Vampire Wars: The Von Carstein Trilogy

Last night I finally finished Steven Savile’s Vampire Wars: The Von Carstein Trilogy. This is another Warhammer novel, taking place long before Gotrek & Felix roamed the world. I’d really enjoyed William King’s Vampireslayer and so was looking forward to learning more about the vampire legacy in the world of Warhammer.

Savile strikes me as a pretty good author in search of a pretty good editor. Lots of what he writes is really well done, but you’ll hit some real clunkers now and then, mostly when he tries to work some historical quote into the book. At one point late in the book, a swarm of bats block out the sun and one of the officers confidently quips “Good. We shall have our battle in the shade.” We are still reeling from that groaner when Mannfred, being harried by the Grand Theogonist (a high ranking official in the order of Sigmarites) suddenly shouts “Would someone rid me of this damnable holy man?

The other main problem is that the books are disjointed, and I’m guessing that once again they started as a series of short pieces published in (or meant to be published in) White Dwarf. So characters appear and disappear almost randomly. Sometimes they vanish for good, other times they’ll suddenly pop up again 300 pages later. It prevents the book from ever getting into a smooth flow. It doesn’t make it bad so much as it makes it unusual.

On the other hand, these are bad vampires. These days it seems like the focus is on making vampires some kind of tragic figures, but not the ones in these books. This is gritty, gory book full of ghouls and zombies and dire wolves (and vampires, of course!). None of the three vampire Counts’ features are tragic, though there is one brush with vampires more like the ones that Gotrek & Felix encountered.

Lots of fighting, lots of heroics, lots of death. One of the benefits of the willy-nilly coming and going of characters is that really bad things happen to characters you’ve come to care about. Savile will spend enough time on a character that you start thinking “OK, this is a main character, he’s safe.” and then BAM! something terrible happens.

At 766 pages, its a *long* volume and I think if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have read all the volumes in it sequentially, because after a while you do get kind of desensitized to it all. There’s only so many ways to depict corpses clawing their way out of their graves to attack the living, y’know? But the book isn’t too long, because it covers a lot of time and a lot of campaigns and a ton of characters.

By the time I started reading Vampire Wars, I’d pretty much finished playing Warhammer Online, and the focus on vampires, men and dwarves did nothing to remind me this was a Warhammer novel. Orcs and goblins are mentioned only tangentially, and the elves had not yet revealed themselves when these events took place. Chaos doesn’t feature in the books, either. This isn’t good or bad; I’m just conveying the info that if you’re playing Warhammer Online, don’t expect these books to tie into that too much.

On a scale of 1-5, I’m going to give Vampire Wars: The Von Carstein Trilogy, 3 stars. It was good, but had some rough spots and was a bit disjointed. It probably would’ve benefited from one more edit/rewrite cycle. Still, a fun book to read.


Giantslayer is the last Gotrek & Felix book written by William King before he handed off the series to Nathan Long. Reports are that Long really stumbles with our mighty duo of Gotrek the Dwarf Slayer and Felix the Warrior-Scholar, but sadly I found that King did some stumbling of his own.

After the wonderful Omnibus Volume. 2 I was really excited to dive into Giantslayer and find out who the Giant is and how the duo will slay it. And as with all series books, the first few chapters felt like a ‘warm up’ to the real action. So I dutifully slogged through them, and after a few nights of reading I started to wonder when the action was going to heat up. And then I noticed I was two-thirds of the way through the book!

This one just never comes together as a Gotrek & Felix book; I suspect this was a story King wanted to tell and he just wedged the pair into it. They don’t even feel like main characters, and via a Deus Ex Machina device they’re not even in the Empire anymore. All their companions get left behind very early on and they’re just kind of adrift in a new (to them) world.

It’s true that as the title suggests, they’ll have to slay a giant, but that’s a side plot and the giant isn’t the main Foozle of the book. Gotrek (who, let’s face it, is a fairly ‘thin’ character at the best of times) is a total cardboard cut-out here, and I think his axe gets more attention than he does. He grumbles now and then (in a very predictable fashion) but otherwise is just swept along. Felix is handled a bit better and has some sub-plot ‘stubs’ but they’re never fleshed out and never come to anything.

The focus of the book is Teclis, a high-elf they meet early on in their adventures (giving Gotrek his single schtick throughout the book, grumbling about how much he hates and mistrusts elves). I’m a Warhammer novice so I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Teclis is a ‘known hero’ in the Warhammer universe. If I already knew about and liked Teclis, this novel might have been more interesting to me, but I signed on for Gotrek & Felix being mighty warriors, not to see them as often-ineffectual sidekicks to a potent elf mage.

The one saving grace is that some long-running plotlines get tied up here, but overall I kind of wish I’d finished my Gotrek & Felix adventure with the Second Omnibus. I can’t in good faith recommend Giantslayer unless you’re a fan of Teclis. Gotrek & Felix deserved a better final novel from William King.

Gotrek & Felix: The Second Omnibus

I stayed up much too late last night finishing Gotrek & Felix: The Second Omnibus by William King.

Honestly, I don’t have a real lot to say about it. If you haven’t read any of the Gotrek & Felix books, then you should start with Omnibus 1 (or one of the stand alone volumes, but these Omnibus re-issues are a great value). If you have read that and enjoyed it, stop reading and go order Omnibus 2. King just gets better and better the further along he goes.

All three books in the collection (Beastslayer, Dragonslayer and Vampireslayer) are full novels (the early books were collections of short stories and novellas) each of which stands alone nicely but strung together they form a continuous narrative of the adventures of our two heroes, one-time poet and scholar Felix, and gruff, death-wish driven Slayer Gotrek. The cast of characters broadens quite a bit in these books though, making them feel like a richer experience. King even finds room for some romance-driven subplots, and even Gotrek starts to show some signs of humanity by the end (and is self-aware of this fact, grumbling about spending too much time around humans).

A broader cast of characters lets King dispose of a few here and there as well, which alleviates the one weakness of a series with character names in the titles. We pretty much know that neither Gotrek nor Felix is going to fall in battle, given that there are more books to read!

I have to admit I came in to these books with pretty low-expectations given that they are based on a game. And at first my expectations were met: fun stuff, but with not a lot of meat to them. But that feeling faded away back in the midst of Omnibus 1, and the three books in this volume are great fantasy that could stand up against any non-licensed sword & sorcery fantasy novels. It doesn’t matter if you know what Warhammer is; if you love a good fantasy adventure yarn, the Gotrek & Felix books are for you.

Empire in Chaos

Empire in Chaos by Anthony Reynolds is a Warhammer novel written specifically to go along with Warhammer Online. It follows the trip of a motley band of adventurers from point A to point B where they encounter a battle. If that sounds dull, well, you’re right.

While there’s some fun early on in the book as you figure out what class each character is supposed to be, overall there’s just not much plot here. Annaliese Jaegar (a shameless surname ripoff from Felix Jaegar of the Gotrek & Felix stories) is a peasant girl who becomes a Warrior Priest, so at least she grows and changes over the course of the book, but the rest of the gang — Udo Grunwald the Witch Hunter, Thorrick the Ironbreaker, Eldanair the Shadow Warrior and Karl the Knight of the Blazing Sun — are caricatures of their classes who for the most part arrive at the end of the book unchanged from when they entered.

There are a *lot* of battle scenes and writing these is Reynold’s single strong point, but after a while you just start skimming “mighty axe blow opens him to the waist…blah blah blah…bits of brain spatter across her face…blah blah blah…screams of dying men and horses…yeah ok when does the *story* start again??”

But as for the rest of the writing, it is *abysmal*. I imagine what happened (since Reynolds seems to have written some other novels that have decent Amazon ratings) is that this was a super rush job that no editor ever looked at. The point of view drifts aimlessly from character to character to third party back to another character until you can only guess at whose internal voice you’re hearing at any given time. There are just bad passages all over the place; the kind of bad that makes you stop and read the line aloud to someone else so you can both marvel at its spectacle. Y’know, Angrily he said, “You must follow me now!”, with anger in his voice. That’s not an actual quote; I should’ve jotted some of them down.

I could (and did) go on and on, but to prevent another huge wall of text I’m just going to hit delete and say: this is a bad book. It’s badly written, badly edited, has a bland story and a bad ending. The most horrifying thing about it is that the epilogue seems to set up a follow-on volume.

Oh, and the whole thing is written from the point of view of Order. If you play Destruction you won’t see much about your side other than them being a big old bag of evil.

Gotrek & Felix: The First Omnibus

My eyes are red and tearing from my last heroic push to complete this tome. Do I get an unlock for that? Gotrek & Felix: The First Omnibus is a collection of three books (Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer) from William King and based on Warhammer Lore. The first two books are collections of short stories and novellas while the third is a full length novel.

Gotrek Gurnisson is a Slayer; a dwarf who has suffered some shame (this far the details of which have yet to be revealed) and as a way to make amends is seeking a glorious death. Felix Jaeger is the son of a rich merchant; a scholar and poet, who was expelled from university after killing a fellow student in a duel. After this, he somehow provoked the famous Window Tax Riots, during which Gotrek saved his life. The two went out and got good and drunk together after this incident, and Felix swore an oath to travel with Gotrek and record his doom.

The books are written from Felix’s point of view (which fits well as he is the chronicler of Gotrek’s journey), and it is his growth as a character that keeps things interesting. Gotrek is more or less a force of nature, running towards any and every hopeless battle while Felix reluctantly follows along and inevitably ends up performing better than he ever hoped he would.

Trollslayer has the pair cavorting across the lands encountering all manner of evil in a loosely linked series of stories. Skavenslayer is more focused and concentrates on the Skaven (rat-men) plot to take over the city of Nuln. King’s rendition of the Skaven is wonderfully awful; cowardly, malicious creatures who are always one scare away from “squirting the musk of fear” or chewing their own tails out of nervousness or frustration. In Daemonslayer, Gotrek and Felix take part in an expedition into the Chaos Wastes of the North.

As a stand-alone book, Gotrek & Felix: The First Omnibus is great fun, a wonderful swords and sorcery (and bit of steampunk) yarn. My only real Warhammer connection is Warhammer Online, and I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed the book any less had I not been playing WAR; I’d recommend it for any fan of s&s fantasy.

On the other hand, reading the book really helped keep me in the mood for playing the game, so if you’re a WAR subscriber you might want to keep that in mind.

You may be a bit lost at first (I was) since the first book is all short stories, but soon enough you’ll get a feel for the characters and really start enjoying them. King’s skill as a writer improves through the three books as well (or so it seemed to me). The writing seems to get better and better as the series goes on.

I don’t usually get caught up on price, but this is also quite a bargain. Amazon lists the book $8.79 USD at the time of this writing, and it runs 763 pages. The downside is that it’s a mass-market paperback with about a 1.75″ spine, so it probably won’t stand up to too many readings without the spine cracking.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Just for the same of completeness, I’m cataloging the fact that I finally read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Sorcerer’s Stone. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? 🙂

I enjoyed it, as have a gazillion readers before me, but I think you’ll agree it’d be silly of me to review it. The book was very similar to the movie, at least as far as I remember the movie, so not a lot in the way of surprises, though Hermione was a real female dog at the start of the story. Yeesh!

I’ll probably read more of them at some point, as Angela tells me they get darker and ‘meatier’ as Rowling’s audience and characters grew older, and I’ve only seen one other movie, and I think is was #4 or so. So the next time I read one it’ll be a new story to me.

I’m frankly puzzled at the changes they made for the US version though. OK, replacing football with soccer makes sense to some degree, but why rename the Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone? That one puzzles me to no end.

The Born Queen

Wow, but it’s been a long time since I offered my thoughts on a book here. Playing Age of Conan prompted my to drag out my Conan books for a re-read, and that didn’t seem worth covering. When I started to read Greg Keye’s The Born Queen I realized I’d sort of lost the thread of the series, so I went back and re-read The Blood Knight.

Anyway…so The Born Queen brings the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone tetralogy to a satisfying conclusion, but it sometimes feels like a frantic trip. As the pacing of the book increases, chapters get shorter, rotating through the various characters one chapter at time. It feels like you’re riding a whirlwind at times. Granted Keyes has a lot of story to tell, and I suspect he had too much for this 4th book to contain, but not enough to warrant a 5th book. As I told Angela this morning (I was up reading long after she’d gone to sleep; a typical event with this series), “I’d love to read the director’s edition of the book.”

Bottom line though: this was a great series. If you enjoy big rambling epics like Martin’s Song of Ice & Fire, you’ll probably have fun here. It isn’t -quite- as meaty as Martin, but it comes close. Keyes is a fantastic world builder. As the series starts the world is pretty pseudo-medieval ‘normal’ but as things go awry it becomes a more and more fantastical environment, and it all makes sense within the rules that Keyes built the world around.

His character development isn’t quite as strong, though its still good. Some of the characters tend to be too “purely good” or “purely evil” and there were a couple of shifts towards the end that were hard to understand. Again, these are nits, and characters like the charismatic Cazio or taciturn old Aspar White will stick with you long after you close the book.

Approaching the end of a series this long is always a bit frightening. Will all this time reading turn out to have been wasted if the author can’t pull all the strings together? That’s not a problem here, and Keyes even goes against what is currently accepted as good form, and offers an epilogue to ease us gently out of his world. Much appreciated, that was.

To recap, the complete series is: The Briar King, The Charnel Prince, The Blood Knight, and finally this one, The Born Queen.

A great series for fantasy fans.

Pere Goirot

To be honest, the only reason I’m doing a review of Pere Goriot is for the sake of completeness. I generally do a blog post on ever book I read, so I figure I should do one now.

But honestly I feel completely apathetic about the book. I bought it, years ago, after seeing the move Balzac: A Life of Passion starring Gérard Depardieu. Depardieu is a pretty amazing actor and he brought the writer to life in a way that I found fascinating, so I ran out and bought one of his books. And it sat on the shelf for years.

And now I’ve read it and wow, did it not live up to that level of anticipation. The tale is a simple one, of a young man newly come to Paris to seek his fortune. He is staying in a shabby little boarding house and that is where he meets Goirot, a retired vermicelli maker who has essentially squandered his fortune trying to keep his two spoiled daughters well-regarded in polite society. The young man, naturally, falls in love with one of the daughters, and she in her turn finds him young and handsome enough to make for an admirable affair.

I enjoy reading ‘classic’ books because they give us such a fascinating window on the times when they were written, and that’s where I feel most disappointed. Pere Goirot feels very modern when being read; that is perhaps due to it being a translation? Sure, we’re seeing events in 19th Century Paris, in a chaotic time when the class system is breaking down. And Balzac references other contemporary plays and books (which the translation team has admirably footnoted) so you get a feel of what was and was not popular, but the language itself just felt too modern to me. And Balzac himself is awfully, awfully wordy. There are a few scenes that go on for pages when a few paragraphs would easily have done.

Not a favorite of mine, and I’m not sure I’ll be reading any more Balzac.

The Amber Spyglass

First a reminder. I liked Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass well enough, and really enjoyed the next book, The Subtle Knife. I was excited to see how Pullman would finish things up in The Amber Spyglass, and now I know.

And the answer is…he doesn’t. Not really. Imagine The Lord of the Rings being written such that when Sam and Frodo finally get into Mordor, they find a “Crack of Doom Disposal Service” and hand The Ring over to it, and the rest of the book is about their friendship and no further word is ever heard of Sauron. Our last view of Minis Tirith is of the two armies coming together for a final clash, and never again do we visit that scene.

That’s how The Amber Spyglass works. I’m going to include some spoilers in this review, which I don’t normally do, but I can only hope that no one makes the mistake of getting involved with this series anyway. You’ve been warned, and ultimately there is nothing to spoil because the series has no real ending.

As the book begins we have Lyra and Will still traveling together. Remember that Lyra has been tagged as the next Eve, and there’s some huge prophesy about her that she’ll influence the next age of life on the myriad worlds. The church is determined to kill her so that she can never make some grand decision that she must make. Mary, from Will’s world, has been set up as the Serpent who will tempt Lyra/Eve from some new paradise. And oh yes, Asriel is making war on god/The Authority and means to kill him/it.

The first half of the book slowly builds to a huge climax, as you’d expect it to. This part felt slow but that was ok since we’re working towards the big payoff. And then in the midst of a climactic battle god dies, his first Lt. (who has really been running the show) is cast down. And suddenly the focus shifts to Lyra and Will and their discovering their hormones as they suddenly fall in love.

And that’s the rest of the book. Lyra & Will in discovering first love in some strangely vapid Disney-esque way. The church’s assassin makes a brief appearance but is taken out via a deux ex machina re-appearance of the angel Balthamos (spelling?). Neither Lyra nor Will are ever aware of these events. The two of them are with Mary, but all she really does is give them some food. She certainly doesn’t tempt them into doing anything. And in the end, well, nothing. The book ends with the two children going home, and that’s about that. The prophesy? Who knows? False, I guess. Unless it alluded to letting the ghosts out of the land of the dead, but really Will did that. And in the end, the angels repair the universe after Will gives them a quick “How-To” on window closing.

It was the most amazing let-down that I can remember ever reading; so much so that I found myself actually angry with the author. I mean, how do you manage to turn the death of god into a non-event? Or maybe that was his point, as an atheist…his way of illustrating that god doesn’t matter?

Maybe he wanted it to be a four book series and in condensing it he cut out a lot of the other happenings? I just don’t know. What I do know is that it was a terrible “ending” and I can’t stress enough that it makes the trilogy not worth reading. Which is a shame, because I was pretty excited at the end of The Subtle Knife.

A huge let down. Give this trilogy a pass.