Friday, 2 December 2011

‘Blood of Aenarion’ – William King (Black Library)

Elves. If there’s a ‘fantasy world’ then you can pretty much bet your life savings that the Elves settled there first (probably while fleeing an unnamed evil from beyond the sea) and built a long lived civilisation and empire due to their near immortality and just being generally better than those scruffy haired humans living in those caves over there.
For everyone that thinks Elves are a little too smug and need to be taken down a peg or two... don’t worry about it, Elves are more than capable of doing that all to themselves. If they’re not growing too complacent (not noticing that those humans have come out of their caves now and are looking pretty handy with a sword) then they’re growing more decadent with age and letting their empire go to wrack and ruin. That’s where the Elves of the Warhammer world come in, a previously mighty empire divided with one half of the population trying to stave off the murderous attentions of the other half. Just the kind of dynamic that sits very well in the war torn battlefields of the Old World.

William King is best known for kicking off the long running ‘Gotrek and Felix’ series (now in the capable hands of Nathan Long) and has also catered for the Warhammer 40K side of things with his ‘Space Wolf’ series. The Black Library hasn’t seen an awful lot of him for the last few years but now he’s back to give readers his take on two of the mightiest Elf heroes of all. Regular Warhammer gamers might want to correct me on that last sentence as there’s a lot of this world that I’m still finding my way around. One thing that’s clear even to me though is that William King is building Teclis and Tyrion up to be something pretty special and he’s written a book that backs this up.

The twins Teclis and Tyrion have a bright destiny in front of them. Tyrion is an unparalleled swordsman with an eye for the ebb and flow of warfare unlike any other. Teclis has a natural gift for magic that will mark him out as potentially the most powerful sorcerer of the age. This is all a long way in the future though as there are more pressing concerns that could stop the twins from even reaching adulthood...
Tyrion and Teclis can claim direct descent from the line of Aenarion, first and greatest of all the Elven Kings, but this comes with the risk of being struck by a deadly curse that could demand their immediate execution.  The twins must travel to the court of the Phoenix King, and be tested, but even this comes with its own dangers. The city of Lothern is full of Elven intrigue all waiting to trip up two naive Elves from the wild lands of Chrace; any such trips could easily prove fatal. If that wasn’t enough, not only does the Witch King himself have his eye on the twins but a daemon from the dawn of history itself has broken free from its prison and has sworn revenge on the line of Aenarion. Even if Tyrion and Teclis can escape all this attention, the island of Ulthuan itself could fall into a war it can ill afford...

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by William King (in case you were wondering, it was ‘Trollslayer’ and I had a lot of fun with it thanks) so I only really had vague recollections and a love of any cover drawn by Raymond Swanland to get me going with ‘Blood of Aenarion’. That proved to be more than enough though; once I was in that was pretty much it, I devoured ‘Blood of Aenarion’ but (if we’re going to stick with the whole eating metaphor) some of it did make for some stodgy reading. Having said that though, I’m in a position now where I’m already looking forward to next Christmas and the release of the next book in the trilogy, ‘Sword of Caledor’.

From practically the very first page, William King throws the reader straight into the last days of Aenarion’s rule; a time of swords, blood and the very real possibility that the world will end in fire. Once you’ve managed to surface from the frantic pace of battle (and you really are dropped in the middle of it) what you get is a great way to start any book. The pace flows like quicksilver and you’ve got to run to catch up. Bang! Before you know it you’ve been drawn into what looks to be one massive adrenaline rush of a book. The enemies are truly monstrous but the heroes are big enough to make a stand that will echo down the ages. Even if you don’t know your Warhammer history you’ll be left in no doubt that you’re witnessing something momentous.

And then it all comes crashing to a juddering halt.

Don’t get me wrong, any book has to introduce its main characters and let the reader know what they’re all about. It’s just that, after such a rip roaring start to the book, to have things slow down that quickly makes the flow of the entire book choppy to say the least. And how many times do we really need to know that Tyrion and Teclis are something special? Really?  I don’t know about you but I only need telling the once, maybe twice if something huge happens. By telling us so often, King doesn’t leave himself much room (if any) to actually show us who these characters are right at the start. To be fair, this is addressed in the later stages and I not only got right into the heads of Tyrion and Teclis but I also got a real feel for their relationship and what they meant to each other. I just couldn’t help but feel that this had all been approached the wrong way round. Tell us who the characters are first, then show us what makes them so special.

Luckily for us though, all the other aspects of ‘Blood of Aenarion’ are bang on the money. Once the twins reach the city of Lothern then the game is well and truly on and King delivered as far as I was concerned.
Where King really got it right for me was his creation of a scenario where Tyrion and Teclis are possibly in danger whichever way they turn. You’ve got a daemon tearing up the countryside (escalating the tension of the book with each new conquest) and the brooding menace of the Witch King promising dark events to come in the future. If this wasn’t enough, the city that Tyrion and Teclis should be safe in is full of intrigue and ready to take advantage. This makes for some deliciously uncertain passages where a mere double-cross is considered passé; we’re talking real intrigue here.

King signs things off with a battle sequence that’s in keeping with how he kicked the novel off. I had an idea how things had to turn out but all credit to King that I couldn’t take my eyes off the page in the meantime, especially for the explosive finale.

‘Blood of Aenarion’ isn’t without its issues but rises above these, as the plot progresses, to become a gripping read that has you on your guard as well as the main characters. I’ve got high hopes for this series and I’ve got every faith that William King will deliver.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

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