Wednesday, September 7, 2016

REVIEW: Age of Sigmar Legends - Sylvaneth

The latest addition to the Legends of the Age of Sigmar series focuses solely on the Sylvaneth, the fey tree folk of Ghyran. All of their aspects are explored here, from their battle prowess, to the despair felt by them, to the down right spookiness of the Outcasts. So steel yourself and enter the dark corners of the forests, the Sylvaneth are here.

The Resolute - Josh Reynolds

The opening story of the book focuses on a group of Tree Revenants led by their champion Felyndael. This is our first look at how these distinctively Aelvish looking Sylvaneth think and operate, so that in itself is pretty fascinating. They definitely have more of an Aelf feel to me compared to the Sylvaneth. They all talk telepathically and are very, very hesitant towards accepting any outsiders. Josh does a good job of making each member of this small group of Tree Revenants feel unique, with a small backstory to fill them out a bit. For example, one of them was severely burned earlier and still carries those scars, both physically and emotionally. They are some of the last guardians of a long abandoned city that is now in the grip of Nurgle. The Chaos forces have some plague bells that are growing in power and every time they toll they come closer to defeating the Sylvaneth once and for all and securing that city for themselves.

This is where Aetius and his Stormcast of the Hallowed Knights come in. Sent to investigate the city, the Tree Revenants reluctantly approach them. After a short discussion Felyndael admits to himself that they probably need the help of the Stormcast to defeat the forces of Nurgle. From here the combined forces start to move against the basilica which holds the bells. The bulk of the story is really about the interactions between these two allied forces, with each of them coming to accept the other. It really is some great conversations and character development, which is a nice break from fight scenes. Josh is also very good at writing these quieter moments in the story and here he shines again. The finale is a great ending to the story with a suitably awesome battle scene. The only thing that bugged me a bit is that at times it felt a bit like Space Marines and Eldar from 40k. I guess that's hard to avoid though with giant armored humans and fey, mysterious Elf like beings. If you haven't read 40k fiction before then this won't be a problem for you. Overall I really liked it and it's a great first introduction to the Tree Revenants beyond the Battletome.

Final Score - 4/5

Heartwood - Robbie MacNiven

A story by a new comer to AoS, Heartwood is a pretty fun read and a fairly unique idea. The story opens up with Nellas, a Branchwych, fighting off the last of a chaos war band. After seeing her Treelord Ancient fall in battle to the Nurgle champion Nellas quickly avenges him, leaving her the sole survivor of the battle. It's a very engaging fight scene and the death of the Treelord is handled very well. I definitely feel like Nellas actually cares very deeply about it. As is her job she then goes through and harvests all of the lamentari from the fallen Sylvaneth. This is basically the little soul gem that resides within each of them. She can then replant them to reincarnate the fallen. They don't come back as the exact same Sylvaneth, but retains their essence.

During the fight Nellas was injured by the champion, not mortally, but the wound is now infected by Nurgle. On her way back to her glade she is stopped by some Spite Revenants who tell her she shouldn't pass because she carries infection, but she insists and they eventually let her go. After replanting all of them Nellas retreats into the forests to sleep and recover where she has some pretty vivid fever dreams. When she awakes she starts to fear that maybe the Spite Revenants were right and that she has sowed the doom of her glade. From there she consults with the remaining members of the glade who were not at the battle and using her own devices must figure out the truth about what is happening to her and her glade. Without giving too much more away the climax is a great payoff and the story overall if very refreshing. It's always nice to read something AoS that doesn't focus as much on fighting. Instead we get to see her investigate what's going on and try and figure out how to save the remaining Sylvaneth under her protection. I really liked Heartwood and would definitely read another story by Robbie.

Final Score - 4.5/5

The Splintered - Rob Sanders

This is a pretty cool story idea and one I immediately took a liking to since it centers solely around one of the Sons of Durthu. Shaddock, a Spirit of Durthu, had been asleep for generations, seemingly since they had been banished from the Everqueen's presence back at the start of the Age of Chaos. This in itself is a pretty cool idea to me since the Treelord models look so much more like a humanesque creature than a tree. It talks about how his roots were borrowed deep into the earth and he was covered with even more moss and bark so he really just look liked a tree until he shook it loose when he awoke. They also mention how the sword of the Spirits of Durthu are made of stone, which I think is a rather cool work around for why they would have swords.

Once awoken by the local Branchwych, Shaddock singly handily defeats all of the forces of Nurgle that had infested his glade. It's all pretty cool and you really get to see just how insanely powerful the Spirits of Durthu are. The final battle at the glade has him fighting a group of sorcerers who were attempting to summon a Great Unclean One. Once the glade is cleared the Branchwych Ardaneth pleads with Shaddock to stay and help bring the Arkenwood, their glade, back to prominence. It's his duty though to protect his Everqueen so he must leave them and follow Alarielle's song.

The rest of the story has Shaddock on a journey through Ghyran to find his queen, but can even he escape the infections of Nurgle? It's all rather interesting and I really like the odessy aspect of it. It's not a storytelling mechanic we see often in Black Library books. The Spirit of Durthu is just plain awesome and definitely comes across as being extremely powerful. The climax to this has a big battle just like you would expect, but it's really more about the journey there than the destination.

Final Score - 4.5/5

Wrathspring - Gav Thorpe

Wrathspring is what I would consider the title story of the collection, the main event if you will. It focuses on the Sylvaneth as a whole making war and includes every new unit and character including Alarielle. We start out with a small grove of Sylvaneth under attack from the forces of Nurgle, specificaly Clan Pestilens. When it seems like they are just about to be overwhelmed they are saved by Alarielle and the Sylvaneth under her command. The Skaven forces were led by a Vermin Lord who fled at the first sight of the Everqueen, abandoning the rest of his army to be slaughtered in true Skaven fashion. After all of the Sylvaneth have been rescued there is a rather cool council scene.

Alarielle and her top advisers and leaders of the different groves converge to decide what there next course of action is. Many want to take an easier route, rescuing more bands of Sylvaneth who are under attack by smaller forces of Nurgle, but not the Everqueen. She had made a promise to recapture the Vale of Winternight and it was a promise she meant to keep. This is where we get to the main bulk of the story.

The Vale has been turned into a giant fortress of Nurgle and Alarielle takes all of her gather might there to assail it. Here we get to see all of the different aspects of the Sylvaneth at work, with the Treelords tearing down the walls while the Tree Revenants and Dryads attack the servants of Nurgle themselves. The goddess attempts to infiltrate the fortress in spirit form to locate the captured Sylvaneth within, but all doesn't go as planned. I don't want to give away much more of the plot, but there is a rather cool moment involving a Spirit of Durthu acting as Alarielle's guardians and a pretty spectacular charge by the Kurnoth Hunters, my personal favorite addition to the Sylvaneth. This story essentially feels like the big climatic battle of a larger novel. It's fun that we get to see a bunch of the newer additions to the army in action, and there is some nice character exploration of the Everqueen herself.  A few of her connections to the world that was are explored a bit more and I think Gav is at his best when writing about her. All in all the whole thing felt like a large battle scene, which also jumped around a bit from the Skaven assault at the start, to the council, and finally finishing at the siege of the Nurgle fortress. I think seeing more of the council would have been pretty enlightening, but I understand that page space was limited. I like this story for covering all of the bases, and all of the battle scenes were well written and engaging. If anything it just felt like a little too much crammed into to few pages. If you want a story that captures every aspect of the Sylvaneth besides the Outcasts, then this is the one to read.

Final Score - 4/5

The Outcast - Josh Reynolds

This is definitely the stand out story for me, it was just that great. As you may have guessed from the story's title this focuses on the Spite Revenants, and specifically Drycha. We actually open up on a band of Rotbringers who were cutting their way through the forest to get to its center. There lies a group of stones that the forest derives all of its magic from. Josh has a gift for writing interesting and well rounded Chaos characters and he doesn't disappoint here. The leader of the band is named Goral and each of the other members of his group are very distinct, and surprisingly human. They see them selves as a knightly order, albeit a very corrupted one. These guys are definitely not your mustache twirling bad guys. They certainly do bad things, and are very aware they are doing them, but from their view point the forest is the enemy. Even the Chaos Hounds that their tracker Uctor keeps around are full of character, acting more like affectionate puppies. 

Once the Chaos war band makes its way to the stones they quickly defeat the Sylvaneth they find there, but instead of finishing the deed they came their to do, Goral decides it would be more fun to track down a wounded Treelord who fled the battle. This is of course where Drycha comes in. She had been asleep, for what sounds like a very long time, and is awoken by the song of the forest. Her perspective on everything is great because she is so confused and lost, yet she knows who she is and she knows that she hates everything. I don't want to give away too much of what happens here because it's all just so good, but Drycha and the Spite Revenants start to ambush the nurgle forces. We see most of the attack from their perspective, and it is truly terrifying as the shadows of the forest start to tear them apart. They are terrified too and it all feels very human. The Rotbringer's here are a truly sympathetic force, with the Outcasts framed as the bad guys, the creatures that go bump in the night. There is a great moment with what I will describe as a "meat puppet" and a truly sad one involving some of the Rotbringer's animals. 

The ending to this is great and Josh Reynolds has managed to capture Drycha and what makes her so interesting to perfection. All of the scenes from her perspective are wonderful to read as she tries to make sense of what's happening around her and what happened to her in the past. She can't even make out what the Rotbringers are saying because their language is so foreign to her. The forces of Nurgle are extremely well rounded and completely believable. I would love to just read more about them and their adventures through the Mortal Realms. As it is, I really hope that GW comes back to Josh Reynolds to write more stories focusing on Drycha because he just gets her, completely. This is a true horror story set within AoS, something we don't get much of. The vibe and feelings emoted through this story are spot on. Truly wonderful, you definitely should read this.

Final Score - 5/5

If you like the Sylvaneth then this is definitely the book for you. We get to see Treelords, Tree Revenants, Spite Revenants, Branchwyches, and even Alarielle and Drycha. The Outcast was definitely my favorite story in the bunch and in my opinion, worth the prices of the book on its own, but all of the others a great reads too. I do wish we had seen less of the Branchwyches just because it seems like they were overused a bit between all of the stories, but that's a small complaint. Overall I think this was a solid addition to the AoS novel line up.

Final Overall Score - 4.3/5

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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