Thursday, October 20, 2011

“Hour of Shadows” by CL Werner (Black Library)


The Storm of Magic comes to Athel Loren

For thousands of years, the Golden Pool has been a source of malignant energy within the forest of Athel Loren. The wood elf spellweaver Ywain, secretly entrusted with the stewardship of this magical fulcrum, prophesises the coming of a terrible enemy to the ancient realm – even now, the undead hordes of the Black Seer Huskk Gnawbone approach. As the elves marshal their forces against him, the power of the pool grows and an eternal evil rises to corrupt even the very forest itself.

It is always a pleasure to read Werner’s work. He manages to evoke the dark and gothic nature of the Warhammer world brilliantly (perhaps peerlessly). In this novella, he brings the twisted, horrific Skaven to life on the page, their machinations and cowardice perfectly rendered in such a short space.

It’s kinda cool to see what Skaven and undead magic would be like on steroids – in fact, it’s just as cool as any image that description may conjure. Trust me. The blending of the two in Huskk is also an interesting and novel approach to the Warhammer world’s darker aspects. The Skaven – sneaky ratmen who live in near-endless caverns and burrows below the Old World – are great for authors, as they offer up so many colourful opportunities to let the imagination run riot, and to create memorable and endearing characters. On both accounts, Werner scores very highly. In Huskk, we have a Skaven seer who develops a strategic and long-term worldview that is rather un-Skaven; while in Nashrik, we get the archetypical Skaven commander – scared witless of showing weakness, lest his minions revolt and eat him.

The ratmen are always entertaining to read about, so idiosyncratic are their mannerisms and characters. They do, however, maintain an air of menace about them: their magic is based on corruption, their politics that of Machiavelli’s Prince if he were utterly deranged and a paranoid schizophrenic (although arguably, he already was). Werner does a great job of showing the reader both sides of their character: the sneaky brilliance and the narcissistic cowardice that informs their very core.

It’s obvious from this novella that Werner’s gift lies in writing the more gothic and horrific – his Wood Elves were a little flat, and perhaps a little too close to the archetype, which was disappointing as his Skaven are so colourful. That being said, he still manages to give Thalos and Ywain’s story an air of tragedy that is affecting to the reader.

Overall, Hour of Shadows is a great, dark slice of action set in a Warhammer world in which magic is running rampant. Werner, one of Black Library’s best authors, once again shows how gifted he is at making the gothic and grotesque entertaining and enthralling.

Very highly recommended for anyone who wants to try Warhammer fiction, and for long-time fans alike.

More Storm of Magic: Razumov’s Tomb, Dragonmage

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