Friday, 6 December 2013

6) - Red Thirst

Well after going back to a proper novel it is time to go back to the short story anthologies.  Red Thirst was the third and final of these collections of short stories from the original run and is again edited by David Pringle.  The first thing i noticed is that this one only has six stories compared to the eight of the other books.  This should allow the stories within to be a bit better as the authors have a bit more space to tell their tales.

Ok lets take a look at the cover.  I found finding anything a bit more difficult as the red thirst is something Blood Angels in 40k suffer from, so i only found two variants.  I suspect the one above is the original as it shares the same theme of others in this series.  The background is taken from the cover of the 1st edition warhammer fantasy roleplay.  And of course with the name Red Thirst the random background had to be red.  The one i have though is this one -
The ogres hairdresser should be applauded for such a good colouring job.
Its the same picture but zoomed out a bit.  Ill talk about this picture a bit more when we get to The dark beneath the world.  No red background though, in a book called Red Thirst i cant say i am happy with that.  The bad news though is that as its the later version i wont have any of the cool illustrations to comment/mock.

No time to waste lets get going - SPOILERS INCOMING!

Red Thirst - Jack Yeovil

Editor David Pringle has decided to stick with the same format as Wolf Riders and lead with the title story.  He can now sit back and relax and cash his cheque.  Its written by Jack Yeovil, aka Kim Newman so expectations are high for this one.  We join the mercenary Vukotich as a prisoner being taken to a penal colony.  Vukotich was in the short story Ignorant Armies where he was killed at the end so i think we can safely assume this is a prequel.  Readers from previous blogs will remember this was written before the current fluff was set.  This is an issue with Red Thirst as the dwarven sea fortress of Zhufbar now appears to be in Empire hands.  It could be fixed just by setting it in another city as Zhufbar doesn't play a major role in the story.

Within the first few pages their is mentions of characters from Drachenfels, I do like how all Newman's stories all merge together.  I think it helps bring the world together more than other novels which are set in the same place at the same time and still feel separate.  It helps build the world and the modern black library authors should take note.

So The Empire has an issue where a moral zealot called Claes Glinka has gained sway with the powers that be and now these non affiliated guardians of purity enforce strict moral codes on the populace.  Vukotich has fallen foul of these moral crusaders and is now incarcerated.  The viewpoint swiftly changes outside the prisoners wagon to the would be jailor, Dein Ch'ing who is using the moral crusade as cover for his work in the name of the chaos god Tzeentch.  We get some mentions of far flung Cathy, probably more than anywhere else in the warhammer library.  We get a mention of the Pagoda of Tsien-Tsin, the Monkey King, Great Gojira (Japanese word for Godzilla!) and erm......the Catshit Daemons.
Godzilla exist in warhammer!  Great news for everyone.
Alas so does this.....and its a daemon!
Anyway Vukotich escapes but is chained to a young women who he takes for a whore and plans to lose her as soon as possible.  They work together to kill there pursuers and Vukotich says he need his hand more and uses a sword to attempt to chop her hand off.  Doesn't go so well though as it bounces off her skin.  The young lady is none other than the vampire Genevieve Dieudonn√©.  As they make their way to a small village looking for a smith to cut their chains (Genevieve's is made of silver) Vukotich is torn between lust and disgust at the vampire.
They make their way to an abandoned lodge so Vukotich can sleep but during the night there is a secret meeting held there that the overhear.  Wladislaw Blasko who is currently ruling Zhufbar (god the dwarfs must be pissed) meets with the strangest looking mutant I have read about so far.  He is called Yefimovich and is described as a perfect living statue of transparent glass that has an inner fire burning inside him.  What an amazing description, sounds like something out a marvel film.  I really like this as its completely unique, well at least to my knowledge.  Anyway the two are in cahoots that when Glinka does his next big speech he will be assassinated and the mutants will take control of the moral crusade.  And when Blasko's aid starts to panic Blasko kills him and then kicks the body, just in case you were in doubt that he was a bad guy.
We go back to Ch'ing who is still pretending to be a member of the moral crusade.  He is due to be the one to perform the assassination but when he uses some magic to see the meeting between his high priest and Blasko he spots Vukotich and Genevieve listening in and recognises them as the escapees and cant allow then to live.  So he uses a bamboo flute and calls on the ancestor Xhou to harry them, as you do.

The Duo are currently on an Ox cart escaping the area when the spirit arrives.  From the description i see an an old school genie hovering over them.  Xhou promises them all sorts if they just leave and don't interfere with their plans.  Vukotich, the Iron Man, is all for leaving but Genevieve persuades them to turn around and save Glinka, the leader of the moral crusade which they hate.  The next town they arrivein is home to a mass burning of art.  A poet gets angry and the only reason i mention this is that a young boy watching him in admiration is dragged off by his mother, the boy is Detlef, the lead character in Drachenfels.  Its all related i tell you!  Anyway a riot breaks out and they escape the area heading for an inn.  Oh my!  They get to the inn and have sex, doesn't sound like it was very good!  I do not know why earlier warhammer authors are obsessed with sex but they are!  I may investigate further in a future blog.

As they try and leave a wood daemon sent by Ch'ing appears.  As they flee other elemental's, fire, water, air and earth appear.  Vukotich notes that wood is not an element and Genevieve tells him it is in Cathy.
Glad they mentioned that as i was sure wood wasn't an element but was too shy to mention it in case it was and i looked like a idiot.
Genevieve remembers an old tale and uses it to her advantage.  She asks that the mightiest of them accept her surrender and the get into a battle royal and cancel each other out.  Very clever way of setting that up.  They make it to the black water just in time to stop the assassination but Ch'ing does not go down without a fight.  The end fight sounds like a scene from Mortal Kombat with Ch'ing flying around, spells going off and he turns into a spectral dragon!  In the end he flees, Blasko drowns and Glinka is found out to be a mutant.
How ace would a warhammer beat em up be?
So that was Red Thirst and i really enjoyed it.  The pacing was just right and as usual is very well written.  The insight on Cathy was refreshing and i enjoyed the tie ins with Newman's other warhammer novels.  Alas it would take a lot of fluff retconing to pull it into line with the now established warhammer world.  I doubt the dwarf players would be happy with them losing another hold!

Rating - 8/10

The Dark Beneath the World - William King

We are back with Gotrek and Felix as the fantasy novel franchise juggernaut is still in its early phases.  On there way to Carak Eight Peaks (still Carak not Karak) they find a group that have been ambushed by Orcs.  We see this from Felix's point of you who ends up in the river trying to avoid being drowned by an Orc.  They both get carried by the current and Felix almost goes over a huge waterfall.  Interesting fight this one as it was different to your normal fantasy affair.  We are off to a good start.  Oh and we also get the answer to the age old question, what colour is Orcs blood?  Emerald Green!

So the duo fall in with the three ambush survivors, a religious knight, a scout and a wizard.  Sounds like a roleplaying adventure group to me.  They travel to the eight peaks and Gotrek gives a quick history of its rise and fall.  When they get there a group of Dwarfs greet them and take them to the keep.  The journey emphasizes the danger of the area and just how run down the fallen city now is.  They are taken to Prince Belegar who is the same Prince Belegar from the old Dwarf army book which had a battle in it.  Ah the good old days, when all literature GW pumped out was taken into consideration.  Now the Black Library books are not even considered cannon by some.  So Gotrek wants to hunt Troll and the humans have come to recover an ancient blade, Karaghul, both are granted permission to go down into the depths.  They are warned though of Dwarf Spirits roaming the underground, the thought of ancestors trapped in the afterlife causes Gotrek to show fear for the first time in the novels.  If its enough to scare him, yeah you should be afraid.

They go down into the depths and Felix gives up counting the stair at be honest if you have got that far you might as well keep going.  Gotrek gets a bit sad as he points out the amazing architecture they encounter is now beyond them and that their race is a dying one.  Although King does write that he has sadness in his eyes, plural.  He only has one left.
Maybe he can have different eye patches with drawn on eyes to reflect his mood, today he was wearing his sad eye.
So they come across the first bit of resistance with an Ogre led tribe of goblins.  During the feet another rival tribe arrives and after the wizard lets loose a fireball the two tribes end up fighting each other allowing the heroes to punch through and escape in the confusion.  Now i must draw your attention to the front covers again.
Original Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Cover 1986
  The Ogre in the battle is the one described exactly in the short story.  Even down to the hair.  Also the knight and wizard are the same as well.  The only problem is that the dwarf that is meant to be Gotrek has two eyes.  But the problem is the dates.  This was published in 1986 and Red Thirst came out in 1990.  And to eliminate any doubt that this is the scene take a look at this one -
Its a flip of the whole picture.

This one includes the second tribe appearing, the demon fireplace and the stand off on the stairs.  So it looks like William King has seen this cover and decided to tailor it so it can be included in the story.  I think that's a great idea and i wish they could do it more with covers past and present and is also quite impressive at how well he pulls it off.

After the battle they run into their first ghost.  It dissipates before anything can happen but brings a tear to Gotreks eye, yep he is back to only having one eye again, normality ensues.  After a while including an encounter with a mass of moths, another spirit appears and speaks to Gotrek, they need help as their tombs have been desecrated which has pulled them back from the afterlife.  Of course Gotreks going to help, he is a hero!  They find the desecrated tomb and the massive chaos mutated troll within it.  The troll has a chunk of warpstone chained to its neck and has grow a few mutations.  The description of the baby head and the pincer arm do make it sound truly horrifying and shows how mutations should be done to effect.  The three red shirts all die as per standard star trek protocol.   
We are all going to fight the troll, not all of us will make it....but you know i will
Using lamp oil Felix is able to set it on fire which stops it regenerating and allows Gotrek to bring it down in the end.  With the troll dead though the goblins are no longer scared to approach and it looks like its all over for them.  However the dead spirits of the dwarfs appear and slaughter the greenskins like the scene in return of the king.  Felix take Karagul the sword and they leave. 

Well that was another good entry in the series and i liked the story of how Felix came upon Karagul.  It had the scene with the roleplay cover and a great end bad guy to fight.  Also i like a bit of backstory which we got on the journey there.  Only negatives are the other characters are instantly forgettable and a bit of inconsistency on Gotrek's eye(s).  Positives far outweigh the negatives though.

Rating - 8/10

The Spells Below - Neil Jones

Red Thirst has been great so far, lets see if this one can maintain the momentum.   We meet Neil Jones for the first time and in fantastic news it appears Neil Jones is his real name.  He wrote Deathwing which is from the warhammer 40k early novels.  Can't see many more warhammer novels by him, that always makes me a bit nervous. 

So here we have a wizard in training Katarina Kraeber on her way to her next lesson with her mentor and lover Anton Freiwald.  When she arrives at the house she finds it completely surrounded by the Grafs men, wizards from all the colleges and a siege engine.  Wow they must be up against an army.  Before she can do anything she is spotted by Antons rival and captured and taken to the Graf.  It transpires Anton is accused of using dark magic and being in league with chaos.  The Graf orders the siege engine to fire but it hits a magical wall and the stone falls short.  The distraction allows Katarina to get loose and she sprints for the house.  With the spells help she makes it to the house.  There she finds Antons Kislev mercenaries and realises that Anton has placed a loyalty spell on them.  She wonders about the morality of that but tells herself Anton had no choice.  Anton himself is there and he has a familiar!   Not enough of them about anymore.
I love these guys, nothing chaotic about them at all....
An assassin of Khaine appears, yeah that wont work in todays fluff, and goes after Anton who is in his inner sanctum.  Despite being forbidden to go in Katarinas love for Anton overrules her fear and she goes in.  Antons bound to be a chaos worshipper.  The journey down the stairs is not easy as Anton has put all sorts of spells in the way.  But she uses her love for Anton to get through it....groan.
She gets to the lab where skulls are flying around, although she describes Anton as being of the rainbow college, im not sure that has ever existed?
There is a rainbow mage in this though!  Two player gamebooks were ace.  Shame by playing gamebooks meant you had no friends, rendering two player ones pointless.

 Anton and the assassin are dead and for some reason she does not feel the emotion she should.  Eventually the spell fades and it appears Anton had enslaved her with his magic.  With rage she searches for his grimoire and eventually finds it, including having to put up with her arm being chewed by a magical trap when the area holding the book grows
So the familiar become Anton as she realises that he has had many lives and every time he dies the homunculus becomes the wizard and he is reborn.  A scuffle ensues and she stabs him with the assassins blade in a scene from Empire strikes back when she uses a fetch spell when she cant reach it.

Hmm this was not very good, it was pretty obvious and was filled with some cartoonish stuff.

Rating - 3/10

The Light of Transfiguration - Brian Craig

Its another tale from Orfeo, everyone's favorite spoony bard.  Brian Stableford has reverted back to Bretonnia, his favorite place to write about.  We get a brief history lesson about a daemon worshipper called Khemis Kezula who had a fortified manner near the Vaults mountain range.  He was defeated by the Knight Lanval de Valancourt who proceeds to smash the place down and leaves it abandoned.  Upon his death he warns his son not to go near it but when his son then dies in battle he can not pass the message on.  Instead the ground is left to the sisters of Shallya, the Goddess of Mercy.  So after agreeing the ground was so remote and therefore no bloody use to them the current Valancourt provides them with masons to help build a temple.

We join a young priestess by the name of Sister Adalia who is one of the priestess of Shallya sent to the cursed location to set up their temple.  Not much happens as the men set to build houses for everyone, Stableford puts across how difficult the work is but you cant really make it exciting.  Eventually the house is built and it sounds a very dreary place.  Adalia though discovers some fragments of broken stained glass.  She starts to collect them in the attempt to reconstruct it (her dad was a window maker).  The mother superior frowns on this so Adalia has to continue her work in secret.  The story basically revolves around her searching for glass fragments amongst the ruins.  Yes those cursed ruins, stupid girl.  So as the window starts to take shape the completed parts glow at night, with the light causing the shadows to dance randomly.  Does this put Adalia off?  No don't be silly, her life is very boring and this is the only excitement she gets!

The picture half way through reconstruction.
Adalia starts to neglect her spiritual duties and even goes as far as praying to any god to help her finish the window.  That night she finds a Dwarf waiting for her with the rest of the pieces of the painting.  Never trust a random dwarf with shards of stained glass!  So she completes the picture that night and gets this -

Ok i lied.  Its got a daemon in the middle that sounds like a Lord of Change from the description.  As soon as she completes it the daemon materializes into the room.  She is enraptured with it and opens her arms to embrace it.  This is as close as we get to Stablefords usual random sexual encounter, should it count?  Yes it does.  We flip to the next day and the burnt body of Adalia is found in her room completely covered by all the fragments of glass.

Well typical of Brian Stableford that i don't know what to make of this one.  It does make you think a bit but you could see the ending coming a mile away.  Even worse was the build up as its was extremely dull.  Still its better than Spells Below as the writing style is much better even though the subject matter is not.

Rating - 4/10

The Song - Steve Baxter

Steve Baxter is back, i enjoyed the Star Boat in Wolf Riders, but in an interesting twist he appears to be writing about halfling detective Sam Warble, whose previous short story was written by Sandy Mitchell (which was not his real name).  Keeping up?  Good.

The Halfling Detective is sitting in the bar when his friends come in and ask Sam about the ring he has.  After some back and fore he eventually starts to tell them his tale.  It all starts with Sam losing a card game to an elf.  With a strong hand but no money the elf asks him to put his mind on the line as the stake.  Sam of course loses and the elf casts a spell on him.  Eight days later Sam wakes up in the pub cellar with a message to go to a specific house.  Sam makes his way to the house and its the elf that he lost the card game to, Eladriel.  He has sealed some of Sams being away (Sam describes how bland his senses appear to be) and would like to trade him that back for the chance to here a human called Lora sing.  It turns out that some of the elves have taken to collecting human art and also collecting the humans themselves.  Lora is meant to be the greatest singer of her generation and has been purchased by the most powerful elf in Marienburg, Periel.

Sam makes it out to Periels private island and is confronted by his Ogre guardian.  He manages to bluff his way out of it by teaching the Ogre how to play cards in an entertaining encounter.  He finds Lora and hears her sing which reduces him to tears.  She bemoans her captivity to him but when Sam tries to free her she keeps making excuses.  She is treated like a Princess now and prefers that life to being free at her fathers pig farm.  Now when she sang last her voice shattered a glass and Sam now has a magical bottle for her to sing into.  He uses his hat to protect it from shattering and returns to Eladriel.  The elf opens the bottle and listens to the song, everyone cries again but without the protection of the hat the glass shatters.  But so does the bottle containing a part of Sam and he is whole again.  Impressed by his trickery the elf lets him go.

So what about the ring?  Well that is fragments of the glass bottle set in gold and when he blows on it he can hear some of the song again.

Ok, i like the way Sam talks and uses his brains and wit to get him out of trouble and Baxter really does make him a very entertaining character.  His descriptive writing is excellent as well and it was a very clever ending.  However it was too short at just over 20 pages so its hard to tell a compelling tale in that time.  Normally i would say it was a bit boring but going by how i have just read about a girl putting a stain glass window back together its not that bad.

After his card game with the Ogre Sam had won a rare collection of Bat Droppings.  Sorry for the second picture of animal poo in one blog, but i don't write the stories!

Rating - 5/10

The Voyage South - Nicola Griffith

Well after a great start Red Thirst has began to flag a bit.  Hopefully the last story here can give it a bit of a boost.   This is Nicola Griffiths second effort in the warhammer world after The Other short story in Ignorant Armies.
Isobel takes her sister Ariel to a remote location by boat and from the start its clear that its a cult of Slaanesh.  All sorts of sensuous things go on and they are all drugged by Olla milk from Araby.  Then we get a sex scene Brian Stableford would be proud of where Isobel's lover has found a cheap source of Olla milk and rubs it all over her.  She clearly overdoses though and her muscles lock up.  The guy runs away but Ariel somehow manages to manhandle her home.  Looks like the warhammer world has the same issues with drugs that we do.  Isobel dies shortly after and Ariel takes a sample of the Olla milk to an apothecary who finds it has been contaminated on purpose by seeds only found in Estallia.   The man that gave it to Isobel coughs up a name of whom sold it and Ariel goes down to the docks to search for clues and finds a women sailor who knows the man.  In order to get to him though she needs passage on a ship but doesn't have the money required so she is hired as crew to work for her passage.  Before they sail though the captain asks her why she is being followed which adds some intrigue. 

We get a brief interlude of Ariel learning the ropes but during the first port of call the first mate comes back from town and speaks to the captain.  Turns out people are asking about the ship and Ariel.  My initial thoughts are its the Estallians who do not want her to find the truth about the corrupted Olla Milk.  More time goes by and Ariel is below deck thinking about her sister, Griffith does a really good job here of making the grief believable but before you can think two much on it the man that has been following her appears.  He gives her a warning to go home or she will ruin everything and that she is not the only one interested in whats going on before vanishing.  Ariel of course ignores the warning as that would be a terrible novel if she listed to his advice.  As they continue down the river they are attacked by archers and boats that try and board the ship.  They are only saved by a mystery boat who has an archer on board that takes out most of the assailants before giving chase to the other boats.  Ariel is wounded and faints.

They finally reach Brionne only to find out the man they are after has left for Magritta a week before.  Despite the offer to stay she leaves the ship and gets a job on a new boat, the Genevieve.  Nothing of note happens and she disembarks at Bilbali, still some distance from her destination.  Ariel goes into town but it does not go well for her and soon an angry mob are chasing her, basically because she is foreign.  Pretty sure that racism.  Anyway she is rescued by an elf who is revealed as the mystery archer and the person that delivered the warning from before.  His name is too long to type but he says its easier to call him Send so i wont argue.  Send doesn't give much away to begin with and they take his ship to Magritta.   The Estalia's are trying to control the sea routes and Send is trying to find out the naval power they have.  So he is a spy then.  When she gets there she learns the truth.  The Olla Milk is not addictive, they are adding the seeds to it to make it addictive and then selling it at a lower price.  Then when the people are addicted they then raise the price and they have no choice but to pay it.  I sense this is meant to be a life lesson here.  But to keep it warhammer related its Khone followers targeting Slaanesh cultists.

When she is brooding about it all and getting angry at her sister for leaving her she hears the militia coming for Send as he is signalling a ship.  She saves his life and we are onto boat four now by my tally.

The boats that feature in Ariel's trip at there annual reunion
On-board it appears plans are in place for a fleet to go against the Estalians fleet.  We get introduced to more characters but its beginning to drag now and i find myself not really caring who they are.  The fleet attacks Magritta and its quite one side.  The real battle is magical and a Bloodthirster of Khorne appears but Send summons a Greater Daemon of Slaanesh to battle it.  The fleet leaves knowing the battle will destroy the remains of the Estalians fleet.  Ariel struggles with the revelation that he is a Slaanesh worshiper.  Send explains chaos can quickly get out of control and now he just tries to channel it where it will do most good.  To be honest i am not sure whats going on anymore.

Well what to say about this one.  It starts off very well and i enjoyed the way it was written, especially the way her sisters death affects Ariel.  Throw in a bit of a mystery and your on a winner.  The way Griffith deals with real world issues is clever but when writing a blog like this its hard to find a place to put comedy pictures in with that subject matter....If it stops with the revelation about the Olla Milk then it would have been fine but it kept going and it did feel it was dragging a lot by the end which made it hard to invest in late introduced characters.  It just became a bit of hard work in the end which is a shame as it was a good start.

Rating - 5/10

And so with that we finish Red Thirst.  Best stories are the first two by far.  If more space had been given to The Song and less to The Journey South both would have benefited i feel and been better.  Next up is a big one.  

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