Shadowhawk reviews the latest Space Marine Battles novel by Black Library.
“Grim, brutal, and clinical, Siege of Castellax is an excellent representation of the Iron Warriors and of Warhammer 40,000.” ~The Founding Fields
Siege of Castellax marks C. L. Werner’s first foray into full-length Warhammer 40,000 fiction for Black Library, although he has been writing in the Warhammer Fantasy setting for a number of years already and is one of the most experienced, and one of the best, writers for said setting. Siege of Castellax is another first in that it is the first Space Marine Battles novel to feature Chaos Space Marines as the primary cast of characters, thought their enemies here, the Orks, are a common threat in the series (having already featured in Rynn’s World and Purging of Kadillus for example). In those terms, the novel has a lot to live up to, especially since Werner is a writer noted for bringing out the inner… darkness of his characters and for his excellent atmospheric writing, such as you can find in Blood for the Blood God and Dead Winter.
As far as I’m concerned, Werner has proved admirably that he has what it takes to write full-on 40k fiction (he has written at least one short story previously), and GOOD 40k fiction at that.
The meta-plot is fairly simple: an Ork Waaagh! has descended upon the Iron Warriors-controlled planet of Castellax, somewhere near the Eye of Terror, and is intent on destroying everything in its path. Led by Warsmith Andraaz, the Iron Warriors are prepared to defend against the invaders at almost any cost and to keep their manufactories and workshops intact so they can keep their supply lines to the legion’s daemon-world Medrengard open. There are of course several sub-plots that are woven into this larger narrative and they all serve to properly flesh out the nature of the Iron Warriors, their relationship to Chaos, and the manner in which Space Marines wage war against an enemy like an Ork Waaagh! composed of tens of millions of warriors.
Siege of Castellax is everything that I wanted from it and then some.
To start off with, Werner’s characterisation is top-notch here. Raptor Captain Rhodaan, and Obliterator Merihem are definitely his standout characters here, both of them shining a spotlight on aspects of Chaos soldiery that are rarely, if ever explored in any depth. The closest I can recall to either is Lucoryphus and his Raptors warband, called the Bleeding Eye, from Aaron Dembski-Bowden Night Lords novels, and even then, his warband is little more than a footnote there. With Rhodaan, I got a Chaos Space Marine I can readily get behind, someone as nuanced and interesting and devious as Graham McNeill’s Warsmith Honsou or William King’s Sorcerer-Lord Madox. Rhodaan is a focal character in the novel and he drives a lot of the narrative since Werner plays up quite a bit of the internal Iron Warriors intrigue around him. He is a rising star of Andraaz’s warband and his superior, Over-Captain Vallax, is determined to keep him in check, permanently if need be. Merihem is a former member of the Warband and one who has been incarcerated far away from the warband’s base of operations as becoming an Obliterator, a potent mix of man, machine and Chaos, has unhinged him, making him a dangerous berserker who would sooner kill his brothers than the enemy. And it so happens that Rhodaan is sent to “ask” for his aid against the Orks. Merihem’s deranged personality, his contempt for his brothers, and his very nature are quite fresh to read about. Characters like him are very, very few and far between in 40k fiction. He also gets some of the best lines in the novel, which serve to highlight the aforementioned contempt quite well.
By the way, that’s Captain Rhodaan on the cover. His “jump-pack” is actually a “demi-organic wings” that he divested a former Iron Warrior of at some time in the past. One thing that always came to mind whenever I was reading Rhodaan’s scenes was “You Are Not Prepared”. High-five if you get the reference!...more
Shadowhawk reviews the first novel in the new War of Vengeance trilogy for the Time of Legends meta-series.
“This is quite possibly Nick’s best work to date, better than even Nocturne perhaps. The only way to decide might be a novel deathmatch.” ~The Founding Fields
I make no secret of the fact that I really enjoy Nick’s work, and that I hold his Tome of Fire trilogy to be some of the best Warhammer 40k fiction put out by Black Library in recent years. My first introduction to his work, the Warhammer Fantasy novel Oathbreaker, was a highly negative experience but most of the other stuff he’s written since then (that I’ve read) has impressed me. With The Great Betrayal, Nick has continued his streak of successes, and I am now a huge fan of the Warhammer variety of Dwarfs. In this novel, he has done a great job in exploring their culture, their society, their history, and their attitudes. Barring some odd stuff here and there, I could not have asked for a better novel to kickstart the long-awaited War of Vengeance trilogy, which is going to be complemented by Chris Wraight’s War of the Beard trilogy, which will tell of the great war between the Dwarfs and the High Elves from the latter’s perspective.
The central drive for this war between two of the elder races of the Warhammer world is that Malekith, formerly a great High Elf prince and now the bitter ruler of the Dark Elves, wants to destroy his former people completely. And to do this, he begins by staging false attacks by the Elves on Dwarf merchantmen, patrols, holds and villages. He uses his extensive knowledge of the Dwarfs and their empire, gained when he first came to their lands ages ago and befriended their High King, and the result is utter mayhem and confusion. The entire event is one of the greatest tragedies in Warhammer history, a tragedy compounded by ignorance, ego, recklessness, and pride.
Participating in the entire debacle are Dwarfs from all levels of their society. One of the most central characters is Prince Snorri, son of High King Gotrek Starbreaker. The Prince is a man who is always in his father’s shadow, the Dwarf hero who crippled the Orcs and has led his people into a golden age of peace and prosperity. Snorri wants to prove himself as great a warrior as his father, but such a thing is impossible in times of peace, at a time when the Dwarfs are very much at the peak of their power. Initially Snorri seemed to be a mostly average character, but as Malekith’s treachery unfolds through his various agents, he grows into a very complex character. He straddles a very fine line between war and peace, a fulcrum balancing those who want vengeance on the Elves and those who want to prevent an all-out and destructive war that could cripple the Dwarf race for ages. For me, he was at his best when he was compassionate and friendly, whether with his cousin Morgrim or the High Priestess of Valaya, Elmendrin. When Snorri made snap decisions to incite war with the Elves, he was irritating, because I wanted to reach out through the pages and give him a good shake and tell him that he was being manipulated like a fool. Alas, watching the train wreck was a bit of fun too, so I’m not really complaining.
As the two level-headed Dwarfs who wish to prevent the war and keep peace with the Elves, Gotrek Starbreaker and Morgrim, were characters I really enjoyed. As the entire narrative unfolds, they turn into really strong characters, and their diplomatic approach to the whole affair was almost heartbreaking to see. See, the thing is that we know the war is going to happen. It’s already in the Warhammer lore built up over the last 30+ years, so there are no surprises there in that regard. The beauty of the novel is in seeing how it all came about, how it began, and how it was almost prevented. Both Gotrek and Morgrim are foils for Snorri and his supporters in that regard, and their efforts are only to be appreciated. When it comes to it, they will fight for the honour of their people, but they would rather that such an event never come to pass. As the wise old ruler with a headstrong son, Gotrek is initially stubborn and highly critical himself, but in the later chapters he does mellow out and eventually realises his mistakes. When that particular dam breaks, the narrative reaches one of it’s high-points, one of the best scenes in the entire novel. With Morgrim, I would make the comparison that he is very much like Faramir from The Lord of The Rings, with a dash of Aragorn and Gimli both thrown in for good measure. His was a standout character, one of the best written in the entire book. If there’s any criticism of the book with regards to him, it is that he gets far too few scenes. All for the best though, since he is going to be a major player in the sequel....more
Shadowhawk reviews Graham McNeill’s latest Horus Heresy novel, wherein he tackles one of the most overlooked Primarchs and Legions in the series to date.
“A decent and extremely promising novel that also misses the mark often and is ultimately let down by the high expectations created by Graham’s last full offering that I really enjoyed, A Thousand Sons.” ~The Founding Fields
The Horus Heresy series is one of my favourite SFF series to date, partly for the fact that it is so epic and far-ranging in scope, and because this a series with about 7-8 different ongoing authors and a bunch of other (so-far) contributing ones. The series touches on the most defining grand events of Warhammer 40,000 history, and so far, despite a few missteps along the way, it is one of the most well-written series I’ve read to date. The last offering, Fear To Tread by James Swallow was a very enjoyable read, covering as it did Sanguinius and his Blood Angels, a Primarch and legion that I always enjoy reading about, and my expectations after that for Angel Exterminatus were quite high.
However, I’m not sure if Angel Exterminatus has actually met my expectations at all. There were some elements of the book that I really liked, and others that I didn’t. Overall, my initial reaction to the book was quite positive, but having read a few discussions about it since, and reconsidered my own feelings and thoughts with respect to it, I find that it is not as strong a book.
The hands down best moments of the book are whenever there is Perturabo involved. As one of the Primarchs who has gone relatively unexplored so far, barring John French’s recent novella Crimson Fist, he gets a great outing, and it’s nice to see his character explored in such detail. The novel also continues the trend that with each novel, the Primarch in question comes out on top when put up against his brothers, whether it is a metaphorical comparison, or an actual contest of arms, but I really didn’t mind that. Each of the 18 Primarchs has his own redeeming qualities, his own strengths and weaknesses, and despite the opinions that they all hold about each other, the fact remains that they are pinnacles of Humanity. That is of course despite the fact that they are all essentially test-tube babies. If I had to pin down one memorable scene that really stood out, it would be when Perturabo engages in both the defense and then the offense of the Imperial Palace in a mock-game with his senior legion officers. Perturabo is a master of siege-combat, a reputation that clashes with that of his brother Rogal Dorn, who is similarly gifted and is a source of great conflict between their respective legions, the Iron Warriors and the Imperial Fists.
The novel is also great in that we get to see a fairly good in-depth look into the Iron Warriors’ psyche and see how the legion works and how it thinks. There are a ton of legion characters involved and it can get overwhelming at times, but I honestly enjoyed the diversity. It would have been absolutely fantastic if Graham hadn’t felt a need to involve almost all of his 40k-era Iron Warriors characters (from his Iron Warriors and Ultramarines novels) into the narrative, because that often broke my immersion into the novel, since I kept wondering if these guys were really the best the legion had to offer across a period of 10,000 years. And not all of the characters are done justice, such as First Captain Forrix and Warsmith Barban Falk, but overall, Graham gave me enough of an insight into the legion that I was okay with his heavy-handed approach. I do wish however that I had gotten to see a lot more of the Honourable Soulaka and Barban Falk, since they were two of the most interesting characters for me.
The Emperor’s Children, about whom Graham has already written quite a bit in the series, are alongside the Iron Warriors almost every step of the way, and one of the cool things about the book was how Graham plays them against each other, and how their differences and similarities come out. There is a particularly memorable scene when one of the senior Iron Warriors officers is invited about an Emperor’s Children ship and is almost converted to the cause of Slaanesh due to surreptitiously being dosed with psychotropic drugs and some specially concocted narcotics. That was undoubtedly one of the best scenes in the book.
Of course, when it comes to the Emperor’s Children, their Primarch Fulgrim is never behind, who is portrayed as rather insane and self-serving and a drama queen of sorts. One of his memorable moments in the book is when he gives a dramatic performance inside a theater that he asks Perturabo to build specifically for the performance. He is extremely over the top as he tells the story of the Angel Exterminatus, a great mythological figure from the Eldar myth cycles. Another is when Perturabo disciplines him, and none too gently either. That scene is very shocking in its impact and is something that I definitely did not see coming. Fulgrim didn’t either, and that’s why it’s so great!...more
“Garro is back again with James Swallow at the helm! It doesn’t get any better than that.”
The last time we saw Garro, he was on a mission from Malcador to the blasted ruins of Istvaan III, where Horus Lupercal began his rebellion by purging his forces of all those considered too loyal to the Imperium to be converted to his cause. Garro had returned there long after the fires of that conflict had blown out and this time he was in the company of two new friends, Librarian Tylos Rubio of the Ultramarines and Sergeant Macer Varren of the World Eaters. Things didn’t go exactly as planned for them but they still managed to complete their mission: recover the Astartes known only as Cerberus and bring him back to Terra and to Malcador. Its been a long while ago (a year and a half but who’s counting?) and there have been several Horus Heresy publications since then. James Swallow’s Burden of Duty hits at just the right time to give me and other fans of Nathaniel Garro their much-needed Knight Errant fix.
Being one of the new shorter format audios, Burden of Duty is only ~30 minutes long, but it serves to fill an important part of the larger Horus Heresy narrative while at the same time being an excellent snapshot in the life of Garro. At a guess, this story takes place between the first Garro audio, Oath of Moment, and the upcoming Sword of Truth, which introduces Macer Varren to the Heresy for the first time, chronologically speaking. I could be wrong, but since there are hints of only Rubio being one of Garro’s new men, I think it stands to reason. Anyways, this time around Garro isn’t off to some other world out in the fires of Horus’ rebellion, but the Phalanx itself, the Imperial Fists legion’s flagship in orbit around Terra. His objective: to infiltrate the massive star fortress and talk to one of the legion’s librarians, all of whom have been kept in isolation from the rest of the legion on Dorn’s orders since the Emperor forbade all use of psychic powers at Nikaea. Once again, things never go according to plan for Garro and he has to find a way to fulfill his objective and still stay on Dorn’s good side.
“A perfect snapshot of the ongoing Heresy narrative, Grey Angel is definitely a worthy story of being one of the best audios that BL has made to date.”
Grey Angel is a sequel story to the Nathaniel Garro: Legion of One audio by James Swallow and the short story The Last Remembrancer by John French. While John has written this one as well, it does have a lot to live up to, coming on the heels of the former which I actually hold as one of the top BL audios to date. What really set Legion of One apart from its “peers” was the quality of the voice-acting, performed exclusively by Toby Longworth who is the most experienced of all of the voice-actors who’ve worked for BL over the years.
This is a story that attempts to answer one of the most important questions facing Primarch Rogal Dorn of the Imperial Fists: are the Dark Angels Caliban loyal or traitors? The Emperor’s Praetorian sends two of his most trusted agents, the former Luna Wolf, Captain Iacton Qruze, and the Space Marine we know of as Cerberus, whom we first met in Legion of One. I could tell you the real identity of this character but that constitutes a rather big spoiler for Legion of One so I’ll just leave you with this: the dead may rise again. The two warriors infiltrate Caliban, attempting to determine the loyalties of their fellow Astartes, and their leader on the world: the great hero of the First Legion, Lord Luther, former second-in-command to Primarch Lion El’Jonson.
The tensions that grip this story are enthralling from the get-go, introduced as we are to Cerberus being held chained within the lowermost dungeons of the Dark Angels fortress-monastery of Aldurukh. This is one of the paciest stories I’ve ever listened to. John French starts at a great high, and that continues throughout the audio; it actually gets pacier as it progresses. This is a thrilling ride and you never want to get off it. John French has written some really great stuff for Black Library, such as his short story The Last Remembrancer for the Age of Darkness anthology, and the novella Fateweaver for the Architect of Fate anthology, and he continues his strong streak with this audio.
As far as I’m concerned, John French proves here why he deserves to be on the Horus Heresy team, and the only way forward for him is to go up. His talent, whether it is in the detailed, immersive descriptions of his characters and locations, or the characterisations, or the moods and atmosphere he generates, shines through for the entire length of this 35-minute audio....more
Shadowhawk reviews the tie-in novella for the new 6th Edition Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game.
“An ambitious story about the Dark Angels and their quests for vengeance that will have you hooked.” ~The Founding Fields
I last played a game of 40k a little over three years ago, sometime before I moved back home to Dubai from Los Angeles. With the prices here being exorbitant and no dedicated local game store here, I haven’t had a chance to get back into the tabletop side of things, although I’ve kept myself conversant with the new and improved lore in the meantime. There is something about playing out games worth thousands of points across a gaming table with a friend, rolling the dice, shouting curses, whooping and yelling that just appeals to me. The fiction side of things doesn’t have that quality of course, but now and then BL puts out a book that comes damn close to that feeling. The last time this happened for me was the Assault on Black Reach novella by Nick Kyme, the tie-in to the 5th Edition of the game. So its kind of fitting that C Z Dunn’s Dark Vengeance does that again, with new factions and characters in the mix.
Dark Vengeanceevokes that tabletop gaming feel in that it is full of some random occurrences, stuff that would happen when your dice rolls go belly up and you watch with disappointment as that pesky opponent lives through a barrage that’d otherwise kill him/it. Another way is in the step-by-step nature of the narrative, which was like watching a gamer’s strategy unfold: bike squad on the flanks here, Terminators occupied over there, devastators in cover over there, that sort of thing. Perhaps it was the fact that I explicitly knew the novella was based out of a tabletop gaming scenario and that it is a complement to the new 6th edition starter set. The movements and actions of both sides, the Dark Angels loyalists against the Chaos cultists and Traitor Astartes of the Crimson Slaughter, felt very cinematic to me in that way. And that felt good. It was a great feeling.
Up above, I called this novella “ambitious”. The reason for that is that the story is told from the viewpoints of multiple characters, 12 to be exact, and the author has used multiple tenses and perspectives for them. So at one instance you could be reading first person present tense, and 2 pages later, the character changes and now you are reading third person past tense. Keeping all that straight and level could not have been easy, either for the author himself, or his editor. And you know what, I think this was the perfect style to tell this story in. It gives each character a different hook to get the reader with, and it once again evokes that feeling of tabletop gaming. For people who play the tabletop they know how different it is to have a bird’s eye view of the tabletop when considering overall strategy, compared to when you are model height, and look at the board from the model’s perspective, working out if you can see the target clearly through cover to get them with your plasma cannon (one instance of course!). So I’d say that the author has definitely succeeded in that regard.
However, while I don’t want this style to be a one-off, I don’t want it to become too common either. The novella is the perfect length for this style I think. Gav Thorpe did something similar for his novel Purging of Kadillus, which was also about the Dark Angels, but his character viewpoints fewer and as best as I recall, he didn’t change tenses and perspectives when moving between them. That’s two instances in total I know of. But yeah, this is a unique style and it should keep its uniqueness because while C Z Dunn pulled it off brilliantly, it is easy to see how this can NOT work out, and how some people can be put off by it.
In terms of the story and the characterisation, the novel was another hit for me. There are several layers to the story, ostensibly about the Dark Angels fighting against Chaos. But there are hints that it is much more, because there is an undercurrent of the Dark Angels’ hunt for the Fallen in the story. For the uninitiated, the Fallen are traitor Dark Angels from the days of the Horus Heresy, ten thousands years in the in-universe past. This is the Dark Angels’ biggest secret and they will, and can, do anything to keep it that way. Dark Vengeance also connects to Dunn’s recently released audio drama, Malediction, which was a straight-up Dark Angels story about the Fallen. Characters locations from the audio drama are mentioned quite a few times in the novella, and this connection makes this story part of a larger whole.
Company Master Balthasar, Interrogator-Chaplain Seraphicus, Librarian Turmiel, Ravenwing Sergeant Arion, Chaos Lord Heskia, and the Mortis Metalikus were all great characters. Usually, a reader connects with characters over a certain period of time, when they spend pages upon pages with them. That is obviously not the case here, for sometimes the chapters are as short as just 2 pages, and time spent with the characters is fleeting. But each chapter follows on and builds from the last, so for me the effect was the same. Dunn also balances this out by giving us insights into the characters’ past as they recount some momentous times of their careers, whether loyalist or traitor. This also goes back to the point about the connection with Malediction....more
I really loved this novel. Everything has come full circle now for Uriel Ventris and Pasanius Lysane. Not to mention that this a novel about a sub-secI really loved this novel. Everything has come full circle now for Uriel Ventris and Pasanius Lysane. Not to mention that this a novel about a sub-sector wide deployment for the entire chapter and Graham really delivers on that idea. Just like Nocturne by Nick Kyme, which was another novel in which an entire chapter goes to war, The Chapter's Due is a really visceral novel that'll keep you hooked from the beginning to the end. Some great set piece battles and some really fantastic camaraderie between the various characters.
You can also check out a slightly longer review over on the page for Ultramarines: The Second Omnibus
Shadowhawk reviews The Emperor’s Gift, a novel that chronicles one of the defining moments of the war-torn 41st Millennium through the eyes of one ofShadowhawk reviews The Emperor’s Gift, a novel that chronicles one of the defining moments of the war-torn 41st Millennium through the eyes of one of the most secretive and shadowy factions within the Imperium, the Space Marines of the Grey Knights Adeptus Astartes chapter.
“The Emperor’s Gift is easily Aaron’s best work for Black Library to date and it sets a really high bar for future novels.” ~The Founding Fields
The Grey Knights are one of the most intriguing chapters among the Adeptus Astartes because of the nature of the foes they fight (almost to the exclusion of all else) and because of their ties to the Inquisition. Indeed, they are the militant arm of the Ordo Malleus and their sole remit is to combat the most dangerous threats of Chaos throughout the galaxy. In many ways, they are elites among elites and their association with the Ordo Malleus means that they fight extremely specific battles with extremely specific goals in mind. And should their presence become known to those who do not have the authority to do so, well, what happens to them is not pretty. My love for the Grey Knights started with Ben Counter’s Grey Knights novels and I’ve always reading about them. I’ve even gamed with and against them on the tabletop. As such, they are a chapter I’m quite intimate with so I was very curious to see how Aaron Dembski-Bowden would deliver, and whether I would enjoy The Emperor’s Gift as much as I’ve enjoyed Ben’s work with them over the years.
The Emperor’s Gift is a novel that gets everything right and checks all the boxes on the list of “what makes a novel great”. It is seriously character-driven to the extreme, has great set piece battles and, by the time you are done with it, it leaves you on an emotional high. In more ways than one.
Like with the majority of Gav Thorpe’s work, Aaron knows how to get in the mind of his characters and write as if its the characters themselves writing. Our protagonist Hyperion, from whose first person perspective the novel is written, is a deeply-flawed “good guy” character that you learn to appreciate over the course of the narrative and seeing the world around him through his eyes is a learning experience that is not to be missed by any fan of the setting. I liked Hyperion from the get go, mainly because he is the protagonist in a great novel, and because he is written as a (mostly) realistic and believable character. Since the novel is written as his account of the events leading up to the First War for Armageddon, the defining battle of that conflict, and its aftermath, we really get into his psyche and see what makes the Grey Knights tick and how they interact with everyone around them. There is a particular revelation about Hyperion in the novel however, that I didn’t really like because for me it detracts from the narrative. I can’t see it as anything other than a random cool moment that is just meant to score cool points. Especially since there aren’t actually a lot of people who are going to get the reference too! Ah well.
The strong characterisation that we get with Hyperion extends to his squad-mates as well, Justicar Galeo, Malchadiel, Sothis, Enceladus and Dumenidon. Each of them is a compelling character in his own right and they have some really intriguing backstories to them. Together, these six brothers of Squad Castian are a great mix of personalities, whether its the level-headed and straight-thinking Galeo or the reckless Hyperion or what have you. Its interesting but there are some similarities between Squad Castian and First Claw, the protagonists of Aaron’s Night Lords novels. There are similar interactions and power plays between both teams but there is enough there for the reader to know that they aren’t carbon copies either. The nature of Squad Castian, as a frontline formation of the Grey Knights, is quite different to that of First Claw, which is a squad of highly mercurial warriors. Reading about both has been quite fun and group dynamics is something that Aaron writes quite well.
There are several other characters, major or minor, who left a strong impact, and so there are some of them I quite liked and some I didn’t. Inquisitor Annika Jarlsdottyr was, I think, a great character because as far as I know, she is the first Fenrisian who is not part of the Space Wolves chapter. It sets up some really great dynamics for later or in the novel and even getting to that climax, it is a strong plot point where the Grey Knights, particularly Hyperion and Malchadiel, are concerned. However, I will say that I wish she had had a bigger role than she already did and that her personality and her relationship with the Space Wolves was explored a bit more. Still, there is a really touching scene between her and an old Space Wolves hero on Page 292 of the harcover edition. That is a scene that lasts for no more than a handful of lines and yet it has a power of its own. Lost glories, another lifetime and all that.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:
Shadowhawk reviews the final novel of the Ulrika the Vampire trilogy for Warhammer Fantasy Battles, one of the best series to come from Black LibraryShadowhawk reviews the final novel of the Ulrika the Vampire trilogy for Warhammer Fantasy Battles, one of the best series to come from Black Library in recent years.
“Bloodsworn is a stunning conclusion to an epic series and is full to the brim with no-holds barred Vampire badassery, political intrigue, introspection, betrayal and heroism as only a true Warhammer novel can be.” ~The Founding Fields
You know that feeling when you’ve been following the stories of a particular character or characters for a while, and then one da you hold what is ostensibly the last novel in the series? You feel a bit sad, a bit exhilarated, a bit tense, a bit excited. All because the series is coming to an end and all those little plots are coming together and the big promised showdown is right around the corner; but also because this will be the last you see these characters. That’s exactly how I felt when Bloodsworn arrived in the mail a few weeks back and when I finally got around to reading it earlier this month. With Nathan being one of my favourite writers and Ulrika being one of my favourite fantasy characters, reading Bloodsworn was like a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
When Bloodforged ended with Ulrika deciding to return back to Countess Gabriella in Nuln, and her just-concluded encounter with one of the villains who had led her on a merry chase through Kislev, my expectations for Bloodsworn were quite high. There had been ample build-up of an event on the horizon, one that could really change the balance of power for the various Vampire bloodlines between themselves and with respect to where they stood with the Empire. Ulrika was also, quite frankly, fairly ticked off at having been endlessly manipulated by her enemies. So I was quite ready for Ulrika to come back to her mistresses and start kicking some Vampire posteriors.
And what can I say, Nathan pretty much upped the ante to eleven and gave me a novel that was everything I expected and wanted of it, and then some.
The story this time has to do with the enemies of the Lahmian vampires plotting to kill Emperor Karl Franz himself and implicating the sisterhood in his assassination. A bold and ambitious plan that is most definitely going to rock the Empire’s foundations and bring civil war to the lands at least. And being Warhammer Fantasy, things don’t end just there, for the assassination itself is a cover for bigger, more momentous events.
One of the defining aspects of the trilogy is Nathan’s strong characterisation. Whether its the minor characters or the major ones, they all behave true to their nature and to their purpose in the narrative.
In that respect, Ulrika was a true surprise for me. She has so far been quite a rebellious Lahmian in the previous two novels since she was born to a warrior household, and served as a soldier before she was turned against her will. That particular facet of her personality still holds true when she returns to Nuln and finds that the Lahmians are engaged in self-defeating politicking rather than actively combating the threat to their bloodline, which serves to frustrate her to no end. Bloodsworn is where Ulrika comes into her own, and really shows her badass (excuse the word) vampire side in a way that’s only possible in Warhammer Fantasy. She sticks to her decisions, no matter how misguided they may be, but she also shows a certain deftness for politicking on her own. She is a product of two Vampiric bloodlines, the war-like von Carstein and the scheming, deceptive Lahmians. Nathan explores both sides of her inherent nature and that was fantastic. About time if you ask me because in the previous novels we only get teasers of this.
The other main character in the novel is the mysterious lord of the von Carstein vampires who has been stirring unrest against the Lahmians all over the Empire. His entry into the novel isn’t exactly much of a surprise if you know what signs to look for. Still, when he does reveal himself to Ulrika, it is still a chilling moment because this guy is a classic vampire in the vein of Dracula and the vampires from Matt Forbeck’s Carpathia. To really get that reference, beyond the general badassery of his character, you have to read the novel to understand what I mean. Suffice to say, it was a good moment. That aside, he is a strong character in the novel in his own right. His motivations are real and he is not too much of the shadowy, manipulative type either. He isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and I like that in a villain. It makes them more real and more enjoyable to read about. My only gripe with him is that he isn’t as clever as he is made out to be, in the end. Adversity has a negative effect on him a little too much. Still, a character I can appreciate and even root for to a degree.
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields: