The Continuing, Adventurous Unlife of Ulrika the Vampire
Unable to adapt to Lahmian society, Ulrika seeks her own way, striking out to the Chaos-besieged city of Praag to seek old friends and glory in battle. On her arrival, she finds a devastated but defiant people and the invaders repelled. But the Ruinous Powers can take many forms, and now a more insidious threat is rising from within – a Slaaneshi cult that seeks to claim dominion in Praag.
Shunned by her Lahmian sisters, decried by the humans she seeks to protect, Ulrika treads a lonely path as she tries to find the root of this destructive plot. Caught between the will of the vampires and the insane designs of Chaos sorcerers and cultists, Ulrika must call upon all of her cunning and savagery if she is to triumph...
Ulrika is one of Black Library’s strongest long-running fictional characters, and in Bloodforged Nathan Long has not only upped the stakes, but also improved on the already-great Bloodborn on almost every level. I blitzed through this, and had a great time with it.
A return to Praag – one of the most interesting and richly atmospheric cities in the Warhammer world, and setting of some of the best Gotrek and Felix novels. Bloodforged begins a mere three weeks after the events of Bloodborn, and Ulrika’s position among the Nuln Lahmians quickly becomes untenable. She is too different in temperament (she was not, after all, turned by one), and quickly engineers a daring escape from the city. At first, we follow Ulrika through the wilds of the Empire, as she makes her way to Praag, and Long uses this time to allow Ulrika to come to grips a little more with her abilities and personal mission. Upon her arrival in Praag, she stumbles across a cult’s conspiracy to devastate the city’s elite, and struggles with the local Lahmian forces to save the city. In addition, a mysterious male vampire with an agenda of his own joins the mix, and Ulrika’s loyalties are torn.
As the novel progresses, we come to understand that the paranoia that almost defined the Lahmians in Bloodborn is endemic among the older members of the bloodline. In Praag, the Lahmian ruler Evgena sees spies and assassins behind every action, jumping to conclusions so quickly one has to wonder why she doesn’t spend her life in a panic room. That being said, it is clear that Evgena and her minions have become comfortable and closeted in their lives in Praag (despite the ever-present threat of invasion), and are loathe to entertain any notion that might upset their ideal existence. This blindness adds further frustration to Ulrika’s chosen mission, as she attempts to deal with a group who are utterly self-destructive and delusional. It’s interesting to see the elder vampires refer to her as “child” or “pup”, when Ulrika is the only one acting the rational adult – her still-strong connection to humanity informs her decisions, and if she is to succeed, she must put it in terms the older vampires can understand and accept.
One of the things that really sticks out about this series is that our protagonist is a strong female character; she’s tough, can hold her own, and is in no way a damsel in distress. It’s a different type of Warhammer novel, more about intrigue and investigation than outright warfare – although, Ulrika being who she is, there is a fair bit of slaughter involved as well, not to mention some great set-piece urban battles. I was reminded of Jack Yeovil’s Warhammer novels (see below), and the feel of earlier novels in the setting – darker, tilting a little more towards atmosphere and horror. Bloodforged is fresher, though, and there’s no doubt that Long continues to improve with every novel – this book built very well on Bloodborn, as we get to know both Ulrika and her new world better.
Bloodforged is very well-paced, and I found myself whizzing through it as both the story and Long’s prose drew me on, and I stayed up well into the night to read as much as I could. The race-against-time denouement is equally satisfying, as Ulrika, Stefan (the male vampire) and reluctant-but-motivated Lahmians attempt to foil the diabolical plan set in motion by the Slaaneshi cult. The end of the novel also has a nice set-up and foreshadowing for things to come, as the events in Nuln and Praag are tied together.
This is a shorter review than I normally write, but the pace is so quick and filled with revelations and twists, to write more on the plot would spoil it. Needless to say, if you like your fantasy quickly-paced, interesting and populated by duplicitous yet realistic characters, and investigative mystery, then Bloodforged should hold considerable appeal. Ulrika’s character develops more, and it’s safe to say that this spin-off series has quickly come into its own and can stand on its own alongside its originator. (Incidentally, this is set, as far as I can tell, around about the same time as Giantslayer.)
Engaging and addictive, with a classic feel, Long has improved on Bloodborn in almost every way. Very highly recommended.
Also Read: Nathan Long, Bloodborn; William King & Nathan Long, Gotrek & Felix series; Jack Yeovil/Kim Newman The Vampire Genevieve (omnibus); Anne Rice, The Vampire Chronicles; Darius Hinks; C.L. Werner
Also on CR: Interview With Nathan Long