About two weeks ago, I was reading the Warhammer novel The Return of Nagash, by Josh Reynolds, as all the hoopla surrounding The End Times from Games Workshop was beginning to die down. I had been following said hoopla quite closely, as it all began to kick off about a week after I got heavily invested in the Old World – you can read my tumblr collections here and here, as well as checking out my attempts at painting one of the models from the release here. However, while I bought the Reynolds novel at this time, it took me almost a month to actually open the cover, I suppose due to being involved in other stuff at the time! Well, anyway.
The novel came out in the first wave of stuff for the End Times, which included the Nagash model itself and the above massive hardback tomes, which give both the fluff and the crunch for Nagash as far as the tabletop game itself goes. While I did actually buy all of the models from wave one, I haven’t done anything with them yet (aside from the Spirits), and if I’m entirely honest, I don’t know if I will: Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings are both lovely-looking armies, but if I did play the game, it would be Lizardmen all the way!
But anyway, the novel.
I’d just like to get this out there from the off: I really liked this book. It deals with the efforts of the Vampire, Mannfred von Carstein, and the Liche, Arkhan the Black, to restore the first Necromancer, Nagash, to the world. I don’t really consider it a spoiler to say that they succeed, given the fact that the game has seen the release of the model and this book is essentially justification in prose, but it is a really excellent read to see how he is brought back.
I’d also like to get this out there from the off: I’ve only ever read Sigvald previously, and am barely acquainted with the Old World setting. A map of the world included in the centre pages is really useful, but I started reading this book with some trepidation, believing that I wouldn’t fully grasp the story because of my unfamiliarity with the setting. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Reynolds introduces new characters and tells the story through their eyes – Erikan Crowfiend has a rich backstory as a vampire who turned his back on his kin, and has now begun his return to Sylvania, so we’re introduced to the major players as Erikan is re-introduced to them, which is a very powerful way of writing, to my mind. As such, this book is an excellent introduction to the world of Warhammer, and at £20, is probably the cheapest you’ll ever find!
As someone who has previously had exposure to the world through the mechanics of painting miniatures rather than the game itself and all its fluff, I found myself enraptured every time something like Castle Drakenhof was mentioned (it’s the name of their blue shade paint! Eeeeeeeee!) It’s a small point, but having been acquainted with the Citadel paint range, it was really nice to see where these names come from. Whether by accident or design, Reynolds uses these a lot, which I would imagine would allow the folks who have only previously painted miniatures without a thought for the game mechanics to feel a little less lost in this book.
I can’t speak for diehard fans of the game, for I am not among their ranks, but there is an excellent review here that you might want to check out for that!
Like I said, then, I have a very disjointed knowledge of the Old World, but that was not an issue for my enjoyment of this novel.
The actual story is also really good in and of itself. For an absolute newcomer, you have a really good tale of two people (though, can a vampire and a liche really be called ‘people’?) who obviously have a history of bad blood between them, coming together in an uneasy alliance with a common goal, though their motivations are definitely not shared. The characterisations of each are such that, by halfway through the novel or less, you feel like you know who these guys are. The story is steeped in a rich history, but that history is explained anyway, so you don’t need prior knowledge of who Arkhan, Krell, Vlad or even Nagash is to enjoy this.
I always think it’s a sign of excellent storytelling, where an author provides a rich background like this and yet having no knowledge of that world doesn’t detract. It’s a very similar experience with Star Wars – the first movie is steeped in history and lore that we obviously don’t know anything about, because this is the very first story in that universe, and yet we aren’t lost for a second. I’m sure long-time Warhammer fans will appreciate what could well be countless nods to past works, but you don’t need to get any of them to appreciate this book for what it is – a great piece of storytelling.
Given that we’re still apparently in the midst of this vampire renaissance, it’s refreshing to read this book without the sort of baggage that vampires have acquired lately. For those of you who don’t know, Warhammer Fantasy Battles was developed in the early 1980s with the express purpose of putting a number of armies in direct conflict with one another – to some extent, everyone is an enemy. Despite the fact that vampires have their own connotations for humanity outside of the game, Reynolds does a really good job of writing these chaps with some level of sympathy, without losing sight of the fact that, to a lot of people who may encounter this book because of their love of the game, the Vampire Count faction is possibly a mortal enemy of the tabletop. Little bits like this really help to make the book a rounded experience.
All of this is not to say that I had some sort of transcendental experience with this book, however. While it is a very good story, the middle does suffer slightly, as Arkhan and Mannfred go their separate ways to recover some relics of Nagash to help in the ritual to restore him to life. The locations of these relics are a long way from both each other and from Sylvania, the home of the vampires, so some level of time-lapse needs to be conveyed. However, we get quite a plodding middle section, as the narrative swings between the two protagonists through each of their journeys, and it sometimes feels like we’re having events relayed to us just for the sake of padding out the journey. I think I would have preferred to have seen each split off, a la Lord of the Rings I suppose, with non-stop Mannfred, then non-stop Arkhan. But that’s really a minor point that needs mentioning.
Overall, it’s an excellent book. Ending with the return of Nagash (again – I don’t consider this a spoiler because, well, the book is called that, after all…), and a couple of other surprises, the stage is now set for book 2 in The End Times. Rumours of a Chaos-heavy book appear to be borne out by the recent announcement from Games Workshop of the next round of End Times miniatures, though as yet we don’t have a novel to accompany them. Nor do we have a massive tome for the crunch, which is apparently coming in an upcoming White Dwarf. I’m hoping there will in fact be a second novel, which is purported to deal with Archaon the Everchosen, who has already had a novel fairly recently of course. The latest rumour I’ve encountered around the Chaos End Times releases puts the ‘book’ release in the third week, so perhaps by the end of the month…
Anyhow, all of my rambling – and efforts to decipher what’s happening in the meta of the tabletop game – aside, this is a really good book, and definitely worth picking up. Unfortunately, it seems the hardback book is now out of stock (unless you can get a copy at your local GW store), but it is still available for download, and will be out in paperback in January. Highly recommended, anyway!