Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: The Legend of Sigmar

Thanks to Graham McNeill, I now have a respectable number of books in the Horus Heresy series jamming up my bookshelves. It was 'A Thousand Sons', you see, that got me hooked on the series, even though I only bought it so that 'Prospero Burns' would make sense when that was published. I was a fan of Space Wolves, now I am a fan of Graham McNeill. As well as being a great writer, he's a nice bloke in person - intelligent, thoughtful, and helpful. Whats not to like?

Given the addiction to Heresy era novels Mr McNeill spawned in me, I was a little wary of buying any of his Time of Legends books. What if I liked them as much as the HH titles? I don't really like fantasy novels as such, but what if these were so good I then had to hunt down every other Legends title?

Well, the good news for you is the books are pretty good. The good news for me is they're not so good I have to buy any more.
The first book in the series,'Heldenhammer', covers from Sigmar's first battle (plus that pretty much prerequisite 'difficult command decision') through the subjugation and annexation of most of the other kingdoms of men right up to the Battle of Blackfire Pass - the point at which his Emperorhood (ship?) was pretty much confirmed and the Empire was really born.

'Empire' then shows that even with the Empire forged and codified, enemies within and without still threaten to undo Sigmar's work. There are 'daemons' to be slain and necromancers to be defeated. The northern borders are threatened and so on and so on.

Finally, 'God King' shows us Sigmar dealing with the greatest threat to the lands of men to ever rise - Nagash. While all the Empire must fight, it is Sigmar alone who must defeat the most powerful necromancer to walk the land.

As background to the 'current' world of Warhammer, its all good stuff. The empire is still the most powerful force around as well as the only progressive one and its roots are all here to see. From the reason the Empire is ruled by Counts (and Vampire Counts!) to how Dwarves were so instrumental in its founding, McNeill does a great job of explaining and exploring the character and foundation of the great realm of men.

If anything though, these books are too short. I was expecting pacing more like the Horus Heresy series where entire books can be given over to a single battle or discovery. Indeed, the Battle for Blackfire Pass is over in a couple of chapters. Much is made of the effort to get the united tribes of men to the same place and fighting the same enemy. But that enemy is practically sketched. They're green and big. One is bigger than the rest and has a flying mount. But they all die pretty quickly and there's no real sense of menace from the greatest inhuman horde to ever invade the Empire.

The battle against Nagash is a little more fleshed out (no pun intended). But Nagash's invasion plan, a quite cunning one, is barely touched upon and his motivations and character are hardly mentioned.

Similarly, dwarves appear to be fundamental to the inception and creation of the Empire, as well as its survival through several invasions, yet their motivations and reasoning is left frustratingly unexplained.

There are a few events that really don't fit well into the pacing and plot of the rest of the story too. 'Empire' in particular suffers from storylines that really don't serve much more purpose than to fill out the book and possibly provide some backstory for characters dealt with more thoroughly in the final part of the trilogy. I get that its important one Count tried to sacrifice his sister to appease daemons and thats why she doesn't really like him. But did Sigmar really have to ride all the way over there to save her? Could he not have sent someone else and got on with fighting someone a bit more important?

Could we also not have spent more time looking at Azazel and what he did next to try to topple the Empire? And how letting one character walk out of the story at one point, only to miraculously reappear, fundamentally changed (i.e. insane) yet still able to save the day several hundred pages later was allowed by the editors I don't know.

Reading the whole trilogy put me in mind of the closing (or is it opening scene?) of Conan the Barbarian, the Schwarzenegger version. You know, where Conan is sat upon a mighty throne, surrounded by riches, yet clearly not all that happy with his position. The narrator tells us how 'my Lord' was not always so, that he came from humble beginnings, and then we get to see at least a little bit of that rise. But mostly the film is about the forging of the man's character, as is the sequel. We never actually get to see how Conan became a King or Emperor or whatever. Maybe 'The Legend if Sigmar' would be better if it was more like that. Forging an Empire should take a loooong time - almost as long as forging an Emperor in fact. 'The Legend..' kind of chops it all down to a conveniently sized trilogy, leaving me wanting more, but none in the right way.

Overall though, its a good story. The reintroduction of characters in 'God King' we last saw as children in 'Heldenhammer' helps tie the books into one epic story. Its part 'The Adventures of Sigmar', and part 'The Epic of Sigmar' too.

A worthwhile read for fans of the Warhammer universe and of Graham McNeill himself. Perhaps not a necessary purchase for fans of fantasy writing in general though.

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