David Guymer, Black Library, 2015
David Guymer, Black Library, 2014
In case you did not know, I used to be an unashamed nerd when I was somewhat younger. This is not to say that I am old now or that fantasy and science fiction have lost their meaning for me. Not at all. It is just to say that I am not spending five days a week to play Warhammer anymore. Even the board game nights that I love have become few and far between.
While Tolkien introduced me to fantasy, it was Warhammer in its fantasy and futuristic WH40k incarnations that really gripped me. Now who would not like dystopian imaginary worlds with a ‘realistic’ hands dirty – or grim and dark as they call it nowadays – attitude? I still like the way they had built their settings, drawing a great deal from actual history and borrowing from other competing settings or even from underground metal culture. Anyway, despite the somewhat waning interest in the actual gaming, I have been keeping up with some of the lore.
Within that lore there is (or was) one particular series that I had followed pretty much from the beginning – the Slayer saga. For the uninitiated, this is the story of the adventures of Felix Jaeger and Gotrek Gurnisson. Felix is an aspiring poet from the human empire and Gotrek is a dwarf who had made a slayer oath to seek a worthy doom to make amends for the wrongs that he had done in his past life. That also seems to require running around with no shirt while sporting a red mohawk that would be worthy of any punk rocker
This summer (i.e. the summer that is long gone now) I managed to read the last two books that conclude the series. The Hegelian in me was puzzled at this. Why not a trilogy? Everyone knows that a fitting number of fantasy books is three. Or, as I thought after reading the books, maybe even one would have been enough?
That being said, did I think that the books were bad or that the ending itself was bad? Not necessarily. These are meant to be quick entertainment and not world class literature. In any case, there are some things that make these somewhat worse entertainment than the classic Slayer books by the original author, Bill King.
Firstly, there is no character development at all. That all has been done in the previous books and it is pretty much assumed that the reader knows who the characters are and what their relationships with each other are. That in itself is fine but I would like to see Gotrek change his mindset even a little when he actually hears how his family died. Even Felix seems to be the same old. The fact that their world is literally ending does not seem to make that much of a difference.
While the main characters do not offer anything new, this arguably leaves room to make stories interesting through the villains. In these books they seem somehow unmotivated but I still liked the tragic character of Troll King in Kinslayer. He is a cultured beast with a twisted sense of humour, and who ultimately just wants intelligent friends. Sadly for him, all the other trolls are pretty much idiots.
Another thing that bugged me was the sense of distance – or the lack of it. It seems to me that travelling is a key ingredient in almost all of the fantasy adventure books. The Lord of the Rings is a prime example of this but I suppose that it is even more generally true that adventure requires moving from one place to another – perhaps as a means of encountering new things that make that particular part of life to feel like an adventure. Connected to this is the slightly gloomy real life observation that there is not much of an adventure in the everyday circle of home, work, pub, home, work, pub, and so on ad infinitum. Back to the books themselves, to me the episodes in them were disjointed and it was really hard to ‘stay on the map’ so to speak. I did not get that sense of movement or distance that is present in some better fantasy adventure books. There was no feeling of effort that the protagonists need to undertake to get to their goals and, following this, the sense of progression was lacking. I guess the writer should have really remembered the classic saying: it’s not the end but the journey that matters.
Overall, both books had quite lame beginnings but they also included lovable endings that in fact brought a lump to my throat and (almost) tears to my eyes. A fitting closure for a fantasy saga that had been a part of my life for over 15 years.