Thursday, 18 August 2011

‘Sigvald’ – Darius Hinks (Black Library)

I’m sure you’ve all guessed by now that I’m a little bit of a fan of the Black Library’s output. Ok, quite a big fan actually and I have been for a while. On the whole they’re very well written and they’re a lot of fun to read; you can’t ask for an awful lot more than that can you?

I’ve got my ‘go to’ authors for 40K fiction but the list of ‘preferred authors’ for the fantasy line is still taking shape. There are a couple of authors on there though; Chris Wraight is pretty much a permanent fixture now and so is one Darius Hinks. I’ve read a few of Hinks’ short stories, in various Warhammer anthologies but it was his novel ‘Warrior Priest’ that really caught my eye as a thoroughly entertaining read (seriously, check out my review over Here). It turned out that it also caught the eye of a number of other people as ‘Warrior Priest’ went on to win the Gemmell Awards ‘Morningstar Award for Best Debut’. Black Library have got form for throwing authors, who have enjoyed initial success, at their higher profile series and this is where we find Hinks now. It may not be the ‘Horus Heresy’ line but writing for the ‘Warhammer Heroes’ line is still not to be sniffed at and Hinks maintains the overall standard of the series rather nicely with his tale of a decadent Prince of Chaos...

Prince Sigvald the Magnificent has spent the last couple of hundred years establishing his pre-eminence as master of the Decadent Host, a Slaaneshi war band that is as much about scaling the heights of pleasure as it is seeking battle in its master’s name. No act of hedonism is too twisted for the Prince, part of a pact that has seen him given incredible power and beauty, and it is this quest for pure pleasure that will see him undertake a quest that could very easily kill him; his own masters would use him to fulfil their own pleasures... A brass skull from the throne of the Blood God Khorne is the ultimate prize and Sigvald will do whatever it takes to claim it. Will his obsession blind him to far more pressing concerns though? Absolutely, his enemies are drawing ever closer as the party in Sigvald’s palace takes in ever greater excesses of pain and pleasure...

If you’re looking for a book that will sweep you up and get going, straight away, then be warned right now that ‘Sigvald’ probably isn’t that book. Actually, it isn’t that book full stop. Give it a little while though and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the end result. ‘Sigvald’ takes its own sweet time to warm up but by the end of the book I couldn’t put it down. If ‘Warrior Priest’ and ‘Sigvald’ are anything to go by then I’m looking forward to seeing what Darius Hinks gives us next.

The Emperor Nero is known for the tale of his playing the fiddle while Rome burned. Sigvald works along those same lines but those of a sensitive nature might not want to know just exactly what is going on in the Grand Hall while his little empire is gradually crumbling away. Basically, Slaanesh is the god of pleasure in the Old World; I’m sure you can figure the rest out.

Hinks gives his readers a very clear and insightful picture of a man so wrapped up in sating his own lusts that he is oblivious to what is going on around him. Sigvald doesn’t have a clue what’s going on and when he does, he doesn’t care. He is far more interested in searching for that next high in order to fulfil his side of the original bargain with his demonic master. I loved his demonic master by the way, it was a nice touch to have the demon not talking to anyone but instead dictating responses to the scribe writing his memoirs. I’m digressing though...

There’s a real hint of tragedy to Sigvald’s situation here with his blindness to the fact that his own personal quest comes at the expense of everything else; namely a crumbling castle and enemies encroaching on his territory. He just can’t see this and you can’t help but wonder what will happen when he finally does. His chancellor, Oddrun, constantly tries to make him aware but never quite succeeds and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him as well. The approach taken by Hinks certainly achieves its aim of engaging the reader early on.

In terms of the plot though, this obsession slowed things right down to a crawl right at the very beginning of the book. I wanted things to get going, even members of the supporting cast wanted things to get going; they don’t though as a large chunk of the opening chapters is all about Sigvald showing Baron Schuler what a great time can be had in his castle. This is all very well and, as the book progresses; you will come to see just why Hinks chose to do things in this manner.

There’s no getting around the fact though that while an important job is being done it slows the book right down. There’s loads of atmosphere but not a lot actually going on. The opening section of a book shouldn’t be so hard to read, not if you want people to keep reading.

Do keep reading though...

When Hinks takes his foot off the brake, things really take off and I’ll guarantee that you’ll be glad you hung around. The atmosphere is still there, even more so as Sigvald journeys deep into the Chaos Wastes on a quest that he must complete; there’s plenty of weirdness to be seen and it all creates a superb backdrop for the events that take place. And that’s the great thing, not only do things happen but there’s loads of it going on and it all ties together so cleverly.

Not only must Sigvald complete his quest but he must also face the attentions of two armies that are out for his blood as well as treachery from within his own ranks. There is intrigue and counter intrigue on almost every other page and Hinks had me hooked by it all. I found myself rooting for two of the three factions and this made me all the more eager to see how it played out.

When armies clash, Hinks shows once again that he is more than able of writing battle scenes that stir the blood. I got the feeling that Sigvald is one of those ‘canonical characters’ that you can’t really mess around with as there was never any doubt that he would still be standing at the end of it all. Hinks makes up for this certainty though by making the rest of the battle a place where anything can happen to characters that you’ve come to know very well over the course of the book. Once again, I found that I absolutely had to keep reading.

As with ‘Warrior Priest’, ‘Sigvald’ is a slow starter that gradually finds its feet and gets going in all the best way. I can’t help but think what Darius’ work would be like if he could start it at the same tempo... ‘Sigvald’ is more than enough to keep me satisfied in the meantime though; another thoroughly entertaining read from Darius Hinks.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

No comments: