Friday, 11 September 2009

‘Shamanslayer’ – Nathan Long (Black Library)

Until now, I’ve only picked up one ‘Gotrek and Felix’ novel and I have to say that I wasn’t impressed at the time (a few years ago now). ‘Trollslayer’ is a collection of tales, which I think were taken from the pages of ‘White Dwarf’ magazine back in the nineteen eighties, that worked well on their own but came across as a little too repetitive in tone when lumped together. I don’t mind re-reading stuff but only when it’s the same book; not the same story over and over again in the same book!
As a result, I’ve stayed away from ‘Gotrek and Felix’. Until now that is. Rumours of a wider ranging storyline and the promise of a new author to check out (Nathan Long is the writer in residence now, it used to be William King) prompted me to give one of the Black Library’s most iconic duos another go. I’m glad I did. ‘Shamanslayer’ may not be highbrow stuff but what it lacks in this department is more than made up for by a hefty dose of good old fashioned fun.

If you haven’t read any of the ‘Gotrek and Felix’ novels then don’t feel too wary about jumping in right here as the structure of the novel means that you will be up to speed before you know it. All you really need to know is that Gotrek Gurnisson is a ‘Trollslayer’, a dwarf who has sworn to die a heroic death in atonement for a great shame. Gotrek isn’t very good at being a Trollslayer though; nothing has killed him yet... Felix Jaeger is the poor sap who drunkenly swore an oath to follow Gotrek and chronicle his deeds some twenty years ago. They’re firm friends now, despite Gotrek’s quest constantly casting a grim shadow over them.

‘Shamanslayer’ sees the pair on a mission to the north to seek out the surviving members of the Order of the Fiery Heart. What they will find though is far more than just the remnants of the Order. Beastmen are on the march and in such numbers that an Empire already weakened by war will not be able to withstand their dark magic. Gotrek and Felix are all that stands between the free peoples of the Old World and the encroaching darkness, just how Gotrek likes it...

If you’re finding that your fantasy reading is getting a little too self absorbed, philosophical or just plain verbose then ‘Shamanslayer’ could be the perfect antidote. What you’re getting for your money here is a good slice of ‘hack and slash’ sword and sorcery. ‘Shamanslayer’ knows exactly what it is and doesn’t care; here’s a book that’s only interested in telling you a story that races along, punctuated by the clash of swords and the hum of dark magic.
The plot itself is decidedly simple, perhaps a little too simple and linear (although it was just what I was looking for after a long day at work). Gotrek and Felix have a goal to aim at and hundreds of assorted monsters and villains to fight their way through to get to it. That’s it.

On the whole, this worked for me although I did find myself looking for a little more from the plot on occasion. The plot is simplistic but this allows Long to concentrate on other areas which bulk ‘Shamanslayer’ out and make it something that I was able to get totally lost in. Chief among these is the relationship between Gotrek and Felix; these two have travelled together for twenty years now and their depth of their friendship shows not just in what is said but also in what is left unsaid. Long term fans are about to see this relationship change, perhaps irrevocably. I’m a relative newcomer but what’s on show here has already got me wondering how things will pan out. I’ll just have to make sure I’m around to see what transpires.
Long’s depiction of an Empire recovering from a bitter war is also bang on the money. Here is an author determined not to leave any stone unturned in his vision, war may be hell but it’s also a reality that needs to be shown. The aftermath of a hero’s work can be just the same as that of the villain...

Any sword and sorcery novel needs to be big on spectacle and Long does not disappoint; giving us the full range of pub brawls, skirmishes and full on warfare between opposing armies. Gotrek’s apparent invincibility can be a little wearing (as well as robbing certain confrontations of their tension) but the fight scenes more than make up for this. Every blow and sword stroke is guaranteed to make you wince and the mixture of high stakes and epic confrontations keeps the pages turning nicely.

‘Shamanslayer’ is a lightweight read but I found that I didn’t really care because it was so much fun. I’ll be back for more.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten


Unknown said...

I've read a few of these and agree wholeheartedly with your review. A certain lack of depth but great fun. Sounds the perfect book for when I finish the Dust of Dreams...

Big said...

You Crazy....Nathans good, he really is ,but the orginals are unbeatable.Lovin the positive outlook though.It would be good to see something new and original!
The Warhammer Worlds are full of fantastical possibilitys.....

Steve Jones Snr said...

Sounds like something I would like to read while travelling (I dislike travelling but do a lot of it to earn a living) Sounds easy to read and something that would take my mind off what was going on around me. I try to write stories like this myself and hope that my work would have a similar effect on anyone who reads it...

Peter said...

I've read all of them, and Nathan Long's issue is he makes things too big. Gotrek and Felix are awesome, but threy are not the movers and shakers he makes them out to be. This is a world with Malekith, Nagash, and Be'lakor. Villains who the duo are not in the league.
Nathan doesn't seem to understand this, or at least, not like William King did.
He keeps trying to top their previos adventures, which actually detracts from the overall tone. William didn't care that killing a vampire pales in comparison to killing a bloodthirster, he simply knew it was part of the story.
While Nathan wants to keep turning everything up. It's not enough to kill orcs, it has to be some eldritch horror insect thing controling them.
It's not enough to kill dark elves, he has to kill a Keeper of Secrets they summoned. (Incidently, membership in the cult of Slannesh is a killing offence in dark elf culture, and Malekith's hardline approach to it is what caused their civil war. The thought of his body guards being involved with it is laughable. Yes, Morathi is, but only because he pretends not to know, and she's irreplaceable. The temple of Khaine is their dominant religon).
Don't get me wrong, I like the new novels, I just resent the direction they're going in.
Also, I miss the engaging nature of the old ones. King would add new characters, many of whom were just as engaging, and it was their dynamic that gave the story it's drama. Oh, Gotrek or Felix won't die, but their companions could and did.
Where Nathan reuses old characters, so it feels like the story is curling in on itself, following already trodden ground.
All in all, I'll read this new one, as I like the pair, and Nathan's done a fair job, but I may find myself resenting it.