Gotrek & Felix: City of The Damned by David Guymer (Book Review)

The Gotrek & Felix novels by both William King and Nathan Long are among the very first Warhammer Fantasy novels I bought back in 2005/2006 when I was getting back into Black Library reading with the Warhammer 40,000 setting. I was already a huge fan of Bill’s Space Wolf series, and making the transition to the fantasy side of things with both Gotrek and Felix was rather easy as it turned out. Even Nathan’s own work was great once I started reading it. But then, eventually, Nathan moved on to other things as Bill had before him, and the tale of the Trollslayer and his rememberer passed into the hands of another new generation of writers.

Of these new writers, David Guymer is one of only two writers who have been asked to continue on the adventures of Gotrek Gurnisson and Felix Jaeger. I’ve read both of Josh Reynolds’ novels, Road of Skulls and The Serpent Queen and loved them both. With David however, the transition has not been easy, though I liked the audio drama he did with them last year. City of The Damned is a continuity-free novel like both of Josh’s novels, but it also is set up as a prequel to the more recent release, Kinslayer which is the first part of the Doom of Gotrek storyline and is the penultimate novel in the final ending of Gotrek’s saga. I read it earlier this month and I have somewhat mixed feelings about it.

Gotrek and Felix - City of the DamnedMost importantly for me, City of the Damned lacks much of the humour that was present in the novels by Bill and Josh. I unfortunately don’t remember how it went with Nathan’s own books, but the two stories he did back in 2012 were very fun and enjoyable partly because of the humour. City of The Damned is a very grim read, quite so.

It is understandable to a degree since this book is a precursor to the big tales of the End Times. For years, Warhammer Fantasy has been the underdog to Warhammer 40,000 as the latter has only gained in popularity over the years while the former has wavered a fair bit. You look at the type of fiction coming out of Black Library in the last year and a half and the difference becomes even more apparent. This has created a kind of loop that has seen the series stagnate a fair bit, especially when it comes to parent company Games Workshop. But this year, in fact this month, that has begun to change with the launch of the End Times event which seems set to really shake up the Warhammer Fantasy setting in a big way.

As such, I totally understand why City of the Damned is written as it is. Sure, it kind of predates End Times by almost a year in publication times, but then again, I doubt that it was written without any knowledge of it since big events like End Times are events that are planned for a long time before going on the production floor.

Either way, this is one of my first complaints about the novel, that it is far more serious than other Gotrek & Felix novels have been, especially both of Josh’s novels. The grimdark is in full effect in this novel, and at times it even works when you consider the setting of the story, but usually it just meant that the levity between Gotrek and Felix felt forced and unrealistic, even rote.

However, that is also countered by the fact that David’s prose is very descriptive. Sometimes it does get excessive to a degree and that breaks the story immersion, but David definitely knows how to set up a scene in a great way and really describe the different places and characters. That was rewarding in its own way because (ironically enough) it helped create story immersion. You find out how Ostermark is as a place, how the City of the Damned is as a location, and so on.

But, often times I was also confused by the story. It seemed to make some random turns every now and then that confused me as to what was actually happening in the novel. As if some scenes were cut or edited down far too much to bare basics that really couldn’t convey the story properly. That was one of the most irritating things for me with City of the Damned, more so since I’m typically a fast reader and if I have to break every thirty or forty pages to go read back on a half dozen pages, then my experience is going to be less than positive.

And this applies to some of the twists as well, or some of the revelations. There is a particular… effect in the City of the Damned that makes the progression of events and the story itself non-linear and this was not a great thing as far as I am concerned. It led the way for some lack of characterization for the villains, or even the “anti-heroes” of the novel in a way that made me wonder just what the hell was going on in the novel. The novel seems to be written for those readers who take their time moving through a story, not fast readers like me. I certainly didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I’d hoped for, especially after hearing a fair amount of positive buzz about the novel.

Additionally, the villains didn’t work so well for me either. Gotrek and Felix are both portrayed well as individuals and on that front David seems to have hit the right now, but the interactions between the two of them felt forced. And this “late” into a series like Gotrek & Felix, the former’s constant dismissals and denigrations of the latter felt worn and tired. I wanted to see something different, something I could really latch on to and that was missing for most of the novel. Plus, it seemed as if Gotrek was far too indestructible here (and this is a big criticism I have of Kinslayer as well) and when he goes missing in the middle of the novel, it isn’t explained well enough and the focus on Felix after that, until the character pops back towards the end, didn’t offer me anything compelling or engaging. Felix and Gotrek both work best when they are played off each other, given their contrasting personalities and attitudes and egos.

Still, when all is said and done, City of The Damned isn’t all that bad a novel really. The major reveal about the big villain was handled nicely enough and the whole End Times thing is also set up quite nicely in a way that makes you want to move on to titles like Kinslayer and Archaon: Everchosen quickly. I read Kinslayer right after I read City of The Damned and it was a great experience in the sense of that kind of a continuity, and is how I would suggest approaching both the novels. Of course, Kinslayer is an in-continuity novel and is set in the duo’s near future, so David does get to take some welcome liberties, but still, I would definitely recommend reading City of The Damned before it. You’ll understand some of the events much better in that sense.

So yeah, final verdict: worth a read for sure.

Rating: 7/10

More Gotrek & Felix: Road of Skulls, The Serpent Queen, Gotrek & Felix: The Anthology.

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Posted on September 18, 2014, in 2014 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Challenges, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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