I must begin this review with a teensy confession. I bought this book by mistake. I was actually after Iron Company by Chris Wraight, and what with the very similar covers and the fact that I was in my local Games Workshop and was distracted by all the shiny toys…you get the idea.
I had few expectations starting it; I was (and still am) building an Empire army for Warhammer Fantasy and needed some inspiration, and this seemed to fit the bill. Hey, I just realised–this is my first review of a Warhammer Fantasy novel! Fantasy is sooo much more fashionable these days.
The book, part of the Empire Army series, tells the tale of a unit of Halberdiers called the Grimblades and their part in the battles centered around the invasion of the goblin king, Grom the Paunch. The book also explores the political intrigues of the incompetent Emperor Dieter IV and Prince Wilhelm’s desperate efforts to fight off the invasion in the face of Dieter’s apathy.
This book is unashamedly aimed at fans of the Warhammer world and seems unsubtly designed to sell more toy soldiers, or such was my unshakable impression. The story starts off with a boatload of characters, each as cliched and unremarkable as the next. The pace of the story is such that there is little time to get to know the protagonists, and I was over the halfway mark of the book before I was familiar enough to recognise the characters by name. In fact, those who often had the most detailed backstory were, as it turned out, relatively minor players.
The combat scenes read like a novelisation of a game of Warhammer Fantasy; I could almost hear the dice hitting the table as I turned the pages, and Kyme’s use of terms taken straight from the army books was astonishingly irritating. He often referred to the “animosity” of the Orcs and Goblins, a game rule that represents their willingness to fight each other if no other entertainment can be found. This was barely explained or explored, and the enemy is utterly ignored as a source of potential characters, leaving the story very one-sided and shallow.
What baffles me the most is the fact that I know from other works of his, most notably Salamanders, that Nick Kyme is a gifted author. Which leaves me with the strong feeling that this “battle report” novelisation is what he was commissioned to write! But a good story well told will sell miniatures more effectively than this regurgitation of the army books.
To be fair, there are scenes in the book where his talent shines through, and one or two characters who are more memorable than the rest of a very forgettable cast. The fist fight between two members of the Grimblades while in camp is a page-turner, and the hunting down of an assassin is an equally gripping tale, all the more so for being surrounded by banality.
The spymaster, Ledner, is one of the more believable and compelling characters, while Brand (a member of the Grimblades), though a little cliched, is well written and grabs your attention. From a character perspective these are the only ones that left any kind of lasting impression.
A good ending can go some way towards leaving a favourable impression, which is why it’s a shame that the ending is painfully hackneyed and adds insult to considerable injury.
Overall my experience of this book was a very frustrating one. I only finished it in order to write this review. There may be those of you baffled by my experience, and perhaps it is for you that the book was written. It certainly wasn’t written for me.