Lord of the Night reviews the Warhammer Fantasy novella collection Gotrek and Felix: Lost Tale
s edited by Laurie Goulding and featuring the authors Josh Reynolds, Frank Cavallo, Jordan Ellinger and David Guymer.
"A novella collection with pros and cons, that leans more towards the pros. A collection that fans of Gotrek and Felix will enjoy, and a good introduction to the series for newcomers."
Charnel Congress by Josh Reynolds
I was quite excited to read Charnel Congress
because it was the only story in the collection of which I was aware of, having read a little bit about what happened before I learned it was going to be a physical release as well as an ebook release. And yet the story still surprised me by going the exact opposite way of what I expected, and being even better than I would have thought for that. Reynolds really does justice to Gotrek and Felix and this novella is no exception, especially considering the antagonist of the story which was a risky choice that I think paid off.
A noble death in the marshes of the Hel Fenn is the concern of Gotrek Gurnisson, not the petty hedge necromancer that he hunts along with a pyromaniac Bright Wizard, a petty Witch Hunter and a fanatical Warrior Priest, and of course Felix Jaeger is only concerned with the innocent and comely girl that has been abducted by the fiend and with staying alive. But as this motley crew enters the blighted swamps of Hel Fenn they find themselves facing against an evil far worse than any necromancer, something that has been asleep for a very long time and only now returns to plunge the world into darkness, unless it meets the edge of Gotrek's axe first. But can even Gotrek defeat something that it took entire armies to defeat the last this scourge stalked the land?
The story was the real surprise for me because it was not at all what I expected. Rather than have this be a story about the duo hunting a simple necromancer and the ancient evil in question just making a cameo at the end, as I thought it would be, the entire story revolves around that evil and what it does when it wakes, and Gotrek and Felix's efforts to stop it and save Wurtbad. Reynolds really made the right choice there as this story felt much tenser, given that the outcome of Gotrek's fight with the antagonist was a given from the start the story still feels exciting as the duo aren't just trying to slay something monstrous, they are trying to stop it from destroying an Imperial city, will they succeed or not becomes the question of the story, not will Gotrek win or not. I did like that Reynolds referenced one of G&F's past adventures that was appropriate to this story, mainly what they fought in that story. I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the story, the graveyards and warrens and swamps felt appropriately creepy and dead which was fitting considering the events and enemies that they face.
The characters are as we know and love them, the stony and death-obsessed Gotrek hasn't changed a bit except for being a bit more willing to talk than he was in William King's days which is a good thing because Felix can't always carry the conversations by himself. Felix hasn't changed at all, he's still the same wise-cracking worrying sidekick that has his moments and actually does get one or two moments in the book where it's his turn to do the slaying. The antagonist of the story, whom I will not name, was very well done and I think Reynolds made the right choice in using that character for this story, giving G&F a foe that not only was it not clear that Gotrek could win, but you questioned whether they might actually fail in protecting Wurtbad. I also liked the side characters, particularly the weasel hedge necromancer who I was very underwhelmed by but in a good way, the character is meant to be unimpressive and weedy, and the pyromaniac Bright Wizard was quite funny to in his cavalier attitude to fire and the gods.
The action was nicely done, Reynolds pits G&F against a fair few foes in the novella and each one is a different challenge for them. I very much liked the battle against the Hel Fenn zombies at the beginning as they felt truly threatening, not just roaming bags of flesh that can barely raise a weapon, but real monsters that only need a moment of hesitation or distraction to drag you down and make you one of them. The later battles were also enjoyable, but it was the final two fights that were the highlight of the book, the first because it was a multi-sided battle and the antagonist really kicked ass in it, and the second because it featured a very unexpected twist and because it was just epic seeing Gotrek go up against the antagonist. The outcome of the fight was not in doubt for obvious reasons but it was still very enjoyable, especially the last few moments of it when Gotrek was just immensely badass. Reynolds definitely took a risk putting Gotrek against such a powerful enemy but I think it worked out well, and of course the reader is aware that the antagonist is not at full strength yet, but still it was a great battle. Reynolds choreographs his battles very nicely and it was never unclear who was doing what and picturing the fights was nice and easy, which is always a good sign in a book that features such numerous fights.
The pacing of the novella is alright, with a length of about 125 pages the novella takes up a quarter of the book, and Reynolds keeps things going nicely by switching between G&F's POV and the antagonist's when things are slow on either side so that the characters can get where they're going and the reader is never bored by travelling monologues or scenes where just nothing happens. One very enjoyable thing about the novella is that it is funny, not gallows humour or grimdark humour but actually genuinely funny at some times, which doesn't detract from it but does make it more enjoyable as it provides a few laughs to break up the blood and death before more blood and death, Reynolds does this kind of light-hearted humour well which makes this feel more like he has taken the characters and while staying true to them, has made this his own story with his own interpretation of the characters, which is likely why I prefer his G&F over all others.
Now for my favourite quote, it was a tough choice but it had to be this one,
"Water and stone and overgrown vermin are no death for a Slayer."
The ending was enjoyable though I did see the ultimate result coming from the beginning, as will all the readers who are aware of exactly who the antagonist is. The final few pages however were excellent, the final result of the Charnel Congress and how Gotrek and Felix manage to survive yet another ancient evil and with no doom for Gotrek, yet. Reynolds wraps up the story nicely and brings the story to it's logical conclusion, another adventure with the slayer and his remembrancer comes to a close. It's not a twist ending or a surprise ending, though if the story had gone how I originally thought it would, then it would have been a hell of a twist and surprising ending, but instead of that we get a much more exciting story than I thought it would be and a great encounter between Gotrek and one of the great evils of Warhammer.
For an enjoyable story that surpassed my expectations, great action scenes that are always fun to read and visualize, and more of the greatest duo in Warhammer I give Charnel Congress
a score of 8.4/10
. This is definitely a story that any fan of Gotrek and Felix
can enjoy, and is a story that I would suggest to those who are new to the series or undecided on it as something to read to introduce you to the series. If Gotrek and Felix
isn't your thing then Charnel Congress
isn't something i'd recommend to you, but then the same thing goes for the entire book since this is a G&F novella collection.
The Reckoning by Jordan Ellinger
was a brand new story for me, one that I had never heard of before reading it here and one that I quite enjoyed, though not as much as the previous story. I had also never read anything by Jordan Ellinger before and this was my first exposure to his work, and I found quite a bit to like particularly his imaginative idea for an antagonist which at first seemed like the normal choice, but was gradually revealed to be very different to anything that Gotrek and Felix have faced before. That combined with a strong cast of enjoyable and varied Dwarfs made The Reckoning a fine story to read, even if the first half dragged somewhat.
Gotrek and Felix have faced dangers all across the world, but now they face something much different to any dragon, daemon or madman. An accusation of treason. The King of Barak Varr has called Gotrek Gurnisson to account for treason against the ancient Dwarven hold, and in order to prove his innocence and find the true guilty party Gotrek and Felix must travel far below into the dark realms beneath the Dwarf holds and face down a horror that no Dwarf could ever have seen in his darkest nightmares. Will Gotrek's epic end with him journeying into the dark and never returning, or will the duo emerge with yet another tale of heroism and doom-seeking to add to their repertoire?
The story in the novella is at the start a simple one, but not a bad one for it. Things seem pretty clear cut until G&F discover that something more than just a simple incursion is happening under Barak Varr and find themselves pitted against a new and particularly malicious breed of an enemy they know all too well. Ellinger really surprised me when he revealed exactly what was happening, and made the trek into the tunnels feel atmospherically dark and menacing. My key issue with the story however was that the resolution to the story was not made as clear as it could have been, I understand what Felix showed to the Dwarfs at the end but I have a difficult time believing that the Dwarfs would not have seen it for themselves long before Felix revealed it to them, it seems like one of their most notable instincts failed them just for the purpose of the story.
The characters are a nicely varied group of Dwarfs. Gotrek and Felix are the same as ever, which is good and shows that Ellinger understands what makes them tick and was able to write them as effectively as the other authors. Supporting the duo is an all Dwarf cast, and one featuring all kinds of Dwarfs all of which felt like individuals within the group and distinct from the rest. The stubborn and honourable nature of the Dwarfs was captured nicely, though at one moment I think another author would have had his Dwarfs levy a grudge but no such thing was mentioned, and I actually did enjoy the Dwarfs in this story, normally I only enjoy Gotrek and his fellow Slayers so it's a point in Ellinger's favour that he can write Dwarfs that I can enjoy. His antagonist characters, though without any dialogue or POVs of their own, were very creepy and a very interesting new twist on an old enemy, though I think the story would have benefited greatly from at least one antagonistic POV to balance the heroes and reveal a little more about what exactly the antagonists were trying to achieve and why.
The action isn't anything standout though it is written well enough. I liked that each Dwarf fought in a different way to the others, either with different weapons or with a different combat style, and that for once Felix really got involved in the fights and did some damage to the enemy, it does get a little repetitive watching Gotrek handle every threat and Felix just occasionally helping out a little. There was however one moment that I think Ellinger did extremely well, in the final battle, when Gotrek fights like a berserker, in those moments he really felt like a mad Slayer, one who loses himself in battle and is prone to disobedience, like others that we've seen. I think that he handled Gotrek in battle very well, and he did give Gotrek a unique enemy to face in quite an impressive fight, and a rather odd one at that. But apart from those moments the battle scenes weren't really anything new to the series, Dwarfs and Felix fighting against a horde of enemies that are defeated by Dwarven skill and stubbornness. Cool yes, but not standout amongst the many many battles of the series.
The pacing was at first a bit slow, it felt like things were dragging on as G&F made their way to Barak Varr and began their quest, it wasn't until about halfway into the story or perhaps two thirds of the way in that the pacing began to quicken and the story picked up. Because of that and one or two other issues with the novella I think it does lose a few points, but the second half of the story was much more exciting and pushes the novella back up a bit, though it doesn't fully make up for the lacklustre first half.
Now my favourite quote, this one stood out the most for me,
"I've always preferred slaying to sleeping."
The ending was a nice twist to the story, and a rather ironic one, but the problem was that I have a hard time believing that the Dwarfs would not have realised something was wrong on their own, especially since the twist was something regarding crafting and that the Dwarfs could not tell on their own what had happened didn't sit right with me, Dwarfs constantly boast of their famous crafting abilities so I don't see how they would have been hoodwinked like that. Maybe I am wrong or I am interpreting part of the story incorrectly but the final reveal just doesn't feel right to me, like Ellinger did it without thinking it through fully.
For a good story that was only let down by a difficult to accept ending, a really great and eerie group of villains and some impressive characterisation including a really epic moment between Gotrek and Felix that I would like to see something similar to in the main series, I give The Reckoning
a score of 7.2/10
. The well written fight scenes, engaging story and likeable characters make this a novella that fans of G&F will enjoy but because of the rather slow first half and ill-explained ending I think that newcomers to the series should find their start somewhere else, until they are more familiar with the series.
Into the Valley of Death by Frank Cavallo
Into the Valley of Death
is definitely the story that departs the most from the norm of Gotrek and Felix
, mainly because it's a story that only features Felix in the days before he met Gotrek. A risky move by Frank Cavallo and one that I am sad to say did not pay off but resulted in a very slow paced story that felt anticlimactic and, in my opinion, featured far too much travelling and not enough slaying. The idea behind the story, that Felix had one or two adventures before he met the Slayer, is an interesting one but unfortunately this story just didn't feel exciting when compared to the rest of the series.
Felix Jaeger; poet, gentlemen, and now explorer of tombs and the arcane. Cast out of the prestigious University of Altdorf for killing a fellow student in a duel gone awry, Felix finds himself wandering the Empire aimlessly. Lost in the forests of Talabecland and hunted by monsters straight from hell itself, he is quickly found by the Amethyst Wizard Draedar von Halkern who recruits him for the quest of a lifetime, to recover an ancient tome from the lair of a long-dead necromancer and deliver the secrets of immortality to the Empire. But as Felix and his new-found allies descend into a realm of death and dark magic, he discovers that not all is as it seems and that Draedar has his own secrets and Felix's survival may depend on rooting them out, before the valley of death claims his life as the latest in an endless line of victims.
The story is the first real issue I have with the novella is mainly that until the final twenty or so pages nothing really happens, the characters just spend a lot of time travelling and talking to each other about nothing of importance. It took far too long for the characters to reach the valley of death and when they finally got there nothing exciting happened until Felix and Draedar actually got into the tower, after that it became more interesting but not enough to salvage the story. It wasn't badly written however, just boring and stretched out, it felt like the travelling could have been dealt with in far fewer pages and that more attention could have been given to the tower, and perhaps the resolution of the story which felt very anticlimactic and abrupt. Cavallo gave the valley a good atmosphere of age and eerieness, but he failed to deliver on excitement and reasons to be interested in the story, which are things that no novel can do without, maybe without one of them but not without both.
The characters were if not gripping then at least not badly written. Only two characters really mattered in the story, Felix and the wizard Draedar von Halkern. Felix was, well he didn't seem different than he would be prior to meeting Gotrek, he felt much the same only younger which didn't sit right with me. Young Felix was meant to be a spoiled and entitled merchant's son before he met Gotrek and his new responsibilities changed him. And Draedar didn't feel like anything special or new, just a guy who could use magic and had a few secrets, the main secret which admittedly was an interesting twist was his saving grace, but other than the two of them no character in the story is at all fleshed out or given any real scenes. Cavallo could have used a few more characters in the story, perhaps a POV switch, to add another plotline or some more depth to the story, but alas we get no such thing.
The action is not bad, but again is nothing new. Only one fight in the book was actually interesting and it was over quickly, I liked the solution to the enemy that none of them could defeat, but every other action scene just felt dull. The murder of crows was too quick for it to even really count, and the skeletons didn't feel even remotely like a threat. And the final battle just seemed anticlimactic, and I also felt that one particular event near the end was just done so that Felix's survival would be plausible and not downright impossible, after all Felix isn't the champion and I did not expect that that would change, and it did not. But without a champion like Gotrek, the battles just feel boring and against enemies that don't seem like a threat, bar that one fight that I still think Felix was lucky to survive. I also think that Cavallo made Felix's fighting skills better than they actually are in the main series to have him able to do more than just support the other characters in the story, which I am not sure how I feel about.
The pacing is the worst part of the story, it's slow and it feels like it takes forever just for the story to get anywhere. The issue is the amount of travelling, too much of it in the story and it just becomes a travelogue in print and when the story and action aren't interesting enough to make up for it, it sorely detracts from the novella and makes it a chore to read. Cavallo creates a good atmosphere for the novella but that is the only good thing about it, the rest just feels either lacklustre or outright dull. If Gotrek had been around perhaps that might have changed, but I think that even with the Slayer on board the amount of travelling pages and anticlimactic finished would still make this novella feel like the weakest offering of the novel.
My favourite quote, only one actually felt any good, the rest were not even worthy to be quoted,
"I am death. And you belong to me now."
The ending is abrupt and anticlimactic, the final fight of the story felt underwhelming with what Draedar said taken into account and I got the feeling that the author had the villain did something foolish just to make Felix's survival plausible. Really it felt like not a lot of payoff for such a long novella about travelling, lacklusture fight scenes and only two real characters in the entire thing. It would have been better had Cavallo chosen another way to end the story, perhaps one that would have hinted that Felix is about to meet Gotrek for the first time and have his life changed, but the story ends so abruptly and without any explanation as to how Felix is going to get back through all the obstacles that they faced on the way in, and how he'll survive them. Really this ending could have used a lot more work.
So for all that I would like to say that this was not a badly written story, it was just boring and didn't have enough of anything in it to be enjoyable, but the prose itself was decent enough. If Cavallo had chosen a more exciting topic, or improved the story, then I think this could have been a really good novella. But sadly it just comes across as dull and so I give Into the Valley of Death
a score of 5.6/10
. This is an average novella at it's very best and only the fact that it wasn't actually badly written and that the scenes with Felix and Draedar in the tower were actually interesting, though not enough for this novella to reach a six out of ten which is what I classify as Good. Perhaps we'll see Frank Cavallo again but if we do I hope he has something much more exciting than this novella up his sleeve, because this story has not left a good impression.
Curse of the Everliving by David Guymer
Curse of the Everliving
is another G&F story I was quite eager to read, or in this one's case listen to as it's original form is an audio-drama. I will definitely be getting the audio-drama after having read the prose version which was everything I love about Gotrek and Felix
, plenty of visceral action, horrific monsters to slay and that fun that comes from just reading about the duo's exploits when it's well-written, which Curse of the Everliving
In their search for the tomb of the Hobgoblin Okedai Khan and his legendary gold, Gotrek and Felix find themselves lost in the blizzards of Kislev, and outside the castle of Viktor von Bilenkov. Though Gotrek is eager to keep going in their search, after all a Dwarf loves almost nothing as much as gold, Felix is adamant about a well-deserved rest, but as the duo enter the ancient and apparently abandoned castle, they find that Castle von Bilenkov is not as abandoned as they thought, and that unless they can find a way to kill something which cannot be killed, Gotrek and Felix will be the latest victims, but far from the last, to be lost to the Curse of the Everliving.
The story of CotE was quite interesting right from the start, which Guymer did by having the story start right as G&F find the castle, skipping over the reason they came until a little later. Guymer also surprised me with the story by having it go in a direction that I did not expect, mainly that I thought the castle would play a larger role in the story but instead it was just the starting point for the adventure, which took them into the wild forests of Kislev and hunting for a way to kill an unkillable enemy. One thing did confuse me in the later part of the story when the characters are still able to do something that, assuming Gotrek's solution worked, they should not have been able to do, and no explanation was offered. I did enjoy the whole story though, it was a simple and uncomplicated affair for Gotrek and Felix which sometimes does work for these two, as Gotrek slaying a terrible monster is sometimes all that a story needs.
The characters are.. well really only Gotrek and Felix matter in this story. Guymer portrayed them quite nicely and as much as we've come to know them, though Gotrek was a little easier-going in this story, though just a little, and I liked how he was willing to think about Felix near the end rather than himself, and how Felix responded to that. This novella proves one thing for sure, these two are friends despite how they act sometimes and all the times Felix regrets meeting Gotrek. The antagonist was an interesting idea though he didn't really have much dialogue or exploration of his character beyond the obvious that he is pure evil, though at the end I quite liked that Gotrek had figured out his motives and explained them, and it was a chuckle-worthy moment. The story may not have featured many characters but that is down to it's original format as an audio, where too many characters can become confusing and a smaller cast is better. Since I read this as prose and not audio I can't comment on the voice acting as I normally would, but the characters were definitely portrayed correctly and with just enough little things here and there to show that this is David Guymer's work and not just a carbon copy of other authors that have handled G&F.
The action was nicely written and enjoyable, and with a nice twist to the fight scenes involving Gotrek's axe that I won't reveal here for spoilers, but Guymer not only captures the pair as characters but as fighters as well, Gotrek as the champion who does most of the fighting and Felix as the sidekick who supports him, and occasionally as he did in this novella, saves the day with an unlikely display of skill. I enjoyed Gotrek's fight with the main antagonist the most as it was one of the classic images of Warhammer, one warrior facing down a giant monster three times his size with nothing but his own weapon, and Guymer gave the enemy quite a few moments where it looked like he could actually be more powerful than Gotrek, but of course the end was never in doubt.
The pacing of the prose is nicely done, no chapters or divides or POV switches in this story. Just Felix and Felix alone, and only for forty or so pages. The length is again down to this originally being an audio, one hour worth of text and script only translates to so many pages in an actual book. One thing I really liked about the story was the atmosphere and descriptive prose of the environments, Guymer made the blizzards feel suffocating and the corridors of Castle von Bilenkov feel ancient and haunted, and the site of the final battle felt strangely beautiful and clearly "wrong" as anything touched by Chaos should feel.
My favourite quote, I would say it is this one because it made me laugh in context,
"I'm thinking this Ghrizzhtadt has some explaining to do."
The ending was quite a nice moment and one that affirmed my observation that despite their colossal differences, Gotrek and Felix are good friends and do care about each other. Other than that it was a pretty simple ending, the monster is slain, Gotrek has once again failed to find his doom, and the duo set off again in search of something monstrous to fight, the way that most of Gotrek and Felix's adventures end. I did find the final moments a bit laugh-worthy, but in a good way, as it was an unusually light-hearted way to end the story, but I think it worked well with the story. Ultimately I think this story will be better on audio as it was meant to be, but as prose it's still pretty good.
For an enjoyable story, more of the great Gotrek and Felix and some pretty good fighting scenes I give Curse of the Everliving
a score of 7.6/10
. This is a story that any Gotrek and Felix fan can enjoy and would be a good way to introduce newcomers to the series, though as i've said the audio will likely be much better as the story was written with that format in mind, and I intend to get the audio later in the year and go through this story again the way it was meant to be done, by listening to it.
And with all of that all that remains is to score the novel. I found Gotrek and Felix: Lost Tales
to be a bit of a mixed bag, the first and fourth stories were very good but the second and third could have used some more work to make them better, especially the third, but in the end I would recommend this novel to Gotrek and Felix
fans and perhaps to newcomers to the series as well, as the novellas are a good way of introducing new readers to the characters and showing them what to expect from the main series and side novels. So with all that in mind I give Gotrek and Felix: Lost Tales
a score of 7.3/10
. This is a good collection but with some weaker areas that could have been better.
Best Story: Charnel Congress
Worst Story: Into the Valley of Death
Favourite Story: Curse of the Everliving
That's it for this review. I am unsure what will be next, but if I don't review anything older then likely The Death of Integrity
or Lords of Mars
will be next. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!