Wednesday, February 15, 2017

REVIEW: Nagash the Undying King

The first Warhammer World exclusive novel for Age of Sigmar is out in the public now, and what an amazing tome it is. Not only does it look awesome, but the story by Josh Reynolds is one of the best I've read for AoS so far.

Let's start off with the obvious, the amazing cover and presentation of the book. The whole thing is bound in a faux purple leather, with skulls embossed on the front and back. Along the spine is an embossed spinal column with all of the artwork on the whole thing picked out in silver.

The edges of the pages are also purple, for Shyish of course, and there is a black ribbon attached to help you keep you spot. Frankly, it's just a gorgeous book. This is, without a doubt, the nicest looking book on my book shelf. It perfectly captures the essence of what a book from Shyish would look like as well. You can tell they really went the extra mile on it, and it paid off big time.

Once you stop fawning over the cover you can crack onto the story itself. Nagash the Undying King actually takes place back during the Age of Chaos, before anything that's currently going on, and before the Stormcasts. Nagash has already been laid low by Archaon and now must hide in Styggix to recoup his strength. While he is cloistered away though, the forces of Chaos continue to rampage across the Realm of Death, with Nurgle taking a particular interest in it. We find Tamra, a leader of her peoples, the Rictus, defending their ancestral home from the Chaos forces.

Despite the story taking place within Shyish, there are still a bunch of living people who make their home there, including the Rictus. They venerate death though, and in fact, her brother, now long dead, fights alongside her to protect her and his remaining people. He's not a brain dead servant either, but an intelligent Wight, able to communicate with her. As he prepares to sell his "life" again to save his sister something rather surprising happens, which I don't want to spoil here, but it's safe to say it sets up some pretty interesting scenarios for the current timeline. Just as it appears that Tamra is doomed, Neferata shows up and whisks her and her people away to safety.

The story then moves along as the forces of Nurgle continue to press their advantage and hound the forces of Death through Shyish. Tamra and Neferata meet up with Arkhan as they fall back to a more defensible position known as the Mandible, and more allies are recruited to help them in their time of need. Josh Reynolds once again does a terrific job at making the characters of death so completely fascinating, believable, and sympathetic. Tamra, being a living human, is a bit easier to connect with. She is essentially a very powerful Necromancer and clan leader all in one. I really enjoyed her character and she shines as the main protagonist of the story. Forced to balance her people's needs with accepting the aide of the Mortarchs, beings she knows are untrustworthy, is a great struggle to read.

Neferata is her usually cunning, deceiving self. Manipulating everyone around her to suit her own needs, while at the same time displaying just enough humanity beneath her icy exterior to make you care for her and almost root for her. It's as if she is manipulating you, the reader, at the same time as she is twisting Tamra to her needs. Arkhan has always held my interest, being a man who knows he is bound to Nagash's will and is completely self aware of that fact, but at the same time, unable and unwilling to do anything about it. The little spats between him and Neferata are entertaining as always, with their pseudo lover's quarrel always just below the surface. The fact that Arkhan almost secretly pined for the vampiress back in the Old World was always one of my favorite aspects of their relationship and I'm glad to see it continued here.

Nagash himself makes a few appearances as well, more a force of nature then a man anymore. This is reflected in the writing with his memory swimming in and out of focus along with his lucidity, something that Arkhan makes note of at least once. He is little more then a wraith now, unable to directly confront the full brunt of the Chaos invasion, but still able to influence events here and there. He makes a particularly spectacular appearance at the climatic battle of the story. The Flesh-Eater Courts aren't left out either, with a Ghoul King brought under Neferata and Tamra's control for the final defense of the Mandible. The connection that Josh was able to weave between all of the characters that reside within Shyish and the clans of the Rictus is truly enjoyable and shows a fantastic ability to world build. Their culture seems extremely feasible, considering where they live, the almost symbiotic relationship between the living and the dead of the Rictus is the high point for me. It's ancestor worship taken to the extreme and it fits the peoples of Shyish like a glove.

Not one to have flat, boring villains, the forces of the Nurgle armies are as fully formed and engaging as those of Shyish. The Order of the Fly are our main antagonists, an order of knightly Nurgle worshippers who share a lot in common with the Brettonians of old. Though they unashamedly worship Nurgle and Chaos, they have a code of honor that must be met, and for being basically bloated, decaying cadavers, are quite proper and noble, in their own disgusting way. Wolgus and Festerblight are our two main points of entry into their ranks, and you are almost rooting for them as much as you are against them as they fight off waves of Dire Wolves and rampaging Bone Giants. Even as Neferata weaves her own web amongst the forces of Death, the demon Grumm attempts to play the Order of the Fly to his own tune, creating a sense of intrigue amongst the Nurgle ranks.

It's a credit to Josh's craft as a writer that I really cared about every character in this book, from Sarpa, the dead brother of Tamra that we only see for barely a chapter, to the Kastellan of Neferata's Blood Knights who is mostly there to egg on Tamra and play on her doubts. The story picks up and never lets go as well, constantly moving forward towards what you can feel must be a tragic conclusion. At the same time it allows plenty of time for the characters to breath, flourish, and have quieter, more intimate moments. I would absolutely love to continue reading stories set along this plot thread and I really hope that some of these characters are revisited later on down the line. The great thing about Chaos and Death characters is that they can absolutely still be alive in the current time period.

If you are a fan of the forces of Death this is a 100% must read for you. It covers pretty much every faction from the Grand Alliance book while shining a new light on many of them and making the setting in which they exist a lot more believable. If you like Nurgle there's a lot in here for you as well, and I would even say if you're a fan of Brettonia and the noble knights, the Order of the Fly may hold something of interest for you. Heck, if you're just a fan of AoS this is a fantastic novel that I would highly recommend. Not only is the story one of the best of the AoS setting, but the presentation of the book itself means this will definitely be a jewel of your collection. The only downside to this book is that it's a Warhammer World exclusive, which means not everyone can get it. If you have a friend in the UK near Nottingham see if they can pick it up for you. I don't know if this will be released in a non exclusive format at a later date, but I hope it will so everyone can enjoy it.

Nagash is waiting for you.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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