Last year in January we had the first Gotrek & Felix novel after a gap of several long years. The series started off as short stories by William King that were eventually collected into a novel and became a trilogy, then a double trilogy and so on. Eventually, when William King left, Nathan Long was brought in and he enjoyed a good long run as well. But then the series lapsed and all we had for a while were more short stories and even some novellas, although they were primarily written by a new incoming group of authors. It was good stuff. But what we really needed was a full novel, and that’s what Josh Reynolds’ Road of Skulls did.
The new Gotrek & Felix novels, whether those written by Josh Reynolds or David Guymer, are set out of continuity, which means that they are not part of the main series and are set somewhere in between those adventures already published. Road of Skulls, the first in his new set of novels, was an absolute fantastic read and reminded me of why I loved the series in the first place. And now we have the third novel, The Serpent Queen, and it is every bit as good. It features some more out-of-continuity adventures but sets them in the Southlands, in the homelands of the Lizardmen and we see a conflict between Tomb Kings and Vampires. Pretty superb right out of the gate.
The opening of this novel sees the adventuring duo set off for the Southlands in search of gold, fame and doom. Well, Gotrek is looking for all of that, and Felix is just tagging along since he is sworn to record the Dwarf’s adventures and his death. Gotrek Gurnisson is a Slayer, a Dwarf who committed a grave sin and has been cast out of his hold and Dwarf society, except as and when he achieves redemption by dying a glorious death in battle. Slayers are an unruly and unpredictable lot, though they can be counted on to defend Dwarf honour when the situation calls for it. They have broken some oaths and even committed some grave sins, but once a Dwarf becomes a Slayer, his entire outlook changes. Gotrek once saved Felix and as recompense the poet struck a deal to be his Remembrancer, to follow him in his adventures all over the Old World and even beyond should the need call for it.
The latest adventure puts the duo in the fabled homeland of the fabled Lizardmen, humanoid Saurians who are said to have an entire culture and civilisation in those lands. There are mysteries and treasures to be found aplenty in these lands, and Gotrek has it in his head to die a glorious death fighting against the rumoured saurian monsters that are said to inhabit those lands. We start off with some great scenes set aboard a ship as the two travel to the Southlands. Reynolds establishes the camaraderie between the two characters right from the beginning and establishes their character and attitude as well. He already showed in Road of Skulls that he had a great grasp on these characters and he flexes those muscles yet again in this novel to tell a really rousing adventure.
Whether we have a naval battle between two armies of undead forces, or we have clashes between the forces of Vampire Lords and Tomb Kings, Reynolds is always in command of the plot and the characters. He draws in Queen Khalida of Lybaras, an ancient Tomb Kings principality, and Nitocris the Serpent Queen, a Vampire of the brood of the Lady of the Silver Pinnacle, to show how an ages old conflict from before the ascendance of Mankind and the Empire still has relevance today. Nitocris wants to gain entry into Lahmia on behalf of our Mistress and Queen Khalida stands between her and that goal, for Lybaras is the gateway into Nehekhara and to the Lahmian lands. Nitocris is aided by a necromancer named Octavia and her three Vampire brothers. To counter them, Khalida press-gangs Gotrek and Felix into her service, promising the former a great doom and the latter his life.
As I’ve said already, Reynolds gives Gotrek and Felix a fantastic outing in this novel. He knows the characters inside and out. While at times it seems that Felix is being a bit too reluctant and complaining too much, Gotrek’s enthusiasm and boisterousness more than makes up for all of that. Reynolds plays to both their strengths and he gives them both a hell of a lot of things to do, keeping them busy all throughout. Characters like Khalida and Nitocris also get a great outing, although Khalida gets far more development than Nitocris does, who often appears to be just a stock character.
In a surprising move, Reynolds shows Gotrek and Felix go up against a lot of different monsters, each of whom offers Gotrek a chance to fulfill his doom, to achieve his glorious death. In doing so, Reynolds shows off Gotrek’s fighting prowess most of all, and it is glorious. Not all these big scenes seem particularly necessary, but they offer a great amount of insight into Gotrek as a character, and even how easily he can get distracted, which was funny at times.(less)