Thursday, 15 October 2015

Warhammer End Times Book Review: Rise of the Horned Rat

Now that Age of Sigmar has been released I am getting a renewed sense of sadness from these books. As I have previously said, I have not read all of the large hardback campaign books but that is something I am going have to change. It has become increasingly apparent that each of these novels will focus on a very specific part of the cataclysmic saga that signals the end of the Warhammer World. I was rather hoping that by reading these novels  would be gaining a greater perspective of the End Times as a whole, enriching what seems to be a fairly superficial overview in the books. Sadly this is not the case, instead each novel seems to focus upon only one character. Indeed it could be said that each book wraps up the story of a character, being handled by the Author that contributed most directly to their background. For The Fall of Altdorf  Chris Wraight tied up Hellborg and Schwarzhelm of the Empire's story. Gav Thorpe did the same in The Curse of Khaine, bringing Malekith's and indeed the Elves, tale to a satisfying conclusion and finishing his Sundering saga. Now it is the time of the Skaven.

Well more accurately Queek Headtaker, as it is his tale that concludes here. Therefore one would expect David Guymer, author of the characterful but unfocused Headtaker, to be penning this book. However it is Guy Haley that has taken writing duties this time round. Aside from a few shorts i'm more or less new to Guy's work so i was unsure how well he would pick up the character of the Skaven and Queek in particular.

I'd needn't have worried. Guy superbly brings the maniacal Skaven to life, showing a great deal of respect to Davids work and adding one or two minor embellishments of his own. Queek is a Skaven, a short lived race anyway, who is running out of time, , The Headtaker is getting old, and slow, he knows it and he fears his approaching infirmity. Knowing that soon he will not be able to fight and will succumb to one of the frequent attempts made on his life. He is offered a way out, an elixir to grant him eternal youth, by another Skaven warlord. The Price? King Belegars Head.

Thus embarks Queeks quest, to finish the job that he undertook a few years ago and kill the Dwarven King. The Skaven are ascendent, the countless hordes of ratmen sweeping across the Old World and destroying all before them heralding the coming of the Lord of the End Times . The Dwarves on the other hand. are very much the opposite, in decline and preparing their final stand. The sense of prevailing doom is very strong in this book. In many ways it is as much about the Dwarves as it is the Skaven. Doughty and brave but no less doomed, there is some great characterisation here for the Dwarf race as they prepare to meet their end.

And although the book primarily focuses on these two elements there are other factions too. Skarsnik is present, sensing the opportunity to do what he has been thwarted in many times before. Although his is a comparatively minor role in the scheme of things the sections of the book that featured him were actually my absolute favourite. Of course this should have come as no surprise given that Guy wrote the Skarsnik Warhammer novel, a book I have not read yet but that has risen towards the top of my reading list. Guy's portrayal of Skarsnik is wonderful, a tired, old school, London style gangster in the very best traditions of GW past, i'd imagine the late Mike Reid or perhaps Ray Winstone reading the audiobook. Just reading the Skarsnik based passages gave me a pang of nostalgia, i doubt that the Orcs and Goblins of the Age of Sigmar will be as characterful and irreverent.

Also briefly featured are the Ogres, along with probably the only time i'll ever see a Blur lyric in a fantasy book (though that said I have seen Slayer and Metallica and even Father Ted lines in other Black Library publications so you never know,...) The Ogres are portrayed more or less exactly as you would expect and it's a shame that they aren't featured more. Though theirs is a small part they add another layer to the deception and skullduggery you would expect from a Skaven book. Along with Skarsnik also add some levity to what is otherwise a rather dark book. Yes, this is the End Times and this book REALLY feels like it. With the Dwarves in particular the situation is truly dire. Though they meet their end stoically and, well, like a Dwarf, meet their end they do. It is quite relentless as they are ground down and forced back again and again, It is the rout of their civilization, the massacre of Dwarf kind.....

So with some fantastic characterization, brutal action and events that actually make a difference this is the perfect End Times novel right? The one that finally lives up to the name? Well no, not quite. Though what is here is rather good, it is not exactly a page turner. The myriad of plots and schemes inherent with the Skaven means it is at times a muddled read. In addition with the focus on Queek, you don't really get a sense of the machinations of the Skaven Lords. At the start of the book there is a section where the Lords are vying for influence and power but any ambitions put across here are lost as soon as the focus shifts to the Headtaker. In addition, the fate of the Lizardmen, a large part of the Campaign book from what i am lead to believe, is summed up in one line. ONE. LINE.

So whilst what is here is fairly well written (though it does suffer from a lack of focus in places) it still falls somewhat short of doing justice to the End Times as a concept. It is a good read and worth your time but like its fellows i don't think it will ever be regarded as a classic. Sadly with one book to go i'm not sure that the series can be turned around. Then again, the books are steadily increasing in quality with this being the best yet so you never know.....

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