Quick Review: NEFERATA — MORTARCH OF BLOOD by David Annandale (Black Library)

AnnandaleD-Neferata1-MortarchOfBloodNeferata, queen of the vampires, shows her true colours…

When a threat to her realm of Nulahmia rises, the Mortarch Neferata must commit herself to a centuries-long battle if she is to save her kingdom and retain her position.

The Realm of Death convulses with the ravages of war, but Neferata continues to rule the city of Nulahmia with an iron will. Through guile and terror, she has destroyed all who would take her crown. But when a threat rises whose repercussions will stretch across the ages, Neferata must commit herself to a centuries-long battle and retain what is hers, no matter the cost.

This is the first full-length novel dedicated to the queen of vampires in the Age of Sigmar. Her origin story was first written about in Josh Reynolds’s novel, set before the history of the Old World, and also a bit in Mike Lee’s Nagash trilogy. Reynolds also wrote a short story featuring the character, Auction of Blood, which was an intriguing introduction to the character’s obsession with secrecy and scheming, always off-stage as others did her bidding. In Mortarch of Blood, Annandale gives us a much clearer picture of Neferata herself. She is presented as never before.

Neferata has been stripped of power over her city, which has now been given over to a usurper. A horde of Chaos warriors is rampaging across Shyish, however, and on the doorsteps of Nulahmia. Neferata sees an opportunity to regain control of her city and destroy her enemies. All she has to do is wait… Which she is prepared to do for centuries. (She is, after all, undead — she can afford to wait as long as it takes.) Manipulating those around her, unwitting pawns in her schemes-within-schemes and plots-within-plots, we are given a glimpse at the way she operates.

We’re also given a look at Neferata’s character. She is utterly monstrous. Unlike many villains in fantasy fiction, though, she’s not cartoonish. This is where this novel really stands out: Annandale has written a character so cold, so disdainful of others, that one comes close to shuddering when we read about her actions and casual disregard for the lives of her subjects and enemies alike. There is almost nothing she’s not willing to sacrifice in order to achieve her goals.

‘You were right,’ she said, ‘to fear for your lives. But take this lesson into your hearts. You never had a choice. There was nothing you could have done to alter your fates. I command, and you obey. This is the plain truth of existence. The purpose of your lives has been revealed, and it is to serve the end you will, this coming night.’

The Warhammer setting has plenty of maniacal and psychotic vampires and those who are more obviously, physically monstrous. But the way Annandale has written Neferata gives her a quiet, inescapable menace. She’s genuinely chilling, on occasion. The brief moments of hope that her subjects experience are fleeting, sometimes parts of her complex machinations.

Neferata looked down at them, and shook her head at the weakness of their plea. ‘It is fascinating to me that dreams of mercy live on in Shyish,’ she told the cowering sheep. ‘You have committed no crime. But I am your queen, your lives are mine, and I have need of them.’

The only real weakness of the novel is its length: it’s quite short. I would have liked to have been able to dig a bit deeper into Neferata’s schemes, and explore what she’s been up to between the end of the Old World and the Age of Sigmar. It also would have been nice to get to know the other characters a bit better — maybe some more sections, chapters or passages filling out these characters/pawns a little bit more. As a result of the novel’s brevity, I felt like I didn’t become as invested in the characters’ lives as maybe I was supposed to.

Other than that, Mortarch of Blood is an intriguing, chilling portrayal of one of Warhammer’s most popular characters, and I think Annandale has written the most interesting version of Neferata I’ve yet read. In many ways, this is the most believable version of the character, given her mythology and history. If you’re looking for an interesting take on vampires, as well as a new look at life in Shyish (the Age of Sigmar’s realm of the dead), then I would also highly recommend Mortarch of Blood.

I hope Mr. Annandale has plans to write more stories featuring Neferata. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

As an aside: This novel also makes me more eager to read the upcoming Warhammer Horror line of stories and novels (to which Annandale will also be contributing).

*

Neferata: Mortarch of Blood is out now, published by Black Library.

Update: From the author: “… yes, there are more books (standard-length novels now) on the way. Just turned in the draft of The Dominion of Bones…”

Also on CR: Interview with David Annandale (2012); Guest Post on “My Favourite Novel”

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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