Garrosh Hellscream is perhaps one of World of WarCraft‘s most contentious characters. Introduced as part of a quest line that eventually saw the Orcs of Outland reuniting with their brothers and sisters on Azeroth, he is the son of Grom Hellscream, he who first partook of the Pit-Lord Mannoroth’s blood and paved the way for the curse of his race. And yet, he is also the son of Grom Hellscream, he who avenged his people on Mannoroth by slaying the demon. Garrosh has been torn between two extremes since we first saw him and in recent years, as he took on the mantle of Warchief from Thrall, he has slid further and further into his own games and illusions, leading to one of the most momentous moments in World of WarCraft history.
For towards the end of the Mists of Pandaria expansion, players were witness and participants to a raid on Orgrimmar itself, whether they were from the Horde or the Alliance, in a bit to stop Garrosh in another of his apocalyptic schemes. The insane Warchief was defeated and would have died at Thrall’s hand but for the intervention of none other than King Varian Wrynn. And now, in Mists of Pandaria: War Crimes, we are all witness to Garrosh’s trial, an unprecedented event that draws in all the leaders of Azeroth’s various races to Pandaria. Christie Golden recaps much of her previous WarCraft work in this novel, and goes to show that Garrosh is a far more complex than anyone believed him to be, and that contradictions are in his very nature. Needless to say, this was a most fascinating read.
Christie doesn’t waste time in getting to the heart of the matter in War Crimes. Garrosh has cheated certain death for now, but an even greater fate awaits him. The Pandaren have convened a trial for the former Warchief, for in his mad quest of power and vengeance, he desecrated one of heir most sacred sites and the crime is great indeed. The leaders of all the major factions of Azeroth are then called to witness and take part, with the jury of the trial being the Celestial, mystical beings revered by the Pandaren who have chosen to take a direct hand in matters. And to the dismay of all involved, the Celestials have decreed that since Garrosh is formerly of the Horde, his Defender will be from the Horde, while his Accuser will be from the Alliance.
Insanity ensues of course, since the leaders of the Horde hate Garrosh as much as they hate anyone in the Alliance, probably more. Garrosh insulted and sidelined Sylvanas and Lor’themar at every turn during his tenure. He bullied and forced Baine to do what he wanted. He nearly had Vol’jin assassinated. And his insanity nearly tore the Horde apart. And to add further salt to the wound, the Horde leaders are forced to choose Baine himself as the Defender, since despite his misgivings and his experiences with Garrosh, he is also the only one who can do the job with dedication and fairness. A hard task indeed.
So that then is the setting of the novel. There is an incredible amount of things going on here. Representatives of the Bronze Dragonflight are called in to help with the trial, presenting visions of Garrosh’s various mad actions, as well as to “prove” the statements made by the witnesses called in by Baine to defend Garrosh (poor Baine!) and by Tyrand Whisperwind to condemn Garrosh (go Tyrande!). This neat narrative trick allows Christie Golden to revisit some of the most defining moments of Garrosh’s life and also those of the people he has affected, on both sides of the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde.
What Christie does here is tell a really complex story as she explores all of what Garrosh has done, and the impact that his actions have had on the world of Azeroth itself. A world already suffering from the effects of the Cataclysm, literally torn at the heart, was further imperiled when he gave wholesale license to his shaman and warlocks to abuse it further. He destroyed an entire city and murdered uncountable people. He polluted one of the most sacred regions in all of Pandaria and unleashed horrors locked up for ages. He betrayed his allies and his people, had them killed and murdered. And yet, we never really learned his motivations for doing so. War Crimes goes a long way to address many of his transgressions in that way and show what drove this Orc hero, the son of a traitor and hero alike.
Ultimately, War Crimes isn’t just a character study of Garrosh Hellscream himself, it is also a story about healing. Vereesa Windrunner, Baine Bloodhoof, Jaina Proudmoore, Anduin Wrynn. These are the characters most affected by Garrosh in his quest for dominance over the world. And there is some healing for all of them. They are able to connect with their families, their people, their faith in a way never before. The road has been particularly hard for them, and it is nice to see that Christie takes the time to flesh them all out further and give them a strong voice in Garrosh’s trial.
But of course, that’s not everything. Vol’jin, Sylvanas, Varian, Thrall and others also leave their own footprint on this story. The amazing thing here is just how many enemies Garrosh made since becoming Warchief. And they all clamour for his blood, whether through the trial or a… shortcut. For yes, there are some leaders who want the former Warchief to die ignobly and not go through what is undoubtedly a sham trial, or so they think. And so Christie delves into this aspect too, and the balance between the different viewpoints is fascinating indeed.
Ultimately, War Crimes does stand as one of the best WarCraft novels to date. The ending along is worth getting to that point and it makes for a really fun read. So many twists and turns in the lead-up and you are never bored. Garrosh’s own contradictory reactions to the trial, as well as to the identities of his Defender and Accuser, they are gold. He surprises you. Deep down, there is an Orc warrior who cares for his people and wants them to be ascendant in all they do. But surrounding that noble and proud Orc hero is a madman’s disguise, an insane leader who thinks nothing of committing genocide and slaughter and desecration to achieve his own indeed.
Just who is Garrosh Hellscream, a hero or a traitor or both?
Well, you’re gonna have to read the book to really find out! And be prepared to go through some of the more significant events of WarCraft history as well, such as the raid by Durotan Frostwolf and Orgrim Doomhammer on a Draenai city, first seen in Christie’s Rise of the Horde. Some really big moments.