Wednesday, 20 October 2010

‘Warrior Priest’ – Darius Hinks (Black Library)

If you’re like me and haven’t read an awful lot of Warhammer books (I’m talking the fantasy line here, not 40K), or played the game, then you’ll find that the Black Library probably had you in mind when they kicked off their ‘Empire Army’ series. Here’s a series of books that sets out to introduce you to the setting in the best possible way; showing us the individual units that make up an Empire army and then setting them up against foes that would make even the most doughty swordsman tremble in his boots.
My reading round this series hasn’t been brilliant at all (excuses, excuses etc) but I have read Richard Williams’ ‘Reiksguard’, a book well worth the read and one that clearly sets a standard for future books to follow. Not only did this give me a good idea of what to expect from ‘Warrior Priest’ but Hinks’ short story ‘The Miracle at Berlau’ (from the ‘Death & Dishonour’ collection) had already given me an entry point into the mind of the main character. Two excellent tales meant that ‘Warrior Priest’ had a lot to live up to if it was to be in the same league. Luckily for us, Darius Hinks is on top of his game here...

From the massed ranks of the Empire’s armies, few stand out more than the warrior priests of Sigmar; crushing all who stand before them with the righteous fury of their god and a dirty great big warhammer in mailed fist. When all else fails, these brave men will be the last to fall against the heretics, monsters and daemons that threaten mankind.
Jakob Wolff is one such warrior and his latest quest will prove to be the darkest road that he has trodden. His own brother has been tainted by the Ruinous Powers and Jakob must track him down before the raw power of Chaos itself can be unleashed once again on an Empire still reeling from its last major war. Can Jakob kill his own brother though? His faith in Sigmar is about to be tested like never before...

‘Warrior Priest’ isn’t without its faults but is nevertheless a book that demands to be read. If you’re a long time fan of the setting or a fan of epic fantasy looking for something new to read, I think you’re pretty much guaranteed a good read here. Yet to begin with, it really didn’t look like it was going to be that way...

Jakob Wolff may not be a major player in this world (unlike men such as Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg) but it’s clear from the outset that Hinks has a character on his hands that men are wary of (having heard tales of his piety and fury on the battlefield). Why then, did Hinks feel the need to keep making the point about how tough Wolff is? The first few chapters basically involve Wolff facing down various foes in ways that may show us what a tough guy he is but don’t actually do a lot for the story itself. It’s more like a number of short stories tacked together and the end effect is like a video game where the character has to defeat the ‘end of level boss’ before he can continue. There’s no denying that there are some powerful moments to be had here, some of what Wolff has to face down is pretty intense, but I just didn’t quite get the connection to the story itself. This approach led me to feel that the story wasn’t advancing at all and this led to my having issues with its pace...

I’m glad I stuck with it though as things picked up immeasurably.

Once Hinks gets into his stride, the reader has a story on his hands that delivers on all fronts in a manner that’s nothing short of superb. If Jakob Wolff is called upon to defend the Empire in future books then I’ll be picking them up.

I’m still not entirely au fait with all things Warhammer but even I couldn’t escape from the feeling that Darius Hinks comes across like he knows the Old World inside out and has been writing in it forever.
War is an integral part of the Old World and a facet upon which the whole identity of the setting hinges. If it was any less unrelenting then the setting just wouldn’t work! Hinks knows this deep down and ‘Warrior Priest’ is all the more bleak for this knowledge. Yes, Hinks does write an amazing battle sequence (he really does, you should check it out) but he also knows that the influence of war spreads far beyond the battlefield and he uses this approach to give us a vision of war that is all encompassing rather than confined to the clash of armies.
Villagers and townspeople are faced with starvation as they dare not venture beyond their walls. Blind Lords sit and wait for death in ruined castles after the battle has left them behind. The land itself is blighted and not likely to recover. Even in cities far from the battlefields of the north, life is geared towards war in one way or another and Hinks nails the associated mixture of world weariness and war fuelled adrenaline with an intensity that’s bang on target.

Not only does the reader get such a gorgeously rendered vision but there’s also a story (early stutters aside) running alongside it that complements it almost perfectly. Central to all of this is the character of Jakob Wolff, a man torn between his faith and his family. Hinks delves deep into Wolff’s psyche and spares no detail into the mental torture that Wolff’s past mistakes inflict on him on a daily basis. When Wolff lets fly in the heat of battle, you can almost feel his relief at being able to get away from his other problems and take it out on someone else.
Wolff’s mission is by no means straight forward and there are plenty of twists to keep things fresh and interesting. I loved the way it all came together right at the very end with everything thrown into sharp new relief once the villain’s plans are finally made clear. It was a burst of impetus, at just the right time, which kept me reading right through to the gripping conclusion.

‘Warrior Priest’ starts off on the wrong foot but persistence on the part of the reader will be greatly rewarded with a tale that stirs the blood. I’m looking forward to reading more from Darius Hinks.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

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