Profane tomes

Posted by  | Sunday, April 26, 2020  at 4:21 AM  

Nearly a decade has passed since I imagined a future where I blog more about Warhammer stories. Forbidden texts which I enjoy the most, including tales of the Old World that most inspired the Marienburg campaign odyssey for Mordheim. Along the way I recommended some great books to source knowledge and report on private visits to the Black Library. Now due to a severe case of 'Reikland Cabin Fever' the time has arrived to come good on the first part of my pledge.


The drawback with investing so heavily in nerdy pastimes, like one that tempts you to delve into Liber Malefic is twofold. Economy and capacity. Luckily if you cannot load all of these meaty manuals onto your shelf there is the sorcery of digital storage. Conveniently a great many titles including short stories (with b-side level quality no less!) set in the World That Was are only accessible through digital. This mode saves you a few hundred gold crowns. Fantastic reading material has become trickier to track down in 2020 than it was 5-10 years ago. Have you seen the black market prices on hard copy parchment these days?


Put the Imperial calendar year 2525 apocalypse to one side. Ignore the fact that thousands of hipsters never touched proper old Warhammer or carried a case of lead warriors mounted on square slottas. Black Library recently published a cracking slew of omnibus format books. Warhammer Chronicles are some of the best trilogies of stories ever written by their stable of authors.

The Old World lives. The Old World returns. There is a rich catalogue of storytelling that has built, razed and rebuilt its great cities, helping flesh out colonies, provinces and pivotal circumstances. Here are ten of the novels that have shaped its identity. Ten special tomes or series that made the Old World what it is.


10. Tyrion and Teclis by Bill King
Blood of Aenarion
Sword of Caledor
Bane of Malekith

Destiny is inescapable. As the story goes I got my original hit-list wrong since I failed to mention Bill. He built the world! I must have been hung over in 2002. That's what happens when heroes get distracted in the post-battle phase! William King co-write Man O'War, the naval guidelines of Warhammer Fantasy Battle. What else? Oh yeah, for anyone who is not so Oldhammer that they actually believe in characters who change the way we feel, Bill conceptualised most of the classic Dramtis Personae that pre-date whatever the Shadowlord conceived. Bill left the scene for a while. He stormed back to meet the fans in 2012 when Sword of Caledor was released. Ed 'Skarloc' Morgan and I turned out at Bugman's bar to greet Bill and shout him a pint. It was a special occasion for all of us.

The twins had been kicking around in the design process since as early as 1992. There was a deal of anticipation surrounding the release of these stories and I am happy to say they not only did the original threads justice. They exceeded our expectations! These books are keepers. You can read them over and over. Aenarion's heirs are an advisable investment to make for fantasy literature fans. I love elves. Not the haughty kind so much. This pair are something else. On top of all that, you have the despicable pleasure of Malekith as he is, or was, believable, before they falsely crowned him King. Bill defined the genre so read more of his stuff and be a better fleet-master.


9. Zavant by Gordon Rennie
The Case of the Scarlet Cell by Gordon Rennie
The Riddle of Scorpions by Josh Reynolds
The Problem of Three-Toll Bridge by Josh Reynolds
How Vido Learned the Trick by Josh Reynolds

In 2002 an unusual contribution to the Black Library legacy was touted. 'A Zavant Konniger novel' promised murder and intrigue in the savage world of Warhammer. Konniger is a sage-detective and an ex-priest of Sigmar. The scholarly sage acts as a private investigator. No other contemporary sleuth, not Cadfael, Holmes or Chan can handle himself in similar fight scenes, since the ageing sleuth combats deadly foes in perilous situations, having received training in the martial arts of the east. No other detective had such a faithful assistant as the halfling Vido, when dealing with murderous inquests.

The original novel is split into four sections, or 'cases'. The first two cases are short stories. The third case is longer. The fourth case is longest but the original casebook 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. Since 2004 there were teasers that the sage-detective would return* and eventually he did, if temporarily

*Hijacked by Josh Reynolds under editorial duress in the later years of the detective's case studies. A trio of new investigations to revel in.

Numerous cases had been imaginatively referenced by Rennie in the publisher notes of the Nuln University Press as lost or incomplete works. More frustrating is that the reprint is even more out-of-print than the original pressing! Fortunately you can source copies of the original in the bazaar of books that is online shopping and the short stories are available digitally. I have hyperlinked them all from this page.


8. Matthias Thulmann by CL Werner
A Choice of Hatreds
Meat Wagon
Witch Work
Witch Hunter
Witch Finder
Witch Killer

The Witch Hunter Matthias Thulmann and his side-kick Streng have been immortalised in Warhammer lore in this classic series. You desperately need to read it so you can keep your heretics, mutants or blood-drinkers one step ahead of the Templars of Sigmar!

Reprinted in a new omnibus format as part of the Warhammer Chronicles series, you get all three of the short stories bundled together with the three novels. Even more black-powdered bang for your buck.


7. The Adventures of Florin & Lorenzo by Robert Earl
Burning Shore
Wild Kingdoms
Savage City
Noblesse Oblige

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.


6. The Vampire Genevieve by Kim Newman
Drachenfels
Genevieve Undead
Beasts in Velvet
Silver Nails

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. Compared to most of the shit these Von Carstein scumbags get up to, Dieudonné is positively angelic. 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.
Marketed nowadays as as suspenseful Warhammer horror repack with murder mystery abound. The first omnibus release, no longer in print, is still available from second hard bookstores online. Both reprints comprise of 3 novels and 5 short stories. The continuity of the stories might be considered a little 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 is what makes the World what it is.


5. Orion by Darius Hinks
The Vaults of Winter
Tears of Isha
The Council of Beasts
Elven storyteller Hinks nailed the cosmic end of fantasy fables in the Orion series. There was a fae telling or two bordering on funky territory before Darius came along. Darius redefined the spectrum after hanging up his own magical axe. He did it by gripping the soiled tips of the World Roots and taking us to the other side of the World. Storyteller does all this by darkening the heart of the wood with poison, before he brings it back round. Weaving spirits, animals, birds, daemons and less easily identifiable creatures in a challenging tapestry of supernatural happenings.

Check out Hinks rock band Cable. They gave the Wildhearts a run for their money in the 90's.


4. Heroes of the Empire by Chris Wraight
Sword of Justice
Sword of Vengeance
Luthor Huss
Feast of Horrors
Duty and Honour
The March of Doom

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. 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 in Sword of Justice 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 meeting a very special character who works exclusively for Ludwig behind the scenes. By no co-incidence the third Warhammer Heroes release was a sequel to this story. A follow-up release Sword of Vengeance concerns Kurt Helborg, exploring the rivalry of these two differing personalities. It brings the tale to a fitting conclusion.

Both of these are collected with another Heroes story for Luthor Huss in a chunky omnibus that also collates a few short stories. Empire heroics at its finest.


3. Blood of Nagash by Josh Reynolds
Neferata
Master of Death
Master of Mourkain
Ghoul King 1: Conqueror of Worms
Ghoul King 2: Empire of Maggots
To be fair Mike Lee has done a fair old amount of graft fleshing out the history of Nehekhara in the Time of Legends* series. I have a fair idea how much of a slog his job was from digesting that author's Rise of Nagash series because the first volume reads drier than a mouthful of sand scooped up from the Khemri desert. Not quite as dry as the Silmarillion but anyone who bothered to trudge through Tolkien's Elvish Sopranos will know what I mean. That is not to say either can't be considered masterful writing. The Rise of Nagash series is a hard read.

Josh Reynolds pick things up with progeny of Nagash. The first born vampires. These characters may be familiar Warhammer vampire fans since the ancestral vampires spawned the five bloodlines of their kind. What Neferata, W'Soran, Ushoran, Abhorash and Vashanesh all have in common is that they all ascended to immortality from the kingdom of Nehekhara. Vashanesh better know as Vlad the Impaler is the odd one out since whatever his fate entailed was screened out from Rise of Nagash. Along with the rest he drank from the advanced blood elixir of Nagash first supped by Neferata then passed on to the rest.

The Blood of Nagash series centres around Neferata of Lahmia in the first book. She played a pivotal role in Lee's series and it's a real pleasure to experience the Queen in her element, surrounded by a full cast of handmaidens. The second volume though is the true masterpiece of this series. I now consider it one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read! The schemes of sorcerer W'Soran and his apprentices, known to tabletop gamers as the Necrach vampires. As the obsessive fiend unravels the remaining mysteries of the 'Corpse Geometries' he works to challenge Nagash for lordship of all undead. Along the way both he and the Queen of Lahmia are undermined by Ushoran, Lord of Masks. After usurping the kingdom of Mourkain he ushers in the Strigoi bloodline by freely sharing his bloodkiss with the entire aristocracy of the Strigos empire. This includes one Vorag Bloodytooth who defies his masters will and falls under the influence of the other first borns, apart from the warrior Abhorash who he always sees as a rival. The latter plays the most mysterious role in the both ends of the Nagash saga. A warrior born, battling to slake his bloodthirst and regain lost honour. The author discusses why on his Hunting Monsters blog and it is a crying shame (tears of blood) that the series failed to reach any conclusion concerning Abhorash's debts and what he'd wanted out of immortality. The motives of the Queen's grim former champion are altogether different to the rest. Vampires wrestle for power and the ultimate control that will bring them dominion over the realms of men, while the Blood Dragon is altogether more elusive. They are all well travelled enough since the destruction of their ancient civilisation. Readers are left with the impression that the last loaf is yet to be baked. For now we must make do with crumbs instead since the few short story downloads currently available pick up the subplots of both Ushoran and Vorag.

Master of Death might not have been selling as many copies as the Von Carsteins, yet the stories told of Sylvania are all made inferior by paying a visit to the city of Mourkain. It would be remiss not to mention one last key character whose continuous appearances feature in important roles throughout the affairs of Nagash and the vampires. That would be Arkhan the Black. The liche-king was Nagash's first immortal lieutenant. The part the sorcerer plays underpins everything that happens across the timeline and he's one of my most loved characters in the Warhammer world.

*The Time of Legends series was a ground breaking accomplishment for Warhammer. It harked back to unexplained periods that some of us actually gave a shit about. Some of it is a tough read! The content was conceived to be intimidating. That is not to say it isn't an enjoyable read because it will take you deep. Much of the early biblical releases (including the ascendancy of Nagash and all that business of Sigmar uniting the tribes) challenge the reader with quizzical texts. Later releases flow naturally. If you are a fan of Skaven or Empire politics then you totally need to check out the Black Plague series. Download this since you can't find hard copies for shit. Do they even exist? No, the masterpiece of this era is the progeny of the Great Necromancer. As a lifelong fan of Nagash this cycle of undead opera has paid dividends.


2. Brunner the Bounty Hunter by C L Werner
Blood Money
Blood and Steel
Blood of the Dragon
Wolfshead

Herr Werner has produced several faithful tales elaborating on fan-favourite characters tied to the game background. I previously mentioned his Grey Seer Thanquol series 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 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 teased us when the sallet-helmed mercenary briefly returned in one short story. I'm unsure whether that was incorporated into the Warhammer Chronicles reprint edition because it wasn't listed but you can always download it from the Death & Dishonour collection. The first omnibus had miles better cover art.


1. Daemonslayer by Bill King
Skavenslayer
Vampireslayer
Kislev is the realm of ice and chill. It has a three major cities in addition to a great many stanitsas splayed across the Oblast. There are a richer selection of Warhammer adventures based in this country than you will ever find in the archives. Perhaps the most important settlement is Prague. Bill King owns this city. He helped build it and raze it. He lived here in it with us and shared that experience for us all to share.

The rat sorcerer Thanquol memorably appeared to foil the Slayer and his rememberer. The heroes notoriety has meant that spin-off trilogies were commissioned to celebrate their fortune. Grey Seer spawned a further two novels and the Warhammer Chronicles omnibus for Thanquol & Boneripper is now the total package for skaven fans, cunningly scripted by CL Werner. Nathan Long completed a trilogy off the back of Vampireslayer, starring the the fierce Kislevite noblewoman Ulrika Magdova after she unfortunately receives the bloodkiss from a Von Carstein throwback. None of this would be possible without Bill laying down the groundwork and all of this stuff is quintessentially Warhammer.


Those are all storybooks to read for pleasure. If you happen to be putting together a warband for a Mordheim campaign then depending on the setting your campaign is set in, I can recommend what you need to read next. Need to do a little research to get your crew ready for an upcoming series of games? Here are the top picks for inspiration and preparation.

Mordheim

If you are looking for stories to motivate your next warband then please look no further than 'Ill Met In Mordheim' by Robert Waters or the story boarding of Condemned by Fire - series of comics collected in a graphic novel written by the mighty Dan Abnett.

Then there have been murmurings of gossip concerning one Torben Badenov which I have been yet to remark upon. The Nagenhof Bell was always a favourite short story of mine. Jonathan Green can also be held to account for his heretical interpretations of Sister Von Stern from the Sigmarite Sisterhood and forms of necromancy. Gordon Rennie and Gavin Thorpe joined forces in 2001 to quill The Life and Time of Ulli & Marquand and Their Misadventures in Mordheim City of the Damned, a graphic novel which won't be easy to affordably track down.


Nemesis Crown
The Blackhearts trilogy helped define this setting in a supplement for Mordheim fans. This is great omnibus that has been reprinted more than once. If you can find a copy then snap it up if you're a mercenary warband fan. Nathan has done so much for us.


Border Town Burning
Easily the best few reads for fans of this supplement are Palace of the Plague Lord, Wild Kingdoms and Forged by Chaos. Wild Kingdoms by Robert Earl digs deep into the culture of of Ivory Road inhabitants. Palace of the Plaguelord takes marauders tribal in a deeper sense than ever before. Forged by Chaos is an obscure gem, secretly exposing popular cornerstones of Oldhammer lore. It touches upon cultures of this setting that can be better discussed after leafing through its heretical pages.


Sartosa
The pirate republic was defined by Dan Abnett in his novel Fell Cargo. Not a lot has happened on the high seas since Luka Silvaro set sail, except one time when Aranessa Anja Saltspite challenged the vampiric flotilla in a dreadful experience.


Marienburg
Writing takes a while to get into. If you're reading this far, then hopefully you have some understanding of how difficult it sometimes is. As I work to prepare new content for friends to riff off, please let's remember that Marienburg has been destroyed six times! While many districts fester in their state of perpetual decay, with your help we can rebuild other boroughs in decline, returning some of the port from ruin.


The city is adored by content creators, roleplayers, video game designers, revisited time and time again, and in a tidy selection of novels by some talented authors. Breaking them down here for you in the correct order of the timeline, from when they were written. Reading them will introduce you to iconic new characters like Watch Captain Kurt Schnell and Templar-marine Erkhart Dubnitz in familiar surroundings while showing you some never-before-seen locations of adventure such as Van Der Decken's Boatyard in the Craftsmarket district.

The Tilean Rat by Sandy Mitchell
The Man Who Stabbed Luther van Groot by Sandy Mitchell
Seventh Boon by Mitchel Scanlon

Blood on the Reik series
Death's Messenger by Sandy Mitchell
Death's City by Sandy Mitchell
Death's Legacy by Sandy Mitchell

Murder in Marienburg by David Bishop
Elfslayer by Nathan Long
Slayer of the Storm God (Audio Book) by Nathan Long
Massacre of Marienburg by David Bishop
Knights of the Blazing Sun by Josh Reynolds

Knights of Manann series
Dead Calm by Josh Reynolds
Stromfel’s Teeth by Josh Reynolds
Lords of the Marsh by Josh Reynolds
Dead Man’s Party by Josh Reynolds
Bernheimer’s Gun by Josh Reynolds

Marienburg's Stand by David Guymer
The Fall of Altdorf by Chris Wraight

I'm currently working on a special interview with one of these authors for issue #3 of 28 Magazine. Download the first two issues if you haven't done so already. It is a digital magazine that focuses on unique and personal projects of the Warhammer hobby.

28 Mag is being released annually and, as an entirely not-for-profit venture, is completely free to download.

Until the next time we sail together! The inevitable Werekin wishes you all to stay safe.


2 comments:

Bloodsbane said...

Now that's one meaty chunk of a list to digest! Seeing a lot of my faves in there, but more excitingly - lots of things I've never even heard of. Thank you for this post, I see some Black Library reading in my near future.

Werekin said...

Some crazy great prices on the omnibus reprints. Snap those up while they are still available!

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