The Doom of Dragonback by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

Dwarfs and Gav Thorpe have a long relationship since some of the earliest days of Black Library’s Warhammer Fantasy fiction, much as is the case with him and the Dark Angels in Warhammer 40,000. I’ve read some of his Warhammer work to date, though not all, and his Time of Legends: The Sundering series stands as some of the best books I’ve read from him to date, though they don’t quite hold the same fascination for me as does his Warhammer 40,000 or Horus Heresy works. Still, whenever Gav writes something in WHF, I do sit up and take notice since he happens to be one of my favourite writers.

And his latest is The Doom of Dragonback, a novel set in a post-War of Vengeance Old World where the dwarfs are still recovering from their decades long war with the elves, who have themselves withdrawn from much of the land and are nursing their own wounds in their homeland, Ulthuan. Following the adventures of various dwarfs of Ekrund, The Doom of Dragonback is the story of how a mighty dwarf hold can fall to orcs and goblins, and how tenuous and fleeting life can be in such an environment. As has been the case of late for me with Gav’s work, the novel is among the best of his works, for he does lots of things here that are different from the norm.

The Doom of Dragonback

It is no secret that the War of Vengeance series for Time of Legends was originally concepted to be a double trilogy, with each trilogy following the dwarf and elf perspectives. But that was all cut down to just two books apiece. And then just a book apiece, with The Doom of Dragonback kind of rounding out the whole era of dwarfish might. It is very disappointing to see this happen, and I suppose it does make sense in the context that Games Workshop has initiated the End Times era on Warhammer Fantasy, an event that is shaking things left and right, bringing out heroes new and old, villains new and old in every faction. The original concepts of War of Vengeance were excellent, and it is a shame that we will not be able to see more.

All the same, The Doom of Dragonback still tells a grand story that focuses on the dwarfish hold of Ekrund, a hold that has yet to be granted the status of a proper karak like the other mighty holds that dot the Old World. Gav keeps the focus tight, presenting as heroes various dwarfs of the Angbok Clan who are among the most prominent of all the clans that call Ekrund home, and that is what truly works to his advantage here. The fall of Ekrund starts as most such stories do, with the dwarfs initially discounting reports of massive orcish armies moving through the Dragonback mountains and not doing much to combat them. This highlights how the dwarfs have changed in the years since the disastrous war with the elves, for before such a thought would have been alien to them, and rangers would have been sent throughout the land to find evidence of such invasions.

The most striking thing about the novel is how Tolkienesque it is, not in the sense of the grand adventure and great doom for the heroes, but the more domestic side rather, in the way that the daily life of the Ekrundfolk is displayed for the reader. The Doom of Dragonback is a novel that is incredibly rich in the heritage of the dwarfs and the details are varied and incredible really. And one of our protagonists is the last scion of the Angbok Clan, Haldora. Yep, that’s right, a female dwarf is one of the center attractions of the novel, and that alone is a reason to read it as far as I’m concerned because, to the best of my knowledge, we haven’t had a female dwarf as a driving element of a narrative to date in Warhammer fiction. There’ve been a few isolated characters, in novels from Nick Kyme and Josh Reynolds, but a bona fide protagonist has been entirely absent. Until now. And Haldora is just the kind of protagonist that I remember reading about in Tolkien’s varied works, especially in those published after his death by his son Christopher Tolkien in The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales.

We see the Ekrundfolk fall from grace and it is a most tragic story indeed. Each chapter has a small introduction that shows how the hold of Ekrund came to be, and the many adversities faced by the early clans and settlers in establishing a strong foothold in the Dragonback Mountains after leaving the great hold of Karak Eight Peaks. The tragedy really is what sells the novel in the end and it is a most melancholic end indeed.

And it is not just all of that, but also the action. Gav ramps up the tension slowly, introducing the reader to possible threats before debuting the big bads themselves as they lay siege to Ekrund in numbers rarely seen in that part of the world for several centuries. The dwarfs in Warhammer have often been quite a tragic folk, given their dwarfish constitution, attitude and the many disasters they have weathered. And in the middle of all of that, somehow the fall of Ekrund struck me as the most profound loss of them all, of an entire hold lost to the filthy orcs and goblins before it could achieve true greatness.

As always, Gav’s characters are all fascinating and varied. Haldora is one of them of course, and we get to see things from her perspective as well as that of her father and grand-father, and even from some of the other clans of Ekrund, though the focus almost always returns to the Angboks. Haldora herself is someone who aspires to be more than she is, more than what her society sees her as, raised on the adventures of her grandmother as she has been. To see that particular societal clash again and again made The Doom of Dragonback a different novel than any other in Warhammer Fantasy, and I would say that if Black Library can put out a few more like this, then it will carve out an even better niche for itself in epic fantasy.

I went in expecting a good, decent novel, but Gav met most of my expectations and even exceeded them in most cases. As a snapshot of dwarfish history, this is quite a definitive novel, I dare say, and I would highly recommend it myself. Enjoy!

Rating: 9.5/10

More Warhammer Dwarfs: The Great Betrayal.

More Gav Thorpe: Honour To The Dead, Catechism of Hate, Crown of The Blood, Crown of The Conqueror, Deathwatch: Mission Purge, Howl of The Banshee, Sanguis Irae, The Raven’s Flight, Master of Sanctity.


Posted on November 24, 2014, in 2014 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Challenges, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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