* spoiler alert: if you’re planning to read the novel, beware of this post :)
The Shadowlands prequel novel Shadows Rising by Madeleine Roux doesn’t serve exactly as a prequel, but rather another story in-between the two expansions.
I would criticize the writing style a bit. I’m not a fan of a fanfic writer’s habit to throw in unnecessary details from the game. For example, throwing in a list of feast dishes carefully re-written from a list of BfA cooking recipes, specifying a creature’s WoWhead/game name instead of just putting “boar meat” or “raptor meat”, telling that the wind felt cold like the wind from Waning Glacier… These things are meant to make us closer to the game experience, but frankly in most cases it’s just litter which cripples and harms the literature, making me cringe rather than nod with recognition.
Other than that, I’d say the writing is good. The story, the character development and the writing style are done well. And I’m glad to say that the quality of Warcraft books meets reasonable quality once again – a thing that actually happened not too many books ago.
So, what actually happened in Shadows Rising?
The world leaders are naturally busy with a hard search of Sylvanas all over Azeroth and with no tangible results.
Talanji storms out of the Horde’s Council and back to Zandalar, infuriated by their refuse to retaliate and attack the Proudmoores and Kul Tiras. Zekhan the Zappy Boy is sent along with her to serve as an ambassador of the Horde in Zandalar and to gradually negotiate the queen to return.
An Earthen Ring’s shaman approaches Thrall, telling him that there’s a great turmoil with the ancestors who don’t answer calls, something terribly wrong at the death realm. Thrall and Baine travel to Tyrande/Malfurion seat in Mount Hyjal to discuss the matter, only to listen to Tyrande’s unrelated tantrum how her people suffered in the war and no talks are possible, and Malfurion does not interfere. Thrall offers an apology on behalf of the Horde, but it’s clear that only Sylvanas’ head will be accepted as such.
In Arathi, a search party led by Turalion and Alleria, finds a group of peaceful Horde refugees who happened to share a night with a dark ranger on her way. They proceed to Faldir’s Cove to learn that the dark ranger has purchased a boat and headed west to Zandalar. Both a refugee undead who provided the information and a boatmaster who provided the boat are tortured by both Light and Void powers, Turalion and Alleria personally performing the task. Only the arrived Jaina’s interference saves the two, and the prisoners are taken to Stormwind for a humane, less brutal interrogation. This incindent disturbs Jaina a lot.
Flynn’s small ship, loaded with his faithful crew and Mathias Shaw, sails to Zandalar, following the lead from Arathi. Fairwind and Shaw are having an intimate conversation about their shameful past and rogue families, not something they are sharing right and left. The ship barely survives an unnatural storm by the coast of Zandalar. Just as they land, they find a confirmation of dark rangers’ presence (arrows) only to be then engaged by Zandalari guard. Shaw would stay on the shore to be imprisoned, and Flynn is ordered to flee and bring the news to the Alliance Royal Court.
Meanwhile in Zandalar the domestic affairs are rapidly rolling to hell. The population does not really approve Bwonsamdi as a loa of the kings, and are an easy target of a rebel group called Widow’s Bite, the followers of deceased Yazma. They are acting in shadows, using all the methods like pesruasion, threats, kidnapping and even almost successful attempts in regicide. Moreover, it turns out very quickly that the rebels (with the aid of the dark rangers and Nathanos) are slaughtering and destroying Bwonsamdi’s altars and worshipping communities in Nazmir: less followers = less loa power, and that weakens both Talanji and Bwonsamdi at large. It becomes clear that their final goal is the destruction of Bwonsamdi, Necropolis in Nazmir being their ultimate target. Zekhan pleads Talanji to seek aid from the Horde, but in her pride and anger she refuses.
Jaina and Thrall meet to discuss the dark ranger lead in Zandalar, as she unveils the result of the Alliance’s investigation and asks the Horde to help as the Alliance obviously can not set foot on Zandalar soil.
Talanji, ultimately weakened and almost devoid of her powers, leads a small expedition to Nazmir to try and protect the loa of kings. At the last moment a small troup of nightborne, orcs and tauren arrive to help, led by Thalyssra, Baine and Thrall. Talanji, with the kingdom falling out of her hands, accepts their aid, and the whole desperate troop of no more than a hundred soldiers travels to Necropolis.
The final showdown at the Necropolis is a success: the leader of Widow’s Bite and minor trolls are killed, dark rangers destroyed, and Nathanos teleports away using a vial with Sylvanas’ new shadow powers. Bwonsamdi himself holds a heroic defence. Thrall cracks the helmet of dark ranger Sira Moonwarden with a mighty blow, and she’s captured.
In Dazar’Alor, Talanji announces that every loa is needed and will be worshipped equally, winning the praise of her people. Peace is restored. By defending Bwonsamdi from his demise, she has won freedom from the loa of death by their deal, yet she decides to keep him as loa of the kings. They send Mathias back home on a smuggler ship. Talanji accepts her place at the Horde’s Council.
In Stormwind, Mathias returns home to be met by Flynn, Jaina and Anduin. Setting a date with Flynn later tonight, he urges the authorities to see something in the ship that brought him. It is revealed that Mathias has brought home not just news, but also a prisoner Sira Moonwarden and a letter from Thrall. Tyrande is summoned, as this is the gift meant for her. The letter from Thrall says: it is not what was promised, but it is a start. Tyrande acknowledges the attempt. She, Shandris and Maiev meet with the prisoner Sira in Stockades, and the Night Warrior’s ways are in question: does Tyrande wants to be as engulfed by hatred and vegeance as this broken creature?
The epilogue describes the Sylvanas/Bolvar cinematic, followed by Nathanos’ arrival. Nathanos tells her about his failure, and exiles himself to Marris Stead in Eastern Plaguelands, his former household. Sylvanas tells that Bwonsamdi’s demise would rather happen than not because he might interfere, yet she’s pretty confident that everything will play out as planned nevertheless.
“She would have more power, not for its own sake, but to wield it. The unjust ladder of their lives must be dismantled, not rung by rung, but all at once. All of it. She has been the plaything of a self-righteous cosmos long enough. The Jailer, too, understood what must be done. And she had merged with the shadows there already, part of the darkness at last”.