Black Library are currently running a ‘Warhammer Week’, on their site, where each day sees a new short story to download. I am all for this by the way (especially now I have a new phone with a bigger screen); not only is there is nothing better than a short story that you can download to your phone but the Warhammer setting always takes second billing to its far future counterpart. I’m a big fan of the Warhammer universe and it’s great to see it feature a little more prominently. More of that in the future please!
In the meantime, I’m already four days behind with these stories so this post is more a collection of mini-reviews just so I can get caught up a little bit. C.L. Werner and Sarah Cawkwell are already well known for their work in the Warhammer universe and their stories here not only do a job in their own right but also serve as little thirty page stepping stones into a much larger narrative (which is the plan of course). It’s a good job then that ‘Harbinger’, ‘A Question of Faith’ and ‘The Last Man’ make for good reading that, if I hadn’t read the other books already, would have left me keen to explore the settings further.
There’s only so much you can do in thirty pages and that’s why short stories can be amazing when done right (and exactly the opposite when done wrong…) Both Werner and Cawkwell are clearly mindful of this and choose to forego the normal hack and slash of Warhammer in favour or more more thoughtful plotting. Cawkwell does this more with ‘Harbinger’, a story that gradually unfolds to act as a kind of metaphor for the implacable march of Chaos. You can see where the story is heading, even after it finishes, and you also get a clear feeling of where it has come from as well with a darker past hinted at. The character of the Healer holds the plot together very well with a compelling voice that demands that you stay to hear the tale; when you see where the Healer’s choices lead her, you can’t help but feel a little sympathy…
‘A Question of Faith’ and ‘The Last Man’ are being lumped together here as they are both set during Werner’s ‘Black Plague’ storyline; readers who have already read these books will notice a few familiar places (and possibly names, I’m not sure) along the way. The other reason these two books are sharing space is that Werner likes to delve a little more deeply into the horror end of ‘Warhammer’, than other authors, and it’s something he does to good affect here. Werner is all about painting dark landscapes and then filling them full of humanity despairing while shadows scuttle at the edge of the page. Both stories have that edge of grim foreboding and Werner leaves you in no doubt as to what the people of the Old World will do to protect themselves from the horror of the plague… before smacking you in the face with some nasty surprises (with ‘The Last Man’ in particular, I kind of saw it coming in ‘A Question of Faith’). If I had to pick a favourite, well I do now, it would be ‘The Last Man’ with its visceral depiction of the plague and one man trying to survive in the ruins.
So that’s three stories down and four more to go; I’ll let you know how they turn out over the next few days.