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To sleep-perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come...
Hamlet (III, i, 65-68)
Hamlet has the right of it when applied to Richard Knaak's latest World of Warcraft novel, Stormrage. A mysterious sleeping 'sickness' is stalking the denizens of Azeroth without regard to race, allegiance or station in life. Chief among the sleepers is archdruid Malfurion Stormrage. Elune's high priestess and leader of the Night Elves, Tyrande Whisperwind, watches in desperation as it becomes increasingly clear that Malfurion is dying, and with him, Azeroth. Horde and Alliance members across the world are falling victim to the horrifying sleeping sickness as the border between the Emerald Dream, now nightmare, and the waking world blurs. It falls to Tyrande, druid Broll Bearmantle and a united Azeroth to save Malfurion, the Emerald Dream and the world itself from a festering, yet familiar, evil.
Stormrage is Knaak's ninth foray into Azeroth and the world he describes will be instantly familiar to players of World of Warcraft. Knaak seamlessly incorporates online lore into a well-written story. The basic plot develops quickly and builds to a terrific climax. The story will keep readers turning the pages as the main plot expands from Malfurion's sickness to the entire population of Azeroth. Knaak incorporates some ingenious plot twists to keep readers guessing as the story see-saws back and forth between a wide variety of characters and locations. All of the varied subplots build to a great ending.
Not only does Knaak bring known characters and events into the Stormrage from the online world, but he also spends time building the back story for those who are, perhaps, less familiar with Azeroth. Knaak's careful examination of the past and descriptions of the characters are very well done and are written to fit the story rather than seeming to be "stuck into it" to make it accessible to non-WoW players.
The only criticism of Stormrage that I have is the somewhat stilted language of the writing at times. Knaak seems to be working very hard to give the words a high-fantasy sounding tone. That said, the way Knaak writes is, from my experience, pretty typical of the way role players speak in online fantasy gaming world. So it's a small criticism at best and one that didn't truly bother me very much in the end. The story is good enough to forget a niggling irritation.
Fans of World of Warcraft will love Stormrage, hands down. Readers who love fantasy novels will also find a lot to like in the book as I did even as someone who has never played World of Warcraft. Stormrage has an epic feel to it and a page turning quality that is hard to deny. It is well worth the price to read.