By happy circumstance Amazon saw fit to deliver my copy of "Wolfheart" by Richard Knaak early. I will be totally honest here and state that I was not waiting with baited breath by my door like I was for Christie Golden's "Thrall: The Twilight of the Aspects" or "The Shattering". It was not due to the subject matter. King Varian Wyrnn and the Worgen are certainly topics to inspire conversation and interest. Rather it was Knaak's track record when dealing with this type of subject matter.
To often, what the reader expects to be the focus of the book (BLIZZARD's Lore and crafted characters) are instead lost or over shadowed by Knaak's own creations. Surprisingly this was not the case with this book (UNLESS you count one specific character Knaak introduced in the "War of the Ancient's Trilogy") and Blizzard decided to include within current game play. Rather what Knaak does in this volume is spends the majority of the time focused on the back drop of the story (which is the current troubles in Night Elf society) and the title character becomes secondary until the very end.
Another major issue I had with this book was time line. I found it rather difficult to figure out exactly WHEN this book was to have taken place. It is obviously AFTER the Cataclysm and Malfurion and Tyrande's wedding. Gilneas has already fallen yet is not yet considered a part of the Alliance. THIS point is made abundantly clear. However the Council of Three Hammers has already been created or at least that is the impression given. What causes my confusion? Varian's attitude toward the Gilneans and King Genn in particular. Those who have done the the Worgen and Forsaken starting zones know that Stormwind send the 7th to assist Gilneas. If there were the tensions that Knaak eludes to how in the world would this have come about? There are other instances of timeline flow I will discuss later.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
Now to the specifics of the story.
The book begins with a rather disjointed attempt at laying out the cast of characters. The veteran commander attempting to protect Ashenvale from another invasion by the Horde. An Orc Sea Captain with a special cargo to deliver to his new Warchief for an audacious plan designed to bring the Alliance to its knees. The Worgen and their King trying to find a place in the world after years of isolation. Night Elf society as it attempts to deal with mortality and all the challenges that brings, the return of the Highborn, and hosting a gathering of the Alliance under its branches.
Several story lines or questions left hanging in game are answered or at least addressed in this book which is nice. There is some continuity between this book and Ms Golden's works. First Knaak deals with where Jerod Shadowsong has been all these years and exactly why he disappeared. (In game we first see him in Mt Hyjal as a prisoner of the Twilight Hammer, again it is hard to say when exactly in the time line that event would fall.) The subject of what became of Jerod's sister Maiev after the death of Illidan is also resolved, though her present whereabouts are a mystery. Mr Knaak also spells out WHY the Alliance, the Night elves specifically are turning to Stormwind, more importantly its troubled King during these turbulent times.
Varian's troubled past is again rehashed briefly along with his more recent difficulties regarding his son. With the help of the Worgen, he finds resolution to all the various traumas he has faced in his life. This grants the Alliance the leader they so desperately need and cementa the relationship between Gilneas and Stormwind forever. Knaak also takes the time to further explore the significance of Varian's Lo'gosh nick name.
The Highborn have returned with all their arrogance still intact. They can not understand why the other Night Elves continue to feel uncomfortable about using Arcane Magic. They have no problems with their ALLIES using it! Not only that but instead of thinking of comfort all any one wants to do is think about the trees and wild life! It is miserable! The younger ones chafe at each slight. Only the elders who understand their precarious position keep everyone in line. Then Highborn start turning up murdered just as the Alliance summit is about to start. Suspicion is ripe.
To add to the tensions Mulfurion has insisted that the Worgen of Gilneas be granted sanctuary in Darnassas until their fate can be determined by the rest of the Alliance members. He feels responsible for them. As a result of his decision to place the Druids of the Pack within a pocket of the Emerald Dream, they were later discovered by Arugal, thus the people of Gilneas became infected in the first place.
Further more Mulfurion and his wife are feeling their age. For a race that was once immortal, they are still very long lived. Death was once a rare thing brought on by foolishness or war, now they are coming to realize, it is becoming a more immediate part of their life. After 10,000 years, bones are starting to ache, wrinkles to appear and all those signs they have seen in the "younger races", especially the humans, are staring them in the face. The burdens of leadership weigh heavily on them.
Then Tyrande has a vision. While Mulfurion is unclear how it can come to fruition he pledges himself to assisting in bringing it about. In a seeming reversal of roles Tyrande is the one who heads off to war against the Horde and to protect Ashenvale against Garrosh, while Mulfurion is left to deal with a broken King Varian, along with a murderer stalking Darnassas.
Anduin seems to be the one of the few males who isn't given to self flagellation in this book...perhaps it is because he is still to young? Thankfully Knaak kept him as strong as Ms Golden did in The Shattering. It is Anduin defying his father, abandoning him to follow his calling and seek training with Velen that pushes Varian to the breaking point. Mulfurion takes advantage of the situation and sets Varion up. Forcing him to face his past, prejudices and inner fears as this is the only way he can ever truly heal and become whole once more.
Garrosh when he is seen again is rather two dimensional. Willing to do whatever it takes to show his "worthiness" to be Warchief. Believing if he could just manage to do what neither his Father nor Thrall accomplished he will then prove beyond a shadow of a doubt he DESERVES to be heir to their Horde and remove any lingering questions about his tarnished honor. Taking outrageous risks at times bring him victory but at great cost. Still rather single minded in his focus he continues to under estimate his opponents. When faced with the fact that his mid battle duel with King Varian has been interrupted, it is only the fact that his guards are willing to be executed rather than have him return to the fight that forces him to change direction.
Over all I have to give this book faint praise. While it wrapped up several loose ends, they were not necessarily done neatly. I had my suspicions about the identity about the "murderer" very early so even that came as no great shock. It served its purpose but not with any great depth.