Sunday, 15 September 2013

3) - Ignorant Armies

Ah the first of the many warhammer books that are a collection of short stories.  An anthology if you will.  I wasn't sure how i was going to review these at first but what i will do is do a mini review for each tale and rate each one separately but all within the one post.  Right first i have to apologies for the poor cover picture above.  This is the cover of the copy i have but despite the infinite power of google this is the best one i can find.  I got my copy from ebay and its seen better days.  Its always a bad sign that the spine is being held together by sellotape.  Also though on both the front and back pages there is a stamp which looks very much like the ones you get in libraries.  This one says The Ashford High School, Ashford, Middx.  I think i have stumbled across a vile crime ring.
Police Scramble into Ashford in an attempt to stop this crime ring
Now i have never been to Ashford and while researching this place i found they had been an armed bank robbery.  So imagine the horror on BBC News 24 when the even more despicable crime of selling school library books on Ebay hits the airwaves.  The big question we need answered of course the librarian involved?  Well Ashfords loss is my gain, and to be fair i am not entirely sure that this book should be part of a school library, in fact i am sure it shouldn't be!

Ignorant Armies is edited by David Pringle and good news everyone, that is his real name!  However i think even i could have edited it.  I am not sure what is involved in the editing process but it appears it is to choose which order to put other peoples work in.  Sounds ideal, let the writers slave over a story, put them all in a book together and then you get to plaster your name on the front!  Rumors that David Pringle had a stint as the librarian at Ashford High School are completely unfounded.

Right the cover is a direct rip of the warhammer armies chaos box set, yep boxed set, back in 4th edition chaos was so important they got a box set with their army book.  So i think this is the original one.
Erm, not really sure what they were going for here

 Right lets get this show on the road, Spoilers Ahoy!

 Geheimnisnacht - William King

And what a way to start, the genesis of the Gotrek and Felix legend.  This series is by far the longest running in the warhammer world and it all started here as a short story.  It is here that many of the facets of the duo are born.  We find out that Gotrek saved Felixs life from the Emperors Calvary during the window tax riots and is now sworn to follow the trollslayer and record his doom in an epic poem.  For those that dont know a trollslayer is a Dwarf that due to some great shame has forsaken everything and his sole purpose in life is to find death.  Not just any death though, it needs to be a heroic death to offset their shame so they hunt the monsters of the world, such as trolls, hence the name.
The Famous Duo

This first tale is set on the most infamous of all nights in the warhammer year, Geheimnisnacht.  This translates to the secret night and it is when the chaos moon Morrsleib is full.  Its evil influence allows daemons to walk the earth and Vampires and Warlocks to work their wicked rituals.  Any sane person bolts their door and prays to the gods to let the madness of the night pass them by.  Of course there two are out in the forest road and Gotrek is encouraging anything and everything to fight him.  It is this early that Gotreks disdain for how soft humans are and Felix's lack of understanding of Dwarf culture is played up.  Ill be honest, Gotrek can come across as a bit of a dick early on but i understand that in a short story you need to emphasise the persons characteristics as you dont have the time to be subtle about it.  So a mysterious black coach hurtles by and nearly kills Gotrek and as they pursue it they come across a tavern.  Once they persuade the patrons to let them in (via Gotrek hacking at the door with his axe) they find out that their son is missing and that he has very likely been taken to the Darkstone Ring and of course much to Felix's horror Gotrek is delighted at this chance to meet his fate and they head up.  So far so good, the writing is excellent and I love the build up of it being Geheimnisnacht in a small backwater of the Empire, very atmospheric.
Now as they approach the ring the ground is covered in a thick fog which makes it look like a misty sea.  Its only one line but it adds so much atmosphere and tension.  In my mind this is how it should be done.  William King doesn't go overboard on the descriptions like some other authors, he focuses on the important parts allowing you to build a picture in your head allowing him to concentrate on the story.  Interestingly Felix asks Gotrek why he became a slayer, something we still today don't know today.  They arrive in the midst of a Slaanesh cultist ritual who are trying to summon a daemon by sacrificing a baby.  Now my only issue with this story is the mutants they fight.  Their mutations are pretty crazy, one guy has slime for skin and another has a pin head.  I mean i know its meant for shock and to show that side of chaos but its just a bit over the top for me.  Still it was a good quick fight and a nice twist at the end.  This is a very good short story and i can see why they got their own series in the end with a start like this.

Rating - 8/10

The Reavers and the Dead - Charles Davidson

Except its not Charles Davidson, its Charles Stross!  The curse of the Pseudonym strikes the warhammer universe again.  So we meet young Helmut Kerzer in the middle of a conundrum.  From wreckers point he spots the sails of reavers who are bearing down on his home village.  All are sure to be killed but he can give them warning, the trouble is they will ask questions why he was up at wreckers point.  Helmut has been practicing minor necromancy.  This is a good start and a brief flash back of him being bullied by other kids of the village means the scene is set very well and you feel sympathy towards the character right from the start.  Next we are on the boat itself and with the Reavers and their leader Ragnar One Eye.  The author seeks to give you an incline into how the reavers justify their actions.  It appears their fishing has been disrupted by dark magic coming from the village and now their families are starving.  Makes you see there are multiple ways to look at the same events.  Slight problem here, they are followers of Ulric but their actions and mannerisms strike me as more like the Norse.  Anyway the focus switches once again. this time to the village itself and Helmut's parents.  Interestingly they don't care much for their son, in fact his mother goes as far as to say she wishes he was some others son.  Harsh!  No wonder Helmut ended up the way he is!  Anyway the reavers make their attack and any sympathy for their cause is lost when they kill the women and children as well.  So to recap i do not support the villagers and i don't care for the reavers either.  So by default it seems i am routing for a budding necromancer, i like how Stross has written this, it shows how good and evil might not be so clear cut.  As the attack is going on Helmut descends into a hidden lair underneath the graveyard where a long dead liche resides.  Except liches tend not to stay dead and this one entraps Helmut, giving him an accelerated learning rate.  Now at this point Helmut sees in his minds eye the attack which includes this line "full of warriors dreaming of the mystery of the axe".  I dont know what mystery there is with axes, maybe its in a follow up story....
After he retired from reaving, Ragnar the One eye wrote his best selling novel the Mystery of the Axe.
Armed with his new necromantic knowledge young Helmut resurrects the bodies of the dead villagers as zombies and uses them to attack and kill the reavers.  This short story was a good one and it has the potential to be fleshed out as a complete novel.

Rating - 7/10

The Other - Nicola Griffith

We come to our first female author so far.  Looking forward to this as for some unbeknown reason women seem to be repulsed by warhammer.  Don't they know how cool it is?
This is clearly Photoshopped

The other starts with Stefan Hochen and his father making their way to Middenheim.  Turns out the father is a respected physician and is soon called into action as a wagon flips over.  A mysterious girl is treating the injured man first and takes offense that they cause him pain willingly as he is poor.  Looks like its going to be about peoples class so far.  Right Stefan gets his license to practice medicine, from his father, typical nepotism that is still rife in the real world, i don't like this guy.  Stefan goes to celebrate at the Red Moon and lo and behold the mystery healer is performing.  Her name Katya Raine and she sings a song about a young girl mutated by warpstone.  She awakes to find she has murdered her family and burns herself to death.  Wow what a cheery thought, think ill give the Red Moon a miss.  Katya has also applied for a license and it seems Stefan turns into a complete stalker.  First he takes her application from his fathers documents and then followers her to the deputy high wizards house.  This seems to make him very angry, the deputy high wizard is a women, why would his first reaction be jealousy.  Even if they are romantically linked i have to point out to Nicola Griffith that men dont think like that.  At least i dont, although this is for a warhammer audience, maybe she is spot on.  Dirty nerds!  Anyway the stalking continues and Katya catches him and kicks his ass.  She takes him to the poor district to show him the people she treats for free.  Stefan panics when he sees a mutant and runs.  Katya explains it was not a mutant but a boy who when he was young spilt lamp oil on him.  Stefan makes Katya prove she is not a mutant which she does.  However later on he clicks that it was a misdirection and goes to the wizards house to warn her.  The wizard already knows though and Katya is there, a piece of warpstone dust has got into her leg and the want Stefan to use his skills to cut it out.  Stefan operates successfully and leaves her a license to practice medicine and resolves to help the poor.  A nice tale that shows the issues of class and perception.  Good to have some strong female characters.

Rating - 6/10

Apprentice Luck - Sean Flynn

I couldn't find any info about Sean Flynn and it was only when i was looking for something else i discovered he was Paul J. Mcauley.  By now i shouldn't be surprised, i wonder if all the authors got together?  They would need a few of these.

Right first thing i need to say comes from the very first line in the story. 
"Karl Spielbrunner had been apprenticed to Otto von Stumpf….” wow amazing name choices there.  The good news is that it can only get better now.  Right young Karl is an orphan but luckily his late father was a friend of Ottos and he is an apprentice at a book shop.  On this day Scabby Elsa (well he gets points for names, or maybe points off) comes in and sells him an old book.  First major issue is that Karl thinks it dates to the wizards war...There is no wizards war in warhammer, however there is a wizards war in Fighting Fantasy, the gamebook series by Games Workshop co-founders Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston.  I think Sean Flynn has become confused by all the fantasy settings. 
The book Scabby Elsa sold Karl
Well it turns out a lot of people want this book.  First a wizard appears looking for it and Karl who has been wishing for money to escape his life gets greedy and tells the wizard he doesn't have it.  That night he wakes to see the wizard breaking in and flees out the back entrance where he encounters a strange foreign swordsman named Argo who helps hims escape.  I liked this part of the story, i got a real sense of the panicked and clumsy escape from the shop and then Middenheim.  For the book Argo gives him more gold than he can imagine but Argo wants the treasure map that was hidden in it which is now in Karl's pocket.  Instead of taking the money and running Karl again gets greedy and says the map is back in the shop but he has memorized it and will help Argo for 10% of the treasure.  Now i think Karl is an idiot and deserves all he gets now, only that morning he was wishing for a few gold crowns, now he has loads and still wants more.  Although it would have been a crap story if he just handed over the map and went off to enjoy his new found wealth i guess.  The two have a brief encounter at the drowned rat which has a secret entrance to the sewers in the basement where it shows that Argo is a bad ass with the sword and that Karl is starting to learn magic from reading the book, ill assume he had an undiscovered talent to work the winds of magic.   So the duo make their way through the sewers where they come across a tribe of dwarf goblins.  Yes dwarf goblins, no i don't know either, i am guessing he meant snotlings.  So they eventually make their way to the source of the treasure where it is revealed that Argo is really an undead creature made up of beetles.  The wizard from earlier appears, apparently he had lent Karl some of his power.  They overpower Argo and the treasure is revealed as magic books rather than gold.  It is the library of the greatest dwarf wizard of the last thousand years.  Dwarfs do not have wizards in be fair maybe they did then, ill need to look at some of the older rulebooks.  Well it was an ok adventure and the flight through Middenheim was good.  That was about it though.

Rating - 4/10

A Gardener in Parravon - Brian Craig

Ah, Brian Craig (Stableford) is back, i may have been a bit harsh on Zaragoz, lets see how this one goes.  Ok i really don't know what to say about this one after reading it i am still confused.  Right first thing is thatr its a story being narrated, i wonder if its Orfeo, its not mentioned at any point but it would make sense, ill assume it is.  Ok funnily enough we are in Parravon, Bretonnia and our hero is a young man called Armand Carriere.  He has become obsessed with his neighbors garden which is hidden behind very large hedges.  Carriere observes more birds fly into the garden that ever leave and climbs to his house roof in an attempt to see in.  At night though he has strange dreams and in the morning finds the outside of his shutters have strange claw marks on them.   So basically the build up of whats in the garden does not sound like an exciting premise.  But it is, bizarrely.  I like the way Stableford builds it up, its like when you are a kid and something as mundane as a garden can be made exciting in your mind by not knowing.  Eventually they are invited into the garden by the owner Gaspard Gruiller and Armand goes with his friend in this adventure, Philippe Lebel, who is the voice of reason to Armand's sense of mystery.  For me now it goes downhill, the garden does not live up to the build up, in fact the detailed description of the garden adds layers of confusion which makes it hard to paint a picture in your head of it.  So the birds are being eaten by the plants and then the flowers that bloom from them look like male genetailia.  Yep, you read that right, it gets worse.  
I suspect Slaanesh may have a hand in this.....
So Armand has some of the nectar which takes very sweet but Philippe is a bit embarrassed so passes, cant say i blame him.  So that night Armand dreams get even more wild where a daemon bird picks him up from his room and flies to the garden where along with some daemons sucks the nectar from said plant.  I did not see that coming!  Wait that was a disastrous turn of phrase!  Erm, That caught me by surprise.  What is wrong with Brian Stableford, i thought the sex scenes in Zaragoz were wierd but this is another level.  But if Stableford wants to think of young men sucking on suspect looking plants who am i to judge.  Sorry Mrs Stableford i don't think your his type.  So later Armand is found dead as it looks like he jumped to his death from his room.  Your meant to suspect the daemons from the garden i think but maybe the confusion of the tale was too much for him.  I don't know how to rate this, on one hand its a very good tale of wonder and mystery and the initial nightmares are very well done.  But on the other hand its a chaos garden full of penis flowers.

Rating - 5/10

The Star Boat - Steve Baxter

More fake name chicanery!  He is really Stephen Baxter!  Ok ill let that one slide.  Right at the start of this book i know its going to be a fluff buster.  As mentioned in earlier posts these tales were written before the established warhammer story we know and love today came into effect.  Now so far there has been some oddities but with some creative thinking you can make it fit.  The Star Boat might be very difficult though to fit in today's cannon.  Lets see how we go.  We start in a Norscan tavern with Eric the Ware who is an ulfwerenar, which is basically a werewolf, but not a full blown one so he his an outcast among humans and the werewolves also see him as an outsider.  However the famed warrior is approached by the Slann Cotza who wears a rubber suit that hydrates him with warm water.  Now from the description if you swap Slann for Skink you could make it work but this harks back to how Slaan were in the 1980's.  But the start of this is very well written and the story of the warp gates and the crash of one of the slaan ships is epic, i like the sound of this!
Evolution of the Slann
Cotza wants to recover a crashed Slann Starship and the first thing they need is the map of its location so we are off to Kislev.  And a mention for Lord Mazdamundi and its only 1989!  Eric gets a lift from some Norse whalers and has a brief but eventful stay in Kislev which involves a giant,a map and a chase through the city.  This all took place within the space of a few pages, the pace is intense and well written.  So Eric is soon back in Norsca and is persuaded to join Cotzas expedition to the north.  Now Cotzas plan is to build a mithril tank, yep im not sure either.  So they are sealed in this contraption which should protect them from the fell daemons of the north.  The even have horses on treadmill inside to power it!  This is both completely nuts and also genius at the same time.  
This is the only thing that i think comes close, imagine it covered in Mithril.
What they Should have gone in!
So they journey on using an obsidian mirror to see where they are going, multiple daemons try and breech the turtle's shell, even using a chain sword that they borrowed from 40k.  An air elemental gets in and causes havoc until Eric uses his were blood and also his wits to drive it out.  Elemental's were in early warhammer but not now and it think that is a waste, i would love to see them make a return.  Through the trials though they eventually find the Slann Star Boat which is an ancient spaceship.  Cotza tries to take the obsidian on board but an explosion is all he gets and he looses an arm and Eric is hard pressed to save him.  Its then that we get a really good twist that i did not see coming at all.  I wont say what it is as i hope you will read this one for yourselves.  The main event of the book though is the journey of Eric back through the wastes itself to get back home.  Despite the fluff issues of the story i think its a great short story and is well worth a read.

Ancient Aliens theorists were delighted with the Star Boat
Rating - 8/10

The Ignorant Armies - Jack Yeovil

Kim Newman is back under the guise of Jack Yeovil, it is the title story of the Anthology so i am expecting good things.  It starts with a quote from the poet Mathew Arnold and his work Dover Beach which end "where ignorant armies clash by night".  Now if i was a good reviewer i would research this poem and its relevance.....i am not a good reviewer, but i will make this prediction, i dont think we will see any more real life poetry in the black library.  We begin with the mercenary Vukotich and Johann Von Mecklenberg who are tracking the Chaos warband of Cicatrice in the frozen north.  After a brief introduction we get a flashback to why they are on this adventure.  Its a pretty brutal tale.  Johan and his brother Wolf are the sons of the Baron of Sudenland.  I dont think Sudenland exists anymore, Gorbad Ironclaw smashed through it and it was wiped off the map.  Anyway during a hunt Johan accidentally hits Wolf with an arrow and he has to go back to the estate.  It is poor timing though as when Vukotich, who is known as the Iron Man, and Johan get back from the rest of the hunt the warband of Cicatrice has attacked.  Everyone is dead but the youngsters are missing, Wolf included.  Instead of becoming the new baron and Elector Johan goes off with Vukotich to save his brother from the clutches of chaos.  So far so good, i am buying into the sense of guilt Johan has over the fate of his brother.  We snap back to present time as some of the warband have turned and gone back to hunt the two men.  A brief skirmish ensues and Vukotich is injured badly. 

Vukotich was injured by a toad man no less!
They find respite in a strange village which is surrounded on all sides by an immense battlefield covered in corpses.  There they find a really random assortment of people who are led by a Dwarf with a sword through his chest that he is too scared to remove.  They basically rob the dead from the battles that rage around them.  Vukotich explains it is a battlefield of chaos, nearby champions sleep on warpstone tables and at night they pit themselves against each other.  As strange as the people here are, Newmans writing is very good and gives them all a unique personality in a short space.  It is as they pick their way through the dead of the previous evenings battlefield that they find the dying Cicatrice, good twist that as i was expecting an epic confrontation to end the story.  Before he succumbs to his wounds, Cicatrice tells them Wolf killed him and now Johan's brother leads the chaos warband.  The corpse robbing villagers turn on them and leave them to be killed by the chaotic forces but Johan gets free and takes the sword lodged in the Dwarf as a weapon, killing him.  So Wolf turn up and the epic battle between the two takes place.  Turns out famous GW artist John Blanche captured the moment!
Back when John Blanche could still draw, Don't know what i mean?  Take a look at the latest Daemons of Chaos book.
The confrontation is suitably epic for a short story and Vukotich sacrifices himself and uses his innocent blood to save Wolf from damnation.  In fact a chrysalis forms around Wolf and he is reborn as the young boy that was first kidnapped by Cicatrice complete with fresh arrow wound from the hunting incident all those years ago.  Again a good story written well by Kim Newman which was very enjoyable.

Rating - 8/10

The Laughter of the Dark Gods - William King

William King gets a second story and the final one in the Anthology, only fair since he used his real name!  We begin with Kurt von Diehl who is an aspiring champion of Khorne just as he arrives with his retainer at the edge of the wastes.  Kurt seeks to overthrow his family and take back his lands from those that have exiled him.  What we get here reminds me of the short stories in the Realm of Chaos books about a champion of chaos and their various battles and the ones that follow them.  I really enjoyed the description of the chaos wastes as this is an area that can be very hard to describe in written form as its constantly in flux and is an area of pure madness.  Anyway Kurt has various encounters which leads to him gaining more followers such as Chaos Dwarfs, Beastmen and the mysterious Dieter the Unchanging.  All the while Kurt is waging an inner war for his soul.  You get the feeling his thoughts and actions may not always be his own as the more he mutates the less human he becomes.  Kurt is shocked to not be able to recall his home or family or even why he is here.  King makes a good point, purpose is more valuable than anything else in the wastes.  Its not just a focus on Kurt, we get an incline into the changes of his followers as well and their is a real sense that becoming a mindless spawn or elevated to a mighty champion or even an immortal daemon is balanced on a knife edge.  One of my concerns is one of the battles is against the Slannesh Champion, Aazella Silkenthighs, sorry i just think the name is rubbish.  Although she does have a standard that is described as having a childs head atop it which comes alive and warns her of Kurt's ambush, very dark!  Just a side not for fluff nuts, Kurt beats a champion of the renegade god Malal, not sure if Malal gets any other mentions in the Black Library before he gets retconned out of the fluff so we may have the only mention here.  Also Kurt picks up a crossbow that shoots light that melts the target.  That sounds to me that like a plasma gun from 40k.  I think in these days the two were meant to be connected, of course this has since changed.
Advantage, Kurt von Diehl
All in all its an entertaining little tale and Kurts ascension to daemonhood gives you the impression that the champion may not be entirely in control.

Rating - 7/10

Well that was Ignorant Armies, i really enjoyed most of it and its a very good anthology, that's a mammoth post though, i am off for a lie down.  

Friday, 6 September 2013

2) - Zaragoz

So the next book from 1989 is called Zaragoz and was written by Brian Craig, and with this being 1989 Warhammer fiction means its not his real name.  Two books in and two pseudonyms already.  Brian Stableford is the real name of the author.  Is it just me or is that a cooler name?  Anyway thats the cover of the book i have which is the 2002 reprint by the Black Library.  Now at this point i need to point something out which i hope someone can help me with.   Zaragoz is the name of the town where the adventure takes place and it is outlined in the background.  I suspect the wizard Semjaza is the evil looking dude at the top.  But who is the massively muscled guy with the double handed sword???  There is no one like that in the book.  Orfeo the hero is a traveling player with a lute!  And all the main people fight with rapiers.  I suspect the artist couldn't be arsed reading the book and got the jist of it but just assumed the hero would be a stereotypical fantasy hero.  Anyway i found some more covers, not sure which is the original but lets take a look.

Well at least this one has two wizards fighting which follows part of the story of Zaragoz.  Except this is clearly the cover of the Warhammer Battle Magic Supplement and actually has nothing to do with the book or the story.
In Case you don't know the title lets write it lots of times!
I suspect this one is the original.  Nice pic of what i presume is meant to be Zaragoz.  Focusing on the town which is what the novel is called after.  Shame it doesn't look like the town as described in the book, not even close.  Also i think Ive seen this picture before in a WFRP supplement but i cant be sure on that.  So the best cover i think is the reissue one.  Yes the one with a character not even seen in the book is still better than the other two, that's how bad it is.

So this book is the first in a trilogy called the Tales of Orfeo.  Orfeo is a wandering minstrel (although he dosnt call himself that as only elves are true minstrels), therefor we will call him a spoony bard from now on.  Orfeo has been captured by Arabian slavers and at this early juncture i noticed something.  In order to make a fantasy setting apparently you take a real place and remove an A.  Spanish Town of Zaragoza becomes Estalian town (Warhammer version of Spain) of Zaragoz.  The Arabian desert is called the Sahra, nothing at all like the Sahara!  So using this new found technique i will build a fantasy setting of my own.

I give you the Blood Bowl team - Rel Zaragoz!
Fastest Horse Racer in all of Estillia - Fernndo Lonso!
And Rphel Ndl...........damm it that doesn't work!


Ok ill leave the fantasy setting to the experts.  Right this book does not ease you in, i give to you the prologue which features Maro who is a young sailor that was captured along with Orfeo.  The Caliph decides he will make a good Eunuch slave for servicing the King of Songhai as he must have had experience as a whoreboy aboard the ship.  I kid you not that was the term used.  I thought i had picked up a book from the specialist section rather than a warhammer novel! 

Right turns out the Caliph is form Zaragoz and Orfeo just happens to have been there and has a tale to tell.  So the Caliph does him a deal, if he tells him the tale and it is to his liking he will let him go free.  Oh he will let Maro go as well, who must be cacking himself by now.

So we come to Part One entitled - A Web of Intrigue

Orfeo is wandering through Estalia where he finds the town of Zaragoz and he quickly rescues a priest of law from some bandits outside town.  Luckily the spoony bard is handy with a sword and they run off, maybe he does look like the guy on the cover.  So they spend the first night in a tavern and almost get into a brawl but it is stopped by the arrival of a noble, Rodrigo Cordovo.   Zaragoz is a town around a lone peak with a castle at the top.  The richer you are the further up the mountain you live.  Brian Stableford does an excellent job of setting the scene.  Zaragoz is a very believable location and I enjoyed the set up in the tavern that shows the various types of people that populate the town.  Oh and Orfeo saves a lady of the night so ends up bedding her, while sharing a room with a priest of law, slightly awkward.

So Cordovo hires Orfeo to play for him and he comes into contact with the chief of secret police Sceberra, who is painted to be an arse, spoiler, he really is an arse.  During the performance the priest of law who is called Arcangelo appears and prophesies the end of Zaragoz under the leadership of the evil duke.  Of course this pisses off the loyalists and Orfeo is taken in for questioning since he arrive in Zaragoz with Arcangelo and is tarred by association.  Again so far so good, the intrigue is building nicely as the characters are introduced.  So instead of the usual questioning the dukes wizard Semjaza, who is described to look quite repulsive, uses magic and finds Orfeo to be a good and honest man, well thats nice, lets go home.  Instead he is visited by the sorceress Morella d'Arlette.  Fancy name and a fancy girl who is clearly a follower of Slaanesh.  Now today Orfeo would be horrified but this is old school so even though he is a bit worried he still goes with it.  The ladies love a spoony bard.  So anyway she uses her magic to ahem enhance the experience.  So its described as the best experience of his life but then he back tracks quite quickly and describes how he would rather have an act between two people rather than one using the other as an instrument.  I have a theory about this.  I reckon Brian Stableford got a bit carried away with his fantasy of magic sex with a sorcerers and then panicked when he thought his wife might be a bit upset by this and has frantically back tracked before he was put in the dog house.

Anyway he comes back to find Cordova has been kidnapped and of course ends up rescuing him.  Its about this stage that the story starts to stall.  Its not so much as the intrigue stops its more the writing for me which just dosnt flow well at all and the story suffers for it.  Again the hero bests all the kidnappers, i know they are wounded but maybe the artist did read the book and that is Orfeo on the front cover, how else can he beat all these guys?

So they summon Sceberra to try and find out whats going on and during the conversation, Zaragoz's chief of secret police comes up with this blinder.  "If a man were to believe all that he heard argued he would not be a man at all, but a radish"  This is going downhill fast.

Radish, well known for believing anything you tell it...
So its Orfeo's turn to be kidnapped and gets tortured by Sceberra who tweaks his nipple, with something horrific.  This was actually a bit tough to read, bit squeamish here and you are left in no doubt to what is going on.  Sceberra does point out that what is the point in men having nipples, it is a valid point and its one im sure Stableford was thinking about in the bath.  You do get a bit more background into the story of Zaragoz thanks to another prisoner.

Interlude - The book has an interlude!  I forgot Orfeo is telling the tale to someone else!  Guess he survives then.  Eunuch watch - Maro still not a Eunuch.

Part Two - The Night of Masks

So the tale resumes and the big rescue attempt is planned (I dont want to say who and what in case you do want to read it).  At this point i was a bit suspect of where the twist was going to come from and was maybe over thinking it.  This is the best thing about a book like this but still the pace was still dragging a bit.  So the rescue attempt starts and there is no way this is going off without a hitch.  Oh look its gone wrong.  Orfeo again bests all the soldiers.  I have to say that its not as bad as i make out, he is clever with his tactics and uses the environment to his advantage.  But the main problem is that the chapters feel padded.  Take chapter eleven as an example.  It starts with a great fight scene between Orfeo and Sceberra on a bridge and ends with a bit of a twist which is well done.  But my god in the middle is endless descriptions of a cave.

Its a Dark Cave!

Its another Dark Cave!

Its a dark cave!  I get it!  My mind is capable of imagining what a dark cave looks like.  I know he is trying to set the scene and atmosphere but the details are tedious and to me it just feels like padding.  ITS A CAVE, ITS DARK!  MOVE ON!

Guess what the next chapter is more cave drivel.  Although at least this time there is a foreboding menace stalking Orfeo.  Its cave dwelling white haired apes, a bit of a let down, this is warhammer fantasy, there must be all sorts of strange fantasy creatures that could have been used instead.  Another filler chapter.

So anyway Orfeo is rescued and is back in Cordovos house.  All that happens in the next chapter is that Orfeo finds the wizard Semjaza in the library and they have a talk.  Sounds rubbish but in fact its a really good chapter and offers great insight into Semjazas thinking and therefore the thinking into anyone willing to use chaos.  Very well written and one of the best chapters of the book, just dont read it when your tired or you will need to read it again....didnt happen to me at no.

So finally the night of masks arrive, where the nobles wear fancy masks but the servants have to wear plain black masks that cover only their eyes.  Oh god they have all gone as Zorro!

The guys were all delighted that they had wore the same costume, the women on the other hand were distraught

So at this stage Bedlam ensures where a tide of rats appear along with the white apes, again not very fantasy like.  But then some daemons appear, well not really daemons its a black cloud of doom that begins to devour the castle. 
The Big Bad Guy

I wont ruin the ending for you but its really not that great.  The sense of danger and excitement just was not there for me.

Epilogue - Keep forgetting he is telling the tale to the Caliph!  Turns out Semjaza was his brother, decides to let Orfeo and the boy go free.  So he wont be made a Eunuch.  But who knows whats been going on, it took Orfeo two days to tell his tale and poor Maro was just left in that room....

Zaragoz started of really well as i really enjoy the mystery and the conspiracy aspect.  But it just didn't flow that well though.  And the big twist is that their is no big twist.  How can you have a book about politics and intrigue without a twist?  The good guys stayed good and the bad guys stayed bad.  Only Arcangelo had any hint of going against his beliefs to make him more powerful.  It just feels like a wasted opportunity to me.  There were some good moments talking about the nature of existence and also must be one of the only novels that gives insight into Estalia in the warhammer library.  Also despite the age no real fluff issues to speak of, they were some but they were minor.  I found the end to be very anti-climatic which going by the build up was a huge letdown.  All the good work done to set up the characters could have led to some memorable battles or events but a big cloud gets them instead.  It may be suffering because i read it straight after Drachenfels but to me Zaragoz was a bit of a disappointment.  It had the setting, the characters and an great premise but in the end it did not deliver.  It could have been great.

Rating - 5/10


Sunday, 1 September 2013

1) - Drachenfels

So the first book on the list is Drachenfels written by Jack Yeovil which is a pseudonym for Kim Newman.  I have no idea why authors use fake names, i guess they can reinvent themselves or hide behind them.  Interesting choice though to pick Yeovil, cant say i have ever been to Yeovil, lets quickly check it out.

Someone probably got paid a lot of money to come up with that slogan.....
Do cities have minds?  Are the sentient living creatures?  Maybe we are looking at the next role playing supplement, fighting your way through the dangers of Yeovil, the living city!  I am starting to wish i penned this blog under my pseudonym of Indiana Prime, i have missed a trick there.
So the picture at the top is from the cover when it was re released by the Black Library in October 2001.  I remember the Black Library frequently asked questions page said they would not republish the old novels from before its time, luckily they realised that was daft and reprinted them all.  But the decision to change the cover, well lets take a look at the original.

Maybe the source of his power is a terrible problem with underarm sweating, luckily they had a can of Lynx Africa to best him

 Yeah no complaints from me to change it.  It looks like the evil Constant Drachenfels is going to envelope the heroes in his cloak!  No wonder he is so feared throughout the world, how are they going to see where they are going?  The change in cover shows the heroine Genvieve Dieudonne looking much more like her description in the book (although probably older than she should look) and Drachenfels himself looks like the terrifying monster he is meant to be.

The original from GW Books
I quite like this one, i assume that is Drachenfels seal on the book.  Early covers had a habit of writing the title over and over again which is a bit pointless.  Still its quite Gothic and suits the atmosphere of the book really well.

Just a quick mention, their was also a 1st edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay book with an adventure based around a group of adventurers exploring Castle Drachenfels.
I really like this cover, it gives the sense of foreboding about the castle that Kim Newman gets across in the novel.  Ill just imagine the castle goes further back and that it is out of shot in the picture rather than get upset that its too small.  However when looking for this picture i found this!
Yep the ruins of Castle Drachnfels are very real.  Its amazing how i never knew that, i guess it just goes to show how much fantasy, and not just warhammer fantasy i hasten to add, is taken from real life inspiration.  Ill be honest this has disappointed me a bit as i thought the setting was all from the mind of Newman but in the end he didn't even bother to change its name.  A quick google translate of Drachenfels turned up that it means Dragon Rock.  I like the style of whomever built this place!  Right i may have got a bit distracted there, id better get on with the actual review!  Needless to say SPOILERS AHEAD, LOTS OF THEM!

Although not as bad as the book itself for spoilers, literal the first page which gives an example extract of the book, gives away the final twist at the end!  Whomever edited that needs to find a new job.

Now you have to remember that when this book was written the fluff was not official and some of the content of the book directly conflicts with the now established world.  I wont let this get in the way of the book but ill point some of it out.  Drachenfels starts with a prologue set 25 years ago.  In an interesting twist it starts mid way through an adventure, with people already killed off!  Son of an Elector Oswald Von Konnigswald is leading an expedition to put an end to the evil that is Constant Drachenfels.  One of the party is the Vampire Genevieve Dieudonne who although appearing like a young lady is in fact well over 600 years old.  The prologue is told through her eyes and tells of how the adventures party fall at regular intervals before they are able to confront the great enchanter himself.  Genevieve though is knocked unconscious at the end and missed the final battle between Oswald and Drachenfels.  This was a different way to start a book but i really enjoyed it.  The dread of the castle really comes across well and we are left wondering what happened after Genevieve passes out.

Act one introduces us to the hero of the piece, the playwright and actor, Detlef Sierck who is in the infamous Mudsen Keep for owing a staggering amount of money after his last project fell apart.  It is 25 years later and Oswald von Konnigswald recruits him to create a play to celebrate the anniversary of his greatest triumph, the defeat of Constant Drachenfels.  Genevieve is in a convent for vampires, nothing really else of note happens, its a scene setter.  Although i have to mention Ottos father who has gone senile with age and plays with painted toy lead soldiers with model orcs, dwarfs and elves.  OH MY GOD he is playing warhammer in a book set in the warhammer world!  My mind cant take it.
So we go to Act 2 which focuses more on the survivors of the original adventure, all of them are not doing very well and are tempted back to come to watch Detlefs play which is going to now be premiered at Castle Drachenfels itself.  This act tells various stories through multiple characters that could have been quite difficult.  Newman uses short chapters, some less than two pages long which is done very well and the short chapter lengths keep the pacing fast and exciting.

With Act 3 the troop arrive at the castle to set up the play.  The castle is a lot less threatening now but you know something is going on.  Its this act that sets the tone of the book actually being a murder mystery as people are found gruesomely killed.  You are given an insight into one of the killers as a few of the chapters are through his eyes but you still do not know who his patron is.  A good mix of incidents revolving around the play, the deaths and also the interaction and relationship between the characters.

Things start to escalate rapidly in Act 4 with some more gruesome and gory murders (flayed alive is no way to go).  One of the best chapters deals with the thoughts and unhappiness of one of the lesser characters who is in fact a mutant.  It is interesting now to see that after they are revealed Detlef says its not illegal to be a mutant, obviously the early warhammer world was a lot more tolerant, now they would be lucky if they were not all burned at the stake for even being in the same place!  Finally the great and the good of the empire arrive at Drachenfels ready for the premier.

The final act focuses on the play itself.  After all the build up I was looking forward to seeing how it played out.  Of course it all goes wrong when the real Constant Drachnfels turns up.  A good twist also occurs and we finally find out what happened at the climax of the original quest between Oswald and Drachenfels.  My only gripe so far about anything is the way the great enchanter, this invincible monster is defeated, it just felt a little bit like an anti climax to me.
Famed for wearing masks, Drachenfels was annoyed that he forgot to put one on and only had his cone helmet the one time he was painted.

Well i tried to limit the spoilers and there is a good reason for that, this book is very good and i really recommend you read it.  The short chapters are great and keeps you wanting more and the action fast paced.  I like the multiple characters, even though its a Genevieve novel she is only one of the leading characters and its probably Detlef that is the star of the novel and Newman does an excellent job telling everyone's side of the same story and you can invest in each one of them.  I also liked the clever structure of the book which was divided into five acts, just the same as Detlefs play in the novel. 

This is far better than most of the recent stuff that i have read and if you can get over the fact that the citizens of the Empire tolerate (barley) Vampires in their midst and its not illegal to be a mutant then you can almost fit it into the modern day fluff.  Good luck trying to fit in the fact that Karl Franz is married and has a son Luitpold and even a daughter though.  I actually think it would be a good thing and i am not sure if its mentioned in modern fluff so do they exist or not?
Karl Franz, Family Man....maybe
Also it discusses the age old question in a fantasy setting, is a human midget classed as a dwarf?  According to the dwarfs of the warhammer world, no they are not.

So our first foray into Warhammer fiction is complete with an excellent murder mystery story that was excellently written.  I would happily recommend this to non warhammer fans as well.  The pacing is good, the characters are varied and the story is excellent. I found it really difficult to put down, thinking one more chapter just so i could see what happened next.  The only thing that let it down was the final battle at the end which i felt was a bit anti climatic but that is nitpicking.  Glad to see though that my initial thoughts that the older generation of books are still the best is off to a good start!

Rating - 9/10