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Literature / The War of the Ancients

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The War of the Ancients by Richard A. Knaak is a Warcraft novel trilogy set in the Warcraft Expanded Universe. It chronicles the events of the titular War of the Ancients where the Night Elves fight against the Burning Legion and attempt to save the planet from total annihilation. The story is noteworthy for the fact that it stars three characters from the present day Azeroth time line who travel back to the event and enact subtle changes (though one of the three characters also exists as his past self in that time). Many believe that the book was written to actually justify some of the changes to the Warcraft time line. Despite that, a few of the most grievous retcons in the book remain unanswered in the game, and vica versa.

Books in the trilogy:

  • The Well of Eternity
  • The Demon Soul
  • The Sundering

This trilogy contains examples of:

  • Artifact of Doom: The Dragon/Demon Soul. The Old Gods wispers corrupted Neltharion, and even Furion struggles to fight against it.
  • Atop a Mountain of Corpses: Brox in his Dying Moment of Awesome.
  • Badass Normal: Jarod Shadowsong. With Ravencrest, he's the only character with no magic powers or super strength (like Brox and the Tauren), but is a very good strategist, a good fighter and in the end faces Archimonde himself, and doesn't quit even if he knows he can't win.
  • Bad Boss: Standard for Archimonde. He kills one of his felguard when annoyed that he can't break the magic protecting Tyrande, and later when his army starts retreating from the demigods, he gets so pissed he starts melting the flesh off all of them till they get back in the fight.
  • Big Bad: Sargeras, or that's what he thinks...
  • Bodyguard Crush: Varo'then toward Azshara, but only on his side.
  • Came Back Wrong: Xavius. Not that he was good before...
  • Characterization Marches On: The trilogy depicts the Old Gods as being more powerful than Sargeras. Years later the lore would Retcon this and state that the Old Gods still possess power far beyond mortals, but the Titans were planet sized entities so even the Old Gods are insignificant next to them.
  • Continuity Cameo: Maiev Shadowsong, Lady Vashj, Dath'Remar Sunstrider and Shandris Feathermoon, while being more than just cameos, may count as this.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jarod has the misfortune of facing Archimonde, in which he only survives because the latter was toying with him, and he's fully aware of it.
  • Decadent Court: The Highborn seem to be almost uniformly evil and willing to kill over the slightest changes in status. Although to be fair about 1/3 do realize that Azshara has lost it, and some of them even stay behind to give the others time to get away.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: How the heroes try to stop Sargeras from coming in Azeroth. Combined with...
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?:
    • Brox actually manages to wound Sargeras by driving his ax into the Titan's foot. To put this in context, Sargeras is The Devil of Azeroth. Of course, even with the help of a magical ax given to him by a demigod he only manages to give him a small scratch, but that's very impressive nonetheless. It's actually the only thing that manages to hold off Sargeras long enough for the portal to close. Not because it hurts him in any serious way, but because of sheer surprise that it happened.
  • The Dragon: Sargeras has Archimonde, who himself has Mannoroth and Hakkar. Azshara has Xavius and Varo'then.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Since Sargeras can't enter the world until there is a large enough portal, Archimond acts the biggest direct threat from the Burning Legion.
  • The Dreaded: Archimonde, who Mannoroth mentions he's "almost" as afraid of him as he is Sargeras.
  • Egopolis: Zin-Azshari, or "Glory of Azshara". Not enough for Azshara though, who wants it renamed "Azshara", period.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The three Old Gods responsible for Neltharion's corruption and the whole time travel
  • Even the Girls Want Her:
    • Vashj and Tyrande experience this when they meet Azshara.
    • In fact, demons want her too. Demons in Warcraft are beings who cannot think of anything but pure, unfiltered hatred for all living things. They fall in love with her. That she thought she could woo even Sargeras is less a display of egotism and arguably more of a sultry self confidence.
    • In one scene with Illidan it's heavily implied that she's enhancing her natural appeal with magic, but so subtly that nobody actually notices. Illidan himself is somewhat victim to it, even when he notices and despite his own skill in magic.
  • Fake Defector: Unlike in the original timeline, Illidan only pretended to switch sides. His plan was to take the Dragon Soul and use it to close the portal.
  • Fantastic Racism: Most of the Night Elves, even the non-evil ones.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • For Illidan. Being locked up in a cave for the rest of your life is bad enough when you're mortal. But when you're immortal then it is just insane.
    • In World of Warcraft, you can find Varo'then's ghost. Apparently, his punishment for betraying Kalimdor was literally to roam the earth forever after his death. When you find him in World of Warcraft, it's been more than 10,000 years since the War of the Ancients!
    • Xavius experiences this after Furion defeats him the first time. Apparently Sargeras wasn't terribly happy about the first portal's destruction.
    • Furion turns down Hakkar's over to take him alive as he quickly realizes that if the Burning Legion doesn't want to kill him immediately, it's because they have something much worse in mind.
  • Flanderization: Illidan gets this to a noticeable degree. However, even at his worst, he's not pure evil.
  • Foregone Conclusion: If you are familiar with Warcraft III, you should know the fate of Illidan and Azshara, or how the war ends. However, due to the time traveling involved, several things are different from the backstory given in the Warcraft III manual. Whether or not this has any impact on the characters involved going forward is debatable
  • Friend to All Living Things:
    • Played with by Queen Azshara who, as a sorceress (and one of the most powerful magic-users), easily makes friend with monstrous felhunter demons.
    • Played straight with Cenarius.
  • Gambit Roulette:
    • The Plan of the Old Gods for their comeback. One could think its this trope because they need Illidan to be driven by Xavius to go with the Legion, where he could think of using the Dragon Soul to open a portal, then succeed finding where it is hidden and stealing it from Deathwing before the good guys. However, as they are apparently able to modify history and influence events and peoples, it is entirely plausible.
    • It was originally a lot more simple, actually: influencing Neltharion/Deathwing to create the Dragon Soul and bringing it near the well where they could use its power to free themselves and at the same time fatally weakening the Dragonflights, their worst enemy. It's when Neltharion grows too attached to the artifact to give it up that they have to improvise.
    • It's even simpler than that. According to Krasus, significantly altering the Azeroth timeline would "rip Time apart," which would unmake the Old Gods' prison. They chose to change the outcome of the War of the Ancients to accomplish this, but it didn't necessarily have to happen in that super-specific way. They just wanted either the demons or Neltharion to come out on top instead of the mortals.
  • General Failure: Desdel Stareye doesn't know a thing about how to fight a war yet thinks he should be in charge by virtue of being a nobleman. This is even more jarring since there are noblemen who know how to fight, like Lord Ravencrest, who, unfortunately, ends up being killed by one of Azshara's assassins. His "brilliant" plan involves marching straight into enemy lines, which results in many casualties when the demons spring their (fairly obvious) trap. The only consolation is that Stareye himself dies as a result, leaving the much more competent Jarod Shadowsong (a commoner) in charge. Additionally, his Fantastic Racism results in him putting the Tauren, Furbolg, and Earthen (proto-Dwarves) forces in the support role, when they're much more useful on the front lines. Heck the only reason he let them in is because Rhonin threatened to quit, which would have prompted Brox and others to leave which would have decimated the low morale.
  • Hope Spot:
    • For the night elf army, Neltharion/Deathwing annihilating the demon army with his weapon. Cool, we're saved! Wait, what's he doing?
    • When Illidan and the others spot the dragons, they cheer , assuming that the tide has turned. Rhonin also spots them, and immediately starts muttering "No" under his breath; he knows what this means, but is utterly powerless to change the outcome.
    • There's another one, when Stareye's simple battle plan appears to be working with his "wedges" breaking through the demons' lines... then the demons spring their trap.
  • Informed Attribute:
    • Azshara is supposedly very powerful, with Mannoroth stating that she is only behind Sargeras, Archimonde, and possibly Kil'jaeden in terms of power for the Legion's forces. We never really see her use this power though, save for her apparently being a Barrier Warrior who could hold Mannoroth off rather easily.
    • We do see some of it when Illidian sees her with the eyesight Sargeras gave him and notices that much of the adoration she gets comes from her magic, and even though he's aware of it, he has difficulty fighting it.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Broxigar quotes this almost word for word before leaping through the portal to his inevitable demise via Heroic Sacrifice.
    Brox: Farewell, wizard! It is my honor to have fought beside you and the rest!
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Illidan keeps some vials of the Well of Eternity's water and attempts to create a new one. This leads to him being imprisoned just like in the original timeline. Illidan defends his actions by saying the Burning Legion will return in the future. He's right about that point.
  • Karmic Death: Varo'then says he doesn't care if Kalimdor is destroyed. His death at Malfurion's hands is said to be Kalimdor rejecting him in turn.
  • Love Triangle: Illidan wants Tyrande, who loves Malfurion instead and gets together with him.
  • Meaningful Name: The "ronin" were masterless samurai in feudal Japan. The mage Rhonin is a maverick, trusting his own opinion more than that of his superiors.
  • The Mentor: Krasus toward Malfurion. Rhonin tried it on Illidan, but failed. He tries to curb Illidan's brutal methods. Illidan takes Rhonin's interest in him as a another sign that Illidan is someone of great importance. He was right... to an extent.
  • Neck Snap: This is how Archimonde kills Malorne, the White Stag. Subverted in that it takes even the demon a lot of effort to do so. Then again, killing a demigod shouldn't be easy.
  • Noble Bigot: Kurtalos Ravencrest is somewhat xenophobic (he reluctantly accepts Brox Krasus and Rhonin, and even then because they had proven themselves) but he does genuinely care about his people and is a competent general (though Desdel is just a bigot.)
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Burning Legion in a nutshell.
  • Orphaned Etymology: Night elf society is referred to as "draconian" in the first book.
  • Physical God: Sargeras, Lord of the Burning Legion. Krasus bluntly tells everyone that if every single demon of the Burning Legion comes through the portal, they have a tiny chance of winning. But if every single demon is defeated and Sargeras still comes through, then they lose. Period.
  • Portal Cut: Sargeras is halfway through the Well of Eternity's portal when it's forcefully closed, causing him to "cease to be" (although his spirit has shown up later in The Last Guardian, albeit only a part of him).
  • Remember the New Guy?: Hakkar, who was apparently around during the events of Reign of Chaos even though he wasn't in the game. Most dialogue, however, implies he wasn't too significant a leader and as we do see in World of Warcraft, there are commanders in the Burning Legion besides the characters we saw in Reign of Chaos.
  • Spanner in the Works: The heroes may have won the war against the Burning Legion, but what stopped the Old Gods from breaking out of their prison was that they didn't expect Deathwing to be so attached to the Dragon Soul.
  • Temporal Paradox: Averted. Apparently, you can change the past. Notably, this book has more than a few situations which really should result in paradoxes (or at least massive changes in the timeline), but don't. Most notably, the earthen participating in the battle should have radically changed dwarven history since these were their ancestors, at least to some degree. The only major change is the Blue Dragonflight being saved from total annihilation, allowing them to become enemies in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King.
  • Time Police: The role of the Dragon Aspect of Time, apparently. Later shown that the entire Bronze Dragonflight is this.
  • Universally Beloved Leader: Everyone loves Queen Azshara, despite the fact she's totally batshit insane.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Until the very end, the main characters are the only ones who know Azshara is not captured by the demons. A few do suspect so, but decide not to bring it up because it would turn pretty much everyone else against them. Which makes everyone (at least, the night elves) confused when an assassin kills Ravencrest while screaming her name.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Neltharion, at first. Also some of the Highborn.
  • Whip of Dominance Hakkar can summon and control demons with his whip.
  • World Tree:
    • In the end, how the dragons deal with the new Well.
    • There was also another one before it, which acted as Heaven for all winged creatures (including dragons). Unfortunately, when the demigod who created it was killed by the demons, the tree died. A seed was left that was used to create the one over the new Well.
  • Yandere: Lady Vashj tries to kill Tyrande out of jealousy, wanting to be Azshara's favored.
  • You Have Failed Me: While he initially fears the straight version of this, Mannoroth experiences a mild case of this from Archimonde, but all it amounts to is Archimonde berating him for failing and taking over his job. Sargeras plays it straight by torturing Xavius, but gives that as just a warning not to screw up again before reviving him and sending him back to Kalimdor. It still got his point across since Xavius considered Sargeras' punishment worse than dying.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Brox, fighting the demons in their homeworld after going through the portal. He does such a good job that Sargeras himself comes to eliminate him. In his last moments, Brox becomes the only known mortal to ever wound Sargeras, chopping a tiny wound in his armor with his magic axe..

Alternative Title(s): War Of The Ancients