Defenders of Ulthuan by Graham McNeill – Review [Bane of Kings]

Defenders-Ulthuan-2011
Bane of Kings reviews the first novel in the High Elf Duology, Defenders of Ulthuan, by Graham McNeill, published by Black Library. The cover shown on the left will be featured on the reprint of this novel in September 2011, and as of such – it is an advanced review, however – this novel was originally released in 2007 – therefore it could also be listed as an advanced review. Due to the book already being published by Black Library however, I will therefore treat this review as though the novel is already available to the general public. (Which it is).
“An Epic Fantasy novel that must not be missed. One of McNeill’s best works.” ~The Founding Fields

It’s been a long time since I read any Graham McNeill novel, and I do believe the last one I picked up by him was A Thousand Sons, which put him amongst the New York Times Bestsellers, and set a stage for the future Horus Heresy books to come. However, as brilliant A Thousand Sons was, there are, I do believe – some books to avoid when buying a novel written by McNeill – for example, I struggled to get through Courage and Honour and The Chapter’s Due. So I was a bit cautious when I picked up Defenders of Ulthuan, but now I think about it, I probably shouldn’t have been.

McNeill takes an area that has not been explored in the past, in this case – being the High Elves, the ancient guardians of Ulthuan, and expands their culture, their lands and their way of warfare, fully developing these, well – elves, in a way that I’ve never seen done before. I’ve never read a novel restricted wholly to an Elf point of view, even outside the Black Library range – and what McNeill’s done here, has taken the unnatural and made it his own.

Defenders of Ulthuan was initially released in 2007, and has been re-released to coincide with its sequel, Sons of Ellyrion, and due to the very climatic ending, I can understand about why it is frustrating for some fans to have waited four years for the next book. I mean, would anyone of you want to wait that long for the next instalment of the Horus Heresy series, for example? Or for Harry Potter fans, imagine waiting for four years for The Deathly Hallows. That seems like quite a long time to me, anyway. But enough of my rambling. Here’s the blurb for Defenders of Ulthuan, taken from Black Library’s website:

The high elves have long been the protectors of the Warhammer World, and their homeland of Ulthuan is known for the powerful magic that surrounds it. At the heart of Ulthuan lies a magical vortex and the mages who created it remain trapped in a space out of time, endlessly working the spell that keeps the world from becoming a seething Realm of Chaos.

When Ulthuan comes under attack from the forces of Chaos and dark elves led by the Witch King and the hag sorceress, Morathi, the high elves must hold firm or face disastrous consequences.

In Defenders of Ulthuan Graham McNeill tells the epic tale of the struggle between good and evil.

I’m not an expert of the Warhammer World, but doesn’t the name of the Witch King ring a bell somewhere? Yeah, for any Lord of the Rings fans, it’s obvious – the Witch King is the leader of the nine Ringwraiths, who hunt Frodo and the Ring on his way to Mount Doom.

But regardless of this… certain lack of originality in the name, Defenders of Ulthuan I found to be a pretty engaging read. The main theme in this novel, is not all about good versus evil however, for you get the focus of attention being on Caelir and his hunt to regain the memories that he has lost, his body found washed up on the beach, demanding to speak with the legendary Prince Teclis, one of the greatest heroes in Elven society. Caelir is not alone in his adventure, as the Elf finds himself accompanied by two friends, Eldain and Rhianna who are revealed to be a lot closer to him than he initially expects.

The characters are varied and well thought out, and I’d go so far to say as the subplot of Caelir seeking lost memories is just as important as the invasion itself, although it takes a rather long time to actually happen.

But when it does happen though, it happens in storm. McNeill proves that he knows how to write action, and write action well. The battle fights are amazing, and he doesn’t let down until the last blow has been felled. As well as showing us at how awesome McNeill is at writing war, he makes the dramatic encounters of the battles add to the overall tension in the story.

I’m struggling to find a criticism about this book; it seems Defenders of Ulthuan’s re-release has reminded everyone as why he’s one of the best authors under Black Library. He ties in his subplot unbelievably well with the main plot, makes the characters likeable and believable (as High Elves, mind you), and produces effective dialogue between the characters.

And McNeill doesn’t stop there. The landscape, although – arguably, already made – is expanded on greatly, and the author does a fantastic job of creating the world of Ulthuan. The locations are well thought out, although – being completely clueless as to the established background, I cannot seemingly tell which belong to Games Workshop and which are McNeill’s own inventions, if you get where I’m coming from.

The locations are plentiful, the Island of the Dead – where if you sail close to it, you will see your own end, and the Gaen Vale, where it is told that a female Elf must embark a pilgrimage and visit it at least once in their lifetimes (note, Elves do live longer than humans do), and it also said that should a male visit it they are never seen again.

Interesting stuff, huh?

I think you’ve read enough of this review to know that I enjoyed this book greatly. As it happens, it seems to be a bit of an Elf/Eldar month for Black Library in September, so if you’re a fan of the elder races, than I’m sure you won’t want to miss this month. Path of the Seer, Defenders of Ulthuan and Sons of Ellyrion are all being released – and hopefully the other two are as good as this one. I hope you’ll enjoy the book.

Verdict: 4/5
The High Elves Duology: Defenders of Ulthuan, Sons of Ellyrion 

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