The Art of Oneupmanship
I’ve accomplished a wagon load of reading this summer (5 books of A Song of Ice and Fire not withstanding) and finished the 12th novel for the Black Library’s Gotrek & Felix series, Zombieslayer.
Its a Warhammer-Fantasy series that follows Gotrek, a dwarf that’s taken the Slayer Oath to seek death in combat in order to atone for some past dishonor, and his human “rememberer” Felix, the character who’s eyes are used to see this world. Felix, as a young poet, took a drunken blood-oath with Gotrek to follow him and record his death in a grand epic so that his tale would live on forever. Gotrek’s either the best Slayer that ever lived, or the least-successful Slayer as he’s never been able to find a foe that could fell him.
Anyway, the series was originally written by William King. His first few books are absolutely brilliant, the third in the series, Daemonslayer, being my favorite. King took time away from writing after the seventh novel and left a void in his place.
Enter Nathan Long, a former (struggling) Hollywood screenwriter, who took Gotrek & Felix’s mantle up in the 8th novel, Orcslayer. Orcslayer is visceral, it has quick action and relentless pace. I re-read it two days ago in two sessions.
Anyway, I thought to re-visit Orcslayer because of Zombieslayer. These books by Mr. Long, while the titles may leave the uninitiated something to desire, are absolutely fantastic. The thing that really gets me about Long’s novels over King’s is his ability to amp up his conflicts one over the other over the next. Each situation is bleaker and more high-strung than the next!
Orcslayer sees Gotrek & Felix try to re-take a dwarven hold back from invading orcs. SPOILERS: Their first plan is sabotaged, the second has them run into trolls in the mines underneath the hold, then they must face the orcs and hold them off so a dwarf army can reach them, then the orcs become reanimated by some fell magic, then a group of dwarves they’d rescued is overcome by the same magic, then one of their companions and Gotrek’s oldest friend succumbs as well before even Gotrek and Felix square off near the end! Phew.
Zombieslayer takes that same pace and tries to one-up it. On a night where Gotrek & Felix have marched with a human army to deal with a massive beastman (think goat-headed minotaurs) herd and succeeded at the nick of time, an evil necromancer raises every slain man and beast back from the dead to conquer all humankind. It’s midnight, everyone is wounded and exhausted from fighting a war and then everone that has died that day stands up again. That’s page one.
Having fled 10,000 zombies, the remains of that army plus Gotrek & Felix hole up in a major castle to withstand this invasion and wait for reinforcements. Seems reasonable and safe. I was cringing in my seat, reading this book on a plane, when going over the passage where Long describes how the foul necromancer uses his magic to spoil every morsel of food the defenders had:
“Sister Willentrude was opening a sack of onions that had become black balls of slime. Bosendorfer was picking distastefully through apples and turnips gone brown and runny while Zeismann was cringing away from the hard sausages that hung from the beams, their casings split and giving birth to a swarm of flies…”
I put the book down after that passage and thought to myself, “That’s magnificent!” Every hardship and every conflict was more dire than the last in this book. I could not have appreciated the craft, the cruelty and malice subjected to his characters.
I know not where the story could possibly go after this, nor if Gotrek & Felix will have a 13th novel. I highly suggest it to those looking for solid Fantasy books – especially those familiar with the Warhammer universe. Nathan Long injected a shot of dinitrogen tetroxide (rocket fuel) into this series and I dearly wish to see more of where it is headed.