Thursday, 19 December 2013

10) - Beasts in Velvet

We continue our journey through the history of warhamer fantasy novels with Jack Yeovil's Beasts in Velvet.  Jack Yeovil is really Kim Newman and the author of Drachenfels which is still the highest scoring book in the blog so far so hopes are very high for this one.  The cover is the Black Library reissue which features the three main protagonists in the story.  Its not bad but neither is it anything amazing, its a bit...well boring really.  The original GW Books one from 1991 I think -

There is a lot more stuff happening in this one.
I actually prefer this one to the reissue.  Although its less to do with the story itself as i think its a battle scene but you can imagine it as the riots later in the novel and i am pretty sure its reused art from something else.  Probably some WFRP 1st edition stuff which seemed to be the trend.  I remember seeing it in a White Dwarf when the first Empire army book came out.  So lets see what Boxtree did when they reissued it themselves -

As you can see they radically changed the design beyond all recognition with a splash of red.
Enough talk of covers!  Lets get to the best bit!

Spoiler Annihilation Ahead!

Ok Beasts in Velvet is a murder mystery and the sad news for me is that i remember who the killer is from last time i read it.  I have forgotten almost everything with these books but this one stuck in my head which is a shame.  I will pretend i don't know though for the purpose of the review.  Or we can make it like an episode of Columbo.

Erm, maybe not.
The prologue follows an old used up prostitute Margi as she makes her way through the dockside area of Altdorf.  Its quite a brutal tale as she thinks back on her life so far and the problems she faces now.  We get a shout out to Orfeo during this which i love but as she trys to murder a drunk she finds it is in fact the person known only as the Beast who is a wanted serial killer.  This is a really rough opening and paints the Dock area of Altdorf to be really rough.  Some of Margi's memories of her...cough "career"... are very dark and disturbing.  This most certainly is not for kids but it makes the city feel very real indeed.

Newman starts the first main chapter by cleverly tying in the stories from his previous novel Drachenfels and also the short story Ignorant Armies.  The star of Ignorant Armies was Johann von Mecklenberg who is now the Elector Count of Sudenland (fluff breaker, Sudenland was smashed by the Orcs) and is currently in Altdorf at the Imperial Court teaching the Emperors son how to fire a crossbow.  The other tutor is Leos von Liebewitz who is teaching the young heir fencing.  We get a shout out to Konrad to show that Newman is keen to draw all the novels together to make a coherent world.  A mob shows up at the gates demanding that the nobles do something about the Beast and his murders.  The Emperors confessor Mikael Hasselstien confronts the mob which is being led by well known political agitator Yefimovich, the glass with flames mutant from Red Thirst, i assume he is in disguise.  Hasslestien gets the palaces sewage dumped on them and the mob disperses.  Johann is worried though that the murderer is his brother Wolf who was mutated in Ignorant Armies and only restored by the sacrifice of innocent blood.

Now we get to see things from the beasts point of view.  It is him growing up.  The real life person it knows as the boy shell and it details his first kills as he grows up.  When he kills his uncle with an axe through the head it is described as looking like the forbidden place on the female body.

I googled female body to see what he meant...none of them are publishable so have a euphemism instead.
Anyway the beast kills his first women and decides that will be his only prey from now on as they are disgusting creatures.

Now we switch gears to the docks where Filthy Harald Kleindeinst is stopping a bunch of guys taking a cut from a shipment.  He is portrayed as a bad ass and backs it up by easily winning a fight.  Halfling detective Sam Warble even makes an appearance, i think that's the third different author to use him!

Back we go to Johann who has gone to the murder scene under the pretense that the emperor has asked him to investigate, where the truth is he wants to find out if its brother.  The scene is complete carnage as Margis body has been so badly mutilated you can barely tell the victim is female.  Told you this book was not for kids!  They find a piece of green velvet which is only worn by nobles and the corrupt watch captain burns the evidence, not wanting to get embroiled with nobles as it wont end well for his career.  They also arrest some sailors who found the body instead, who just happen to be from a ship captained by the women in the Voyage South short story!  How ace is that!?

Again the perspective of the story changes to that of Johann's brother Wolf.  He has lost all memory of the events in Ignorant Armies but when he sleeps it comes back to him.  His girlfriend has scratch marks on her and even comments that he was an animal last night.  He has no recollection of the previous evenings events, setting it up to appear he is in fact the beast.  So much so that its clearly not going to be him.  All these perspective changes could be a confusing mess but Newman is an excellent writer and i really enjoy it.  Oh and he gets another Konrad plug in when Wolf thinks back to meeting the Wolf from that novel and also a meeting with the werewolf Erik from the Star Boat short story.  He really is building a unified world and it really adds to the tale.  Oh and the love making scene that takes place feels more natural, not a tripped out Brian Stableford dream.

One thing i have just noticed is that the corrupt watch commander is constantly referred to as Dickon of the Dock Watch.

Even old BBC documentaries are not safe from the Warhammer treatment!
We are next introduced to Rosanna Ophuls who is a psychic who was been brought in to help solve the mystery of the beast.  Unlike real life she really does have some powers.  We get a brief history over her talent where she feels things by touching.  For example she slept in a bed in an inn and felt the last three people that died in that bed.  This chapter also further shows its not for kids, they talk about it being a potential sex crime, this story is very real.

Another scene change and now we are introduced to Dien Ch'ing an ambassador from Cathy, except he is not, he is really an agent of Tzeenetch and the principle bad guy in Red Thirst.  He has an audience with Hasselstein who is also painted as potentially being the beast. Dein Ch'ing is together with Yefimovich again trying to fan the flames of unrest in the city.  And that's Part One done.  That's a lot going on but it has been set up nicely.

Part two is called the fog and has Johann in a carriage going down the street of a hundred taverns.  Not much goes on in this chapter but its an interesting social commentary of life in Altdorf.  Meanwhile Wolf is out with his girlfriend and bumps into Genevieve the Vampire, its only a quick cameo.  Wolf has developed an addiction to the drug weirdroot and feels the beast coming back inside him.  It ends with him lashing out at his girlfriend.

Baron Johann and his friend from the watch, a young man named Elsaesser, go to recruit Filthy Harold to help them with the case.  We get a very very dark tale of why Harold was kicked out of the watch.  He had killed an electors nephew who was abusing an under aged girl, this really is adult stuff.  He did the right thing, what anyone would do and killed the evil aristocrat but of course it cost him his job.  He had freed her at the cost of everything he had.  Filthy Harold is my new hero.  Johann uses some fake seal to reinstate him into the watch.  Oh and he is called Filthy as he gets all the worst jobs.

Meanwhile Rosanna is summoned by Arch Lector Hasselstein who tells her to report any findings to only him and offers her retirement and riches if she does.  She cant help but read his thoughts.  Its seems he had once been a lover of Margi the Prostitute that was murdered by the beast.

Everything is linked in this story, my diagram is more complicated than this one.
For the first time in a while we are back with the beast, and it is hunting Wolf's girlfriend, again pointing to Wolf being the beast.  Ch'ing and Yefimovich meet up, it is a disguise as he is still a glass mutant that is filled with fire.  Yefimovich plans to release a book called beasts in green velvet, a list of all the noble families of the Empire along with their many crimes.  As the beast kills Rosanna sees it in her dream, she sees the girl thinking of Wolf.  Part two end and the plot thickens!

Part three continues the story from various viewpoints.  A young bitter apprentice finds the body.  The vampire Genevieve is positioned as a potential beast as she two has a green velvet cloak and was out feeding the previous night.  Elsaesser contemplates why he wants to catch the beast so much and the students of the League of Karl Franz wake up and their leader also hinted at being a possible outsider for being the beast.  Now it does sound like its all over the place but its not, its very well written and i love this style of telling the story.

Wait I've figured it out, its the Green Arrow.  After watching Arrow on TV he was so distraught by how awful the acting was he went on a murdering rampage in Altdorf.
Then next few scenes don't seem to mean much but they do seem to hint at something bigger.  The fencing instructor from the start Leos is engaging in a duel to the death over a slight to his sisters honour.  Yefimovich has assembled more agitators and the watch are called to the scene of the latest death. 

The duel with Leos is against the champion of a petty noble.  The man is massive and is described to have muscles like Gotrek the Trollslayer.  Leos kills him within seconds with a well placed slash across the neck.  It is heavily hinted that Leos is gay which is an interesting twist.  For some reason though we are now with the Bretonnian ambassador, who is a dwarf...and is watching girls dance.  In the end he goes for a fat chick with big tits, yep he is a chubby chaser.

Back with Leos through the eyes of halfling detective Sam Warble who is in the palace in disguise as a servant as he watches Leos kill the Graf who had slighted his sister.  Then we get a quick flash to the beast, smelling blood.  Add Leos to the list of potential beasts.  Part three ends with Rosa and Harold examining the body.  Rosa senses the name Wolf and draws the man as well.  Wolf wakes up on a boat covered in blood with no memory of the previous evening.

At the start of part four riots have broken out in Altdorf due to all the factions prowling about and the fog that has the city in its grip. Filthy Harold meets up with Rosana and the suspicion is now on Wolf although Harold knows he is not necessarily guilty yet.  Wolf wakes up covered in blood, still no memory and Dien Ch'ing does some crazy Bruce Lee moves on some racist rioters.
I imagine Dein Ch'ing is Shang Tsung, they both came out very close together.......
Well there is no doubt anymore that Leos is gay as there is scene with his secret lover Dany.  Now instead of celebrating the open mindedness of a gay character in warhammer even back in the early 90's i instead despair how its just a gay stereotype.
Leos lover Dany is this gay in the camp scale....
All the great and the good including Johann and Leos are on their way to the Bretonnian ambassadors party where Dein Ch'ing is hoping to convince them all to sign a treaty to attack the goblins in the dark lands.  I assume he hopes they get wiped out but who knows Tzeentch's plans, they are as complicated as this plot.  Meanwhile Yefimovich has started his revolution as the common people rebel against the nobles.  The face of this revolution is a women called Ulrike who is known as the angel, the people love her but she is part of Yefimovich's band.  He takes her across the river on a boat and halfway across declares himself the beast and murders her.  Hmm i still think its too early to reveal the beast, as a chaos mutant Yefimovich is too obvious, i think he is going to use the beast as cover for his revolution against the nobles.

The riots hit the watch station Filthy Harold is at and its up to him to get everyone out alive as it burns around them.  He manages but the chapter is an interesting take on human psyche.  Rosanna comments that there is not one beast, they are all beasts.  It looks like all the players in this tale are converging on the party, its getting really interesting now!

Wolf learns of his girlfriends death at the hands of the beast and runs off in anger blaming himself.  He is convinced he is the beast and as he flees he starts to change.  Harold and Rosanna find him, a confused mess as Rosanna uses her gift to show him his girlfriends death.  The contrast in the chapters are now very interesting with the struggle with Wolf on one side and the absurdity of the party on the other.  The future emperor sees some large cleavage for the first time and marks it down as a five star day.  During this Yefimovich's plan works, he blames the girls death on the beast and produces some green velvet as evidence.  The crowd go nuts and want revenge and make their way to the street where the part is ongoing.

Common people v Nobles = Angry Mob
The absurdly large chested dancer at the party now enters the fray looking for a target.  Of course she targets an unknown person, a shy man.  Well we know the beast hates women so its odds on he is the one she is targeting, which rules out Yefimovich and Wolf, the two prime suspects so far!  It is revealed that she is trying it on with camp Leos, good luck with that love.  Anyway the revolution hits the pub and Johann makes his escape with the future Emperor in tow.  Of course he ends up in the room his brother Wolf is hiding in just as he is caught by Harold and Rosanna.  I would try and tell you what happens next but its chaos, everyone is running around.  Yefimovich gets exposed as a mutant and the revolution starts to loose momentum.  The large lady is indeed the next victim of the beast and as Rosanna feels the murder taking place they all rush to get him.  Only young Elsaesser makes it and the beast kills him before the identity is revealed.

Well that's act four done.  It was intense, very fast paced and frantic.  I loved it!  Final act coming up and its called....erm...Bestiality.  I hope that meant something else in the early 90's.  So we get a flash forward to a commission investigation where they pin the tag of the beast on Yefimovich, out heroes of course know different.  They then notice poor Elsaesser is missing and they find his body, he has drawn a code with his blood as he died but they cant make head nor tale of it yet.  They do piece together a clue though, the green velvet cloak was frayed and the only way it could reach the ground to fray would be if a dwarf was wearing it, the Bretonnian ambassador is a dwarf!  On queue he appears in the rooms of the Leos sister the elector countess Emmanuelle. 

But its a swerve!  Rosanna finally realises that the velvet has come not from the cloaks of the aristocrats but a dress.  The beast is a women!  They recon its the countess Emmanuelle and make haste to the palace.  At the same time the countess's brother, gay Leos is kicking out all her various admirers who are intimidated by his swordsmanship.  She goes all beast like and then it says within seconds the great swordsman is killed by the beast!

Rosanna senses all this and leads Johann and Filthy Harold to the room the brother and sister are in, along with a handful of guards.  They break down the door.  Finally the beast is revealed.  Ok last chance if you do not want to know who the beast is stop reading now and read this amazing book instead!

And the beast is...............
A cross dressing viscount Leos von!?  So they are taken by surprise and Harold is knocked out of the fight leaving Baron Johann to duel Leos.  Its a good final fight and Johann finally lands a blow, slicing open the dress Leos is wearing.  Harold sees his chance and throws his knife, killing Leos.  And in another shock reveal it turns out Leos is not a cross dressing homosexual, but a women!  I can't handle all this!  Well it turns out that the Countess was so desperate to be the greatest beauty in the Empire that when her little sister was born she convinced her parents to make her a boy.  Leos had spent his whole life fighting what he/she was and that's how the beast had come to be. 

Ok first let me apologies for the fractured nature of the blog.  The chapters switch between so many multiple viewpoints it is really hard to do a running commentary of whats going on.  Beasts in Velvet is an avalanche of characters, motivations and sub plots.  It may sound like too much and normally it would be but Newman blends everything together perfectly making it a thrilling story.  My only complaint is that sometime the subject matter can be dark, very dark.  It is always used to build the character and the story but some of it is too dark for me and not what i am looking for in a warhammer novel.  This is minor though and far outweighed by Newmans attempts to draw the warhammer world together, great plots, super characters and excellent writing.  A must read.

Rating - 9/10



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