Book Review: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King

It isn’t often that I read book versions of video games or movies. The only exceptions I can think of off the top of my head are books in the Halo and Star Wars universes. However my interest was piqued when I first saw Arthas advertised. My knowledge of the Lich King’s story was largely pieced together from watching my brother play Warcraft III and reading snippets on WoW Wiki. Then, of course, there was my time in World of Warcraft, the MMO, but that game largely deals with the Lich King after his rise to power. I still wanted an all encompassing source for his origin story, and I finally got it in Rise of the Lich King.

For those unfamiliar with the Warcraft universe, Arthas Menethil began as the prince of Lordaeron, born into royalty with a knack for being impulsive. We watch him through key points in his life, seeing his training as a boy and his induction into the Silver Hand, an order of Paladins that serve the light in the name of everything that is good. It isn’t until the threat of a new undead enemy reveals itself in his kingdom, that Arthas takes the protection of his people to the extreme. He then finds himself pursuing the very power that killed his people, letting it consume him little by little until he ascends the frozen throne.

This book gets a lot of things right. I thoroughly enjoyed the story behind his horse, Invincible, and how it affected him at a young age. And I also appreciated the clarification of his relationship with both Jaina Proudmoore and Sylvanas Windrunner. Both women, of which, you’ll find yourself marching with in the video game on a quest to destroy the Lich King. In the beginning of the book it makes a number of large jumps in time in order to explain the key moments in Arthas’s life. For the most part you can just run with it and not worry about everything that happened in between. However when the book draws to a close, the amount of story that the author needed to convey was too much to put in a single book. Therefore there are huge gaps missing and massive battles reduced to single paragraphs. Now I suspect a lot of these battles occurred in Warcraft III, so perhaps they thought that players wouldn’t like to read through the long battle sequences, which I can understand to an extent. However for someone who didn’t play Warcraft III, like myself, the end of the book felt rushed and, at times, incoherent. There were a number of principal stories occurring at the same time in Warcraft III and many of them were woven together; which is how Arthas was linked to Archimonde and Illidan. However the book couldn’t take time out to really explain the stories for these other two characters (or characters like Thrall and Medivh), so they feel tacked on. And it’s a difficult issue to address. When taken together these stories are immense but brilliantly meshed. When taken one at a time they are fractured and incomplete. So the only way she could have fixed it is to have a book that was three times as long, which wouldn’t have been as accessible and would have strayed too far from Arthas’s story. I suppose that’s why there are so many other books about Warcraft.

So, in the end, the book is pretty well written. It doesn’t have as much flowery description as other fantasy stories, and you might find yourself confused when the author jumps ahead over what seems like an important event. But despite those shortcomings you do get Arthas’s story in all its bloody glory. And it is a powerful story to see the prince fall. For that reason I have to give this book some real credit. It’s a book that is entirely the villain’s journey. There are heroes in the book, but it isn’t about them and it’s not about the triumph of good over evil. It’s about the Lich King and how he was created.

3 out of 5

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