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Shadowhawk reviews Josh Reynolds’s debut novel for Black Library, Knight of the Blazing Sun, set in the Old World of the Warhammer Fantasy universe.
“A tale of betrayal, honour and strained loyalties, Knight of the Blazing Sun has something to offer for everyone.” ~The Founding Fields
Last year marked a resurgence in my interest for Warhammer Fantasy fiction, starting quite appropriately with Nathan Long’s Ulrika novels and Gav Thorpe’s Sundering novels. Warhammer, or Warhammer Fantasy Battles to give the setting its full name, is a very rich, very interesting, and very dark setting. The moral compass of the protagonists isn’t always as straight as you might expect and there is enough horror and betrayal mixed in that it makes WFB a very unique setting even among the wider selection of epic fantasy universes.
And one of the things that Josh has really excelled at in Knight of the Blazing Sun is playing up that imbalanced moral compass, especially where his protagonist, Hector Goetz is concerned. I am actually quite reminded of Reiner Hetzau from Nathan’s Blackhearts novels. While Hector is a Knight of the Empire compared to Reiner who is a spy against his will, they are both very similar in their approach to the world around them. Just like Reiner, Hector has to make deals left and right for the success of his mission and has to stomach some rather unwholesome events because of his responsibility to said mission. I have a feeling that if these two ever meet, they would make a good team. At least I hope so. Hector Goetz is a character to watch out for, that’s for sure, and if Josh gets a chance to write more stories about this young Knight of the Order of the Blazing Sun, he will definitely become one of the most well-liked characters in Warhammer Fantasy.
Knight of the Blazing Sun is a very different novel than the usual Black Library fare, since it is primarily about one of the Knightly Orders of the Empire. Unless I am massively mistaken, there hasn’t been a novel focused on Imperial Knights since Dan Abnett’s Hammers of Ulric, and that was quite a few years ago. As such, Josh Reynolds brings a very different tone to the setting, and it is very refreshing indeed. At least for me who has only read about Skaven, pathologically suicidal Dwarfs, warrior-poets, vampires, necromancers and spies so far. Several parallels can be drawn between the Knights of WFB and the Space Marines of Warhammer 40,000, especially where their doctrines and elite status is concerned. Being a massive fan of Space Marine fiction, this helped me connect easily with Goetz and his fellow Knights, from the Order of the Blazing Sun and the Order of Manaan alike, and that is a big plus. Coming off this novel, I quite fancy reading more about the Imperial Knights because my curiosity about these guys has definitely been piqued.
In terms of characterisation, I think Hector Goetz is almost spot on as a Knight of the Empire, although I couldn’t shake the feeling that he accepts what he is told by the people around him a little too easily too many times. Simply put, he is too gullible at times and it gets confusing. I expect him to be a staunch believer in Imperial mentality but he really isn’t. The fact that he is also a atypical Knight of his Order could play into this and validate how Josh handles him but I’m not sure. Its just one of those things that I’d really love to discuss with Josh in greater detail. On the whole though, he is a very likable and impressionable character and I wouldn’t mind reading more of his adventures in the Old World.
Goetz is not the only protagonist of the novel however. He is supported by a very surprising character that I did not expect to find in the novel: a Norscan female warrior named Dalla Ulfarsdottir. What I mean by that is that I did not expect her to be such a major character in the novel, in terms of her impact upon the plot and her hate-hate relationship with Goetz. Given that, and the portrayal of Norscans in the novel in general, I quite like the route Josh took her. There is an undercurrent throughout Knight of the Blazing Sun that maybe, just maybe, the Norscans are not as evil and terrible as they are usually presented. They are actually presented in a very positive light and this made for a great narrative since as a reader, I was never sure just what their motives were. And Dalla certainly helped further that illusion.
Of course, there is a great cast of supporting characters as well, from Knights of different Orders to Norscans alike and more. They are all distinct from each other and they all are always in-character. I certainly did not spot any slip-ups which means that Josh’s characterisation is solid, whether he is writing a novel’s leading characters or the supporting cast. I can also see great potential for quite a few of them to get their own stories in the future, which would be very interesting. Fingers crossed I suppose.
The pacing of the novel is the biggest drawback of it, at least in the first half. Things take off too slowly which almost put me off reading since the novel starts off so well with a great cavalry charge scene against Orks. After that though, it descends into a verbose narrative that is too full of intrigue and mystery. It just slows down and the scenes often drag-on. At times it feels like there is some kind of an in-joke the characters are privy to and one that is being kept from the reader. Fortunately, most of this vanished in the second half as the action really picked up, in terms of physical fights and more immediate intrigues. The second half consequently is much more enjoyable and in complete contrast to the first half, Knight of the Blazing Sun is quite hard to put down at this point. If Josh can work this dichotomic link out for his next novel for Black Library, then I think he will have an absolute cracker of a novel at his hands.
One of my other complaints about the novel is that it doesn’t have enough “proper” action scenes where Knights are concerned. When I think of the Knightly Orders of the Empire, I think of cavalry charges by warriors in full plate, swinging swords and hammers as they roll into an enemy. The opening battle sequence is one of the highlights of the novel and I wish that there could have been another one. It would have been a joy to read. Although that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the infantry warfare that occurs later in the novel. Josh’s action scenes are fairly visceral and adrenaline-pumping in their own right and they do keep you hooked. I was just after a different variety of action scenes.
However, in spite of all that, I think that Knight of the Blazing Sun is definitely a must-read novel if you like Warhammer Fantasy fiction. It brings something unique to the background without causing any fluxes in the warp-time continuum and is an enjoyable one to read. So I do recommend it.
My rating for the novel is an 8/10 and my expectations of Josh’s next, Neferata which is a novel for the Time of Legends meta series are quite high, given the subject matter and my rising appreciation for Josh’s work.