Wednesday, November 12, 2014

RETRO REVIEW: The Blades of Chaos by Gav Thorpe

The Blades of Chaos is the second book in Gav Thorpe's fantasy trilogy, and it easily follows the excellent debut by upping the action, drama, and exploration of the Warhammer world. If I remember correctly, this book is actually the reason I started reading the series way back when.

At the end of The Claws of Chaos, our hero Kurt was heading north with the Norscans while Ursala was left in the care of Ruprecht, the late witch hunter's chief lieutenant. In the second book we move ahead a handful of months and find Kurt as the new champion of his tribe. He hasn't taken over leadership of them because he respects their leader too much and is happy with being their chosen. Despite this he constantly has to face challenges to his status as some of the Norse refuse to accept a southerner as being more worthy then they are. Each of these are dealt with fairly easily, their heads added to the tribes totem. We get an interesting look at Norse culture, which turns out is about a lot more then just Chaos, Chaos, Chaos! They are a real people, with real traditions, and real needs. Kurt himself now has a wife and child whom he loves and wishes to protect more then anything else. It's quite interesting seeing this dynamic because you just don't think of the Norse as having families. For so long they have just been the faceless marauders that follow the champions of Chaos south, but now they are so much more.

Unfortunately for Kurt, being more powerful then everyone else isn't enough. He can't just sit on his laurels and raise his child, no matter how much he would like to. He has to lead a raid and bring plunder and glory back for his tribe, something even his wife supports. This is one of his first big steps into adopting his new found culture. Having been inspired by Jakob's stories of Araby he decides to lead a raid down to the far away land. If he is going to raid and plunder then it is going to be the most plunder and the most legendary raid he can manage. Heading out into the Sea of Claws with two of the tribe's long ships they start their journey south. This brings up another aspect of the Norse that is often overlooked. They are a race of sailors and are just as comfortable on a boat as they are on a horse.

Knowing they had to placate the gods before heading out into the open ocean, they raid a nearby Empire settlement and sacrifice the entire populace to Chaos. When this is discovered by a sea patrol the captain is infuriated and hunts down Kurt and his gang. Seeing they are heavily outgunned, Kurt's only chance of survival is to flee, but to do so he must stall the Empire. This is where Jakob comes into play. A vastly powerful spell is cast that forms a monstrous wave very reminiscent of the sand wall from The Mummy which gives them enough time to escape. The best part of this to me was how drained the shaman was afterwards, in fact he was almost dead from the effort. Again, it really humanizes the forces of Chaos. Yes they have access to magic and ancient lore, but it's not something to be used lightly by mortal.

While all of this is happening, Ursala and Ruprecht are hiding out in the Wasteland near Marienburg. Ursala is a wreck, and blames most of the events from the last book on herself. She wants nothing more then to just be left alone so she can wallow in despair. Soon fate intervenes though, and the duo are brought into the city itself to join an expedition east. The expedition is led by a mysterious woman who seems to be hiding some dark secret but claims to be hunting for an ancient artifact that will help to reunite the fractured Empire under one ruler. Without giving too much away, their expedition takes them across the Empire, encountering Orc war bands and eventually into the company of Dwarves. All of the characters they meet along the way feel fully formed and real and the action is just as riveting as what the Norse face. What could have easily been a B story manages to hold its own with Kurt's.

Heading back down south, Kurt and his gang land on the barren coasts of Nehekhara instead of Araby and we get out first novelized look at the Tomb Kings. Again, I don't want to give away the story, but the action the ensues is truly epic and it doesn't end in the desert either. Once they return North, what should have been an easy journey turns into anything but. In the end we are left with a much stronger Kurt and a very promising story twist that sets up the final act of the series perfectly.

I really enjoyed the book for not just the action, but for all of the cultures and corners of the world it explores. It really broadened the Warhammer world for me back when it first came out, and showed that there is much more going on then just what transpires in the forests of the Old World. Just like in the first book, the level of magic and high fantasy present ramps up as the story progresses with the third book set up to be something that's much more familiar to fans of Warhammer. It successfully lets you enter the world as a normal human with everything that means and leave it as a champion of the magical and archaic. I didn't even mention what happens to them out on the Great Ocean or the events within the Dwarven Hold. It is really hard to go through this book and not give it all away. I just want to tell you about all of the cool parts, which is the majority of the story. I guess you will just have to read it your self to find out.

Just like its predecessor, it may be older, but it's still available as an eBook for $11.99 or you can buy the whole trilogy in a real, paper book (my preference) for $29.95, which is the cheaper option if you want all three books.

Final Score - 5/5

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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