The End Times are coming. As the forces of Chaos threaten to drown the world in madness, Mannfred von Carstein and Arkhan the Black put aside their difference and plot to resurrect the one being with the power to stand against the servants of the Ruinous Powers and restore order to the world – the Great Necromancer himself. As they set about gathering artefacts to use in their dark ritual, armies converge on Sylvania, intent on stopping them. But Arkhan and Mannfred are determined to complete their task. No matter the cost, Nagash must rise again.
The Return of Nagash is the first novel in Black Library’s momentous Warhammer “event”. Everything in going to change: the forces of Chaos are rampaging across the northern territories of the Old World, and both dark forces in all four corners of the world are gathering, plotting, and on the move. Mankind, elves and dwarves are preparing for the worst, hunkering down, consolidating, beset on all sides. In this novel, Reynolds lays much of the groundwork for what is to come, but focuses of course on the forces of the undead. It is a very good start to the series.
The novel opens with a scrying, which allows the author to show us glimpses of the various events playing out across the Old World, offering hints of what is to come in future books in the series. It’s both a handy primer for the End Times, and a neatly-used narrative device. It’s not too long, never felt dragged out, and is actually very-well written — certainly whet my appetite for the rest of the series.
The novel brings together a real rogues’ gallery of undead heroes and monsters, as Mannfred von Carstein and Arkhan the Black grudgingly join forces to resurrect Nagash: the greatest, first necromancer. When I first became interested in Warhammer, Nagash happened to be Games Workshop’s big release of the month, in the first issue of White Dwarf that I ever bought. As a result, I’ve always been rather fond of him (for want of a better word…). The issue included some short fiction and a great bit of ‘history’ for Nagash’s first rise and threat to the Empire. I think Reynolds has done a wonderful job of evoking the nuances and characteristics of the undead: they aren’t all mindless revenants, but they have real characters, are varied and interesting to read about. They are, of course, all unlovely, narcissistic and crazy in their own ways. I liked the fact that they frequently wonder about how much agency they actually have — do they have a choice in their actions, or has Nagash’s spirit been manipulating them from beyond the grave? Arkhan was especially interesting, for a skeletal liche, who nevertheless evoked an unexpected level of humanity.
The story unfolds at a measured pace, but never plods. The battle scenes are well-written and restrained, and thankfully quite short — they do, however, come quite often in the second half of the novel. Lots of familiar names make an appearance, not all of them survive. There are big displays of magic, there are a few extra perspectives to give us a greater picture of events. Almost all races are represented, in fact, which was pretty cool.
I rather like the fact that Black Library has decided to give Warhammer a bit more attention — after the huge success of the Horus Heresy series, this Warhammer series is very welcome. I also like that they have looked to the “end” of the Old World order, rather than the beginning (which, to be fair, is well-covered in the Time of Legends series).
Reynolds has really pulled out all the stops for this novel: it’s engaging, addictive, and reignited my interest in and strong fondness for Warhammer fiction. Reynolds continues to improve with each new piece of fiction (long or short), and I can’t wait to read his next novel. Before that, though, I think I’m going to have to go back and read his two Blood of Nagash novels: Neferata and Master of Death.
If you are new to Warhammer, some of the significance may be lost, but I think there’s plenty in the novel to enjoy for new readers.
A must read for all fans of Warhammer.
The End Times: Gotrek & Felix: Kinslayer (David Guymer), The Return of Nagash, The Fall of Altdorf (Chris Wraight), The Curse of Khaine (Gav Thorpe), The Rise of the Horned Rat (Guy Haley), Gotrek & Felix: Slayer (David Guymer) — more to come (at least two)…