Friday, 16 December 2011

‘Age of Legend’ – Edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)

If Black Library books find their way here then, more often than not, they’re usually set in the grim and dark universe of the forty first millennium. As much as I love reading these books (and you can see from the blog that I do) it’s not my favourite setting out of the two on offer from Games Workshop and the Black Library. No, my longstanding preference for fantasy over science fiction (the subject of a whole other post probably) has always seen me gravitate towards the ‘Warhammer’ setting of the Old World and the constant warfare raging between its member races. It’s well written (for the most part), the battles are suitably epic and there’s a lot more intrigue and story going on than you would think; certainly for a setting that is based around war gaming. The quality can vary but very few of these books have ever let me down.

One ‘Warhammer’ book that I’ve been looking forward to, for a long time now, is the ‘Age of Legend’ anthology, a collection of tales from the dawn of the Old World. My progress through the ‘Time of Legends’ series has been a bit slow to say the least (five books down and four to go...) so I thought it would make a nice change to get stuck into some shorter stories that would fill me in on the detail without taking their time about it. I didn’t get quite what I was after on that score as there’s a lot of background history to get stuck into and the book doesn’t really give a timeline that the stories can be placed against. What I did get though was a collection of thoroughly entertaining tales that served as a great way to blunt the niggly stresses of rotten days at work and a hyperactive baby that just will not sleep. Of course there were some stories that worked for me better than others did; I wouldn’t say that the overall quality was consistent across the board. The overall effect was a good one though; a veritable tidal wave of all out war (heroic deeds, desperate last stands, you name it...) laced with engaging characters who held their respective plots together nicely. As seems to be the tradition here, I’ll take a quick look at each individual story and tell you exactly what I thought of them...

‘A Small Victory’ – Paul S. Kemp
I’ve been following Paul Kemp’s work for a long time and it’s great to see him make an appearance here. Kemp’s work is great, whatever setting he writes in, and this is very much the case here with his tale of a man braving an onslaught of the undead to save the woman that he loves. No word is wasted in a union of zombie conflict and a character that you’ll root for. The ending is a little predictable but the way Kemp tells his tale will make you want to go back and re-read it, just to see if he was telling the tale that you thought he was... 9.5/10

‘Bloodraven’ – Sarah Cawkwell
This short story is very much an introduction to the character of Valkia the Bloody who we will see a lot more of next year. It’s also a tale of heroism against all the odds as an outpost of Dwarves must stand alone against an invasion of Chaos warriors from the north. Plenty of combat lends the tale a lot of energy which keeps things moving very smoothly. Where Cawkwell really shines though is in the way she takes what initially looks like a foregone conclusion and draws out the uncertainty until the last couple of pages. This is a battle that could go either way until the last sword stroke falls; I was utterly hooked. 10/10

‘City of Dead Jewels’ – Nick Kyme
Now here’s a tale that could have shone a lot more if it hadn’t been placed right next to the excellent ‘Bloodraven’. ‘City of Dead Jewels has a lot to recommend it (particularly the tale of the apprentice Dwarf Skalf) but what is meant to be a slow, measured hunt for a monster dwelling underground ends up dragging when placed against the more purposeful ‘Bloodraven’. Actually, ‘City of Dead Jewels’ dragged anyway. There’s also much made of relationships, within the hunting party, that doesn’t seem to come to any kind of fruition. Not a bad tale but could have been better. 7.5/10

‘The Last Charge’ – Andy Hoare
I wasn’t too sure about ‘The Last Charge’ either... Here’s a tale where the ending is given away by the title and the lead character isn’t quite strong enough to make the story interesting in the meantime (you get glimpses of pathos but only glimpses). There’s a nice array of monsters on show but the story doesn’t make the best use of them... 7/10

‘The Ninth Book’ – Gav Thorpe
I’ve found myself reading a lot of Gav Thorpe’s books just recently and have found that his slow, methodical approach to recounting events has been a little offputting. Not this time though! Thorpe’s tale of a vampire, a Chaos Warband and a group of human mercenaries (caught in the middle) is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. I’m not sure who this mysterious vampire is but I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him as well. 9/10

‘The Gods Demand’ – Josh Reynolds
When you live in a world that can punish the slightest loss of attention with instant death, what can the constant stress do to a man? Josh Reynolds gives us a idea with his story of a Count’s battle to defend a town from an invasion of beastmen. Count Ludendorf will do anything to defend his people but at what cost to his sanity? Was he even sane to begin with? Reynolds brings the realities of war in the Old World crashing down on the reader and pulls no punches. You might wince at the demands made on Ludendorf (plus those that he makes of others) but his steadfast refusal to back down makes for some absolutely glorious battle scenes. 9/10

‘Plague Doktor’ – C.L. Werner
I’m never quite sure whether I like C.L. Werner’s work or not but this time round I definitely did with his tale of an opportunistic scavenger who bites off a lot more than he can chew when he decides to impersonate a plague doctor. The confrontation, right at the end, plays second fiddle to the fractious relationship between Grau and Kahlenburg; a relationship of dependency that highlights what a harsh and unforgiving place the Old World can be. I loved the way that Werner hides the real menace in the shadows and throws it at the reader right at the very end! 9.5/10

‘The City is Theirs’ – Philip Athans
The Orcs are invading the city of Nuln and all that stands between them and victory is a grief stricken Halfling... I liked the premise here but the execution really didn’t work for me. The mix of character viewpoints made the battle look even more confusing than it probably was and when the viewpoint switched to Katzchen (the Halfling) I couldn’t make out what was going on. There was a sense of something massive happening but it didn’t really focus into much detail... 7/10

‘The Second Sun’ – Ben Counter
Here’s a tale that stands out from the rest because there is no combat whatsoever, ‘The Second Sun’ also bridges the gap between the past and present in a way that none of the other stories do, I liked the way that Counter had two stories running parallel to each other and the arrogance of the Bright College left the tale hanging on an ominous note. There was more than enough here to have me interested in more of this particular tale if Counter was to ever write it 9/10

‘Aenarion’ – Gav Thorpe
I’m not really going to go into detail about what I thought of ‘Aenarion’, simply because I’ve already reviewed the audio-book over Here and it's basically the same story. As with James Swallow’s ‘Heart of Rage’, it’s good to see these audio-books perhaps reach a slightly wider audience by making the jump to print format. I can’t help but feel a little sorry though for the people who have forked out for the CD and now find themselves coming across it again... A great tale though.

3 comments:

Bob (Beauty in Ruins) said...

I've yet to give any of the Games Workshop books a read but, like yourself, I'm more likely to gravitate towards the Warhammer universe.

Any suggestions on a good place to start?

Graeme Flory said...

Chris Wraight's 'Sword of Justice' and 'Sword of Vengeance' are worth picking up as well as Graham McNeill's 'Sigmar' books. Click on the 'Black Library' tag (underneath this review) and that should give you everything I've reviewed here, should be plenty for you to choose from ;o)

Bob (Beauty in Ruins) said...

Thanks - I've got a few Graham McNeill on the ereader, so I'll dive in with one of his.