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Shadowhawk reviews the second novel by up and coming Black Library explosive (metaphorically speaking) favourite Sarah Cawkwell as she gets both feet wet in the Old World.
“With action scenes that leap off the pages and intrigues that are as bloody and brutal as they get, Valkia the Bloody is proof that Sarah Cawkwell can write Warhammer Fantasy as well as she can write Warhammer 40,000.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve reviewed enough of Sarah Cawkwell in the last nine months or so that it really is no surprise (or should not be I suppose) that she is one of my favourite writers who are currently writing for Black Library. Whether it is the grim darkness of the far future or the Old World populated by Daemons and Space Frogs, she writes with an ease and comfort of style that makes it all seem so approachable and easy. With her second full-length novel for Black Library, she shows that oft-desired quality every reader looks for in an author: the ability to grow with their work and show off that you can write more than just an action-packed battle scene or a down-and-dirty intrigue-ridden monologue.
Valkia the Bloody is a Warhammer Heroes novel that tells us how you a young shieldmaiden of one of the countless tribesmen of the North became one of the greatest champions of the Blood God, Khorne. Start to finish, this is an uncompromising and at times almost heartless narrative that keeps you occupied with promises of gore, death and mayhem at every turn. As a complete package, this is almost all I could ask for in a Black Library novel and for my money’s worth (metaphorically speaking again as this was an ARC), this novel is something that I’d really tell all of you to go out and buy soon as you can.
If for nothing else, get this novel because of how Valkia herself has been portrayed. When we first see her, she is a young and precocious child, barely eleven, who already has dreams of grandeur. And a feeling of course that she is destined for truly great things. Then she quickly grows into a battle-hardened warrior, one whose ambition is ready to burst out of her in a tide of blood and when the moment arrives, she grabs it by both ears and pulls it closer. Valkia is utterly ruthless, pragmatic, uncompromising and bloodthirsty. Always looking out for the number one, sort of, does that to a person I believe. She is a strong character and she holds the entire narrative in her fist, making Valkia the Bloody a character-driven that really pays off by the end. It’d be a fair and realistic comment to make that I was enamoured with her since her first appearance in the novel since she is never portrayed as anything BUT strong, believable and realistic. She is very much a take-charge, do-my-own-thing type of character who is never afraid to ruffle feathers and break with traditions if that is what it takes to succeed.
There are some other characters in the novel that really pop out from time to time, but given that this novel is very much focused on Valkia, Valkia and Valkia, they unfortunately don’t make as lasting of an impression. In a way, I like that tight focus on the main protagonist, but I think seeing more of her, and the events she sets in motion, through the eyes of these secondary characters would have really taken the novel to that next level. Valkia’s father Merroc is one of these characters, as are her daughters Eris and Bellona. And then there is Locephax himself, the daemon of Slaanesh the Reveller who sets Valkia on that last path to her inevitable ascension as the consort to Khorne the Axefather. Each of these characters offer a unique viewpoint into how Valkia behaves and acts, although Locephax is never a POV character himself; not much at any rate.
The novel is branded with the Warhammer Heroes logo. To the best of my knowledge, as this is the first such novel I’ve read, the series is meant to tell the tales of some of the greatest heroes and villains on both sides and show why they do what they do, what continues to drive them. This is very true and relevant for Valkia herself as she is one of the oldest characters in the setting, chronologically speaking and, again, to the best of my knowledge. The atmosphere and mood that Sarah creates leads me to believe that the events in the novel are set sometime around the time when the Empire was being founded by the Godling Sigmar. The Schwarzvolf tribe’s greater ignorance of the Chaos Gods and their true aspects lends well to this notion. As such, the novel is a great character study. Valkia’s greatest motivations are that she despises weakness and that she wants to go further than anyone else in seeking out true glory. This makes her the perfect champion of the Blood God.
For me, the novel started off really well, with that young and precocious version of Valkia that I talked about earlier. From thereon, the pace kicks up considerably and soon we are in the middle of a battle with another tribe and, soon after that, to Valkia becoming the sole undisputed leader of her tribe, just like her father before her. The pace slows down a little after that as we see a lot more of Valkia in her absolute prime and she sets about increasing her own prestige and that of her tribe, taking the latter to heights undreamed of by even her father. Some of the scenes here were a little too far down on the pacing track for me. I generally took a break from reading at these points. But once the narrative gets to the point where Valkia begins to understand the true aspect of Khorne and of her own place as a warrior dedicated to him, the pacing picks back up.
The last third of the novel in particular, is really well done. Valkia’s trek through the Chaos Wastes to seek out Khorne’s throne starts out a little shaky but by the time that climax happens, I was turning the pages as fast as I could. Valkia’s… arrival shall we say… was handled perfectly, and so was her inevitable ascension. Sarah’s narrative really kicks into an overdrive at this point and these scenes were really descriptive. I wish that the author has spent more time really delving into the whole process and given us a lot more of Khorne’s realm of Endless War, even though that would have been rather unfeasible for the narrative to handle in terms of the novel length. I think that could have been a really purposeful and to-the-point cool moment to include. Perhaps in any future work,we can get exactly that.
Which brings me to the closing stage of this review. I really want there to be more tales of Valkia. We already have a short story in the Age of Legends anthology, titled Bloodraven. We have a short story from the Black Library Live! 2012 Chapbook, titled Reaper. And then we have a super-short story that was put out as part of the 15th Birthday celebration for Black Library, titled Blood Blessing. Goes without saying that I’ve enjoyed all three of them. They all add something rather unique and exciting to the mythos of Valkia the Gorequeen and Consort of Khorne. And that is what I want to see more of. An audio drama would be perfect to the task. The voice-acting of the female artists in Black Library’s various audios hasn’t really wowed or impressed so far, barring Thorn and Talon but I have high hopes that can be easily remedied. A Valkia audio would, I think, be perfect.
And all in all,Valkia the Bloody is a truly great novel. There are a few iffy bits, such as the slow pacing in the middle of the novel and the frequent time jumps (necessary but slightly annoying where the narrative at large is concerned), but it holds well enough on its own. For that reason, I’d really recommend this to all fans of Black Library fiction in general and Warhammer Fantasy in particular. It brings something new to the table, a female Chaos champion who is as brutal and ruthless as the best of them and does not suffer in any way from being a woman, as many fantasy novels at large tend to do. That’s really the selling point here.