The End Times are coming. With the hordes of Chaos marshalling in the north, Emperor Karl Franz leads his armies in defence of his realm. But when the worst happens and the Emperor is lost, it falls to Reiksmarshal Kurt Helborg to return to Altdorf, capital of the Empire, and prepare to meet the forces of the Ruinous Powers in a final battle for that ancient city. As plague spreads and the defences weaken, all seems lost, until help arrives from a most unexpected source… if Helborg can bring himself to accept it.
Picking up where The Return of Nagash ended (more-or-less), Chris Wraight’s The Fall of Altdorf is a grand continuation of the End Times series. This is a must-read for Warhammer fans, and perhaps Wraight’s best fantasy novel yet. I very much enjoyed this.
A somewhat vague plot summary: Nagash has returned to the Old World, upsetting the magical balance. The Auric Bastion in the north has broken, and the waves of northern barbarians and daemons have spilled into the Empire. The Emperor is missing, as are a few of his greatest generals and heroes. Helborg is left to deal with a reeling Empire and (still) squabbling Elector Counts. An unconventional new Supreme Patriarch rubs everyone the wrong way, but is ultimately quite the hero. Vlad von Carstein marches to Altdorf, with an offer Helborg may not be able to refuse. The hordes of Nurgle rampage across the Empire, and a sinister sleeper cell unleashes hell in the City of the Empire. Oh, and the Bretonnians are running about, trying to lend a hand to the devastated Empire.
A lot happens in this novel. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but Wraight handles it very well. In fact, I think this is his finest Warhammer fantasy novel yet: his characters are very well realized and written, the action is plentiful but not mind-numbing, and the pacing is mostly excellent. A couple of battles went on just a shade longer than I cared for. I find that my patience for action/battle/war scenes has waned dramatically in recent years, so while there are plenty of large battles in the End Times series, I think the authors have been mostly, admirably restrained — focusing on the story and characters as much as on waving swords, lances, axes around the world. If you have been following Warhammer for really any length of time, then you will be familiar with most, if not all, of the heroes named herein. To see how they deal with the rampaging, insurmountable Chaotic threat is really interesting. A note of caution: this novel has a massive heroic body count…
I’ve enjoyed the “unlikely allies” aspect of the End Times story. At first, I had thought it really didn’t make sense that the Empire and other forces of “good” might ally with the undead, but the authors have actually made it work and (mostly) make sense for the world and events. It’ll certainly be interesting to see what happens by the end of the series.
Another interesting development happens right at the end of the novel, which suggests very interesting things are coming in the remaining novels in the series — if you’re familiar with anything from Age of Sigmar (the Warhammer replacement that has many long-time fans up in arms), then you may have an inkling of what we’re inching towards. [Wow, that was vague…]
Overall, then: The Fall of Altdorf is not only an essential read in the End Times series, I think it is a must-read for all fans of Warhammer in general. This and Josh Reynold’s first book for the series are among the best Warhammer novels written. This is bold, epic, and very enjoyable. Highly recommended.
The next two End Times novels — Gav Thorpe’s The Curse of Khaine and Guy Haley’s The Rise of the Horned Rat — take the story away from the front lines that have been detailed in the first two — putting the focus on the various Elf races, dwarves, orcs and shaven. The story then returns to the End Times front line in Josh Reynold’s finale, The Lord of the End Times. I’ve already finished The Curse of Khaine, and I’ll post the review either later this week or early next. Before getting to The Rise of the Horned Rat and The Lord of the End Times, I’ll be reading Dave Guymer’s final Gotrek & Felix novel, Slayer, and also Rob Sanders’s two Archaon origin-story novels.
The End Times Chronology:
- Sigmar’s Blood by Phil Kelly
- The Bone Cage by Phil Kelly
- With Ice and Sword by Graham McNeill (read, but not reviewed)
- The Return of Nagash by Josh Reynolds
- Gotrek & Felix: Kinslayer by David Guymer
- Marienburg’s Last Stand by David Guymer (read, but not reviewed)
- The Fall of Altdorf by Chris Wraight
- The Siege of Naggarond by S.P. Cawkwell (read, review to come)
- Bride of Khaine by Graeme Lyon (read, review to come)
- Deathblade by C.L. Werner
- The Curse of Khaine by Gav Thorpe (read, review to come)
- The Rise of the Horned Rat by Guy Haley
- Gotrek & Felix: Rememberers by David Guymer
- Gotrek & Felix: Slayer by David Guymer
- The Lord of the End Times by Josh Reynolds