Gotrek and Felix: The Anthology – Advance Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first ever Gotrek and Felix anthology, containing stories from current series writer Nathan Long as well as some new blood.
“A good mix-up of stories spanning the entirety of the duo’s career, the anthology has something for everybody.” ~The Founding Fields
Gotrek and Felix: The Anthology is the first such compilation that features the most famous slayer-remember duo in the Old World, Gotrek Gurnisson and Felix Jaeger. And truth be told, it has been a long time in coming because there are only so many full-length novels that either William King or Nathan Long could have put out in an in-universe career that spans nearly two decades and a bit extra. Not to mention that there are just so many fantastic stories to be told. And that’s where the anthology fits right in.
The first story is the novella length Slayer’s Honour by my favourite Warhammer fantasy writer, Nathan Long. Nathan is one of those few Black Library freelancers whose work oozes perfection. At least for me. Like I mentioned in my Jane Carver of Waar review, I have yet to read any of his work that I did not like (in fact, the aforementioned novel forced me to redefine what I thought of as being the perfect novel!). So I had extremely high expectations of this novella and I was certainly not disappointed.
Slayer’s Honour is far more than just a regular Gotrek and Felix novel because Nathan uses a pair of new characters to shine a much-needed introspective light on the career of the two titular heroes. Agnar Arvastsson and Henrik Daschke are another slayer-rememberer duo, although they are far less famous and are comparatively young in terms of experience. Where the story is concerned, they provide Felix with an outside yet personal perspective on the years he has spent with Gotrek, fighting one monster after another, one army after another. It is a technique that resonated very well with me and even though we have had another slayer join the two on their journeys before, Snorri Nosebiter, Nathan has managed to set Slayer’s Honour well apart from that.
The pacing of the novella is, as is usual from Nathan, excellent and punchy with not a boring moment in sight. I was basically racing to finish the novella because I was totally hooked into the narrative and wanted to find out what was about to happen next throughout. A real page-turner. The twists and mysteries are well done, as is the action, which is extremely varied and has just the right dose of danger and humour mixed in. Two thumbs up to Nathan and Slayer’s Honour!
Next up we have Josh Reynolds’ A Cask of Wynters. This short story is quite a departure from the previous one as it focuses on Snorri Nosebiter and some new (temporary) comrades of his as this addled slayer continues to seek his doom. The always lovable (as only a slayer can be) Snorri is joined by another slayer, brand-new to the job of seeking a glorious death in battle, Grudi Halfhand. What’s unusual about the novel is that it is an equal tale about both Snorri and Grudi rather than the former being the chief protagonist as one would initially expect, like I myself did. However, that did not take away from the purpose and intent of the anthology for me and neither was I bored because of that omission.
A Cask of Wynters is fast, and it is punchy. Josh sets a real quick pace and what he has really succeeded here is in making this as much of a humour piece as it is an action piece. Going up against the most common menace in the Old World, the Orcs, the two slayers and their knightly companions are a curious mix of comrades on their quest to redeem Grudi’s deceased family. I certainly quite enjoyed their banter and Josh’s own take on Snorri and slayers in general, because it was rather fresh. It is certainly amongst the best of the bunch although it does suffer from not showing enough of Snorri. Perhaps Josh can fix that in his next piece!
The third addition to the anthology is John Brunner’s A Place of Quiet Assembly. I am not familiar with any of Brunner’s previous work and this story doesn’t really motivate me to try out any of it either. Gotrek and Felix are very much the sideshow here to showcase a down-on-his-luck businessman Henkin Warsch. This is a real slow-burner of a story unfortunately and coming right after the previous two stories in the collection, it doesn’t compare well with them at all. The slow pace, the focus on Warsch, the near incidental cameo from Gotrek and Felix and all made for a very unenjoyable experience. Which is a shame since the concept of it is intriguing but it is the execution that let’s it down.
Next we have Kineater by Jordan Ellinger. This was downright enjoyable from start to finish. Not just a straightforward slayer seeking his doom story, Ellinger uses this one to provide some outside commentary on Felix’s own experiences on his journeys with Gotrek. By that I mean that one of the duo’s companions on their journey to Araby is a writer of far greater fame than Felix, one he actually looks up to in fact, comments on his writing skills. It made for quite an engrossing side-plot. Not to mention that the big, bad enemies this time around are not the usual bad-guys of the Old World, Orcs or Skaven or Chaos, but Ogres. And some quite funny Ogres at that.
A highly enjoyable tale that, for me, means I would like to see more of Ellinger’s work, perhaps even some original stuff within the setting. Kineater has a good pace, some great characterisation, lots of humour and some great action scenes with Gotrek fighting Ogres, especially the titular character, the Tyrant Kineater.
Ben McCallum’s Prophecy is next in line. Once again, a rather dreary story that is difficult to connect to. The narrative progresses as if there is going to be a huge pay-off in the end but it all really fizzles down into something that has little to no impact on the reader. It is masterfully written with some great descriptions and prose, but there really is no ending to it. Prophecy comes across as if it is merely the first half of a larger narrative. It has some good moments spanning some of the earlier Gotrek and Felix novels and is very much a, story from the other side, but it failed to work for me on a whole lot of levels. A disappointing read.
Coming next is David Guymer’s The Tilean Talisman. I came quite close to liking this one, but once again, it didn’t really work for me. When reading a short story, I almost never like it when a key part of the actual ending itself is shown right in the beginning. It really kills the fun of reading the story and figuring things out for myself. I don’t get how my expectations are supposed to be built up by the end of the narrative. It has a promising premise and it features Skaven quite extensively in it, with Siskritt being the primary protagonist here. This is mostly an average story that almost seems to work but doesn’t. Decent pacing, lots of descriptions that make for a fairly atmospheric narrative, and some average characterisation make this just a decent story. However, I’m not interested in reading more of David Guymer, unless he comes highly recommended.
Then we have Andy Smillie’s The Last Orders, a downright engrossing tale that had me hooked from the beginning to end. It has some similarities with A Place of Quiet Assembly but in this case, the style works much better. I like stories that have twists out of the left field, ones you don’t see coming that totally leave you with your jaw open in stunned disbelief. Just as with Josh Reynolds, Andy has a prose style that is fast-paced and punchy with the occasional humourous bits thrown in for good measure. This was a story that makes me want to see more Gotrek and Felix from Andy. He is definitely a worthy addition to the list of writers for these two characters. So get writing Andy!
Coming on the heels of Andy’s excellent story is C. L. Werner’s Mind-stealer. This short story brings back everybody’s favourite Grey Seer, Thanquol, and his erratic companion, Boneripper. Werner is an excellent writer who always pays a great attention to detail and who writes some really high-quality stories. Mind-stealer is right on par with all the other stories in the anthology that I really liked. Thanquol, while a bad guy through and through, is one that is always endearing no matter what. He is quiet possibly the most self-devious, scheming, and traitorous character in Black Library fiction. William King created a very unique character and Werner definitely does him great justice.
Mind-stealer is a story that works on so many levels, whether it is the prose style, the pacing, the characterisation, the twists and turns, or just the sheer entertainment factor. This is easily a story that is not for everyone because it is quite specific in its purpose and serves to show the utter futility of hope and ambition in the Old World. This is something that is right up Werner’s alley. If anything, I’d say that Werner and Reynolds are quite similar in their approach to the Old World and that together, they deliver well on the expectations they create.
The second-last story in the collection is another Nathan Long piece, The Two Crowns of Ras Karim. Continuing on from Slayer’s Honour, in terms of expectations, this short story is definitely fighting for the top spot in the anthology. It is a typical Nathan Long short story that hits all the points of making this both a Warhammer story and a Gotrek and Felix tale. The action scenes are fantastic, the pace is perfect, the characterisation is spot-on and this is as much a unique story as any of the other top ones in the anthology. The only thing I can fault this short story on is that it is perhaps too cheerful of a Warhammer story by the time the final climax hits.
The Two Crowns of Ras Karim is set in the lands of Araby, telling one facet of their journey to that distant land. This in itself is quite a novelty. To my (inextensive) knowledge, there are next to no tales of Araby in Black Library fiction and so seeing part of the culture and the people of Araby was highly enjoyable. With some great action scenes, this is very much top-notch stuff and a great piece to wind down the anthology.
Finally, the last story in the anthology is Richard Salter’s The Death of Gotrek Gurnisson. This is a highly promising story based on the title and accordingly, my expectations of it were exceedingly high. I mean, seeking a glorious death in battle is the dream of every slayer and if a story is titled as such, it better really deliver on the goods. However, it was all for nothing. This is quite possibly the flattest story in the entire anthology. It just doesn’t work at all because throughout, there is absolutely no sense of mystery or intrigue. Salter and the characters give the game away repeatedly throughout the narrative to the point that the twists aren’t twists. Very, very disappointing and very surprising too, considering that is the finisher story of the anthology.
It is also a very simple story that is told in a rather unexciting prose that evokes little to no feelings from the reader. Very average in and of itself. If it were me, I would not have placed this as a finisher at all.
Overall, while I expected a much higher quality of stories, I am not too disappointed with it. Nathan Long, Josh Reynolds, Jordan Ellinger, Andy Smillie and C. L. Werner make up for the drabness of the other stories. Three of those writers delivered as normal and the other two managed to surprise me so I consider it a job well done. Now if only these five would write more Gotrek & Felix!
Also, this anthology is proof that not all Gotrek & Felix stories need to feature the titular heroes, but that the side-characters are also interesting in their own right and deserve the spotlight now and then.
So in closing, I do recommend the anthology novel because of those six stories that I really liked. They are absolutely fantastic and really serve to broaden the setting as well as the Gotrek and Felix mini-verse.
Overall Verdict: 8/10