Thursday, 22 September 2011
‘Shadow King’ – Gav Thorpe (Black Library)
I’m taking my own sweet time about it but it’s become a little mission of mine to work through the ‘Warhammer Time of Legends’ series, nine books detailing the early history of the Warhammer setting. I’ve fallen down quite badly with other series (not thinking of any in particular *cough*Malazan*cough!*) but I love having a large series of books to work through, how about you? I’ve enjoyed Graham McNeill’s ‘Sigmar’ books and thought I’d get back into Gav Thorpe’s ‘Tale of the Sundering’ (having already read ‘Malekith’) before tackling Mike Lee’s ‘Nagash’ series. It had been a while since I read the first book, ‘Malekith’, so I wasn’t a hundred percent sure how this read would go; would I flounder or would I find myself catching up quickly...?
Even as the elven Prince Malekith begins his descent into darkness, the island of Ulthuan is already locked in a bitter civil war as the High Elf Princes fight to defend their countries against the ravages of their Dark Elf counterparts. Alith Anar, prince of the Nagarythe, has it far worse than most as his life crumbles after the betrayal and death of his entire family. All Anar has left is an unquenchable desire for revenge upon those who did this to him... and he will have it.
Whilst the other Princes take to the field to defend their homelands, Alith Anar takes his revenge from the shadows as the Shadow King and no-one will escape his vengeful gaze...
‘Shadow King’ wasn’t the light and fun read that I was looking for, I have to say. In fact, there were a couple of occasions where I almost put the book down and didn’t bother picking it up again (these reasons were nothing to do with the book not being a ‘light and fun’ read though). I stuck with it though and am glad that I did as ‘Shadow King’ is ultimately a rewarding read, certainly one that has me wanting to see how things pan out in the final book (‘Caledor’).
I actually read ‘Malekith’ way back at the beginning of 2009 (how long ago that seems now...) so I did find myself wondering how easy it would be to get caught up. ‘Shadow King’ approaches this problem in two ways; telling the story of an entirely new character (Anar Alith) as well as filling latecomers in on what happened previously. This two pronged approach means that you should be able to jump straight on board here without too many problems (although I’d personally start at the beginning anyway, why wouldn’t you?) or, if it’s been a while since you read the first book, you should be able to get caught up fairly quickly.
At least that’s the idea. I found ‘Shadow King’ to be a book that walks a fine line between helping its readers catch up on prior events and just repeating stuff that happened in the last book. More often than not it’s a case of the latter.
‘Shadow King’ tells its tale in much the same way that the ‘Horus Heresy’ books do (at least to begin with), repeating the same events albeit from a different character’s perspective. In terms of the series as a whole, this tactic does flesh things out and give the readers a multi-faceted tale overall. I’m sure I’ll appreciate this once I get to the end of ‘Caledor’. In the meantime though, it didn’t take me long to realise that I was (to all intents and purposes) reading ‘Malekith’ all over again. It’s not as if you’re really shown these events either; you’re told in great detail. This is what had me seriously considering putting the book down in the early stages. Keeping track of a cast with similar sounding names also proved to be a drag but that’s the kind of thing you sign up for when you’re reading epic fantasy. Reading the same book again though, I didn’t sign up for that...
I stuck with it though and am very glad that I did as once Thorpe gets all the groundwork out of the way ‘Shadowking’ really takes off, it’s really worth sticking with.
I don’t care what other people say, history really is all about the battles sometimes and Gav Thorpe shows this off to great affect with a series of titanic struggles that you just know will leave everything irrevocably changed once the final sword stroke falls. Thorpe draws you right into the thick of things and you can almost hear the clash of sword against shield, the gust of dragon wings and the devastating hum of magic. It’s all stirring stuff and you will be glad you hung around for it.
Thorpe also provides a nice contrast to these main battles by taking a look at all the covert stuff that goes on behind enemy lines. It’s like a very bleak ‘dark fantasy’ version of Zorro; loads of swashbuckling stuff and derring do where the consequences of failure, on both sides, are made very clear. You can’t help but get into it but its sobering stuff at the same time.
This isn’t just the sum of the book though as Thorpe furnishes it with a main cast of very strong characters (once you’ve got past all those names) who carry things along very well indeed. As is fitting, Alith Anar gets the most time on the page. You know what’s coming but he doesn’t and that lends a real feeling of tragedy to the proceedings, especially when you see certain choices that he must make (and sacrifices) to get his vengeance.
The ending comes as a real body blow to both Anar and the reader; it’s made ‘Caledor’ a book that I must pick up, just to see how Anar responds to that final revelation. ‘Shadow King’ is a heavy going read to begin with but stick with it and it will pay off, I guarantee it.
Eight and a Half out of Ten