Bloodborn by Nathan Long – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first Ulrika the Vampire novel, a spin-off series inspired by and featuring a character from the popular and on-going Gotrek & Felix series.
“An intense, action-packed novel that delves into the life of a recently-turned vampire struggling to find her place in the world.” ~ The Founding Fields
My previous run-in with Nathan’s work was the excellent Blackhearts Omnibus, featuring the adventures of Reiner Hetzau, a former Empire pistolier, and his companions as they are sent on one dangerous mission after another to atone for their crimes. The omnibus was a great read for me, considering it was my first ever Warhammer Fantasy novel and therefore served as an excellent introduction to the setting at large, given the wide variety of situations and enemies that Reiner and his friends go up against.
The next was Orcslayer, part of the on-going Gotrek & Felix series and while not as good as the Blackhearts Omnibus, it was still a good enough read, particularly with its various twists and turns that keep you on your toes.
And that is why I picked up the Ulrika novels in a heartbeat at Games Day this year. I really wanted to get back into the Warhammer world and knowing that Nathan’s work has always entertained me, Bloodborn and its sequel Bloodforged were one of my first buys. The Warhammer setting is different to most other fantasy settings precisely because it is so much darker than these other settings and is very unique in almost everything. It is also one of the richest settings I have ever read about and as sort of a rough counterpart to the grim-dark of Warhammer 40,000 it is one I have always enjoyed reading about in the past.
Bloodborn is the first novel I read after a near two month hiatus and I was immediately hooked onto it. I finished it in roughly two sittings and it is one of those very, very few novels I have ever read that I finished so fast. In fact, the only novel I finished faster than this would be Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which I finished in a record 5 hours.
Nathan’s writing just flows so well from page to page that it is hard to resist putting this novel down at all. Having read the Gotrek & Felix novels featuring her ages ago, her history was something I didn’t remember at all unfortunately, but that was not a problem at all. Past events from the original series are referred to throughout the novel, particularly since Ulrika still has rather deep feelings for Felix, and so it was hardly much of an effort to keep track of all these events.
One of my first reactions to the novel as I was reading through was that how simple Nathan’s writing is. There is no unnecessary, flowery language. The action scenes, of which there are quite a few, are all short and well-packed and each is unique. Ulrika, even though she is somewhat angsty and quick to temper at times, doesn’t mince words. Which suits her character fine as she is a Boyarina of Kislev and was a soldier in her father’s army before she was turned. The dialogue from the other characters, a few of whom have quite “wordy personalities”, is also short and to the point.
Simplicity is always a big plus for me. I have read some overly wordy works in the past and while my experience with them overall has been rather hit and miss, it has been more of the latter and less the former. So I enjoy novels which tend not to be grandiose and verbose. Because they are easy to get lost into for all the wrong reasons.
In terms of his characterization, I think Nathan is right on the money here. Being a new Vampire, especially one who was tricked and seduced into it, Ulrika’s motivations and her actions are all believable. Which is all well and good since Ulrika the Vampire now moves in a very different society and is part of a very different culture than Ulrika the Kislevite. Her new “friends”, if we can call them that, are particularly antagonistic to her without even realizing it since they are all Lahmians, a Vampire bloodline which almost exclusively relies on trickery and subterfuge to achieve its ends. Ulrika the Kislevite finds such scheming and plotting rather distasteful of course, but Ulrika the Vampire has to learn to live with it, for her own good.
The strong characterization is not something that is monopolized by Ulrika. Her mentor Countess Gabriella von Nachthafen, the various Lahmians in Nuln, young and old, and Templar Friedrich Holmann, a Witch Hunter of Sigmar, are also all portrayed rather superbly and consistently. The Lahmian nature is emphasized throughout the novel and never gets tiring because the situation that the characters find themselves in is so intricate and fragile that a misstep can bring it all crashing down on them.
The same goes for Holmann, whose zealous nature is apparent from the get go, as is his single-minded, focused dedication to his work. He is also the dashing, young hero of sorts in the novel and Ulrika, given her longing for Felix and Max, is irresistibly drawn to him and their romantic entanglement is nearly heart-breaking to watch because their natures are completely inimical to each other. Suffice to say that things don’t end well for either of them, even after all of Ulrika’s attempts to assert her humanity over her own alien, Vampiric nature.
Vampires generally are never the good guys, or girls as it were in some cases, and therefore finding myself cheering the Lahmians to find who is killing them one by one was rather exciting and surprising. The plot almost moves sideways at times but it is always progressing as well so that is not one of my complaints at all because Nathan plays the guessing game with his readers. Whenever it looks like things are looking up for Ulrika and her new sisters, their world once again turns upside down. And that is the beauty of the novel really because Nathan doesn’t make these constant upheavals in his characters’s lives over-bearing or a chore to read. They are all fresh and to the point.
It is almost like reading a fantasy murder thriller, and who doesn’t love a good thriller?
One of the best tidbits in the novel is a discussion between Ulrika and Gabriella as the two of them travel from Sylvania to Nuln to assist the Lahmians there. The discussion revolves around the different Vampire bloodlines and gives very tantalizing hints as to what really makes them all tick. Ulrika’s confusion at all the intricacies is something that the reader can well relate to and I found it to be a nice touch by Nathan.
The issue of different bloodlines among Vampires is not something that I have really come across in the larger Vampiric literature/media out there so this was one of the most unique things about the novel. You definitely get the feel that you aren’t reading about your stereotypical Vampires but something different that stands on its own. That all of this connects very well to the larger Warhammer setting is of course a plus point.
My only real, serious gripe with the novel is its ending. Nathan does a good job of building up this possible ending, giving it a near inevitable feel but when it all rolls around, you are still hoping that the inevitable doesn’t come to pass. This ending is all the more poignant and powerful because Nathan doesn’t beat around the bush with it. It is a shocking ending for sure and almost callous in its execution. I mentioned how much I liked the simplicity of the rest of the novel and this is that one moment in the entire narrative that I wanted Nathan to elaborate and really draw out.
That he didn’t speaks well of his style. He keeps you guessing until the end of the novel and that is not something that many authors can do well. Nathan makes it look too easy in fact, so kudos to him.
If you are a fan of Warhammer Fantasy in general, or a Black Library fan even more generally, or if you have always wanted to partake of more Vampire Counts literature after Jack Yeovil’s Genevieve novels and Steven Savile’s Von Carstein novels, then Bloodborn is for you. Even if you are a new entrant to the setting, you will find that the book is very easy to get into it and it eases you into the larger Warhammer world with a nice pace and lots of references to events that happen in other novels. So yes, I will most definitely recommend the novel to anyone and everyone.
As for its score, there are slight editing problems in the novel, mostly just a couple name swaps and the odd word here and there that are misspelled and therefore I find it difficult to give the novel more than an 8.5. But, that ending, just that ending, pushes it over the mark and because the whole experience in general is so good, particularly for a returning reader like me.
Therefore, I give Bloodborn a 9/10.