Swords of the Empire by Various Authors – Book Review [Eroldren]

Swords of the Empire

Eroldren reviews the Warhammer fantasy anthology, Swords of the Empire, edited by Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, a with short stories from Robert Earl, C.L. Werner, Gordon Rennie, James Wallis, Jonathan Green and Dan Abnett.

“Straightaway, there are six stories that all deserve recommendations. Together, it’s a brilliant compilation of grim page-turners.” – The Founding Fields

In the grim world of Warhammer, the bloodthirsty followers of the Dark Gods ravage the land. It is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of sorcery. It is an age of battle and death, and of the world’s ending. Amidst all of the fire, flame and fury it is a time too, of mighty heroes, of bold deeds and great courage! Swords of the Empire is a storming collection of all-action stories including a brand new Storm of Chaos story by the award-winning author Dan Abnett and a new story featuring Zavant the great sage detective of Altdorf by Gorden Rennie!

“The Vampire Hunters” by Robert Earl

Out in the northern wilderness of Kislev the harden people are prepared to withstand the season of winter rolling in. But monsters of darkness can as well break in. So when foreign wanderers express the knack for completing successful hunts, and accept to end the menace, what can go wrong? I’ve gotten my fair share of vampire entertainment from various film and games, although never vampire fiction and Robert Earl’s “The Vampire Hunters” was my first stab at them.

The author already left a decent impression just previously from the Dark Imperium anthology and now I’m setting a higher level of expectations: would he deliver another concrete, self-contained short, but, a standard BL story with a stronger touch of grimdark? Yes he did. What I gotten here was certainly the type of BL pulp I wanted: a grim setting, character-driven, action and a twist.

Though I’m not overly familiar with the Warhammer universe unlike its sci-fi counterpart the vampire in question did bring up minor confusion. Robert does convey the imagery of the named bloodline well-done, but, for the likes of me new to Warhammer, it meant nothing at all until a quick online research filled in the visual gaps and lore about the said subject. Horrific fiend it is all I can say.

With a newfound interest for the fantasy genre I’ll say that Robert Earl kick-starts Swords of the Empire with a splendid beginning. I do look forward picking up his novels one day.

“Meat Wagon” by C.L. Werner

Safe travels throughout the Old World with the blessings of Sigmar are smooth rides, right? Well that wouldn’t be appropriate for the coach company without roadside danger ahead with questionable coachmen, plus the arrival a witch hunter in need for transportation: Matthias Thulmann.

From what I know, C.L. Werner is a very well-established author within Black Library’s range of fantasy, usually keeping himself in rather grimy territory. Most notably of all: being among the vermin company of the skaven. He’s author of the well-received Thanquol and Boneripper novels, the ongoing Black Plague trilogy, and but of course, the series sharing the name of the character staring here. So it’s safe to say he’s been providing BL quality stories.

Beyond knowing it’s a Matthias Thulmann short story, I have no inkling where “Meat Wagon” would be slated in between the Witch Hunter novels. What possible background developments that leads to this point for now eludes me. Standalone-wise, C.L. Werner’s short story is a quite simply enjoyable and enticing ride of mayhem. Throughout the plot, I did find myself comparing the protagonist akin somewhat to the vein of Solomon Kane – Robert E. Howard’s “knight errant” puritan. Warhammer’s own Solomon Kane is a notion I like and don’t mind at all. Sometimes finding familiar concepts elsewhere can strengthen the appeal that another strange world has.

“The Case of the Scarlet Cell” by Gordon Rennie

Without doubt Gordon Rennnie’s story for Swords of the Empire is one the highlight of the anthology. Zavant Konnigers, the gentleman-sage of Altdorf and his halfling manservant, Vido, are called back to the capital to investigate the gruesome murders that have recently captured the attention of the city. An individual is suspected of the killings, however, where down the bloody trail of clues leads the duo is up to their wits.

Relatively it’s a simple detective plot, and over the course of the story reaching nearer toward the end, the packed details of the world (or rather the city’s establishments and inhabitants) engaged me, resulting in an entertaining tale. Gordon Rennie has left me a newfound respect and I do look forward sometime later reading the rest of his work.

But, there is one gripe I have and that is: how would’ve Gordon pushed further with Zavant and Vido’s characters in more shorts, and possibly started a possible full-blown novel (series)? To my understanding this was the fifth and last Zavant installment published under its creator’s name. “The Case of Scarlet Cell” is great and I wonder how the other cases written beforehand would fare. As tempting as it is to grab the rest, I can manage by without the detective cases for the time being.

If anyone does want the “incomplete” set, over at Black Library, under the Direct Exclusives is a title available with all five stories complied. But for the folks who still wanting more of the gentleman-sage, watch out for the upcoming 25th Hammer and Bolter issue. Zavant will soon make his comeback in “The Problem of the Three-Toll Bridge”, picked up by Josh Reynolds. He’s out to solve apparently a seemingly reckless duel gone wrong, with a young Felix Jaeger as the prime suspect, and facing execution.

“Rest for the Wicked” by James Wallis

One of the Elector-Counts of the Empire, a ruler of an Imperial province, is visiting Altdorf and assassination attempts are naturally are made against him. Two Imperial officers, Grenner and Johansen, caught up in the events are tasked to uncover the whereabouts of the culprit and work out the facts to determine the foul play.

Keeping to the confines of human, James Wallis explores a side that I’ve not typically seen: in political affairs. As I went further into the story I enjoy picking up the tidbits of information adding to my understanding of Warhammer lore. Though by the time we reach the mystery’s closure, it was somewhat border on the lines being cliché. But, with a little twist, I can’t complain about it since I haven’t been bombard by the trope (of that I recall) anything book-wise that’s been pulled off. “Rest for the Wicked” not quite as fantastical in as the rest before and coming afterwards, it’s a cutthroat facade that I can enjoy for its own merits.

Alas, only a couple books been written by James, now out of print: Mark of Heresy and The Mark of Damnation. Both which are although combined in a Direct Exclusive named Marks of Chaos. James Wallis done a good job and I wouldn’t mind reading his remaining work.

“The Nagenhof Bell” by Jonathan Green

In the small town of Nagenhof, towered over by a temple of Morr, tense matters rising between its priest, Father Ludwik, and his adopted hunchback son, Otto ensue. On the other side is Dietrich, a retired mercenary now a settled innkeeper, is asked by an old comrade to consider rejoining his former outfit and take command.

In the buildup leading to the climax there are interesting developments between our first protagonist group, the pair revealed some insight into one the apparently major faiths of Warhammer and how one can regard the world. Especially, when certain words are exchanged. And so later when a particular unholy bell then begins to toll, summoning the attention of loathsome creatures, Jonathan turns the story over to the secondary group of protagonists (the mercenaries), and there we’re enter into the stuff that satisfy a Warhammer fan: action, fire and blood.

I’ve read some of Jonathan’s shorts for 40K, and like “The Nagenhof Bell” he can give us impression that he’s a well-versed writer and worth to keep an eye out for.

“Swords of the Empire” by Dan Abnett

Lastly is the mentioned Storm of Chaos short written by Dan Abnett, one of Black Library’s most welcomed authors. Before getting into detail, “Swords of the Empire” isn’t quite actually set within Archaon’s Chaos campaign waged against the Empire, but rather a development set prior to it.

That aside, the overall plot is the recounted mission of a Reiksguard Knights company sent into Kislev to safeguard one the Collages of Magic wizards as he goes about learning the foreign arts of the northerners for the benefit of the Empire. Largely the whole plot from start to finish is told in a mix of a journal narrative format penned by the commanding knight, Jozef von Kassen, and scenes slipping into firsthand perspective and dialogue. Just about everything you would’ve look out in here to appease your liking inside a reading hour just paces along fine.

In conclusion, there is that one problem that I mentioned before: “Swords of the Empire” was setup as pre-Storm of Chaos. Realizing that hence brought down my level of immersion by a slight notch, despite how great a story Dan Abnett offered us here. Being well-acquainted with Black Library range of titles, I would’ve imagine this topic been an fan-base issue at hand that Black Library will eventually address: Time of Legends – “The Everchosen’s Ascent”.

Swords of the Empire a decent introduction to Warhammer Fantasy. You may not get all lot more extra variety like the books published nowadays, even with 253 pages, each story just as meaty enough as they are today still. With a rekindled interest in Warhammer (and fantasy just general), every each story left behind subjects of interest that I’ll need to figure out how to pursue them all at a late date.

When I was gradually filling out my reflections for the book, I honestly couldn’t scrounge up faults anywhere that may’ve brought down a story. Gripes yes, for what could’ve been or realizing some the authors have discontinued writing for Black Library, but nothing on the stories themselves. In most of the 40K anthologies I’ve read previously, somewhere there’s always are those low points here and there. However, in the case of Swords of the Empire, I would consider that the entire set is definitively a solid steal.

Overall Verdict:   10/10.

Eroldren

Eroldren, a SFF follower of both tie-in media and original works, enjoys rereading books frequently. So be warned, he might bring out sometimes his share of older and heavy duty titles alongside the newcomers.

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