Thursday, 10 March 2011

‘God King’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)

If you’re a publisher of tie-in fiction and great things are happening with one of your lines then you’re going to want to see if you can repeat it elsewhere aren’t you? Of course you are. The Black Library has enjoyed some considerable success with their ‘Horus Heresy’ series (takes place some ten thousand years before the current setting and has thrown a number of contributing authors onto the New York Times bestsellers) so it makes perfect sense for them to want to replicate that, in some form, with their fantasy line. The end result is their ‘Time of Legends’ series, books that throw back the curtain on events that are thousands of years old and have shaped the present day Empire that we are all familiar with. I’ve only read Gav Thorpe’s ‘Malekith’, from this series but have a couple of others on the shelf which I plan to read at some point. I certainly haven’t read the first two books in Graham McNeill’s ‘Legend of Sigmar’ trilogy (part of the ‘Time of Legends’) which tell us how Sigmar rose to prominence in the Old World... Yes, with me being me I found myself right at the tail end of the trilogy with just enough background knowledge to have a rough idea of what happened but no idea of what was to come next. That was ok though, ‘God King’ solved that issue in no short order.

Sigmar’s fledgling Empire has seen its fair share of threats since its inception; from intrigue within to the Orc invasion at Black Fire Pass and the Chaos assault on Middenheim. All of these threats have been beaten back thanks to the peerless leadership of Sigmar himself but now a threat has arisen which may prove too much even for him...
In the deserts of Nehekhara another empire is beginning to make its presence felt once more but where Sigmar rules over an empire of the living this is an empire of the living dead. The Necromancer Nagash has once again turned his eyes northward and his armies of the dead will not halt until all the land is under their sway. Sigmar’s armies must halt this advance but how is this possible when every warrior that falls returns to fight for the other side? There is only one course of action for Sigmar but he knows that the slightest error in judgment will doom his empire as surely as a victory for Nagash would...

‘God King’ is one of those books where you can read it without having read the preceding two first; the story is very much self contained with one threat to be faced that hasn’t been continued from an earlier work. I came to this book first and certainly didn’t notice any big gaping holes in the plot. At the same time though, it’s clear that you’ll get a lot more out of the book if you do read the preceding two books first. Characters develop as a result of choices made a lot earlier than this tale and to get the full benefit of this you will want to be in right at the start. Like I said, the book does stand well on its own but I can see myself going back and reading the other two just so I can see how things all come together. If ‘God King’ is a reflection of the other two books then I can see myself reading them anyway as ‘God King’ was a great little read.

‘God King’ is a well handled mixture of the seeds of empire taking root (and even growing a little) with plenty of stuff happening to grab the reader’s attention at the same time. There’s a little something here for everything. Fans of the Warhammer setting will find plenty of fan references to pick up on (I saw a few but I don’t think I got them all, not by a long shot) and newcomers will find a detailed story of empire building and the challenges that arise as a result. Everyone wins, especially when it’s all handled so well by McNeill. I like his ‘Ultramarines’ stuff but it’s clear that he’s really at home in a fantasy setting (particularly this one, I think he may have helped develop it so that might explain a few things...)

Outward expansion in this vein is always going to come up against someone or something doing a bit of expanding themselves; McNeill knows this only too well (I’m guessing over the last couple of books at least) and has come up with a truly fearsome foe in the form of Nagash and his undead hordes. If you’re waiting for me to whoop with joy at the mention of zombies then you might be waiting a while. There are no zombies here but there are still plenty of truly grotesque creatures that more than play their part in some massive battle sequences that leap off the page and grab you by the throat (as well as some ghostly moments on the streets of Reikdorf). I found myself wondering if the final battle had come a little too early for the momentum to be maintained but was only too pleased to be proved wrong; McNeill keeps things running very smoothly with a keen sense of how these affairs ebb and flow. These moments are worth the price of entry although what I would say is that perhaps McNeill’s prose has trouble sometimes in keeping up with the ideas in his head...

McNeill isn’t all about the warfare though. Armed combat is balanced out with a keen look at a young empire and the personalities that have helped to shape it. I found myself wondering if perhaps McNeill paid a little too much attention to the character of Sigmar as far as this went. This approach is fair enough in a sense as the book is all about Sigmar after all. I did wonder though if the book could have benefitted from closer attention paid to the supporting cast, Sigmar may have got the ball rolling but he didn’t do it all by himself and it would have been good to see the input of others. Did I miss out on this in an earlier book? You can’t complain at the end result though, a beautifully realised empire coming to terms with the fact that earlier differences must be forgotten and people work together if they are to survive. Heroes come to light in the most surprising ways and it’s all very ‘David Gemmell’ in a sense, that’s no bad thing either.

‘God King’ has a couple of minor niggles but that didn’t stop it being a book that had me hooked right from the opening scenes. Like I said earlier, if the previous two books were anything like this then I’ll have to pick them up very soon.

Nine out of Ten

1 comment:

Christoph Weber said...

How did I miss your blog so far? I have read quite a few of the same books, and will definitely have to read your reviews here to add some more to my to-read list.

God King is very nice, but I'd definitely want to read the first two parts, as it would take a lot away if you were to backtrack and read them later on.