Lord of the Night reviews the riveting second novel in the Time of Legends Black Plague
trilogy, Blighted Empire
by C.L Werner.
"A stunning sequel that plunges the reader into war, plague and dark magic as the Black Plague trilogy explodes into the war that Dead Winter built up so nicely. Werner has crafted one hell of a book, one that definitely stands as one of his finest works yet."
It's been some time since I read Dead Winter
, which became my favourite Time of Legends novel for being the first of the series to delve into an area of Warhammer history in which I was actually interested. The Black Plague and the Skaven Man-Things War are my favourite historical Warhammer moments and giving them given form in a trilogy was an excellent choice on Werner's part. Dead Winter
was a smashing read but Blighted Empire
blows it out of the water by having everything that was built up in the first book finally come to pass, which results in a book chock full of epic battles between man and ratman, magic that will awe the readers with it's power and reach, and terrors that will make the reader cringe with how far humanity will go to survive the horrors of the Black Plague, and of the Underfolk that spawned it.
The Empire is dying, the Black Plague that stalks the land claiming noble-born and peasant with impunity is driving the mighty Empire to its final hours. And now the true threat has emerged, the diabolical Skaven are emerging from their burrows and warrens to claim the surface as it was promised to them. With the cruel Emperor Boris Goldgather hiding in Carroburg with the remains of his court, hiding from the plague in the dark walls of the Schloss Hohenbach, each corner of the Empire is left to itself. In the streets of Middenheim Prince Mandred fights to hold back the tyrannical ratmen while the dread lord Vecteek plans the city's demise; in the haunted marshes of Sylvania the master of the dead known as Vanhal and his undead hordes stand as the only defence against Seerlord Skrittar and his warpstone hunting servants; and in Altdorf noble and peasant must set aside their differences and band together or else fall before Warplord Sythar Doom and his mad inventions of warpstone and metal. The Skaven Man-Things War has begun, and while the dark is in ascendance, the light is returning to make its last stand.
The story in Blighted Empire
is fantastic, especially with so many characters and locations to cover it becomes entirely possible that they could be neglected in favour of others or become less interesting than the more exciting stories. Not so, in fact Werner makes each story engaging for different reasons, it was just as much fun watching Prince Mandred deal with the new threat in Middenheim as it was Vanhal showing us exactly why we should be absolutely terrified by him. It's a testament to his skill as a writer that each story was exciting and had me glued to the pages, I wanted to know what would happen to everyone and I was never disappointed by a POV switch because I was equally interested in everyone. One thing that could be jarring to some readers is the time, since the war takes place over more than a decade some time switches are going to occur and it can be odd to read something happening in the year 1114 with Adolf Kreyssig and then go to 1118 with Prince Mandred and realise that by Mandred's time everything else in the book ended a while ago. But it's a necessity to the story and it does mean we don't have to deal with long periods of the characters doing nothing, waiting for something exciting to happen to them while something happens to someone else in another part of the Empire. Each part of the story is filled with twists that I never saw coming, and the promise of much more to come in the third novel where we'll finally see the fates of all these myriad characters and the stories they are used to tell, and I think that much of it will end in ways we never expected.
The characters are one of the best parts of the novel. The cast is separated by geography with different casts in Sylvania, Altdorf, Middenheim and Carroburg. Werner has an all-star cast for Blighted Empire
, bringing back the best characters of Dead Winter
like Warplord Sythar Doom, Vanhal the Fallen, Prince Mandred von Zelt and Boris Goldgather, and introducing several new characters that definitely make their mark on the series like the bewitching Baroness von den Linden, the Dwarf Kurgaz Smallhammer whose name was very deceptive and quite frankly has one of the coolest weapons in all Warhammer, and the devious Lothar von Diehl whose name will be familiar to those who know the history behind this trilogy. I have always maintained that Werner's real talent with characters is writing real villains, characters who are irredeemably evil with no redeeming qualities and yet making them fun to read about and in some cases even, making them likeable to the reader when we should we hate them. Blighted Empire continues that fine tradition by having practically every POV character be evil or morally ruthless and uncaring, in fact I could only count two or three main/supporting characters in this book who I could honestly say were good and deserving to be called heroes. The numerous villains in the cast is very fitting to the nature of the trilogy, fatality and grimdark are both very important in the Black Plague
books as the Empire goes through one of its darkest hours against an enemy they never believed existed. But it's not all doom and gloom, the Skaven after all are involved and they bring their unique brand of hilarious evil with them. I just love how they think, everything is a plot against them and their towering egos are so quick to crumble in the face of any adversity, which gives the book the humorous element that keeps it from becoming bleak. You wouldn't think a book about plague, war and necromancy could make you laugh so often but it does, and in a good way.
The action is the most marked improvement from Dead Winter
, because where Dead Winter
contented itself with small skirmishes amid the political intrigue and the build up to the real conflict, Blighted Empire
uses all of that build-up to have some of the most epic action scenes in the Time of Legends
series yet. Werner doesn't go for the small scale here, instead we have hordes of chittering Skaven facing off against armies of stalwart men, warriors and civilians alike, and the undead hordes under Vanhal provide some nice variety to the book and give Werner a medium to unleash some really awe- and dread-inspiring magics that I think are the most powerful we've seen since Nagash and Caledor Dragontamer. The Skaven finally get to fight a real war and we get to see how they fight outside of their tunnels and burrows, and they do surprisingly well by adapting themselves to fight in streets and forests, quite a few times I was surprised by how effective the ratmen proved and by how they used their unique technologies to fight in a human environment. And we get to see different kinds of Skaven fighting from the bone-rats of Mordkin to the Grey Seers in all their verminous might, and of course the warlord clans of Rictus and Mors bring their full strength to bear. The humans made for just as good a showing, the desperation of the entire situation finally giving way to unreasoning violence and when things really kick off in each section of the Empire, the action becomes that much more epic in scale. The final battle in each part of the story geography wise was fantastic, Werner choosing really epic battles to close the book on and leave us waiting for the next part, when mankind will make its counterattack.
The pacing of the book is a touch odd and if the story, characters and battle scenes were any less engrossing it would become quite jarring to be reading a scene in 1113 only to jump to 1118 and then back to 1114 in three different parts of the Empire. But as I said I was so engaged by the book that the dates mattered little to me, and I just took it in stride. Some may not be able to do that and if so the book's pacing between POV switches may feel jarring to you, but that's the price that must be paid for not having to wait through the day-to-day activities of the decade of war that the book covers and so we can get to the half-decade of war that hasn't even begun yet. However one thing that I do think should have been changed are the first two segments with Boris Goldgather, the first being set at Carroburg and the second showing what happened before the first scene, they should have been done in sequence to make the book a little tighter at the beginning. But ultimately I found the narrative to flow nicely and at no point was I bored, the POV switches are so spread out that you can never be sure who is in the chapter you're about to read and that makes each POV switch a nice surprise when I found out who I was going to be reading about next, and many of the chapters end on damn good places that had me dying to get back to those particular characters so I could see how that scene would resolve itself or what those characters would be up to next.
Now for my favourite quote, I actually have two from this book and both are from the Skaven which is little surprise to me really, being such a massive Skaven fan,
"Prince-meat. Die-die for Vecteek!"
The ending is quite a surprising few pages, things are definitely entering the stage where humanity makes its move against the Skaven and the war enters a new phase. But Werner still manages to defy expectations with some of the events in the final few pages, two characters that I was sure would be in the third novel did not make it, and some characters that I felt were going to finally get their well-deserved ends live on to return in the third book, which will be titled The Wolf of Sigmar
. Werner leaves off at the best place, the war has begun truly and raged for a few years, and now it is finally time for humanity to strike back, and the Skaven are preparing for what comes next now that events in the book have changed things quite a bit for them. And with all the events of Blighted Empire
now done with, the potential for new stories in The Wolf of Sigmar
is delightful and hopefully will contain as many twists and epic moments as BE did.
For a great story that had me almost unable to put the book down, a strong and memorable cast of characters whom I either loved or loved to despise, and epic battle scenes that really stuck in my head and were a joy to imagine, particularly the battle for the Vanhaldenschlosse which is one of my favourite moments in the Warhammer setting now, I give Blighted Empire
a score of 8.9/10
. This is definitely a novel that any Warhammer fan should make a priority for their reading lists, the trilogy itself should be a must-read, and fans of the Skaven and Empire alike will find much to adore within the book. However if you don't like the Skaven or the Empire then sadly you won't find anything to like in Blighted Empire
, as it is a book solely devoted to them. But if you're on the fence about either of them, then I would recommend the Black Plague
trilogy to hopefully make you a devoted servant of the Horned Rat, like I am. Now that the book is done the hard part is here, waiting a whole year for The Wolf of Sigmar
to be released so I can find out what happens to the characters and how wrong my speculations on how the war will end are.
That's it for this review. Next will be the Warhammer Heroes
by Guy Haley, a novel i'm quite eager to read as nothing quite like it has been done yet and i'm interested in seeing how cool the Goblins of Warhammer really are. So until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!