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. Continue reading

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Review: THE RETURN OF NAGASH by Josh Reynolds (Black Library)

ReynoldsJ-TheReturnOfNagashThe beginning of the end

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. Continue reading

Quick Reviews: SIGMAR’S BLOOD and BONE CAGE by Phil Kelly (Black Library)

Before the End Times… Two prequels to the Warhammer event…

KellyP-SigmarsBloodSIGMAR’S BLOOD

A great darkness has fallen over the land of Sylvania, and monsters are abroad… When an artefact of unholy power and evil is stolen from the Imperial Palace itself, Grand Theogonist Volkmar leads a crusade of the faithful into the benighted realm of the vampire counts to confront and destroy the source of the darkness: Mannfred von Carstein. With the aid of an embittered witch hunter and a senile old wizard, Volkmar faces the dread forces of the undead even though he knows it means his own end…

This novella left me with mixed feelings. I liked it, and thought it was a good example of a mid-length Warhammer story. At the same time, the story was too big to be contained in a novella that doesn’t even hit 150 pages. It left me wanting more, but in both the good and less-good way…

The story is pretty interesting, but at the same time the pacing was rather inconsistent. Sometimes, the story lurched forward, not unlike one of the zombies or skeletons reanimated by the antagonists.* The author’s prose is good, though, and descriptions are neither too sparse nor excessive. The characters are pretty interesting, but the book’s not long enough to properly flesh them out – as a result, certain moments of character-building felt half-baked or clunkily inserted into the narrative. Sigmar’s Blood could have done with being longer, which would have allowed us to get to know the characters more, and smooth out the narrative issues. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and quick read, laying down a few of the elements needed for the End Times.

*

KellyP-TheBoneCageBONE CAGE

A group of holy men and women of many faiths – from the Grand Theogonist of the Empire-spanning Sigmarite church to the Fay Enchantress of Bretonnia – are being transported through the wilds of Sylvania in a sinister cage of living bone. At the head of their procession of the dead is Mannfred von Carstein, lord of that benighted realm. But where is he taking them, and to what end? As the prisoners decipher the vampire’s goal, they make a desperate attempt to escape and thwart the count’s plans – but treachery from within may see them undone.

This short story, released only a couple of weeks ago, continues the story started in Sigmar’s Blood. It starts just shortly after the events (so I’m not going to delve into the plot). It’s short and punchy, but also throws in a mini-twist at the end, and some appropriately gribbly undead action and circumstances. Sometimes it feels like a who’s-who of new and scary beasties for the undead army, but this doesn’t upset the flow of the story. Is it essential reading for the End Times? Probably not, but Bone Cage shows that Kelly has improved as an author. I’m looking forward to reading more by him.

***

The next book in the End Times series is the newly-released The Return of Nagash by Josh Reynolds. I am very much looking forward to reading this – as I mentioned in the Upcoming post I wrote a little while back. It’s also encouraging that Black Library are bringing Warhammer back into the spotlight (even if it might be just a little bit), after a couple of years that have been dominated by new Warhammer 40,000 and the Horus Heresy fiction. Which reminds me, I do need to get around to Rob Sanders’s Archaon: Everchosen, and catch up on the latest Gotrek & Felix novels.

* It’s a story about the undead. Of course there was going to be a comment like this…

Upcoming: THE RETURN OF NAGASH by Joshua Reynolds (Black Library)

ReynoldsJ-TheReturnOfNagashAnnounced rather quietly (well, more like suddenly) and coinciding with the tabletop game’s related releases, Josh Reynolds’s THE RETURN OF NAGASH details the story of the baddest-of-the-undead-bad in the Warhammer world. Here’s the synopsis:

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.

I haven’t read any of the Undead novels published by Black Library (yet), and I’m not sure how this will connect with Mike Lee’s and Josh Reynold’s other undead/vampire novels. This one, though, I am most interested in. Partly because I do like good vampire/undead fiction. But also, and perhaps more keenly, because the cover story for the first issue of White Dwarf magazine I ever bought was all about the first version of the Nagash model. The magazine included a background section for the character, a short piece of fiction, as well as rules, etc. The background was, I thought at the time, very well-written and gripping – I became hooked on reading the background sections of the Warhammer Armies and Codex books. However, Nagash’s story stuck in my mind. And so, I am very interested in reading this novel. I’ll see what I can do about getting it read and reviewed A.S.A.P.

Upcoming: “Neferata” & “Master of Death” by Josh Reynolds (Black Library)

A couple more Warhammer Undead novels in the pipeline from Josh Reynolds: Neferata and Master of Death.

ReynoldsJ-Neferata2014Ok, so Neferata is actually already available (in paperback and eBook), but Black Library seem to be re-releasing their Warhammer Legends series with new (and, frankly, better) covers. Here’s the synopsis for Neferata:

The vampire queen Neferata plots to create a new empire.

Neferata is a queen without a kingdom. Lahmia has fallen, her vampire children have scattered and she is reduced to draining blood from the beasts of the mountains. After a chance encounter with a party of dwarfs, she sets her sights on a capital for her new empire – the stronghold of Silver Pinnacle. She calls her allies to battle – but can she truly trust Ushoran, Lord of Masks, and his bestial Strigoi vampires?

Neferata is due to be (re-)published in January 2014.

ReynoldsJ-MasterOfDeathNext up is Master of Death, the follow-up novel (which has not been available before)…

An ancient follower of the Great Necromancer seeks power over death itself.

W’soran, one of the first vampires and former pupil of the Great Necromancer Nagash, plots to unravel the secrets of life and death. But his hunt for power is interrupted by a civil war in Mourkain, the mountain nation ruled by his former ally, Ushoran. Now W’soran must battle old friends and new enemies as he weaves a complex web of treachery and deceit in order to anoint himself the Master of Death…

Master of Death is also due to be published in January 2014.

I haven’t had a chance to read Neferata, yet, but after reading Master of Mourkain, a short story by Reynolds, my appetite was certainly whet for more of his Undead fiction.

An Interview with DAVID TOWSEY

TowseyD-AuthorPicCropDavid Towsey’s debut novel, Your Brother’s Blood caught my attention a few months ago, and ever since I have been eagerly awaiting my chance to read it. Thankfully, I recently got my mitts on a copy, so I hope to start it sometime next week. In the meantime, his publisher has set up this interview, in which I quiz David on his writing, how he got into genre fiction, and more. If you wanted to check out the novel for yourself, be sure to read this excerpt.

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is David Towsey?

I’m twenty-eight. I’m finishing a PhD in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University – where I’ll start lecturing full-time in September. I guess you could say I’m a geek or nerd – if such labels are helpful. I play computer games, specifically MMOs, which I’ve been a regular player of since I was fourteen and first got hold of Ultima Online. I also enjoy playing Magic: the Gathering at a fairly competitive level. But between all that gaming and writing I try and keep active by playing squash and swimming at least twice a week.

Your latest novel, Your Brother’s Blood, was recently published by Jo Fletcher Books. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it intended as part of a series?

When people ask me about the book I tend to see if they’ve read or seen The Road. If they have, I say it’s a lot like that. Except Your Brother’s Blood follows a father and daughter. And the the father is a “zombie”. If they haven’t, it becomes more difficult. It’s a novel that sits somewhere between a road-movie and a zombie-western. For me, it focuses on family relationships that come under strain – sometimes through normal situations and sometimes because of more extreme circumstances. Your Brother’s Blood is the first part of a trilogy that follows a central family, the McDermotts. Continue reading

The Sixth Gun, Vol.3 – “Bound” & Vol.4 – “A Town Call Penance” (Oni Press)

SixthGun-Vol.3&4

Volume Three. Still awesome.

Writer: Cullen Bunn | Artist: Brian Hurtt (#12-13, 15-17) & Tyler Crook (#14, #23) | Colors: Bill Crabtree

Traveling by secret railroad, Becky and Drake accompany an order of mysterious monks on a quest to bury General Hume’s body on holy ground. But malevolent forces spurred by a sinister necromancer stage a terrifying attack on the train. Drake vanishes without a trace. Alone, Becky continues her journey to a secluded mountain fortress where she discovers how deeply her fate is entwined with that of The Sixth Gun. Meanwhile, Gord revisits a haunted mansion from his past hoping to discover a means to destroy the Six, but the ghosts he stirs have no intention of letting his quest continue.

Vol.3 Collects: The Sixth Gun #12-17
Vol.4 Collects: The Sixth Gun #18-23

Ah, The Sixth Gun. Without a doubt, this is one of my favourite comics series. It blends Wild Western adventure with some supernatural shenanigans. There’s action, humour, spooky stuff, and a plot that will hook you from the very start. I loved both of these books.

In “Bound”, Drake, Becky and the fellas from the Sword of Abraham are taking the Six and the body of the dead evil general, via train… somewhere safer. Naturally, nothing can go smoothly, as a necromancer raises an undead posse to retrieve the guns and the body of Evil General Hume (he’s someone you just have to always include the “Evil” when you mention him…). We’re introduced to Asher Cobb – a big, fuck-off mummy. Sent by the same necromancer to retrieve the evil body, while the surprisingly-spritely undead posse take care of the living. However, Cobb has a history with Drake… We get his story in #14 – a really cool extra.

SixthGun-15-Interior3

The story then moves forward a few days, as Gord heads home to collect the books on the Six from his former owner, who was in league with the Evil General. This was a nice diversion, and added a lot more to the whole spooky-supernatural side of the story. Not that the, you know, mummies, undead and magic guns weren’t already pretty obviously in the Weird Stuff arena…

With Drake missing, Becky is taken to the Sword of Abraham’s keep, and told she can never leave. But, an old friend is at hand to help, and she learns more of the power of the Sixth Gun.

SixthGun-16-Interior6

In “A Town Called Penance”, we re-join Drake after his short-lived disappearance from the train assault. He’s been captured by the Knights of Solomon, who he joined after the war – they are also the enemies of the Sword of Abraham, before attempting (unsuccessfully) to prevent her from going to Drake’s aid. The Knights of Solomon want Drake back working with them. As well as the Six, of course. Becky comes to rescue him, but there’s something not right with the town called Penance…

SixthGun-20-Interior3

As with the previous two books, I zipped through these two books, unable to put them down. The story is gripping, fast-paced, and very well written. And the artwork is great, too – atmospheric, consistent and just all-round excellent. I particularly loved the “silent” chapter – Becky’s near an explosion, and bursts her eardrums. Then she goes on a bit of a rampage through the underground lair of the Knights of Solomon. She’s joined by Drake. They kill a LOT of people…

SixthGun-21-Interior5

There is a really interesting revelation at the end of chapter five in this second book. It bodes very well for the future, so I will definitely be coming back for more of this series. Final chapter of Volume 4 features Kirby Hale, who we first briefly met in Volume 2, when he seduced Becky. We’re caught up on his story, and there’s a really nice parallel between his new trajectory and Drake’s in issue #1. A nice bit of writing, I thought.

Both of these books expand and build on the series superbly. We get more character development and also more world-building. I can’t recommend The Sixth Gun highly enough. Love this series. An absolute must read series for fans of comics, Westerns, and speculative/genre fiction of all stripes. Superb.