Zandalar in the middle of an armistice while chasing a lead about the whereabouts of the undead kaldorei dark ranger serving Sylvanas. What can go wrong?
The novel explores the personal life of these two characters. Their past. Mathias in Chapter 22.
Ji Firepaw takes a more active role in this novel at Chapter 19, when he volunteers to come with Thrall after reading a message summoning him to meet with Jaina and Anduin to discuss a matter that might shred the armistice.
Chapter 23 has Bwonsamdi explaining that all spirits: good and evil, are going straight into The Maw. Rastakhan hasn’t fallen into that fate because he is holding on to as many troll spirits as he can with his weakening magic. However, he doesn’t know how long he can resist the pull of The Maw.
He was given the mission to end Bwonsamdi in order to stop those who could endanger Sylvanas’ plans. The only way Nathanos could accomplish this was by striking a deal with Apari (leader of the Widow’s Bite rebels). As daughter of a loa priestess, she knew how to weaken Bwonsamdi. On the other hand, every new death in Nazmir that Nathanos could muster is another soul to The Maw, which empowers Sylvanas further. There is a reference to the Legion short story: Dark Mirror. There are other references throughout the novel which shows how well Madeleine Roux researched the characters and Warcraft lore to stitch together this story.
This gives readers not just a stand alone story, but the sense of cohesiveness with the larger canvas of Warcraft continuity.
PRISONER OF WAR
One character featured among the Battle for Azeroth’s roster of characters meets a unexpected capture that is not resolved at the end of the novel in freedom nor death — which means it will carry over into the Shadowlands expansion as a potential rescue scenario questline or execution. I haven’t seen any signs of this in Shadowlands Alpha.
However, and this is very wild thinking… I wonder if what Blizzard Entertainment is signaling here is not an in-game rescue, but instead signaling a future character skin customization available to the Alliance Only; or broader: Alliance and Horde.
I guess we will find out one way or the other in the Shadowlands expansion level 60 end-game or via a post-launch content patch.
I had the impression that the novel is laying the foundation for two relationships flourishing at a later time. We saw this happen between Lor’themar and Thalyssra in-game in Nazjatar and in a short story: A Moment in Verse.
Well, there are now two more potential romances we should keep an eye from now forward in-game and in other written media. The two are shocking, but one completely unexpected.
Update (MAJOR SPOILER): I will go straight to the point. This novel features the first LGBT wedding in World of Warcraft between two zandalari young girls. There is a second LGBT flirting/romance — this time between two known characters. I am not fully certain if I read it wrong. That’s what I interpreted. The third romance is straight — there is obvious flirting which indicates there is potential for a relationship in the future — whether it is in-game or in printed/digital media as time goes by.
You don’t need to read the novel in order to understand Shadowlands. Right now in Alpha 34972, Blizzard made available for testing the Shadowlands Intro Questline which leads players to the Frozen Throne. There you cast a ritual using the broken pieces of the Helm of Domination to open a gateway into The Maw.
The questline pretty much gives you what you need to start your journey through the expansion’s level up experience.
I think that’s what all players want. That you don’t have to read a novel to learn what’s going on in the expansion.
Shadows Rising is a prequel. It gives you the foundation of the series of events that led to the expansion. It is optional.
Is it worth reading the novel? Absolutely yes. It is well written. It is well paced. Heck, before I realized, I was already at the end of the novel with a feeling of wanting more. Gotta praise the author. Alas, every novel needs to end.
The novel happens in Azeroth. Not in the Shadowlands. However, not everything that happens in the novel is resolved in the novel.
The novel only showed Sylvanas in the Epilogue (at the end of the novel). The hunt for Sylvanas needs to happen in-game (I assume during the World Event finale questline).
We never get to see how Anduin, Baine, Jaina and Thrall ended up in The Maw — apparently captured by Sylvanas. This didn’t happen in the novel nor is it available in Alpha.
This leads me to think that we might learn how this happened in the pre-expansion world event; and/or even in the Shadowlands animated shorts (i.e. Warbringers, Harbingers, Lords of War).
There is more story to be learned in-game. No doubt.
There is also the lingering and never revealed mission that Nathanos and Sira were in before they arrived to Nazmir to kill Bwonsamdi. How will we learn what that mission was? In-game or via comics/short story?
I mean… their mission was in the Dragonblight. As far as I know, after the Warfront: Darkshore we haven’t seen quests about Nathanos and Sira in Northrend.
There are few things Nathanos and Sira might have been doing in Dragonblight. This is where Wyrmrest Temple and the dragonshrines are. With Malygos and Ysera dead, those two dragonshrines are without a Dragon Aspect. Still, there is nothing indicating what they would need from there.
Another thing in the Dragonblight is the dais where Frostmourne was found. The bones of Galakkrond. The dead remains of the Twilight dragons. There are maybe a few surviving black dragons there who might be willing to trade with Nathanos and Sira. Could they use something from Dragonblight that would have helped Sylvanas overpower Bolvar or infiltrate Icecrown? Or were they in Dragonblight for something else? I don’t know. To this date, we still don’t know what the dialogue text was between Sylvanas and Helya. So now we have a new unknown: the dragonblight mission.
Blizzard better pay off giving us a flashback of these moments either in-game or via other media. Those are two lore itches needing thorough scratching for satisfaction.
Finally, seeing Zekhan evolve from zappi boi to ambassador and hero is satisfying too, but he pays a high price in his journey to grow into adulthood.
The novel sees Tyrande start to come out of isolation and off her grudge with the Alliance, which is a positive thing. We’ll see how that pans out. Tyrande is among the leaders who embark into The Maw to rescue Anduin and Jaina; but she didn’t participate in their rescue. It is presumed that Tyrande might have gone hunting for Sylvanas on her own. But I’m uncertain. Not even Darion knows where Tyrande is.
That means we won’t know Tyrande’s fate until level 60. Maybe not even at launch end-game. We will see. The entire southern portion of The Maw is closed and aimed to be a level 60 end-game content.
The Epilogue of Shadows Rising takes us mere seconds after Bolvar falls to the ground in the cinematic — showing us what happened next after the cinematic.
Now we know why Nathanos Blightcaller appeared in Marris Stead in Shadowlands Alpha.
I recommend reading World of Warcraft: Shadows Rising. It is a fast-paced read with short chapters moving you back and forth between Alliance and Horde perspectives. If you are into Zandalari lore, then you got about 40-50% of the novel focusing on the politics and clerical clashes between two zandalari factions: those who followed Rastakhan pre-Horde, and those loyal to Talanji and their current status quo with the Horde and Bwonsamdi.
If you are curious about Turalyon and Alleria nowadays. This is your novel.
If you want to find out how Tyrande returns to the Alliance — as seen in the Shadowlands Intro questline — this is your novel.
If you want to learn more about Bwonsamdi, and the pact that affects Talanji — this is your novel.
If you are into learning more of Zekhan and how he deals with the loss of Saurfang, and want to see character growth — this is your novel.
Everyone gets a little bit of honey.
Order World of Warcraft: Shadows Rising (available as hardcover, digital, and audibook).
Read the excerpt.
- King Anduin Wrynn
- Mathias Shaw
- Reverence (Anduin’s horse)
- Wilmer (mentioned, Before the Storm)
- Alleria Windrunner
- Captain Danuvin (mentioned)
- Lor’themar Theron
- Queen Talanji
- Trade-Prince Gazlowe
- Calia Menethil (Lilian Voss’ counselor)
- Lilian Voss (interim leader of the Forsaken)
- Baine Bloodhoof
- First Arcanist Thalyssra
- Kiro (vulpera leader at the Horde Council)
- Rokhan (Darkspear leader at the Horde Council)
- Zekhan (zappi boi)
- Yukha (Earthen Ring)
- Apari (zandalari)
- Seshi (zandalari)
- Lieutenant Tayo (zandalari female. Widow’s Bite member. Apari’s bodyguard.)
- Hekazi (mentioned, Zekhan’s father)
- Zikii (zandalari)
- Nathanos Blightcaller
- Sylvanas Windrunner
- Sira Moonwarden
- Dark Ranger Lelyias
- Captain Deliria Dawes
- Visrynn (kaldorei dark ranger)
- Aggu (orc boy)
- Yu Yi (girl)
- Lorlidrel (nightborne messenger)
- Ji Firepaw (Huojin monk)
- Bishop Arthur
- Genn Greymane
- High Exarch Turalyon
- Nav’rae (zandalari teen girl)
- Bezime (zandalari, Nav’rae’s father)
- Khila (Nav’rae’s wife)
- Lashk (tortollan, Zanchuli Council)
- High Prelate Rata
- Wardruid Loti
- Gonk (mentioned)
- General Rakera
- Parri (mentioned, Talanji’s childhood friend)
- Mah’ral (zandalari guard)
- Remda (Saurfang’s wife)
- Dranosh (Saurfang’s son)
- Xe’ra (mentioned, naaru)
- Lu’ra (mentioned, naaru)
- Captain Celosel Nightgiver (void elf)
- Senn (Lightforged)
- Zun (orc boy)
- Gowzis (female orc)
- Apothecary Cotley
- General Jakra’zet (mentioned)
- Jaina Proudmoore
- Flynn Fairwind
- Grigsby (The Bold Arva sailor)
- Nailor (The Bold Arva sailor)
- Melli Spalding (Kul Tiras tidesage)
- Swailes (The Bold Arva sailor)
- Narsilla Keensight/Lancer (SI:7 spy, Silvermoon)
- Krazzet the Bishop (SI:7 spy, goblin in Orgrimmar)
- Gunk (Thrall’s page)
- Harmen (Siward’s brother. The Bold Arva sailor)
- Siward (Harmen’s brother. The Bold Arva sailor)
- Lyra Fairwind (Flynn’s mother. deceased. mentioned)
- Katherine Proudmoore
- Hackney (Proudmoore Keep’s cook)
- Cormery (Proudmoore Keep guard)
- Valeera Sanguinar
- Pathonia Shaw (Mathias’ grandmother. deceased. mentioned)
- Lieutenant Juho (zandalari guard)
- Amalia (Goldshire Inn barmaid)
- Tze’na (Talanji’s ravasaur)
- Yazma (mentioned. High Priestess of the loa Shadra. Apari’s mother.)
- Stephon Marris (a memory or ghost. Nathanos’ cousin. paladin.)
- Moonpaw (Thrall’s war mount. gray wolf.)
- Tezi (elder Bwonsamdi worshipper at the Necropolis)
- Captain Halfkan (vrykul)
- Dagger Hills
- Saldean’s Farm
- Sentinel Hill
- Cathedral of Light
- Zul’jan Ruins
- The Necropolis
- Court of Spirits
- Prisoner’s Pass
- The Frogmarsh
- Fort Victory
- Shoaljai Tar Pits
- Zo’bal Ruins
- The Dreadmire
- Old Merchant Road
- De Other Side
- Banshee’s Wail (ship)
- Dragonblight (Northrend, mentioned)
- Western Earthshrine
- Grommash Hold
- Arathi Higlands
- Thandol Span
- Stromgarde Keep
- Faldir’s Cove
- Southfury River
- Mount Hyjal
- The World Tree: Nordrassil
- The Banshee’s Wail — Sylvanas’ flagship now used by Nathanos and Sira for covert missions.
- The Bold Arva — ship christened by Flynn Fairwind. Flynn won it in a dice game.
- Baine Bloodhoof
- Lor’themar Theron
- First Arcanist Thalyssra
- Lillian Voss & Calia Menethil
- Trade-Prince Gazlowe
- Ji Firepaw
- Unknown (mag’har)
- Kiro (vulpera)
- Queen Talanji