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Review of Sword of Justice, Warhammer Heroes series, by Chris Wraight.


Black Library's branding frenzy continues apace with yet another new line. And, while I haven't played tabletop since the early '90s, a quick glace at GW's miniatures site confirms my suspicions about their motivations for Warhammer Heroes. No prizes for guessing what notable personalities will be appearing in Sword of Justice and its sequel(s). Fortunately, much like the miniatures in question, the characters in Sword of Justice aren't plastic. Ok, there may be some casting flash along the seams which can be removed with a fine grade file ... feck it, this metaphor is broken.

Ludwig Schwarzhelm, Emperor's Champion and the Old World's answer to BRIAN BLESSED, has a problem. Well, several problems. He's not a people person. In fact, as far as anyone knows, he has never smiled in his entire life. And although he's vaguely aware of concepts like tact and diplomacy, their precise application is beyond him. So it's with considerable misgivings that he finds himself packed off to Averheim to oversee the succession of a new Elector Count. Misgivings which are well-founded considering these circumstances pit squabbling nobles, legions of lawyers, and mountains of red tape versus one very large, extreme deadly, and deeply insecure swordmaster.

For all it would appear from the book's cover and blurb, Schwarzhelm isn't so much the main character as the fulcrum around which the plot revolves. He certainly gets plenty of page time, but he's absent from the action more often than not. His two lieutenants, the 'counsellor' Verstohlen and halberdier captain Bloch, occupy much of the remaining story. But in Sword of Justice even tertiary characters have their own extended point of view segments, presumably because they're being set up for larger roles in the sequel. Despite the narrative density, Wraight ensures his characters remain real. They make mistakes, and, like real people, they make them due to character flaws. Schwarzhelm may appear to be carved from granite, but inside he's a second-guessing mess of insecurity. Verstohlen may be extremely intelligent, but his growing fear and anxiety come to dominate his actions. Bloch may be a brave and capable leader of men, but he's also something of a buffoon.

With Schwarzhelm battling his inner demons, and Bloch mired in repetitive sequences, the book to often belongs to Verstohlen, and I enjoyed his segments the most. I suspect Chris Wraight may have shared that sentiment as the prose seems to step up a notch during Verstohlen's investigations. Granted the prose is serviceable throughout the novel, but at its best Averheim practically leaps off the page. I had to fight the urge to open a window as Verstohlen wandered the sweltering, trash-strewn streets.

Sword of Justice opens with a massive, set-piece battle. It's graphic. It's gruelling. It's bloody. It's bloody long actually. So long that I've reasonable grounds to sue Black Library for post-traumatic-stress disorder. The length and detail of the battle isn't a problem in itself, but when Wraight attempts to pull the same rabbit out of the same hat again the trick has gotten old. There is, after all, only so many ways one can describe a rank of halberdiers battling overwhelming odds. For example, later on the army is surrounded and battling for survival (again). Now I understand commander Grunwald is supposed to be feeling a frustrated sense of déjà vu. That's one of the scene's dramatic purposes. However, as reader I'm not supposed to be subjected to the same frustrations. The action was just all too familiar. The problem occurs again when a unit is rescued from certain death by a cavalry charge in almost the exact same circumstances as the opening battle.

For such a busy story, with a large roster of character, Sword of Justice is remarkable easy to follow. Overlong opening sequence aside, Chris Wraight has a good knack for pacing. The narrative ranges between large scale field combat and mob violence, politics and intrigue, introspection and madness, and betrayal and tragedy. Something for everyone.

7.5/10

Highs: Gaining an insight into the mind of a zealous witch-hunter. It's not a pleasant place.
Lows: Out of the blue, with no hints or clues, a certain minor character is revealed to be a villain. Perhaps I'm missing something, but for now it strikes me as a lazy deus ex machina resolution to some plot points.
 

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Good review.

I've just finished this book myself and I have little to add.

I think about 100 pages from the end I realised that there was no way all loose ends were going to be tied up before the final page.

I suspect your 'low' would be a bigger issue if it weren't for the existance of a sequel. It would have hurt the story more if it had been a stand alone novel. I think what happened needed to be a surprise to work and it hopefully put across the hopelessness of trying to annihilate that particular enemy and it did explain some of the action sequences involving that character in the 100 pages leading up to the event I think you are referring to (sorry trying not to spoil and I could be referring to the wrong thing).

I found the book to be splashed slightly with good humour here and there. Specifically regarding Schwarzhelm and his non-smiling.

It was an enjoyable read and I literally read the last half in one go, which is unusual for me.

Books like this convince me that fantasy is a better read than 40k.
 

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It rocks, and yeah the sequel is Kurt Helborg's book Sword of Vengeance I loved the book, the detail, the battle sequences, the surprising amount of insight you get into the major Empire characters.

Probably my favourite Warhammer Fantasy book so far.
 

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Thanks for all the comments, and I agree - nice review. Some astute points there, which I've taken on board for future projects. Sadly, Sword of Vengeance was written before this, or any other, review came out, but I'll keep them in mind for my next Empire gig.

Regarding Xenocide's 'low', I'm unsure if he and Increaso are referring to the same thing! I can't really comment on the specific issue without being exactly sure where the alleged deus ex machina is, but it might be worth bearing in mind that Sword of Vengeance picks up right where Sword of Justice leaves off, and hopefully manages to wrap up all the various story elements before it finishes. Essentially, the two volumes constitute one big story and were written back-to-back, so twists and developments in SoJ should get explained fully in SoV. I'll certainly be interested to hear if readers agree when the final book comes out...

Anyhow, ta for the feedback, and happy to respond to any other queries or criticism if there's stuff people want to discuss.
 

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No queries or criticisms at all, just a shame there's only one sequel I would of liked a longer series, maybe moving on to Volkmar and Huss etc. Then again I don't know what's due after SoV.

I've actually chosen to paint my new Empire army as Averlanders due to this book despite some of their "performances" in this book heh.

I like the richness of their character in that they ain't any normal Empire province but rather one that is curiously on the edge of calamity but doesn't seem to realise it which is unlike the northern provinces near the chaos wastes who face it daily.

Anyway can't wait for SoV :)
 

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No queries or criticisms at all, just a shame there's only one sequel I would of liked a longer series, maybe moving on to Volkmar and Huss etc. Then again I don't know what's due after SoV.
Volkmar has a big role in SoV. I hope it's not the last book I write with him in - he's an awesome character.

I've actually chosen to paint my new Empire army as Averlanders due to this book despite some of their "performances" in this book heh.
Not planning on winning much, then? :grin:

I like the richness of their character in that they ain't any normal Empire province but rather one that is curiously on the edge of calamity but doesn't seem to realise it which is unlike the northern provinces near the chaos wastes who face it daily.
Yeah, it was nice to write about a bit of the Empire that wasn't (a) covered in trees, (b) freezing, and (c) crippled by endless war.
 

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Spoilers



And thank you for responding (here and Bolthole).
 

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I think you're right about
 

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Btw Chris I was wondering what the house hold cavalry colours were? I can't remember them being described but I was thinking of painting my knights like them, either like them or Knight's of the Blazing Sun :)
 

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To be honest, I don't recall specifying cavalry colours. The horsemen garrisoned in Averheim would, I think, use the Averland colours of yellow and black. I settled on blue and burgundy for Leitdorf's own troops - the ones he employed on his own estates, etc. - but that's a creation of the book and has no reference in other canon. The footsoldiers who went to Averheim with Schwarzhelm were Reiklanders, and so wore pale grey or white.
 

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ah ok :) I won't follow the composition of the book entirely, It just would of been nice if the knights I had weren't of an order and were actually from Averland but. I guess I could paint their armour a lot different from the standard troops and then do their plumes as black and yellow. I just don't want the army to seem to black and yellow heh.
 

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Will you be writing any more Warhammer heroes books? I really like your style of writing, I read Call of Arms just and it's good but it felt more like Mitchel Scanlon looked at the army book and took the basic of composition of the army and made a story out of it. Where as with yours it felt a lot more edgier and in-depth and just generally a lot deeper into the whole of the Empire and how it works.
 

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I'd certainly like to. There are some things in the editorial pipeline right now, but nothing solid enough to confirm yet, sadly. If another project gets the green light, I'll no doubt be blogging about it soon. :)
Awesome :) anyway I'm gonna grab a copy of your Iron Company as soon as I can. Couldn't decide what to get next, until I realised you'd wrote an Empire Army one.
 

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Iron Company is a good read, I picked it up at the library after I'd read Reiksguard- it's what convinced me to give Sword of Justice a whirl despite not being that interested in Schwartzhelm, glad I did.
I loved Iron Company I think I startled Chris by telling him that one of the things I loved most about it was the fact that I didn't like most of the protagonists. I mean, I liked them as characters, but I hated them as people.

Which probably makes no sense. Listen to what I mean, not what I say.

I disliked the main characters, not because they were badly written - quite the opposite, in fact. Chris gives his characters such substance that I would gladly have jumped at an opportunity to slap a couple of them upside the head with a breeze block. And that means I loved them.

No, that doesn't explain it either.

Ah, hell. Just read it. It's amazing.
 

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I loved Iron Company I think I startled Chris by telling him that one of the things I loved most about it was the fact that I didn't like most of the protagonists. I mean, I liked them as characters, but I hated them as people.

Which probably makes no sense. Listen to what I mean, not what I say.

I disliked the main characters, not because they were badly written - quite the opposite, in fact. Chris gives his characters such substance that I would gladly have jumped at an opportunity to slap a couple of them upside the head with a breeze block. And that means I loved them.

No, that doesn't explain it either.

Ah, hell. Just read it. It's amazing.
The main protagonist is a drunk who dwells on his failures, now that's a flawed hero :wink:
 
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