Much like its counterpart Dark Riders, World of Warcraft: Bloodsworn is long, long overdue. Luckily, those that have been waiting for the new graphic novel from writer Doug Wagner don't have long to wait -- Bloodsworn will be released next Tuesday, August 27. While Dark Riders tackled some of the Alliance characters introduced in the 2009 special issue of the Warcraft comic series, Bloodsworn tackles the Horde characters introduced in the final edition.
Although Dark Riders dove headfirst into familiar waters for those that follow Warcraft lore, Bloodsworn takes a different road entirely, giving us a behind the scenes glimpse of Garrosh's Horde. Taking place shortly after Cataclysm, Bloodsworn follows the tale of several different Horde characters, brought together and united to investigate and uncover the motives and actions of a seemingly new breed of centaur that are intent on wiping the Horde from the face of Azeroth.
The art for this book was done by Jheremy Raapack, who did a pretty stunning job capturing the raw, gritty nature of the Horde, Orgrimmar, and the myriad Kalimdor locations visited in Bloodsworn. Even the centaur, whose models are pretty bland in game, are drawn with attention to detail. Coloring for the book is pretty dark, however, and it sometimes makes the battle scenes a little hard to follow. This likely has less to do with the artist and more to do with the printing -- when the majority of the scenes take place at night, it's hard to pick up the nuances of color in print and still have those scenes look like night scenes.
As for the story, it's fairly straightforward. Garrosh has decided to create a new group of militia called the Garad'kra -- a name that is a nice throwback to Garrosh's roots in Garadar -- to patrol Kalimdor and report any possible problems back to Orgrimmar. Garrosh himself doesn't make an appearance in the book. Instead, it follows one group of Horde members who have all come together to join the Garad'kra. There's one major exception to that group -- the orc hunter Malgar has no interest in the Garad'kra, or even the Horde itself. He's a wandering hunter who has turned his back on the Horde and instead lives his life on his own, one of the orcs from the original war who decided to live his life as freely as possible.
But Malgar gets involved with a centaur attack in the Barrens, and it's there that he meets Ironhoof, a tauren who is traveling to Orgrimmar to sign up with the Garad'kra. Although thankful for the tauren's help, Malgar has no interest in going to Orgrimmar at all, having devoted his life to other pursuits. Ironhoof eventually continues his journey and meets up with the other members of the team -- the blood elf paladin Ashra, the forsaken warlock Felgrim, the troll druid Rada'jin, and the leader, an orc shaman named Shagara who uses her shaman powers with a recklessness and skill that suits her for that leadership role.
Centaur attacks have increased rapidly in the Barrens, and through separate investigations that eventually come together, both Malgar and Shagara's band of Garad'kra discover that the centaur are up to no good -- they're being led by centaur that look nothing like they've ever seen before. Larger, smarter, and far more evolved, for want of a better word, this new breed of centaur is intent on wiping out the Horde, and culling any weak centaur in favor of the new dynasty of super-centaur that have emerged as a result of the Cataclysm.
Although the centaur are a central part of the story, it's really the interactions between the different members of the Garad'kra that are the highlight of the book. They represent the individual races of the Horde, and their bickering and arguing serves as a mirror to the bickering and arguing of the races themselves. Ashra is out to improve his people's standing within the Horde, Rada'jin is desperate to show just how strong the trolls can be, Felgrim is making up for a mistake that hails back to Wrath of the Lich King -- each player in the story has their own reasons for being there, and none of the reasons really seem to mesh at all.
The story of Bloodsworn is told well enough -- nothing in the graphic novel is too confusing to follow, and the thing that unites all these disparate fighters is actually pretty cool, as is the end of the book. But for some reason, and I hate to say it because I loved Dark Riders so very much, this book really fell a little flat for me. It had nothing to do with the art or the actual writing and dialogue, so much as the story itself. It was interesting, but it didn't really hold my attention as much as Dark Riders did -- there wasn't that tie to existing lore that Dark Riders had with the Scythe of Elune.
When it comes down to it, I think the major problem I had with Bloodsworn wasn't the story, the artwork, the characters, or anything to do with the tale -- it has much more to do with the time placement of the tale in the timeline, in light of what's going on today. Bloodsworn takes place shortly after Cataclysm, well before Garrosh's plans in Tides of War, or the events of Mists of Pandaria. Each of these characters are fighting to prove themselves in Garrosh's Horde, some, like Rada'jin, absolutely desperate to prove their place within it. They come together and manage to best their foes and unite and have a triumphant ending -- which is great!
The problem isn't the book. The problem is that I already know the end to this tale, and it's not the pleasant end shown in the book. Sure, the characters may be trying to prove themselves in Garrosh's Horde, but Garrosh doesn't give a flying flip about these people or their races, save for perhaps Shagara -- I suspect Malgar's original defection from the Horde wouldn't sit right in the eyes of Hellscream. The blood elves, the forsaken, the tauren, the trolls -- they all have no place in the current army of the Horde. Garrosh simply doesn't care at best, at worst, he holds out and out contempt and disgust for them.
Because of this, it's difficult to read this book and see these characters so invested in a Horde that cares so very little for them. They express a loyalty and conviction that instead of being inspiring, is simply really, really sad, given what we know of the Horde today. Reading it, I had a continual sinking feeling in my stomach, imagining what these characters are doing in the Horde of today and suspecting it has something to do with those spikes atop Orgrimmar. Had this book been released two years ago, in the midst of Cataclysm, this review would likely be a very different one -- but as it stands, the tale is almost too little, too late in light of the Garrosh presented in Mists.
Does this mean you should avoid the book? I don't think so -- keep in mind this is just one reviewer's opinion, and I spend a lot more time than usual entrenched in the lore of Warcraft, so these things occur to me while I am reading. When I could put aside that sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach, forget about Mists of Pandaria and simply focus on the book, it was a good book -- it was just difficult for me to separate what I already know from what was going on in the graphic novel. Bloodsworn is really well done, entertaining, and honestly I wouldn't mind seeing what these individual characters are up to now, in light of current events in the Horde. Watching a character go from blind devotion to questioning that devotion, to me, would be an interesting followup.
If nothing else, Bloodsworn gives us a glimpse of that Horde of not-so-long-ago -- a Horde that had a bright vision of the future and every confidence in Thrall's chosen replacement, before he began his descent into power-hungry megalomania. A Horde that Vol'jin speaks of so fervently when trying to persuade players to join the Darkspear Rebellion. A family -- a family of misfits, to be certain, but a family that shows a depth of love and devotion to each other as fierce and tenacious as their struggle for survival in a world that cares little for their existence.
The hardcover of Bloodsworn, written by Doug Wagner with artwork by Jheremy Raapack, is available for purchase on Amazon for $18.53, to be released next Tuesday. Amazon also has a Kindle version of the book for $12.99, or for Nook users, you can find it on Barnes and Noble for $13.99.