Thursday, October 8, 2009

Black Library - Review: Warhammer: Time of Legends Heldenhammer by Graham McNeill

My journey into the Warhammer universe continues! :-)

I’ve seen a few of Black Library’s fantasy titles in stores (and when I say a few, that’s what I mean – here in SA, most people know the PC games and don’t even know about the table-top games and the books, terrible I know!) and I’ve always been intrigued by them. The one thing that always stands out is a) the cover artwork, which is always nothing short of incredible, and b) the descriptions on the back. When you read the descriptions you know you’re being given a glimpse into something altogether different – and that’s one of the things that makes the Warhammer universe -be it the SF or fantasy side of things- so damn cool! There’s nothing else quite like it. :-)

Being lucky enough to have received a box of awesome Black Library goodies from Black Library (thanks again! You know who you are!), I spent about an hour checking out each book, admiring the covers and salivating over the tales I was on the verge of reading, and believe me, I struggled myself thin trying to choose where to start! I had already picked up Chapter War about a week earlier, so I had another look at Heldenhammer and thought, Yep, this is the one.

Graham, you bastard, you hooked me from page one! :-)

Now, it takes a lot to hook me from the get-go; either the first sentence has to be bold and brilliant or subtly amazing (or some combination of the two, probably) or I have to get the sense that something about the way the words flow in my mind, as I read them, is paving the way for something very special. Once I have that little something, I usually really hate having to put the book down to go and do such mundane and useless things such as eat or sleep, etc. :-)

Heldenhammer, the first book in The Sigmar Trilogy, is about one man recognizing that humanity is on the knife-edge of extinction, and the choices that he makes, and, at times, is forced to make, to ensure that humanity stands together and survives. That man is Sigmar.

What caught me, from the beginning, about Heldenhammer was the style that it had been written in. I immediately had the sense that I was reading a legend, or a story that had been preserved in it’s original tongue and handed down through the generations, such things as the cadence of the words and the mannerisms of the first speaker being carried through. It was weird, because it felt right. You know how some authors try and inject a quality of antiquity into their writing that just doesn’t seem right? It niggles, and it doesn’t feel true. Well, that didn’t happen in Heldenhammer. Not only did the style that Graham used suit the tale, but enhanced it, too. It really felt as if you were lucky enough to witness the birth of a legend, not just be a spectator who witnessed all the important bits.

The characters in Heldenhammer, too, are expertly done – every character has a host of deeper layers, so that, for example, the Sigmar you meet in the beginning of the tale is the same Sigmar at tales’ end, but you definitely have the sense of having grown with the character -after all, I was the same Dave when I started reading Heldenhammer, but the Dave I am now has a few extra layers (hopefully)- and it’s not only Sigmar who is allowed to grow like this; almost every character has more than a few surprises in store for readers, and those who like making predictions about where the characters will end up might be surprised at what happens! :-)

And battles? What would Warhammer be without battles? :-) Graham delivers!

There are a host of important battles and skirmishes throughout the book, and in each one, you’re right there! Okay, there’s no arterial greenskin blood spraying your face *go on, cringe if you must* but you feel that fear and adrenaline and hear the shouts and screams and clash of weapons. Graham also makes sure that each battle is different, not the same slightly rehashed tactics and set-pieces used throughout, and each battle in which Sigmar takes part doubles as a test that he must go through in order to learn what he has to know before he is ready to found the Empire. The host of other characters, too, offer moments of brevity and humor, some working for the dark side :-) of course, but all serve to give the world that Sigmar inhabits a welcome sense of depth and realism that really makes the reader feel at home in the tale.

Also, this aimed at those who want to be authors and, more importantly, story-tellers, take heed: this would be an excellent book to read, re-read and then study!

One thing is for sure though – Book 2 in The Sigmar Trilogy, Empire, is sure to see the proverbial shit hit the fan, and I can’t wait! :-)


8/10

Check out Heldenhammer on the Black Library website, and order your copies here: if you’re in the US, if you’re in the UK.

Next Time of Legends book to be reviewed: Nagash the Sorceror!


No comments: