Friday, 3 September 2010

‘Zombieslayer’ – Nathan Long (Black Library)

As a rule, I do try and mix things up on the blog so that books from a range of publishers get a fair go and I’m not just concentrating on one to the detriment of others. It doesn’t always work like that though. For example, a publisher might have a few books out that I want to read straight away and everything else takes a back seat. Or, as was the case this time, I was on holiday and fancied reading some books that I knew I’d enjoy rather taking a chance on something unknown. Ok, that didn’t work so well with ‘The Affinity Bridge’ but there you go...
‘Zombieslayer’ was a bit of a ‘no-brainer choice’ really. I mean, look at the title and tell me that there was the slightest chance I wouldn’t have taken this away with me! I also had a lot of fun with its predecessor, ‘Shamanslayer’, a read that was lightweight but made no apologies for this in the slightest, preferring instead to get on with the serious business of being entertaining instead. ‘Shamanslayer’ gave me a good idea of what to expect from ‘Zombieslayer’ and I wasn’t disappointed...

If you’ve read ‘Shamanslayer’ then you’ll know all about the cliff hanger situation that Trollslayer Gotrek and his friend (and scribe) Felix found themselves in. Facing down hundreds of zombies might just be beyond even the oft employed skills of the Old World’s most well known Trollslayer... A strategic withdrawal is called for and Gotrek, Felix and the other survivors of the battle soon find themselves in Castle Reiksguard where they must hold out against the zombie hordes until reinforcements can arrive. This is no small task... The undead champion Krell howls outside the gates of the castle, marshalling wave after wave of undead creatures against the hastily arranged defences. Inside the castle is no better; supplies are running low and dragging the defender’s morale with it. There is at least one traitor within the walls and another who will let the castle fall if it means satisfying his own ends. How long can any man be expected to fight if it means having to kill the friend you saw die the day before...? Gotrek and Felix must keep things together as long as possible otherwise Heinrich Kemmler’s undead legions could well sweep the whole Empire before them.

Like I said earlier, ‘Shamanslayer’ made absolutely no apologies for what it was and was all the better for it. A great way to spend a few hours if you were after a fast and entertaining read. ‘Zombieslayer’ was essentially more of the same but somehow contrived to set standards that were both higher and lower than its predecessor all at the same time.

Part of that is down to the nature of the plot itself. If you’re going to write yourself into a castle, and surround it with zombies and no way out, then you’d better make damn sure that you’ve got some neat tricks up your sleeve to relieve the inevitable monotony of a long and drawn out siege. To be fair, Long does have a couple of sub-plots that initially appear promising but one ends far too soon while the other only serves to confirm what most people will have worked out already. Long’s battle scenes are explosive and do fly off the page in a flurry of bone and blood; they’re definitely worth the price of entry and it’s nothing short of cool seeing Gotrek taking his axe to anything that’s not breathing! Unfortunately, these passages also serve to punctuate the long moments of boredom in between sorties and attacks. You could say that Long has captured the essence of siege warfare superbly; after all, those long moments between the fighting are part of what a siege is all about! What I found though was that these moments tended to drag a little more than I felt comfortable with. The end result is pacing that tends to ‘stop and start’ a little too suddenly to make for a smooth read and that sometimes made reading ‘Zombieslayer’ a little more of a chore than it should have been. Having said that though, these moments also serve to draw out the tension nicely as the zombies gather outside the castle gates...

I read ‘Zombieslayer’ all the way through though, couldn’t put the book down in fact (apart from those times where I was reminded that there was a baby that needed looking after). As I mentioned earlier, the battle scenes are an absolute must read despite the fact that ongoing nature of the series, so far, means that you have a fairly good idea of how each fight has to pan out. Don’t worry about that too much though, just stick around for the spectacle and the energy that Long brings to each confrontation. It’s worth it.

Another area where I felt that ‘Zombieslayer’ slightly nudged ahead of ‘Shamanslayer’ was where character development came to the fore. The partnership of Felix and Gotrek is still set to disband and Long explores this to good affect, adding an element of uncertainty to the relationship that offsets Gotrek’s aura of invincibility.
We also get a nice insight into the mind of a Trollslayer (and that of Dwarfs in general) in the dynamic that plays out between Gotrek, Rodi and Snorri. Snorri has forgotten why he became a Trollslayer and if he dies without remembering then his entrance to the afterlife is barred. Gotrek and Rodi must keep him safe until he can remember but this proves to be an obstacle to the Slayer’s death that they both crave. What you get as a result is a simmering feud that slowly builds up between Gotrek and Rodi and explodes at precisely the wrong time, guaranteeing a nice burst of action that powers the plot forward. It’s good to watch this unfold and it’s great to be there when it finally kicks off.

‘Zombieslayer’ is another entertaining read from Nathan Long that may lack the bustle of ‘Shamanslayer’ but is still a thoroughly entertaining read that fans of Gotrek and Felix, in particular, will love. I’m new to this series (you should see the size of the gap in my reading here) but there’s no doubt that what I’ve read in these last two books will see me around for the long haul. Keep an eye open for 'Zombieslayer' at the beginning of October.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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