As a rule, I don’t have a problem with Tie-In Fiction. I’m very much in the “you like what you like” camp and don’t think you should ever be ashamed of your reads.
The argument against tie-in fiction is often that it is of a lesser quality, that because it is work for hire, authors don’t give it the same attention they would their own creation. I don’t think that’s necessarily true any more.
However, I have encountered more than a couple of tie-ins which fail to capture the spirit of the property on which they are based, and just come across as “My book with characters from X in it”. I’m specifically thinking of a few Star Wars novels but (though I’ve not read it), I’ve heard a few people say this accusation could be levelled at the new Michael Moorcock Doctor Who novel.
The Shattering is a World of Warcraft novel, and specifically it’s the story of events leading up to the latest expansion, Cataclysm. There’s been a surprising amount that hasn’t been explained in-game, and this book serves as an explanation why certain racial leaders have changed, some zones have changed hands and there’s strife within the factions themselves.
Surprisingly, the amount of content the book needs to cover actually works against it in many ways. With two factions, the book has to walk a tightrope of ensuring both are equally catered for. The characters have been well established in Warcraft lore so as a result, character development is done via a quick bit of exposition. It’s difficult when working in another universe to show character development, and I will give credit that some was attempted here, but even Thrall stepping down as Warchief felt more about moving chess pieces around on a board than some form of natural character growth.
Golden tries to tie all the threads together through the use of Anduin Wrynn, a secondary character, and here is where there is the most character development. But ironically, the inclusion of the hearthstone (a feature in-game to return you back to your home inn to save you running all the way back) meant whenever Anduin was in trouble, you just felt he could hearth out of there. As a result, I never really felt the character was in threat, and therefore I didn’t find myself caring about him as much as I would have otherwise.
In the end, Golden just has too much to do here. There’s too much careful balancing and moving characters into position to really spend much time developing characters. As a result it feels like a very constrained novel. It’s plot gymnastics over actual story.
There’s also an awful lot of exposition, telling us what a character is like rather than showing us. I cannot read the passage below without each instance of the word ‘had’ ringing like a church bell in my ear.
“Drek’Thar had always had prophetic dreams and visions. It was a gift – a spiritual sight, as he no longer had physical sight. But since the War Against the Nightmare, the gift had grown teeth. His dreams had worsened during the dreadful time, and sleep promised not rest and refreshment, but terror. They had aged him and turned him from one who had been old but strong into a frail, sometimes querulous elder. He had hoped that with the defeat of the Nightmare, his dreams would return to normal. But while the intensity had lessened, his dreams still were very, very dark.”
I guess the important thing is that Golden has written a Warcraft novel rather than a novel with Warcraft characters in it. There’s a sense she really understands this game and its world, and that can’t be said for a lot of tie-in fiction. This is a book that is primarily for Warcraft fans, as I think general readers will just see some of the flaws I mention above. Which is a shame, I think had Golden had been able to tone down the exposition, give time for characters to develop naturally and worry less about giving both factions equal page space, she’d have turned out a much better novel.
As it is, I think fans of the game will find it a good Warcraft novel (which is the aim here). Sadly, it’s not a book to convince the general populace that tie-in fiction can be of an equal quality to original fiction though.