Thursday, November 9, 2017

REVIEW: Hammerhal and Other Stories

The newest release from Black Library for Age of Sigmar was a bit of a surprise, but a really fantastic idea! Hammerhal and Other Stories acts as a great place for anyone new to the Mortal Realms to read a selection of novellas and short stories about AoS, including one brand new novella from the AoS master himself, Josh Reynolds.

This book is something new for AoS. While we have certainly had short story books before, in fact that's what a lot of the early ones were more or less, this novel acts as an introduction and includes mostly previously published stories. Since I have already reviewed most of the books that these stories originally appeared in I won't do it again here, but instead link out to those reviews. There is one brand new story though, a novella by Josh Reynolds titled Hammerhal, and what a great story it is.

Hammerhal by Josh Reynolds

Hammerhal shares several things in common with another much appreciated AoS story, City of Secrets. Like City of Secrets, the main enemy here is a Tzeentch Arcanite cult waiting for the perfect moment to stage its uprising, and it also involves a Witch Hunter of the Order of Azyr working to bring them down. It also has a ton of unique elements that really set it apart. It's hard to say if Hammerhal is better than City of Secrets, but it definitely addresses some things that I thought were lacking in the latter story.

The story opens up on the widest scale imaginable before spiraling down to the granular. Sigmar himself has ventured down into the wilds of Ghyran, albeit in a spiritual form, to investigate something that just feels off to him outside the borders of his largest city in the Realms, Hammerhal. A Tzeentch coven of Tzaangors has corrupted a Sylvaneth glade, and the children of Alarielle are hesitant to attack on their own due to some of their soulpods being in danger in the glade. We get a fairly interesting conversation between the God-King and Alarielle, which shows that even though they're allies, they are not on the friendliest of terms. After this brief exchange we spiral down into the main storyline, which follows two separate plot lines.

Within the city itself we have Witch Hunter Gage, along with his crew of a White Lion aelf, a duardin Ironbreaker, and a Lord-Veritant from the Hallowed Knights who is assisting, as they track down a suspected plot of the forces of Chaos. The setting right away is pretty cool since we join them as they track their prey through the dock yards. These are not sea faring docks though, no, they are the aerial docks of the Kharadron Overlords and other air ships. As a quick aside, there is a cool bit in here where Josh points out the crudity of the non Kharadron airships in comparison to the Overlord's own efforts. Where the Kharadron have iron sheathed vessels powered by Endrins, those of the other races rely instead on a more traditional hot air ballon type situation. Their prey, a trader by the name of Tarn, is aboard one of these vessels, but their element of surprise is broken when they are ambushed within one of Tarn's warehouses. I really enjoyed this whole half of the storyline and really connected with all of the characters, even the ancillary ones who were only in it for a moment, like the Curseling.

Outside of the city, the Stormcast forces of Gardus are advancing on the Tzaangor lair from earlier, with our focus on Serena, a Liberator. There's a bit of mingling of Free Guild and Stormcast forces here, which is always interesting. There is one Free Guild solider, Creel, who is good friends with Serena and has known her for most of his life. There's a bit in here where they talk about how she's known him for around 30 or 40 years and how much he has aged during that time while she's still exactly the same. The interactions between these two forces really comes into play when they are ambushed by the Tzaangors on their way through the forest. The action scenes are excellently crafted throughout this, and every one of them drew me in. The Stormcast scenes had more of your typical battle scenes, but with some interesting new twists on them, while the action within Hammerhal was much more personal, but no less exciting and big. The finales for both of these story lines really pays off the set up, and intertwine with each other perfectly.

Where Josh always shines the brightest though is with his characters, and he doesn't disappoint here. Gardus is very much a supporting character, so don't expect much from him. The real stars are Serena, Gage and his warband, and the Tzeentch forces. Josh can somehow always take the characters who are supposed to be the villains and make them at least somewhat sympathetic, no matter how evil they are. This is definitely the best representation of Tzeentch forces so far. Tarn is incredibly human, with very mortal desires for why he is doing what he's doing. His relationships with his fellow coven members feels very real and earned as well. Aek, the Fatemaster, feels like a real menace, but the camaraderie that him and Tarn share feels believable and makes you really feel for the pair, despite their plans. Speaking of their plans, it's a fairly unique idea, and not one I would have thought up on my own. The Curseling is a surprising tug on your heart strings as well. Even the Tzaangors feel fully fleshed out, with the Shaman feeling just as valid as Tarn. There's a cool Exalted as well who shows that Tzaangors and Beastmen type characters can be more than just part of the body count. Even the Acolytes act in a fashion that's believable for people who lead ordinary day lives. Gage and his crew are fantastic, as I have already mentioned, and the Stormcast continue to mine the depths of what it truly means to be "eternal," the consequences of that, and the fears and doubts that invokes in the warriors. The only downside to this story is it's length. It's only 150 pages long, so it's definitely a novella length. I would love to see more stories featuring Gage and some of the Tzeentch crew (not saying who so the suspense of who lives and dies stays with you), and knowing Josh's tendency to incorporate his various characters in other novels of his, I would say it could be very likely we'd see them guest starring or making a cameo in a different book. It hits some of the same notes as City of Secrets, but, for me anyway, delivered a more personal experience. I was invested in every character in this, including the Tzeentch forces, which in City of Secrets I was only really invested in the two main heroes. I would say this is definitely the best Tzeentch involved story so far, and most accurately reflects the lore from the Battletome in a satisfying way.

At only $8 for the whole book, I would say that's definitely worth the cost of just this story, especially considering the average cost of Black Library books. If you haven't read the other stories it's even more of a deal. This was an excellent choice by Black Library to act as the leading story in their introductory book for AoS.

Beneath the Black Thumb by David Guymer

Read the Review Here

The Prisoner of the Black Sun by Josh Reynolds

Read the Review Here

Assault on the Mandrake Bastion by Josh Reynolds

This is the first chapter out of the novel Black Rift. Read the review of the whole book here.

Vengeance Eternal

This is the first chapter out of the novel Bladestorm. Read the review of the whole book here.

Heartwood by Robbie MacNiven

Read the Review Here

The Keys to Ruin by David Annandale

This was the other story from this book I hadn't read before. Somehow I missed the Fyreslayer novel when it came out. Here we focus on a lodge of Fyreslayers as they follow their Runefather across chaos infested plains to an unknown objective. The Runefather has been gripped with a vision and believes that their salvation lays at the end of their journey, while other members of the lodge, specifically one of his sons, is skeptical about it. They must battle through Tzeentch infested forests and other desolate landscapes, before they come to the object of their quest, but as is often the case with Tzeentch, not all is as it seems.

I wasn't a huge fan of this story to be honest. It has a very early AoS feel to it, with a ton of stuff feeling rather amorphous and unexplored. I also had a hard time connecting or caring about any of the characters. It does have some interesting landscapes though as the fantastical nature of the Mortal Realms is really pushed, but all of it felt a little flat to me. It wasn't a horrible story, but also doesn't live up to the standard set by Hammerhal earlier in the book. It may be suffering from how far the background lore has progressed since it was originally released. If you like Fyreslayers you'll probably enjoy this, and it is rather short as well, so it's a fairly fast read.

Spear of Shadows by Josh Reynolds

This is just a short excerpt from the book. Read the review of the whole book here.

Skaven Pestilens by Josh Reynolds

This is also an excerpt from the larger story. Read the review of the whole book here.

Overlords of the Iron Dragon by C.L. Werner

This is an excerpt of the upcoming novel focusing on the Kharadron Overlords. I chose not to read this because I wanted to keep the story as a whole a secret and would rather just read the book in one go. At time of writing this the novel is due out in a week or two.

This was a fantastic idea by Games Workshop, to compile a selection of handpicked stories to introduce new readers to the Mortal Realms. Hammerhal is worth it on it's own, but there are also some other really strong stories included in here. The price is right too, at just $8. I plan on picking up the 40k counterpart to this at some point, especially since I have read even less of the short stories in there than in the AoS one. If you're a fan of AoS but haven't taken the plunge into the stories yet, or want to introduce a friend to the Mortal Realms this really is the perfect way to do it. I think the perfect "care package" for a new player would be this, the Getting Started magazine, and the Storm of Sigmar boxset. That's only $49 and you've introduced them to nearly every part of the hobby. 

Until next time,

Tyler M. 

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