Yes, it is another Manga review. I recently received a good stack of them to go through so don't be surprised to see a bunch of these in the near future. Yes, my old prejudices are still in place. I am still not a big fan of Manga and I still don't really care for Richard Knaak. However Blizzard seems quite pleased with him so he keeps popping out stories at their behest. The newest one is from their class specific series World of Warcraft: Mage. This time the artist is Ryo Kawakami. Kawakami is better known for his work in Boys-love Japanese Manga. I will try to keep the first part of this review general and give warning before going into more detail.
Lets begin with the artwork. One thing I can say for Mr. Kawakami's style is that his male characters do not display the same overwhelmingly effeminate characteristics often seen in Manga, this is something I greatly appreciate about his work. On the other hand the shading is a little muddy at times, but since the over all lines are so dark it really doesn't make to much of a difference. The divisions between panels flow well, giving clear guidance to the progression of the story. Further more his effects drawing is subtle, allowing you to see that dramatic things are going on without overwhelming the characters themselves.
Since we are of course dealing with Mages and most importantly Dalaran specifically it is no surprise that Richard Knaak was chosen to pen this particular story. Since you know how I feel about him and why from previous reviews lets just skip that. His golden boy Rhonin has about equal page time as the main character of the story, a young student by the name of Aodhan Falamar. Aodhan's story is told by flipping between current events and flash backs to give you a better understanding as to who he is exactly.
Spoiler Alert! The following is a basic out line of the book so if you don't want to know, skip it.
The book begins with Aodhan already a student at Dalaran, it quickly becomes apparent that his teachers push him harder and expect more from him that his class mates, however he is unclear as to why. You learn that Aodhan is from a family of warriors, not mages. In fact only one other family member was a mage and that was a much maligned uncle. Aodhan's older brother is a Captain in the Silver Hand. (Ok, here is where I again go off on Knaak. The Silver hand is a PALADIN organization yet Knaak is VERY clear that the Falamar's are a family of WARRIORS, so why the brother would have rank in a Paladin organization makes NO sense to me.) It is clear that Aodhan's father has no love for the Magi, considering them cowards at best, traitors at worse. Both he and Aodhan's older brother go to great lengths to express their distaste for the entire discipline. Aodhan's father also shows contempt for Aodhan himself, stating that all he is good for is to be a farmer. Only the uncle ever sees promise in him or offers words of encouragement. When the boy expresses interest in going to Dalaran to study magic like his uncle, he is disowned.
Dalaran is under attack by the blue dragon flight the entire duration of the story so all of the senior magi are focused on its defense. Rhonin is of course directing the defense, but other notable npcs like Archmage Modera are also acknowledged as taking part. Aodham and his class mates are sent to a safer area at the heart of Dalaran, but as they are relocating his teacher receives a mind to mind communication from Rhonin requesting that Aodham specifically go to the Violet Hold to aid the magi there. Bewildered by the command the instructor never the less sends Aodham on his way alone.
Awaiting Aodham in the Violet Hold is not the senior magi he was told he would find but instead his thought to be deceased Uncle. Aodham discovers that it was actually his UNCLE who called for him, deceiving the instructor. What follows is the uncle guiding Aodham through Dalaran promising that only HE will be able to save the city. While the boy is confused by this pronouncement his reverence and respect for his uncle drives him to believe. However it is not to long before Aodham begins to question his uncle's motivations and loyalties.
When Aodham finally realizes his uncle is in fact a servant of Malygos, using him to undermine the defenses of Dalaran it is to late. The Magi are spread to thin dealing both with the escaped prisoners from Violet Hold as well as the endless onslaught from the Blue Dragon flight. In the end Aodham is left to decide who he will follow, the once beloved Uncle or the precepts he has been taught by the Kirin'Tor. His choice could mean the difference between Dalaran literally falling from the sky or surviving another day.
As most of Knaak's stories consist of the hero being HIS character rather than the established lore figures I can't claim to be surprised that the story follows this pattern. The individual who he has come in at the last moment to "save the day" can be predicted almost from the first page. While Aodham is a likable enough kid, the idea that he would be in complete ignorance of why he is getting singled out up until this point just feels...wrong. Continuously through out the story he is over hearing hints about himself, but his response is mixed. Half the time he is displayed as precocious, determined to follow in Rhonin's and his uncle's footsteps as a maverick. The other half as a obedient child, following his elders explicitly despite his personal reservations.
Overall I wouldn't say it was a BAD book, just...not very fulfilling. There are no great surprises contained within it. No new lore that people should be aware of. Aodham just seems to be a random character that no one knows about, that saves the world as we know it from destruction. Perhaps we should think of him as similar to a player. While World of Warcraft: Death Knight dealt with fleshing out the lore of established Npcs, Aodham is a unknown element outside of his individual story, his impact only on those who take the time to read it.