Wolf of Sigmar by C. L. Werner (Book Review)
So ends another Time of Legends trilogy. C. L. Werner’s Black Plague is part of the second wave of trilogies that are part of the overall Time of Legends brand, trilogies that tell the tales of some of the greatest events in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles lore, such as the Fall of the Elves in Gav Thorpe’s The Sundering or the rise of Sigmar in Graham McNeill’s Legends of Sigmar. With his first two books in this trilogy, Herr Werner did something that hadn’t quite been there in other Warhammer novels, fantasy with a strong and intense political edge. This is what I loved best about the first novel Dead Winter and with the second novel Blighted Empire.
In the final novel, released a short while ago, Herr Werner took things further and he really established Black Plague as one of the finest trilogies in Warhammer. The action is superb. The characterisation is superb. The handling of all the different characters and the betrayals and alliances is superb. I honestly could not have asked for more on that front. Wolf of Sigmar went in some unexpected directions and since I’m not all that conversant with Warhammer lore, it proved to be a very satisfying read indeed.
This novel is the final act of the entire Black Plague event that wracked the Empire at a time when it was led by a corrupt and self-serving Emperor, when the rivalry between the different provinces was high, and when an undead invasion of Sylvania was under progress. The Skaven, a race of humanoid rat creatures who live in humongous underground caverns and are generally quite evil, were the engineers of the Black Plague, intending to wipe out the Empire so that they could move in on all the prime real estate and establish a Surface-Empire as glorious as their Under-Empire. But of course, things didn’t go as planned, despite all the political subterfuge the Skaven initiated by pitting the various rulers of the Imperial provinces and the Imperial Court against each other. Heroes like Graf Mandred of Middenheim rose up to counter the Skaven incursion and in Sylvania the Black Plague led to a simple priest of Morr becoming Vanhal the Necromancer, the most powerful such mortal conjurer in centuries.
Now we see how it all plays out.
I’ve remarked before that Herr Werner’s characterisation is one of the best aspects of these novels and this is doubly true of Wolf of Sigmar. As the title says, Graf Mandred is the hero of this novel, the one character who is central to the majority of the plots here. Crowned with this title following the climax of Blighted Empire and the death of Emperor Boris, the young Graf Mandred has emerged as the top contender for the Imperial throne. With victory after victory against the Skaven hordes, he is set for a nail-biting match against Adolf Kreyssig, the Imperial Protector in Altdorf who unknowingly colluded with the Skaven to destabilize the Empire and put himself in a position of power. A noble and the people’s hero with armies at his call against the peasant who corrupted the ideals of the Empire and who has won only a small victory against the Skaven.
But that’s not all of course. Despite everything, we truly see the evolution of all the characters involved, except perhaps Vanhal and his apprentice von Diehl. With Mandred, we see how he changes from an uncertain young hero into a man who can unite the fractured Empire. With Adolf Kreyssig, we see his fall from grace and his utter humiliation, all of which he deserved and more. With the Skaven characters such as Vecteek and Puskab Foulfur and others, we see how the inherent Skaven nature destroys them all in the end. With Kurgaz Smallhammer, we witness as the proud dwarf turns into a Slayer, doomed to atone for his dishonour and die a glorious death in battle. With Vanhal, it wasn’t so clear-cut because despite Herr Werner juggling all the characters really well, the necromancer still got the short end of the stick. He gets a couple of really great scenes in the novel, scenes which do well in showing off how powerful he is and what his mindset is, but his story arc’s conclusion was sudden and alarming. And it wasn’t how I imagined his story would end here. I was looking for something more… epic. The true star however might end up being High Priest Gazulgrund, the supreme religious authority of the Church of Sigmar, a man who unwillingly came to power due to the machinations of Kreyssig but redeemed himself at the end of Blighted Empire and now in Wolf of Sigmar he became a true force to be reckoned with, fighting for the freedom of his faith and the people of the Empire.
In the previous two novels, we saw how the Empire was sliding into barbarism and infighting. First, it was due to Emperor Boris Goldgather’s vices and paranoia and the schemes of Adolf Kreyssig. Many heroes of the Empire were murdered or slain as a result. The Black Plague ravaged the land and ties between the various provinces were severed. Then we saw how, in the midst of all the devastation and the Skaven invasions, the Empire was completely paralysed, and how the few remaining heroes struggled against all odds. Now, it is all about the recovery. The bad guys have had their day. They have proved their point, their mettle and shown their intentions. Not, it is time for the heroes to rise, to band together, and to do what heroes are wont to do.
And that is what I loved best about this novel. It was a novel about recovery, about strength in the face of adversity and unity. Under Mandred’s leadership, the Empire leads the fight to the Skaven and to the undead hordes of Vanhal. Bit by bloody bit, Mandred reforges the Empire in the crucible of the Black Plague’s ravages. And it is time for heroes like Gazulgrund to take to the stage as well. The High Priest shakes off Kreyssig’s shackles in the most dramatic manner possible, in a sub-plot that is shocking and awe-inspiring at the same time. That whole grim-darkness that Warhammer is so famous for? Well, that is in full evidence in this novel at every turn. There are betrayals and plots at every turn and the heroes fight through hell and damnation before they win. And they all make sacrifices. Sacrifices of self and sacrifices of the people around them. That last bit, that is something Mandred struggles against. In his heart, he wants vengeance for his father, for the friends he has lost. He doesn’t understand how the people can follow him, despite all the victories he has gained, because he doesn’t see himself in that same light. His is the character to truly grow here.
The narrative approach used by Herr Werner is initially off-putting. All the three novels have stories and arcs that jump around in time, and none more so than Wolf of Sigmar. Initially I was confused here, but then it all began to make sense, especially since I realised that Vanhal’s great conjuration in Blighted Empire really messed up the space-time. We jump back and forth between the different events and we see how epic the story is. The narrative requires some patience and persistence, but I think it all pays off in the end, because Herr Werner is a master storyteller and Wolf of Sigmar is among his finest works to date.
More C. L. Werner: Siege of Castellax.
Posted on March 27, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged Black Library, Black Magic, Book Reviews, C. L. Werner, Dark Fantasy, Dwarves, Empire, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, Gazulgrund, Graf Mandred, Grim Darkness, Heroes, Knights, Lothar Von Diehl, Mages, Middenheim, Necromancy, Political Fantasy, Review, Review Central, Sigmar, Skaven, Tie-in fiction, Time of Legends, Van Hal, Warhammer, Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer Fantasy Battles, Wolf of Sigmar. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.