Gotrek and Felix: Road of Skulls by Josh Reynolds – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the unexpectedly amazing Gotrek and Felix: Road of Skulls by Josh Reynolds.
“A novel that surpasses expectations by a hundred miles and keeps on going. Easily the best adventure that Gotrek and Felix have ever undertaken!“ – The Founding Fields
When I first read that Gotrek and Felix the Main Series was being put on hiatus to explore a new side-series of stand-alone adventures I was not very happy. Not because I don’t like the idea of stand-alone adventures for characters like Gotrek Gurnisson and Felix Jaeger, but because I wanted to see the main series continue. I still do, but I am more than happy to wait for it now after reading the marvel that was Road of Skulls which I now maintain is the best G&F book since Daemonslayer, which is the only G&F book that I think is just as good.
Gotrek and Felix are no strangers to war. So when they find themselves on the doorsteps of Karik Kadrin, the Slayer Keep, just as a massive army of Chaos arrives to destroy the Keep and offer the skulls and souls of it’s inhabitants to the Blood God, Gotrek sees it as another chance to find his long-sought doom to atone for the mysterious shame that he refuses to speak of, even when familiar faces from his past surface. But the Chaos horde is not just here in the name of mindless slaughter, it’s leader Garmr Gorewolf has a much greater plan in mind, one that will open a portal to the Realm of Chaos. Only Gotrek and Felix can stop him and save the world, but as the army marches on the Dwarf keep it could be that Gotrek’s hour of doom has finally arrived.
The story in Road of Skulls is completely disconnected from the main series. No direct mention of any of the main books or their events is made, rather RoS tells a self-contained tale that we can choose to put wherever we want in the main series or imagine as a parallel universe where G&F undertake a whole new set of adventures, which is the choice I like the best. But rather than being somewhat weaker for not being able to draw on that long-running series RoS actually sports a very strong story using the mystery of Gotrek’s past with new tantalizing hints and possibilities about Gotrek’s life prior to being a Slayer and for really upping the stakes for the world. This time it’s not just about finding Gotrek’s doom, it’s about saving the world. Reynolds has a great handle on what makes G&F such a good and well-loved series, and I think he definitely has more adventures with the unlikely pair in him.
The characters are one of the best points. Not only does Reynolds handle Gotrek and Felix with expert care, the change in authors is seamless and was a big concern of mine that Reynolds would change the pair in subtle ways, but they remain the same, Gotrek the stubborn doom-seeking Dwarf and Felix the reluctant warrior-poet with a dry wit, which gets a bit more prominent in this book and all for the better. And on top of that Reynolds introduces several very interesting new characters, one of which immediately jumped out as Character I’d Like to See Get His Own Series. Garmr Gorewolf, Garagrim the War-Mourner and Canto the Unsworn, the aforementioned character who deserves his own series, are just a few of the memorable cast that Reynolds creates solely for this novel. His Chaos characters avoid stereotypes, or make them amusing and cool, and I think it’s a sign of his strength that he can make mindless berserkers into nuanced characters.
The action is great, even by a G&F novel’s standards. Admittedly sometimes in a long-running series like this the action can become a bit stale, there’s only so many times Gotrek can kill a powerful foe without effort and have it still be as cool as it was the first time. But RoS resets all that and it felt like I was reading Daemonslayer for the first time again. Gotrek has many moments of awesomeness with his axe, as do many other characters who get their own battles and duels. Gotrek can’t kill every bad guy after all, if he did it’d just be unrealistic. The main battles are suitably epic and give the characters plenty of chances to do insanely badass and just insane things, i’ve got two scenes in particular in mind and they make me smile just thinking about them. Reynolds definitely knows one of the things that makes this series great, unrelenting action and feats of insane bravery and skill, and plenty of sage-worthy dooms for it’s characters.
The pacing of the novel is very good. It flows from start to finish, each chapter split nicely into Gotrek and Felix’s PoV and the Chaos side’s PoV usually from Canto the Unsworn or Garmr Gorewolf. Reynolds picks the right moments to switch between each side, showing the vital moments of the Siege of Karik Kadrin and giving us good character driven scenes and development. One thing that I really liked were the little references Reynolds makes to some obscure Warhammer lore, such as a mention of Necoho or the use of a Skinwolf or a reference to an older and less-known WHF series that I sadly haven’t read, but still loved the reference.
For my favourite quote there are plenty to choose from, but i’m going to go with this one because it sums up why this character is just so awesome,
“I am Canto the Unsworn! I serve no God save ambition! I serve no master save necessity!”
The ending is a little abrupt but I still liked it, especially the final moments that I think really sum up the essence of the Gotrek and Felix series. Reynolds brings his story to a close in a good fashion, focusing on the titular pair and their never-ending quest for doom and fame. I felt the book could have use a few more pages, perhaps 10 or 15, just to give some more closure to the events that happened near the end and for the final battle to be a bit longer, mainly the final duel which I thought was very good, but should have lasted a little longer. My only real quibble with the book was that Felix didn’t to kill anything of note, I know that he’s not the slayer but there was one fight that I felt he should have been the one to finish, not Gotrek. But that’s only a minor quibble, and perhaps Felix will get his chance in the next book.
For a great story, greater characters and a especially well-written return for the favourite monster-slaying duo of the Old World I give Gotrek and Felix: Road of Skulls a score of 9.2/10. Any doubts I had about this new G&F series were extinguished long before I finished the book, and looked back on with confusion after I finished the book. Mr Reynolds has done an amazing job with these long-running characters and I really hope that he will return, not only to them, but to who in this reviewer’s opinion is the breakout character of the book and give him his own return in the future. I don’t think I need to name that character, readers of the book should know whom I am referring to.
That’s it for this review. My next review will be for the Horus Heresy novel Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, so I can’t wait to write about my favourite author again. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!