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When I first heard that Blizzard Entertainment was going to produce an authoritative guide to the world of Diablo, I think I let loose a very undignified squeal of glee. Like many fans, I find the long wait for Diablo 3 to be a bit dispiriting, and the ‘Book of Cain’ looked like it might help tide me over until the game is released in 2012.
Historically, the Diablo series tended to emphasize action over storytelling. Players do not have to engage in elaborate conversations with NPCs, and it is possible to play the games without paying any attention to the underlying lore. As the series progressed, its mythology inevitably became more and more complicated, and Blizzard eventually commissioned several novels set in the Diablo universe. While their prose often left something to be desired, these books introduced important story elements to the series’ backstory.
The ‘Book of Cain’ takes material from the previous game manuals and the novels and reworks it into a coherent whole. Written by veteran screenwriter Flint Dille (if you are a fan of the old ‘G. I. Joe’ or ‘Transformers’ cartoons, you have probably seen his work), it purports to be an in-game artifact created by recurring NPC Deckard Cain.
As Cain reaches the end of his life, he plans to impart his knowledge to his adoptive niece, Leah. In doing so, he provides her with a narrative guide to the world of Sanctuary, starting with the creation of the cosmos and working his way down to the events that mark the beginning of Diablo 3. Longtime fans of the series will find much that is familiar, but there is enough new material to make the book a worthwhile read.
The inclusion of new material may rankle some fans. There are a number of places where story elements have been retconned. For example, the nameless Warrior from the first game is now called Aidan, and he has been transformed into the eldest son of the grief-stricken king whose madness played a central role in the Diablo story.
Some of the material from the Sin War trilogy has also been adjusted. While purists may greet these changes with angst, more sanguine fans will likely be able to accept them as inevitable side effects of writing about a fictional world whose ‘history’ has steadily evolved over the past fifteen years.
The ‘Book of Cain’ is lavishly illustrated, including several pieces by legendary fantasy artist Brom. Some of the illustrations have already been released, but many of them have never been seen by fans. The depictions of the battle between Anu and Tathamet and the angel Inarius in chains are particularly striking.
My only complaint about the art is that it is always rendered in monochrome. Of course, that makes sense considering this is supposed to be a handwritten manuscript, but I think some of the pieces would have been even more dramatic had they been in full color.
Video game tie-ins can be something of a mixed bag, but the ‘Book of Cain’ is definitely worth purchasing if you are at all interested in the lore of Diablo. It is not an essential part of the Diablo experience, but it will make your journey through Sanctuary much richer.