Tuesday, April 17, 2012

“Gotrek & Felix Anthology” & Others (Black Library)


A bumper crop of Gotrek & Felix short stories

In many ways, my interest in fantasy began with Gotrek and Felix – the short snippets you used to find in the Warhammer Armies books and White Dwarf magazine were great fun. Then I discovered the oft-mentioned-on-this-blog early Warhammer anthologies: Ignorant Armies (1989), Wolf Riders (1989) and Red Thirst (1990). Ever since then, I have tried to read everything Gotrek & Felix related. I’ve not done badly, reading all of the main series’ novels, but with the release of the Gotrek & Felix Anthology, I realised that there were actually quite a few other short stories I’d missed – I haven’t really been keeping up-to-date with the Warhammer anthologies. Thanks to Black Library’s extremely-well-managed move into eBooks, I was able to read them all, and bring you this bumper-review. While it did end up feeling just a tad overwhelming to get through all fifteen of these short stories in basically one go, it was nevertheless great fun to spend more time with these characters.

If you’re not familiar with Gotrek & Felix, or Warhammer in general, then this is a series you must read. It’s a great introduction to the setting, and is written with style and humour, and not a little bit of carnage.

Reviewed Herein: Gotrek & Felix Anthology (Various), Red Snow (Nathan Long), Charnel Congress (Josh Reynolds), The Oberwald Ripper (Laurie Goulding), Slayer of the Storm God (Nathan Long)


Gotrek & Felix Anthology, ed. Christian Dunn

As I do with all anthologies, I’ll separate this review out into the individual stories. In general, this is a very good and diverse anthology. There’s a good consistency to the characters across the anthology – except for one instance, Gotrek & Felix, as well as a number of other characters feel the same as they did in Will King’s and Nathan Long’s novels and short stories. With its episodic adventures, this anthology reminded me of Trollslayer, the first book in the series.

Slayer’s Honour by Nathan Long

Following rumours of a gigantic spider in an ancient dwarf hold, Gotrek and Felix join forces with another slayer and his human companion – but can their new allies be trusted?

This is quite a long novella to open up the Anthology, and it’s a pretty great one. While at a trading post set up outside a greenskin-overrun Dwarf Hold (which charges treasure hunters for the privilege of plying their trade within), Gotrek and Felix meet another Slayer-Rememberer pair – this has never happened before. There’s an interesting dynamic between the two slayer-rememberer pairs, not to mention some similarities and stark differences between them.

Mysterious assailants seem to have it in for Gotrek and Felix, as they are attacked both in the town and also while underground on their mission to help clear the hold of orcs. There’s something darker going on, here, and Gotrek and Felix find themselves mixed up in a really nefarious plot.

This is a nice, meaty story, taking up a considerable chunk of the book’s overall length. Long manages to keep the pace up at a steady clip without ever feel like he’s rushing. There’s action aplenty, some peril, a host of varied enemies both vile and treacherous. And also a giant spider. Long writes it all with aplomb and flair, and kept me engaged and interested until the end. As an aside, one scene reminded me of Fellowship of the Rings, when the Fellowship have arrived in Balin’s tomb, and a troll pops in...

The story has a bittersweet ending, more bitter than sweet, as the worst of the dwarves and men is laid bare for all to see. Slayer’s Honour certainly starts this collection off with a bang, and sets a very high bar for the authors and stories to come.

A Cask of Wynters by Josh Reynolds

This story provides yet more evidence that Reynolds is one of BL’s up-and-comers to keep a keen eye on – his style is great, mixing fantastic description, brisk dialogue, and generally stripped-down prose, with a nice, deft and humorous touch from time to time.

The story focuses on Snorri Nosebiter, the brain-rattled Slayer and some-time companion of Gotrek and Felix, who has embarked on his own side-quest to help save a dwarven brewery from a horde of orcs. I think this is set around the time of Giantslayer, after Felix and Gotrek are spirited off to Albion.

I thought Reynolds offered a really interesting focus on Snorri – we get to know a little bit more about how his mind works: even though he’s far from enjoying his full faculties, he retains a modicum of lucidity that allows for mischief and even a wistfulness that was very endearing. It’s really great characterisation, complemented by excellent story pacing.

Given how well Reynolds writes Snorri (and also Gotrek and Felix – see below), plus the events of the recent novels and Gotrek’s vow to put off his own doom until he helps Snorri remember his shame, I am further convinced that we can expect more from Gotrek & Felix stories him in the future.

This is a great short story.

[That’s pure speculation, but it’s an idea I would certainly support, if Nathan Long is moving on.]

A Place of Quiet Assembly by John Brunner

The last story written by renowned author John Brunner, featuring Gotrek and Felix in a fight for their lives against the followers of the twisted god of change, Tzeentch.

This story is written from the point of view of someone who enters Gotrek and Felix’s orbit, but our heroes themselves didn’t really feature much in the story.

It’s an interesting and well-written story, but I don’t think it’s among the best included in this anthology. It offers a distinctly different characterisation of Gotrek from what we’ve become used to from King’s and Long’s fiction (which I much prefer) – perhaps it is meant as an “unearthed” tale from Gotrek and Felix’s early acquaintance? The story has the classic feel of the earlier Gotrek & Felix short stories, when each adventure was some quest against the insidious forces of the Ruinous Powers. The style is reminiscent of earlier Warhammer fiction, which lacked the polish of more-recent output. It’s still a good story, mind, but it really stood out for me as diverging from the Gotrek that we know.

Kineater by Jordan Ellinger

Guarding a merchant caravan in the Ogre Kingdoms, Gotrek finds himself part of an ogre tribe’s power struggle, while Felix strikes up a friendship with a beautiful fellow writer.

En route to Cathay, our heroes run afoul of an amorous ogre tyrant. Naturally, and much to Felix’s consternation, they head off to save the unwilling bride. It’s a good, quick-paced story, with a pretty brutal ending.

The story closes with a knowing, amusing in-joke about the books’ titles (Felix, evidently, is meant to be publishing his versions under the same titles that we are reading – so, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Giantslayer, etc.), and how awkward it would be when they “run out of new monsters to slay”. A nice introduction to Ellinger’s writing, and a fun Gotrek and Felix adventure.

Prophecy by Ben McCallum

Twin Chaos sorcerers Kelmain Goldenrod and Lhoigor Blackstaff follow the strands of fate that surround the lives of Gotrek and Felix as they prepare to destroy the heroic duo.

This is another story from an alternative point of view of a number of key events from the novels – particularly events surrounding and following Dragonslayer.

Perhaps most interesting about this tale is that we get perhaps the best look yet at why Gotrek took the slayers’ oath in the first place. It’s the first time I remember reading anything like this – it’s a detached, vague account, none too detailed, but it certainly gives us something new information to consider. Beyond that, I thought this was a really interesting and well-constructed short story.

The Tilean’s Talisman by David Guymer

The skaven Siskritt and his litter-brother Crassik attempt to seize a powerful talisman. All goes well, until a red-furred dwarf and his blond-furred human companion get involved...

This was a pretty cool one: we get to see Gotrek’s prowess in battle, but from the perspective of a suitably-cowardly skaven warrior. It’s pretty intense and brutal. The story actually starts with the end scene, before jumping back in time to show us more of the story regarding the Talisman and how the skaven come to snag it. Pretty cool story, and a good intro to Guymer’s writing and prose style. Another nice alternative perspective of our heroes.

Last Orders by Andy Smillie

A dwarf slayer and his human companion have been murdered in the Skewered Dragon inn. Can the killer be brought to justice, and are the victims really the famous Gotrek and Felix?

This story recounts the aftermath of Gotrek and Felix’s visit to a bar, from a much put-upon barkeep. As in Brunner’s story, we see a different Gotrek here – he’s more combative and confrontational, and gruffer and more vocal about his displeasure than we’re used to. We’re given the impression that perhaps this story is set earlier in Gotrek & Felix’s acquaintance? I always thought that, while no less of a curmudgeon and grump, Gotrek was more likely to grumble than verbally abuse anyone he wasn’t seriously considering burying his axe in...

An apparent old-acquaintance of Gotrek and Felix’s turns up, but I have no memory of him at all, so maybe it’s an ‘off-screen’ enemy: Luipold Gunda.

This was a pretty good story, taking an interesting approach to the duo and their presence in the Old World. To be honest, I think I prefer Smillie’s WH40k fiction (especially his Flesh Tearers fiction), but this was a solid, dark contribution to the anthology. I also really liked the crime-thriller-esque, investigative element to the story. This could have worked as a longer story, I think. Certainly it’s a style to revisit in the future.

Mind-Stealer by C.L. Werner

Grey Seer Thanquol’s latest scheme is going exactly to plan, until base treachery and incompetent underlings leave his mind stuck in the body of his faithful rat ogre, Boneripper…

This story is from Grey Seer Thanquol’s perspective – for those not clear, he is a skaven sorceror whose plans Gotrek and Felix seem destined to confound. He’s also one of my favourite Warhammer characters, and Werner is (as always and expected) on top-form when writing about the rat-men. In this story, we get lots of Skaven arrogance, stupidity, paranoia, “logic”, and so forth. The body-swapping side of the story was an interesting innovation, and one I think Werner managed to do very well (it could have been silly, but Werner makes it really work). It is always a delight to read Werner’s Skaven. This story was particularly intriguing, and among the best featured in this review.

The Two Crowns of Ras Karim by Nathan Long

Hunting a desert creature known as ‘The Lurking Horror’, Gotrek and Felix find themselves inveigled in a desperate plot to unseat a tyrant and claim the two crowns of Ras Karim.

In this story, Long takes us on a rare relocation for the duo – this time to the Middle Eastern-flavoured regions of the Warhammer world, Araby.

Long’s writing is on top-form, and I found myself zipping through it faster than most of the other stories save for those by Josh Reynolds. It’s a fun sword-and-sorcery tale in the style of Howard Andrew Jones and Saladin Ahmed, if they were to write in the Warhammer setting. Excellent.

The Funeral of Gotrek Gurnisson by Richard Salter

Gotrek Gurnisson is dead. His companion, Felix Jaeger, swears vengeance and, with the aid of the vampire Ulrika, hunts the villains responsible for the Slayer’s untimely demise.

This is a very well-written story: there’s a mystery Felix must solve with the help of an old, unwelcome acquaintance. Before the attack that brings Gotrek low, the two heroes were on the trail of one Sorceress Pragarti. With this as his only lead, he and Ulrika set about solving the case. We don’t really learn anything about Pragarti, save a snippet about her nefarious plan – there just wasn’t space in the story for any more than that – and the ending had a nice twist. It’s interesting to see the dynamic whenever Ulrika re-appears in the company of Gotrek and Felix – they are, after all, sworn to driving back the darkness from the Old World wherever they find it.

I really liked the way Salter’s constructed this story. I’d definitely like to see what else he could come up with, given the chance and also a bit more space in terms of word-count. This was a very good story to bring this anthology to a close.


Long-G&F-RedSnowRed Snow by Nathan Long

Gotrek and Felix tread the dangerous road to Skabrand, expecting a glorious fight with the ogres. However, all is not as it seems in the frozen mountains, and they face a foe that they never could have expected.

Felix and Gotrek have ventured East in search of the Dwarf’s doom. They are caught in an avalanche, and learn that “there is a terrible monster that haunts these hills”, which naturally piques Gotrek’s interest, much to Felix’s consternation:

“It seemed that after so many disappointments, Gotrek had become convinced that nothing in the Old World could kill him, and that his only chance of dying in battle, as a true slayer should, was to press on into the unknown.”

This was a fun Gotrek & Felix mini-adventure, and I really enjoyed it. There’s a good final battle, and like a lot of the best stories set in the Old World, not all of the evil is so easily spotted.

A short story from the anthology Death and Dishonour.


Reynolds-G&F-CharnelCongressCharnel Congress by Josh Reynolds

Gotrek and Felix journey through the haunted marshes of Hel Fenn in search of an honourable death for the Slayer, but awaken an ancient evil long thought dead.

This is an eBook exclusive, and one I would definitely recommend all fans of Gotrek and Felix and Warhammer in general read. We’re given an atmospheric beginning, in the flooded streets of Hel Fenn. The calm doesn’t last long, however, before we’re thrown into action and intense combat.

It’s unclear to me where this falls in the series chronology, but it’s great fun. Felix and Gotrek, as part of a motley and argumentative band of warriors, are on the trail of Schtillman, a lesser necromancer who has managed to get his hands on some dark, unholy relic from a Garden of Saints (fancy Warhammer cemetery). As one can imagine, when dealing with necromancers and the undead, zombies and ghouls abound!

Reynolds injects some good, black humour: it’s slightly absurdist, and reminiscent of Will King’s comic style, with the occasional nod to Pratchett, I think (“Stop talking to the sacrifice, Norrys!”). In fact, this story had a really similar feel to the stories that make up Trollslayer, which I have read countless times. Reynolds has done a great job of making this story fit in with the tone and feel of King’s and Long’s novels.

After a hunt through the underground tunnels of the town, Gotrek and Felix find themselves confronting a lot more than just a wayward necromancer. The story builds nicely to a chaotic and violent climax.

This is yet another example of why people should be reading Josh Reynolds. Highly recommended.


Hammer&Bolter18The Oberwald Ripper by Laurie Goulding

There is a killer in Oberwald, and Felix Jaeger is the prime suspect. Can Gotrek Gurnisson get to the bottom of the mystery and save his companion from the hangman’s rope?

This is Goulding’s Black Library debut, and it’s a very fine story. Our heroes are separated by Felix’s arrest. Gotrek finds himself in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable position – that of lead investigator in their current little predicament (“The problem was that Gotrek was never sure where the trail began, in these sorts of situations. That had always been Felix’s strong suit.”) It’s an interesting, different type of Gotrek & Felix story. Quite well-written and -constructed. It’ll be interesting to see what else Goulding can come up with in the future.


Slayer of the Storm God by Nathan Long

Returning to Marienburg to claim an ancient treasure, Gotrek and Felix face pirates, mutants and their greatest foe yet – a mighty avatar of the storm god, Stromfels

This story was originally released as an audiobook, and is also included in Hammer & Bolter 18.

The story is set after Elfslayer and before Shamanslayer. Gotrek and Felix pick up their business in Marienburg where they left off, by breaking into Euler’s house and cleaning out his safe while looking for documentation that would incriminate Felix’s father in some pretty dark smuggling and black marketeering. While ransacking the place, the watch turn up. What follows is a fun romp through the city and surrounding swamps, as fish-featured mutants attempt to kill our heroes and bring about the manifestation of their god – this, unfortunately for Gotrek and Felix, requires an item that happened to be stashed in Euler’s safe…

I much preferred this text version to the audio drama, and it’s always great to read more of Nathan Long’s Gotrek and Felix stories, especially those in the classic Chaos/mutant-hunting oeuvre.


BlackLibrary15-04-BloodSport (Reynolds)Blood Sport by Josh Reynolds

Gotrek and Felix visit a trading post where the locals use a captive hippogryph in vicious pit fights. The Slayer seizes a chance to find his doom and challenges the beast…

This is one of the micro-stories from Black Library’s 15th Birthday celebration. It’s really very short, so nigh-on-impossible to talk about it without spoiling the whole thing. Needless to say, it’s a great story, and we see an unexpected, compassionate side to Gotrek’s character, and his surprising sense of fair-play in warfare. I’ve said it already twice before in this review, but Reynolds really is a very good writer. I’ll have to read Knight of the Blazing Sun very soon, to see what he can do in a longer format.


Gotrek & Felix Series: Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, Dragonslayer, Beastslayer, Vampireslayer, Giantslayer, Orcslayer, Manslayer, Elfslayer, Shamanslayer, Zombieslayer

Ulrika Series: Bloodborn, Bloodforged, Bloodsworn (June 2012)

Thanquol Series: Grey Seer, Temple of the Serpent, Thanquol’s Doom

Also on CR: Interviews with Will King and Nathan Long

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