Wednesday, October 18, 2017

REVIEW: The Eight Lamentations - Spear of Shadows

Josh Reynolds has penned many of the Age of Sigmar novels and has become a bit of a leading figure in the world of AoS narratives. His latest novel, Spear of Shadows, has been anticipated by many since it was first announced, since like City of Secrets before it, it focuses on a non-Stomrcast centric story. It also has Grungni in it, the duardin god! So how does this adventure story fare?

I'm a big fan of Josh Reynolds writing already, and his last book, Plague Garden, was pretty much amazing. When this book came out I was more than eager to dive into it. I mean, just look at the cover on it, even that looks amazing. The story opens up in the forge of Grungni himself, as he stops an assassination attempt. We also see into the demon forges of Khorne in Aqshy, where Volundr, a familiar face from Black Rift and a former pupil of Grungni, is spinning his own web to capture the Spear of Shadows, one of the Eight Lamentations. These are weapons so powerful that they can kill a god. We saw one of these in Fury of Gork, and the spear, or Gung as it's called sometimes, has the ability to kill anyone whose name you whisper to it. It won't stop until that person is dead.  As the opening moves for the Spear are laid out we find ourselves at a location familiar to anyone who has been keeping up on the AoS lore and novels, the city of Excelsis in Ghur, where we meet our main character, Volker. A member of the Ironweld Arsenal and one of the youngest gun masters around, he knows his craft. He's our everyman, despite how good he is at fighting. Hailing from Azyrheim, he's a transplant to the wider Mortal Realms, and so acts as our eyes into the crazy world outside of Sigmar's direct protection. The city itself is under attack from the Skaven, though it's made out to be a rather routine thing, and not a super dire threat. As the city grows it's walls must be taken down and expanded, and during this construction is when the ratkin decided to play their hand. There's a cool bit of crossover with a character from Fury of Gork in the form of Lord-Celestant Grael. This is also our only bit of interaction with Stormcast throughout the whole story. I really like how minimal their role is, but at the same time Josh is able to humanize them a lot and make them feel important.

After Volker almost dies during one of the Skaven attacks he is given a vision from Grungni and is taken to the duardin god's secret forge within the heart of the city. There the god explains to him about the Spear of Shadows and how important it is that it must be found. The last warrior that Grungni sent after it, Oken, an old friend and mentor to Volker, has gone missing, and so the god thinks Volker is a good fit to find him and the Spear. This isn't a mission he must accomplish on his own though, and he is introduced to a band of warriors in Grungni's service. There is Zana, a sell sword from Chamon, Roggen, a Demigryph knight from Ghyran, and Lugash, a temperamental Fyreslayer with an undisclosed debt to the god. They are not the only ones searching for the Spear however, as Neferata has also sent one of her vampiric servants, Adhema, in pursuit, and Volundr's deathbringer Ahazian Kel rides after it as well. There is even another who seeks it, Yuhdak, a servant of Tzeentch and his 99 ravens, magical warriors who can take the form of the birds. From here the book becomes a race to see who can find the sacred artifact first with a bunch of twists and turns. It's hard to talk about it more without giving away the story, but Volker's band employs the service of a Kharadron airship under the command of a duardin named Brondt to travel to the city of Shu'gohl atop the great worm's back. There's a really cool action sequence there, plus plenty of world building. This is actually the second time we've seen this city since it made it's debut in the Skaven Pestilens novel. It's interesting to see it as time has passed and the wounds of the Skaven occupation have healed. A giant worm city isn't the end of the high fantasy either, there's also crazy Skaven hijinks, and a giant spider infested forest where a duardin clan had set up their home. Inside a giant tree. That's something we never would have seen in the Old World, and it's fantastic.

There was never a slow moment in this book, and I was constantly looking forward to the next chapter. All of the characters were engaging and they all felt unique, which is saying something considering how large the cast is. There are nine major players in the story, and at times it felt a bit crowded, but I enjoyed all of them. Some of them were a bit stereotypical, like Lugash, a classic stubborn duardin, but they were roles that needed to be filled, and Josh fills them wonderfully. They are fully formed and I am genuinely invested in seeing all of their stories continue in future books. I could even read stories centered around just one or two of these characters. A Zana and Brondt spin off would be great, and Adhema could carry a story on her own easily. To see Roggen fighting his way through Ghyran would be terrific as well. There's just so much potential with these characters and this storyline in general.

This is also the ultimate Josh Reynolds book in the way that he ties everything together throughout all of his mostly unrelated AoS novels. Adhema is from Nagash: The Undying King, Volundr is from Black Rift, the city of Shu'gohl is from Skaven Pestilens, and Grael and Yohdak are from Fury of Gork. I'm sure there are more connections that I'm missing as well. There are a few callbacks to the Old World too, with a very familiar corpse from an early encounter between Adhema and Ahazian Kel (an awesome action scene right at the start), and a "blink and you'll miss it" call out to one of this book's spiritual predecessors, Felix Jaeger. This is definitely the start of the Gotrek and Felix of Age of Sigmar. It has all the hallmarks of what that series accomplished and looks to check all of the boxes. Not bound by wars and battles, Volker's band can journey all across the Mortal Realms in search of the other seven lamentations, exploring all of the weird and wonderful aspects that make AoS so unique and great! I guess Eight Lamentations made a better series name than Volker and Zana, Roggen, Lugash, Brondt, Nyoka, and Adhema. There is a lot of world building in this book too, with little tidbits being filled out. Like the Nagashites in Shu'gohl being treated as a legitimate religion and not the enemy, or Volker's brief recollection of growing up in Azyrheim.

This is definitely one of the best AoS novels out there right now and the start of a fantastic series. It's a true adventure quest story. If you've been wanting to read an AoS story that focused on the non Stormcast elements of the Mortal Realms than this is definitely the book for you. It does a great job of exploring the corners of the Realms, even if this story just sticks to Ghur for the most part. There's so much to like here, but if you like AoS, are AoS curious, were a fan of the Gotrek and Felix series, or just like good Fantasy novels than I definitely recommend this book to you. You don't need to have read anything before to understand or enjoy this book, but you'll definitely get more out of it if you've read Fury of Gork, Nagash: The Undying King, Skaven Pestilens, and City of Secrets. Like I said though, non of these are required, they'll just enhance the story for you is all.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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