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This is a World of Warcraft courtroom drama.
It's played entirely serious.
Now, either this is awesome and hilarious at once or it's suspension of disbelief breaking. I lean more toward the former than the latter. Does it make sense that Baine Bloodhoof and Tyrande Whisperwind have either the training or formal speech patterns of a trial lawyer? No. Does it make sense that Azeroth has any of the legal traditions of a modern Western trial? I dunno, does it make sense Gnomes can build rocket-trains? No, but we love them anyway. Lastly, is it fun?
Yes, very much so.
Which is bizarre because this is about an unrepentant war criminal. High fantasy things like keeping the Red Dragon Aspect Alexstrasza as a slave to breed 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 genre, but it might qualify as satire. Fictional characters in an absurd (but awesome) fantasy world taking conduct in war more seriously than Earthlings today seem to be doing.
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 involved in these sorts of in-universe climatic battles because they almost never get even 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 from elevating the orcs above the other races, destroying island nation of Theramore, and worse. Both sides want him executed but Varian believed that having tried and found guilty would have a greater effect. They, thus, 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 continuing PTSD (albeit, a more violent form than in real-life), Anduin trying to understand the monstrous activities of Garrosh so he can offer him solace as a priest, and Vereesa Windrunner's simmering desire for revenge against her husband's killer. We also have a nice little bit of characterization from Sylvanas who has been see-sawing between good and evil for awhile now. I especially liked the take of the book on her, which is that Sylvanas is kinda-sorta evil but really mostly insane now.
Some might see it as a cop-out that Sylvanas is mentally ill but I think Christie Golden does an excellent job of illustrating just how twisted her 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? Even if the transformation is against your will? I think that's an appropriate question to ask as part of what makes Sylvanas so interesting is she's not just misunderstood but filled with spite and hatred from her eyes down to her toes. Whether she can recover from her current state 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 quite 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 over the who has helped develop this character better than anyone.
Still, mostly this book does very well in establishing why the Horde and the Alliance has 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 in the audience, however, he may come 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 broken man.
I regret this book never got into the head of Garrosh Hellscream. I would have been glad to have a point of view which finally gave us just what the hell he was thinking half-the-time. 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.