Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: Swords of the Emperor, by Chris Wraight

I purchased the two books Sword of Justice and Sword of Vengeance separately a few years ago. Today they're bundled in one volume. Warhammer tie-in novels probably won't ever rise to the level of great literature. If you want stories of badass dudes performing badass deeds though, they've got you covered.

The books focus on the Emperor Karl Franz's greatest warriors, Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg. Schwartzhelm is the strong and silent type who never, ever smiles. Helborg is the more flamboyant of the two who embraces his role as military celebrity. The plot involves political succession in a backwater realm of the Empire. Schwarzhelm is sent to mediate the dispute. Political intrigue, street fighting, betrayal, pitched battles, and of course Chaos are all involved.

Wraight paints vivid pictures of Schwarzhelm and Helborg. By the end, you know how they'd react to any situation. The villains are despicably evil and you become invested in seeing their defeat. The rich cast of supporting characters also have strong personalities: the spy, the infantry captain promoted through the ranks, the two contenders for the throne, and the Chaos-ridden puppet master. Besides strong characters, the plot was intriguing and compelled me to read on. Wraight is quite good at describing the Renaissance-era type warfare of the setting. As a Ren Faire actor myself, I could sympathize with the halberdiers.

I've always liked Warhammer Fantasy more than Warhammer 40K. The latter is so unremittingly grimdark that it's difficult for me to become invested in the characters. WHFB is also far out on the cynical side of the sliding scale but there I get a sense that it's possible for humanity to survive and thrive. Plus I'd be lying if I said I didn't want the Catholic Church to be less of a humanist social work organization and more of a literal Church Militant.

The Cult of Sigmar reads like a parody of atheist stereotypes about the Catholic Church: warrior priests swinging mighty warhammers while bellowing hymns about burning the heretic and purging the unclean. I dare say the Church would probably be in better shape today if she was closer to that extreme than its latitudinarian opposite. I admit it was inspiring to hear Schwarzhelm, Helborg, and Grand Theogonist Volkmar the Grim assure their men that faith preserves.

I give Chris Wraight's Swords of the Emperor duology four out of five stars.

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