Monday, 9 August 2010

‘Sword of Justice (Warhammer Heroes)’ – Chris Wraight (Black Library)


Regular readers of the blog will know that I’m a regular reader of Warhammer 40K tie-in fiction, epic tales of humanity’s stand against various alien races (and worse) in a universe torn apart by constant warfare. I’ll make no apologies for spending a lot of time in what is a detailed and (on the whole) very written setting. It ticks all the right boxes for me and if you’re a fan of ‘larger than life military sci-fi’ then I reckon you’ll get a lot out of it as well.
I spend so much time with these books though that I tend to find myself forgetting that there is a whole other line of Warhammer books that I could be reading. Gamers will know that Games Workshop have a fantasy setting for their war games, as well as a sci-fi setting, and this is reflected in the books that their publishing arm releases. Constant warfare is once again the order of the day but this time we’re looking at massed ranks of halberdiers and knights in a setting that is reminiscent of Renaissance Italy (slightly on the Germanic side). The dangers are still the same though and I was glad to see that it was all handled just as well as it is in the 40K books...

Ludwig Schwarzhelm is the Emperor’s strong right arm on the outskirts of the Empire; scourge of any other race that seeks to take the Empire for itself. When faced with the machinations of Empire itself though, Schwarzhelm’s reliance on the ‘Sword of Justice’ to settle any and all arguments could well be the sign of a naivety that could easily shatter all he has worked for...
Schwarzhelm is sent to the province of Averland to break a political stalemate and see that an Elector Count is finally chosen by the ruling classes. However, his strengths as a leader on the battlefield will play against him in a world where a blade is hidden behind a false smile rather than held in full view... And this is exactly what certain people are hoping for. A lot rides on the elections in Averland, perhaps even the fate of the Empire itself...

‘Sword of Justice’ starts out by showing just exactly what Ludwig Schwarzhelm is capable of on the battlefield and then goes on to ruthlessly expose this as a shortcoming away from the front line. The result is a compelling tale where the certainty of what is to come is constantly played off against the hope that Schwarzhelm’s strength at arms will help him to see what is truly happening before it is too late...

As a part of this particular package, what the reader also gets is an interesting character study that’s definitely a cut above some of the more ‘hack and slash’ style books in this (and the 40K line). Wraight spends a lot of time with Schwarzhelm and really lays bare what is going on inside for a man who represents the strength of the Empire. There are some things that strength alone cannot fight though and the race is on to see how long Schwarzhelm can hold out against a threat that’s far more insidious than those he must face on the field. While you can kind of see the resolutions coming a mile off, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in getting there and there is enough uncertainty in the tale to make continued reading something that has to happen.

Politicking is the order of the day and several mysteries spring up around the election in Averland. There’s only so much room in the book so some of these naturally die out as the plot progresses and throws up new questions; others are left hanging for resolution in later books. The main mystery though is doled out in just the right amounts and at just the right speed to keep things interesting. A particular party’s involvement is signposted just a little too clearly for long term fans (and perhaps that’s the fun of it) but, again, it’s all about that journey to a conclusion and how it will set things up for the next book.

All of this is played out against the backdrop of some beautifully realised cityscapes. Long term readers will get a lot out places like Altdorf and Nuln while the casual reader will enjoy spending time in places where no expense has been spared with the detail.
As far as I go, I’ve always been a fan of well drawn cities in fantasy literature; all the more so when they go that one step further and take on a real sense of their own identity. That was very much the case in ‘Sword of Justice’ where the cities felt so real that I found my feet twitching at the mention of dung in the streets...

It’s not all about the politicking though as Wraight more than proves he can deliver battle scenes with the best of them. Another reviewer has mentioned that the opening battle, with the Beastmen at Turgitz, is a little too long. What I’d say is that’s how battles go sometimes and Wraight has got a keen sense for mixing those long drawn moments of attrition with the vicious cut and thrust moments that can send a confrontation either way. If you still think the opening battle is a little too drawn out then you’ll be pleased to hear that things become a little more balanced in that respect as the tale progresses.

‘Sword of Justice’ is a glorious mix of blood and tears on the battlefield and in various corridors of power that has left me more than eager to see where events take the reader next. I’m not a big fan of the Gemmell Awards (and that’s another post, maybe) but I could see ‘Sword of Justice’ doing very well there if it was nominated for next year...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

5 comments:

Erik said...

No rating? :)

Jon said...

These books are massive sellers. I've been looking at trying them out myself.

Jeff said...

Huzzah! I'm glad you liked it too.

Graeme Flory said...

Rating added :o)

Anonymous said...

I found this book to be very good until half way through and then it just did nothing but aggrivate me and confuse me because there was to much going on and to much bad luck. havent read a book that pissed me off as much as this since i read the hammer of god