Gotrek continues his journey in the unfamiliar Age of Sigmar
In the bleak, haunted underworld of Shyish, a vengeful Slayer seeks the Lord of Undeath. Gotrek Gurnisson returns, his oaths now ashes alongside the world-that-was, his fury undiminished. Branded with the Master Rune of Grimnir, the God that betrayed him, and joined by Maleneth Witchblade, a former Daughter of Khaine turned agent of the Order of Azyr, the hunt has taken them far and wide through the Realm of Death. Will Gotrek find a path to the Undying King or will the underworlds claim him as their own?
Gotrek returns in his first new full-length novel set in the Age of Sigmar. Now in the care of author Darius Hinks (the third author to write the character since the End Times), the irascible, possibly divine dwarf slayer is determined to take down Nagash. To do that, he must venture to Shyish, the realm of the dead… A fun novel, with plenty of action and character development.
As more Age of Sigmar fiction is released, I’ve been enjoying the chance to get to know more about the vast Realms: each with its own characters, challenges, and ??. Shyish is the land of the dead, ruled over by Nagash, and populated by all manner of dangerous and undead monsters (such as ghouls, of course). Given the unknowable scale of these Realms, every author who plays in the Age of Sigmar sandbox has an incredible freedom to let their imaginations run wild in their chosen regions. The areas of Shyish that Hinks takes his characters to are brilliantly realized: dark, dangerous, and with a more-goth-than-thou aesthetic that I very much liked.
The story begins with Gotrek and his companions already in Shyish: Maleneth, the disciple of Khaine and devotee of Sigmar, and the emotionally-damaged Stormcast Eternal engineer Trachos. Over the course of the novel, we learn more about each of the characters, and Hinks does a very good job of weaving their various insecurities and agendas into the story. As their quest progresses, however, they must learn to work even closer with each other, and to put aside some aspects of their agendas. Were they destined to fall into Gotrek’s orbit? What is the slayer’s destiny, now? Are they meant to help him discover or achieve this purpose? All of these questions are touched upon in the novel, but not fully answered. (Gotrek’s story, I hope, is going to be a long one.)
Hinks introduces Gotrek in a wholly appropriate manner, very in keeping with his general demeanour…
He shifted, as though about to speak, let out a ripe belch and then lay still again. He had drunk for hours, downing ale like water, before finally collapsing next to an outhouse, surrounded by the corpses of brigands who had had the ill-conceived idea of trying to rob him.
One of the strongest aspects of this novel is that Gotrek’s story actually progresses: it is clear that it’s time for the slayer’s to settle into the Age of Sigmar. In his first stories in this setting, he spends a lot of his time coming to terms with this new reality; dealing with the absence of his faithful companion from the time that was, Felix Jaeger; and drinking his feelings.
True, the latter still happens in Ghoulslayer (he is, after all, still a dwarf), but Gotrek’s emotional state is more nuanced and interesting in this novel. For maybe the first time in his very long existence, he is unsure of his purpose and nature.
At the mention of Nagash, Gotrek’s expression had soured. ‘The gods owe me a doom. I don’t care if it’s the bone-head or the thunder-dunce – someone’s going to give me what I was promised.’
‘I don’t know who promised me what anymore,’ he snapped, ‘but I know I was robbed of my doom. Nagash knows what I’m owed. He’ll remember me.’
After these pronouncements, Maleneth — who has in many ways taken up Felix’s mantle of chronicler of the slayer’s adventures — observes Gotrek’s insecurity:
There was a note of desperation in the Slayer’s voice. Maleneth had the impression that Gotrek was propelled by fury more than facts. How much could he really remember? Was he seeking Nagash for revenge or because he didn’t know what else to do? Did he just want to find someone who might know who he was? Since the moment she had met him, Maleneth had sensed that Gotrek was unsure why he was still alive. He was like a hound that had been kicked, bloodied and readied for the hunt, then thrown into a cage.
For a character who has spent so very long completely confident in his purpose, I enjoyed seeing these doubts creeping into his mind. They develop over the course of the novel, and build to a very interesting and promising ending.
One thing Gotrek is not unsure about, however, is battle: his remains an absolute monster in combat, and Hinks devises various interesting, varied encounters with creatures of Shyish. The action doesn’t dominate the quieter moments, and there’s plenty of space for both, which gives the novel a very nicely balanced feel. Some of the darker moments are also balanced by well-placed humour (Gotrek’s continued dismissal of his companion’s concerns, his unwillingness to learn new terms for races, factions, etc.). We also learn just a little bit more about the power of the rune he hammered into his chest in Realmslayer (it’s the reason Maleneth and Trachos are initially drawn to Gotrek, before their experiences tie their fates to the slayer’s).
I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. I hope Hinks has more stories of the slayer in store, and I am eager to read where his story goes next.
Definitely recommended for all fans of the character, and also readers who are looking for more details about life in the various Realms of the Age of Sigmar.