The Gates of Azyr was released last summer alongside the base set for the Age of Sigmar, and despite picking up a copy on release day, I hadn’t gotten round to reading it until now. Well, I hadn’t actually finished the End Times series by that point, so had to catch up with that first.
The novella was written by Chris Wraight, who is responsible for one of my all-time favourite Warhammer novels, The Fall of Altdorf. The story concerns the initial battles of the first forging of Stormcast Eternals against the hosts of Chaos. It basically tells the story behind the scenarios presented in the base set’s rulebook – we follow a band of Bloodreavers as they pursue a rag-tag bunch of survivors across the Brimstone Peninsula, and when they shield themselves among some ancient ruins, the Stormhosts arrive to attempt to open a Realmgate there. Battle ensues, but the Stormcasts manage to open the gate and a huge number of golden soldiers come through the gates, and annihilate the forces under the command of Korgos Khul.
I really don’t know what to think about this novella. The story is decent-enough, though as the first story to take place in this new setting, it felt a little bland. It didn’t feel like a rush-job, but it did feel a little strange, being the first story and all. I mean, if you compare it to Horus Rising, which wonderfully sets up the new setting of the 30k universe, it falls massively short. There is very little – if any – history of the Realms, with only a few hints dropped about Sigmar and what he’s been up to. The Chaos sections presuppose some knowledge of the usual Khornate stuff from the Old World, though they are quite generic and brutal.
Something that struck me in particular about this story is how I had assumed it to feel a little like a sequel to Lord of the End Times, yet it actually has nothing to do with the world-that-was. I mean, there is quite literally no link to the previous setting. It feels wrong, somehow, to divorce the literature so strongly from the rich Black Library lore.
The other thing I want to mention here is the nature of the Stormcast Eternals. There isn’t an awful lot of lore presented here, unfortunately, however what we do learn makes them feel a lot more like Space Marines than I’d actually realised. I mean, I play Stormcast Eternals, and hadn’t realised this! The common shorthand of “Sigmarines” really fells quite appropriate to me, now. The common shining-gold-and-cobalt scheme on all of the marketing is obviously the Hammers of Sigmar, and is the particular army that is featured here. They feel very much like a Space Marine chapter, and the subsequent armies such as Celestial Vindicators (teal) and Hallowed Knights (silver) are thusly also seen in this way.
Despite all of this, I feel that the later novels of the Realmgate Wars delve further into the lore and serve to flesh out the world(s). I can almost appreciate how many people have felt the setting is quite dumbed-down and all, though I do feel that later fiction and the campaign books both serve to build upon this and flesh out the setting. Speaking of which…
This weekend, I finally got round to the final part of the four-part audio-drama whose first part was released at the end of September last year. I’ve been listening to these while painting over the winter, and have really enjoyed them. They’re the first Black Library audio-dramas I’ve ever listened to – in fact, I’m not really an audio book kind of guy, so this has really been a first for me!
The story follows the Hallowed Knights as they trudge across the Mortal Realms in an attempt to find Nagash, with whom Sigmar wishes to form an alliance of some kind. Written by Josh Reynolds, it’s actually really well-acted, with some great effects that really help to immerse you in the story. The first part, Prisoner of the Black Sun, sees the Knights find Mannfred von Carstein, and enter into an uneasy alliance, as he offers to help the Stormcasts find a gate to the underworld and the realm of Nagash.
Something I found really interesting about this story is the development of the Lord-Celestant, Tarsus Bull-Heart, who begins to remember more of his life before he was forged into a Stormcast Eternal. It’s a plot-thread that is shared with Vandus Hammerhand in Gates of Azyr, actually, which makes me wonder if something more is going to be made of this as the storyline progresses. Is the casting process somehow flawed? Hm.
It’s never really clear why precisely Sigmar wants to enter into this alliance, it feels more like a convenient plot device to show the Stormcasts in battle against various enemies. However, like I said, it’s a lot of fun to listen to something super-thematic while painting up various bits and pieces, and it’s definitely something I can see myself listening to again.
Speaking of the alliance with Nagash…
I haven’t really spent a lot of time reading the campaign books for Age of Sigmar, but was so intrigued by the new Balance of Power that I read through the parts that involve the entry of the Deathlords into the story. This is a wonderful little vignette in the midst of all the usual Stormcasts and Sylvaneth vs Nurgle stuff that’s been going on of late. We see Neferata ruling in opulence over the land of Nulahmia (you know, because in the Old World she was Queen of Lahmia…) until it is invaded by the hordes of Slaaneshi warriors. In the midst of this battle, more Stormcast arrive in an attempt to court the Undying King. These warriors are from the Anvils of the Heldenhammer, and have a really cool black-and-gold scheme that looks really nice!
I won’t deny, I’ve been considering painting some Stormcasts in a different scheme, just for variety’s sake really – much like I have things like the Genesis Chapter terminators to fight alongside my regular Ultramarines. Of all the different schemes I’ve seen, I think these guys could be the ones I’d go for, though that’s probably a few months off yet.
Anyway, Sigmar seems to be obsessed with an alliance with Nagash, so I’m kinda intrigued to see where this plot point will end up…