Forbidden texts

Posted by  | Wednesday, November 23, 2011  at 1:03 AM  


Reading from profane tomes is guaranteed to end badly for any scribe. Agents of the Sigmarite church torch libraries and slay the collectors of dark lore. Despite the risk of a torturous execution the knowledge contained within forbidden books is prized by necromancers, warlocks, physicians, playwrights, adventurers and inhuman lore-seekers.

The best way of preparing Mordheim campaigns in unique settings is hard research and I was recently asked for reading recommendations by a fellow gamer. As I'm gearing up to be entertained this March by authors of Warhammer fiction at the Black Library Live event held in Nottingham on the Warhammer World site it's a topical subject to blog about. My small library of accumulated tomes is pictured above.

Where do you begin when there are now so many Warhammer books in circulation! There is only limited background information available in the Warhammer Armies series. Most of these concentrate on military activity because that is the nature of the Warhammer game. Because of he limited scope in core game releases I find it is best to delve deeper into the game background... After all, in Mordheim the main characters can be soldiers but most often they are adventurers!

I choose some releases to read as a fact-finding exercise. This can be illuminating and I've got into the habit of making all kinds of crazy notes (was on scraps of paper, now iPhone then straight to laptop) based on what turns up! Some books I select for pleasure because I like an authors previous work. To anyone who isn't familiar with the Black Library authors I would suggest buying a couple of good short story anthologies. These present an excellent choice. You will quickly discover which authors stories appeal most to you. Each fellow reader I speak to has different favourites based on what themes they find the most entertaining.

A word of caution; sometimes fantastic books are tricky to track down! Luckily the best stories tend to be reissued through the Black Library's supply-on-demand initiative, or omnibus format in the case of trilogies. Here are my personal recommendations of the best publications without too much in the way of spoilers. My six favourite Warhammer novel releases from Black Library;

Brunner the Bounty Hunter by CL Werner
Herr Werner has produced several faithful tales elaborating on fan-favourite characters tied to the game background. I would thoroughly recommend the Grey Seer Thanquol series (3rd book released later in 2011) and the Warhammer Heroes release depicting the barbaric escapades of Wulfrik Worldwalker. My favourite stories from CL are some of those where all new characters of his own invention have been introduced! Runefang and The Chaos Wastes series are all grand accomplishments in fantasy storytelling by the pulp-influenced author. The Witch Hunter Matthias Thulmann and his side-kick Streng have been immortalised in Warhammer lore but the crown jewel in Werner's collection is Brunner.

Brunner is no ordinary bounter hunter. He's a complicated character. An elite hired sword with patience, a unique moral code, a mysterious past coupled to a curious agenda. The adventures of Brunner were (finally!) collated into an omnibus release. The Bounty Hunter visits unusual settings, notably the Tilean city states. This makes for some delightful entertainment and colourful descriptive work courtesy of Werner's imaginative insight and informative research of the southern nation. One of Werner's strengths is his ability to pen engaging action sequences! He always pumps a lot of physical activity in and the fighting is extraordinarily real in his books! CL recently adapted his quill to tackle the 40K universe and I sincerely hope he doesn't get too wrapped up in the warp because his illustrations of the Old World are second to none.

The Vampire Genevieve by Jack Yeovil
The vampire Geneviève Dieudonné is a heroine. Something of an unusual statement given the reputation of bloodsuckers in the Warhammer game background. Kim Newman (aka Jack Yeovil) brought us the delicious Geneviève in the early days of Warhammer fiction. Worth noting is that a lot of BL authors cite Newman's work as an influence. Indeed the impresario Detlef Sierck (greatest playwright and actor the world has ever known) seems to be name-checked in subtext more times than any other character in Warhammer history except perhaps Karl Franz. The Emperor himself makes a cameo appearance in Drachenfels (book one) along with esteemed members of his royal court.

The omnibus release, now out-of-print I believe, is still available on the shelves of most decent bookstores. It comprises of 3 novels and 5 short stories. The continuity of the stories might been interpreted as jumbled. My vamp-loving little sister complained that the main character herself is less and less involved as the adventure unfolds. In fact, the author does some decidedly tricky juggling of sub-plots and characters. It's like he gets caught in a tangent involving an event, only then he terminates that tangent yet sees fit to return (us) to it through some nagging temptation to explore the sub-plot with a detailed explanation. It's bizarre and sensational all at once. I recommend this, even if you don't like vampire stories, Beasts in Velvet and the shorts The Warhawk and The Ignorant Armies are amongst the best Warhammer fiction you will ever read.

Zavant by Gordon Rennie
Now long since out-of-print, Gordon Rennie's 2002 release was a prime contribution to the Black Library legacy. 'A Zavant Konniger novel' promises murder and intrigue in the savage world of Warhammer. It never fails to deliver on its pledge! Konniger, a sage-detective and an ex-priest of Sigmar is faithfully assisted in his murder investigations by his halfling manservant Vido. The scholarly Konniger acts as a private investigator and being as he's received training in the martial arts of the east the aging sleuth is more than capable of looking after himself in a scrap!

The novel is divided into four parts, or 'cases'. The first two cases are short stories. The third case is longer. The fourth case is longest but the book only weighing in at 285 pages leaves the reader craving another hit! Thankfully I discovered a fifth case in the excellent short stories anthology 'Swords of the Empire' but since 2004 there has been no sign given that the sage-detective will return. Quite frustrating is that numerous other cases are imaginatively referenced by Rennie in the publisher notes of the Nuln University Press as lost or incomplete works. Rennie is one of the least prolific authors in Black Library's stable. This is a damn shame! Reviewing my favourite releases reminds me I ought to petition Black Library to commission Gordon Rennie; to retrieve the untold cases of Zavant Konniger from the forbidden archives of the Unseen Library*.

*I am absolutely convinced Konniger, of all Warhammer characters, would maintain 'lay-reader' membership to the mysterious Marienburg repository of forbidden lore.

Sword of Justice by Chris Wraight
I wasn't aware that I'd read anything by this author when I picked up the first release from the Warhammer Heroes series. As it turns out I did read 'The Judgement of Crows', a short featured in 'Death & Dishonour' which happens to be the latest Warhammer Anthology to be published. I believe Chris Wraight must be a new hired quill! Having already read the heroic Norse romp that is Wulfrik, this book had big footsteps to follow in. Funnily, I only grabbed the novel because I was stuck in Taunton with a couple of hours to kill. The telling of this tale is exceptional!

The main plot concerns the selection and eventual crowning of a new Elector Count in Averland. The task falls to the Emperor's Champion, Ludwig Schwartzhelm (much to his dismay). I'm familiar with the circumstances surrounding the province from tit-bits of information read elsewhere. Even so, for what one might assume to be a fairly cut and shut military-themed story, this adventure was loaded with intrigue. Without spoiling the readers experience I will only mention that there are a lot of outstanding back-room scenes. The highlight from this read was a special character who works exclusively for Ludwig. By no co-incidence the third Warhammer Heroes release is a sequel to this story. The follow-on concerns Kurt Helborg. Presumably continuing to explore the rivalry of these two differing personalities to a fitting conclusion. I can't wait for the imminent release of 'Sword of Vengeance' and would definitely like to buy the author a beer for his trouble when we get to Bugman's!

The Adventures of Florin & Lorenzo by Robert Earl
It's a challenging task to select a favourite book by each of my favorite authors. The toughest call was made choosing a Robert Earl novel. Earl has a brand new novel set in Hochland being released in the coming months. All of his stuff is entertaining, spine-tingling and it is romantic in the telling! His writing tone is distinct amongst Black Library authors. Comedic moments seem more common yet Earl's sinister humour is justified in a stylish symphony that 'feels really Warhammer'. In the end it was a toss up between the chilling Strigany tale of vampirism that is 'Ancient Blood' and the swashbuckling hijinks of Florin & Lorenzo.

Florin & Lorenzo are a pair of risk-taking Bretonnian adventurers. Being such bold adventurers the duo suffer none of the predictable moral dilemmas of your usual knightly characters from their home nation. Their dangerlust is a breath of fresh air because it leads them into daring romps across the Warhammer world to exotic locales. There is now an omnibus release collecting the three novels together with the short stories (including phenomenal tale 'Haute Cuisine') which is fantastic for anyone who didn't go on a jolly with them upon the initial releases.

There is odd synergy between the two characters. Lorenzo is initially meant to be Florin's manservant or at least he was at some point until their arrangement developed into being a partnership. 'The Burning Shore' takes the reader to distant Lustria, followed by a cross-country jaunt beyond the World's Edge Mountains to the Mountains of Mourn in 'Wild Kingdoms'. Robert Earl's captivating descriptions of the Ogre Kingdoms are the best thing since sliced dwarf bread. On the strength of book two alone I have to put this in my top six.

Gilead's Blood by Dan Abnett & Nik Vincent
Famously this author produces reams of science fiction for the 40K universe. However, we are fortunate that Dan Abnett occasionally makes (or bends!?) time to frequent the Old World. A lot of folk are bound to have read his principal piratical excursion 'Fell Cargo'. Come on, it's about pirates!? The first Abnett book I read was 'Riders of the Dead', a story leading readers deep, to the Oblast and the Wastes. It wants to make you fall in love with Kislev! Abnett is smart. He has an incredible knack for homing in on minor details and animating them like you wouldn't believe. It's basically impossible to construct a retelling from an extract of what he has written, you just have to give up and quote him (see Kurgan weaponscraft in the Marauders of Chaos warband from Border Town Burning) on it. He also co-writes with other authors. The collaborations are clever stuff! The highlight for me has been 'Gilead's Blood'.

Gilead's Blood is the only reason I couldn't squeeze Graham McNeil'ls 'Defenders of Ulthuan' into my top five. I love elves! The tragic life of Gilead is probably now my favorite elven story of all time. The book is divided into (best word for it would be) sections which capitalise on strong themes and explore negative emotions. In places the subject material becomes rather trippy! This story is one of a kind.

In future I hope to blog more about the Black Library stories which have most inspired the Marienburg campaign for Mordheim. I will also recommend some good source books and report on the visit to Black Library Live.