Thursday, 13 February 2014

‘Blighted Empire’ – C.L.Werner (Black Library)

It was way back in the days of 2012 that I first read C.L. Werner’s ‘Dead Winter’ and enjoyed the hell out of it; surprisingly so in fact as my previous experience of his books had been more on the ‘hit and miss’ side. I still love ‘Dead Winter’, by the way, and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read any Warhammer fantasy and wants somewhere to jump on. Give it a go if you want a good read.
Anyway, enough of that. I was really eager to continue with this series but life got in the way (it really did as well, kind of glad that’s all in the past now…) and it never happened. Until now that is, several months late but better late than never, especially with a book like ‘Blighted Empire’. What we’re looking at here isn’t without its flaws but remains a thoroughly engaging read that typifies exactly what life in the Old World is all about. Before we get going in earnest, have some shamelessly copy and pasted blurb

The Black Plague spreads across the Empire, followed by a tide of monsters from legend: the skaven. In Altdorf, Emperor Boris’s troops valiantly hold off the ratmen while the corrupt Emperor escapes to safety. In Middenheim, Graf Gunthar and his son Mandred defend their city against a horde of the vile invaders. And in Sylvania, the skaven find more than they had expected in the form of the necromancer Vanhal and his army of the dead... an army that gets larger as the plague worsens.

Two books in and one more to go then. ‘Blighted Empire’ is very much ‘the middle book in a trilogy’ then as it attempts to tie stuff up from the last book whilst making sure there is enough plot left to have readers coming back for the finale. I will certainly be back for the finale anyway but I would have to question how well ‘Blighted Empire’ achieved those objectives with the focus on Skaven politics holding things up a little too much. Werner loves his Skaven and it felt that their politicking came to the fore when it really would have served a better purpose underpinning the main Skaven character’s agendas. Maybe that was what it was meant to do but that wasn’t how it came across; it certainly didn’t help that I totally lost track of which Skaven character was which (I’m going to give the book the benefit of the doubt though and say that was probably down to me) The little homage to ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ didn’t quite gel for me either, felt a little too obvious when some subtlety could have really paid some dividends.

I couldn’t put ‘Blighted Empire’ down though and isn’t that the main thing at the end of the day? Everything that made ‘Dead Winter’ such a compelling read is here in abundance; a lavishly depicted display of a world gone mad where war waged against rat-men is only a surprise until zombie dragons appear over the horizon (seriously, zombie dragons). The initial premise may not look like much on paper but it is driven forwards in fine style by a cast of strong characters who can send the plot careening in all sorts of directions which kept me on my toes the whole way through. Kreyssig is as villainous as he was last time round and even though you know he’s being kept around for the final instalment , you have to admire how Kreyssig just keeps coming out ahead of the game. Emperor Boris… I know I complained about his cartoon villainy last time out but this time round his excesses are entirely in keeping with the hastening decline of his Empire and make for a stark counterpoint. Like Nero fiddling while Rome burned (which I don’t think actually happened but it’s that kind of affect that we get here).

The battles are as well drawn as in ‘Dead Winter’ and Werner makes good use of the architecture (in each of the human cities) to spring all sorts of nasty surprises on the human defenders as well as the reader. We’ve already had it drummed into us that the Skaven are vicious and sneaky creatures but Werner still manages to make us jump and leave us in no doubt that nowhere is safe if there’s a sewer or cellar anywhere nearby. I still feel a little sorry for the tax collecting dwarf who got a little more than he bargained for when making his rounds.

I’m trying to be a little more disciplined with my reading but ‘Blighted Empire’ has left me really eager to see how things end up in ‘Wolf of Sigmar’; a very good read and highly recommended. If you’ve just finished ‘Dead Winter’ then I think you’re in for a bit of a treat here.

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