Friday, 11 September 2009
‘Shamanslayer’ – Nathan Long (Black Library)
Until now, I’ve only picked up one ‘Gotrek and Felix’ novel and I have to say that I wasn’t impressed at the time (a few years ago now). ‘Trollslayer’ is a collection of tales, which I think were taken from the pages of ‘White Dwarf’ magazine back in the nineteen eighties, that worked well on their own but came across as a little too repetitive in tone when lumped together. I don’t mind re-reading stuff but only when it’s the same book; not the same story over and over again in the same book!
As a result, I’ve stayed away from ‘Gotrek and Felix’. Until now that is. Rumours of a wider ranging storyline and the promise of a new author to check out (Nathan Long is the writer in residence now, it used to be William King) prompted me to give one of the Black Library’s most iconic duos another go. I’m glad I did. ‘Shamanslayer’ may not be highbrow stuff but what it lacks in this department is more than made up for by a hefty dose of good old fashioned fun.
If you haven’t read any of the ‘Gotrek and Felix’ novels then don’t feel too wary about jumping in right here as the structure of the novel means that you will be up to speed before you know it. All you really need to know is that Gotrek Gurnisson is a ‘Trollslayer’, a dwarf who has sworn to die a heroic death in atonement for a great shame. Gotrek isn’t very good at being a Trollslayer though; nothing has killed him yet... Felix Jaeger is the poor sap who drunkenly swore an oath to follow Gotrek and chronicle his deeds some twenty years ago. They’re firm friends now, despite Gotrek’s quest constantly casting a grim shadow over them.
‘Shamanslayer’ sees the pair on a mission to the north to seek out the surviving members of the Order of the Fiery Heart. What they will find though is far more than just the remnants of the Order. Beastmen are on the march and in such numbers that an Empire already weakened by war will not be able to withstand their dark magic. Gotrek and Felix are all that stands between the free peoples of the Old World and the encroaching darkness, just how Gotrek likes it...
If you’re finding that your fantasy reading is getting a little too self absorbed, philosophical or just plain verbose then ‘Shamanslayer’ could be the perfect antidote. What you’re getting for your money here is a good slice of ‘hack and slash’ sword and sorcery. ‘Shamanslayer’ knows exactly what it is and doesn’t care; here’s a book that’s only interested in telling you a story that races along, punctuated by the clash of swords and the hum of dark magic.
The plot itself is decidedly simple, perhaps a little too simple and linear (although it was just what I was looking for after a long day at work). Gotrek and Felix have a goal to aim at and hundreds of assorted monsters and villains to fight their way through to get to it. That’s it.
On the whole, this worked for me although I did find myself looking for a little more from the plot on occasion. The plot is simplistic but this allows Long to concentrate on other areas which bulk ‘Shamanslayer’ out and make it something that I was able to get totally lost in. Chief among these is the relationship between Gotrek and Felix; these two have travelled together for twenty years now and their depth of their friendship shows not just in what is said but also in what is left unsaid. Long term fans are about to see this relationship change, perhaps irrevocably. I’m a relative newcomer but what’s on show here has already got me wondering how things will pan out. I’ll just have to make sure I’m around to see what transpires.
Long’s depiction of an Empire recovering from a bitter war is also bang on the money. Here is an author determined not to leave any stone unturned in his vision, war may be hell but it’s also a reality that needs to be shown. The aftermath of a hero’s work can be just the same as that of the villain...
Any sword and sorcery novel needs to be big on spectacle and Long does not disappoint; giving us the full range of pub brawls, skirmishes and full on warfare between opposing armies. Gotrek’s apparent invincibility can be a little wearing (as well as robbing certain confrontations of their tension) but the fight scenes more than make up for this. Every blow and sword stroke is guaranteed to make you wince and the mixture of high stakes and epic confrontations keeps the pages turning nicely.
‘Shamanslayer’ is a lightweight read but I found that I didn’t really care because it was so much fun. I’ll be back for more.
Eight and a Quarter out of Ten