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Lord of the Night reviews the entertaining and quite funny Warhammer Heroes novel Headtaker by new author David Guymer.
“An engaging and bloody story rife with madness, betrayal and characters that defy the mould of their species to surprise the reader.” - The Founding Fields
A new author is always a matter of interest for me, one that poses a few questions each time; Will I like their work? What topics will they write about? Will they handle the things I enjoy well enough? David Guymer answered all three of those questions with his first full novel Headtaker, and each answer was very satisfactory. Queek Headtaker is one of my favourite characters in the Warhammer setting and I must give David Guymer the compliment that this novel deserves. Most authors make the Tabletop Characters like Queek great, but Guymer did something that none of the other authors have done yet. He improved Queek Headtaker.
A war is brewing in the dark depths of Skavendom. Weapons from the ancient Dwarf hold of Karak Azul are flooding into the contested warzone of Karak Eight Peaks, a war between the Goblins of Skarsnik, the Dwarfs of King Belegar and the Skaven hordes of Queek Headtaker. Queek is tasked with stopping these weapons by destroying Karak Azul, but as Queek’s madness threatens to unravel the carefully constructed plan his allies begin to wonder if Queek is the right warlord for the task. Can Queek bring down his enemies both within and without, claim the heads that are rightfully his and prove once and for all that nobody is stronger than the Headtaker? He has one advantage, his enemies believe him mad and a fool. They are right about one of them.
The story in Headtaker is a very enjoyable one, and one that is truly unpredictable as befits both the Skaven as protagonists and the insane Queek Headtaker as the lead. Guymer’s choice to start the story with a prologue whose purpose only becomes apparant later is a good choice, and led to a cool reveal later on. I would also say that for once I enjoyed the Dwarf storyline, and my distaste for the Dwarfs is palpable, but I liked the Dwarven protagonist and I found the moral of his story to be a good one. But it was Queek’s story that really shone, I couldn’t guess how it would go as Queek really was a character whose actions couldn’t be predicted, and Guymer took it in some very interesting directions that kept me glued to the page, though my love of all things Skaven helped. But I really did enjoy Headtaker from start to finish, though the middle section of the book felt a bit jerky as I felt there was one too many scenes that skipped over parts to narrate them later, which made it feel like certain characters were leaping all over the place.
The characters were the best part of the story, which is always a good thing. Queek Headtaker of course was the standout, but another gem was the Skaven Sharpwit. Both he and Queek are not ordinary Skaven, both could be considered mad by more “proper-thinking” Skaven, but both are dangerous in different ways. Queek’s insanity is a more palpable thing, it is very clear that he is mad and yet he is a compelling character for while he is definitey insane, he is not stupid and it shows very well in his actions and the result of the story. Sharpwit is another type of character entirely, one that displays some very un-Skaven traits and becomes a stronger character for it, one who can show the flaws of Skavendom while at the same time showing it’s strengths. The Dwarf characters were also fairly enjoyable, though all but one were the norm for Dwarfs which of course meant that while they were writtten well enough, I didn’t care for them, but the Dwarf protagonist was another character who defies the mould of species and for that reason I liked him. And on a final character note, Guymer’s brief Orc characters were also very enjoyable for being menacing and Orky at the same time.
The action in Headtaker is as brutal as you’d expect from a novel featuring Skaven, Orcs and Dwarfs, but Guymer takes it a step further by showing why the first two are such dangerous fighters but for different reasons. We also finally get to see how the Dwarfs fight against the Skaven in their own nests and it’s a pretty damn good scene. Guymer’s action scenes are quite enjoyable for not, again with this analogy, cast from a mould. Each scene feels unique from the rest from a Skaven assault on a Dwarven mine, to a Dwarf attack on a Skaven nest, and even a valley battle between Orcs and Skaven. The scenes are also visually well-d0ne and each one feels picturesque, something you can visualize clearly and see the battlelines being drawn and blood being spilled. Queek’s own fights were very good, at different times showing his strength and also showing his limits, which is a good thing as no character is invincible but at the same time we need to see what makes Queek so feared, which I think this novel accomplished admirably.
The pacing of the story feels a bit slow at times, though admittedly for me it was the Dwarf scenes that felt slow and that is due to my self-professed dislike of them. The middle section also felt a bit slower due to the aforementioned jumpiness to some of the scenes, but for the rest of the story the pacing is good and readable. Guymer’s take on the Skaven is as good as I had hoped, and in some ways better than I had hoped, he gets what makes the Skaven a race to be feared and one that you can laugh at at the same time, even Queek managed to be funny more times than I would have expected, and Guymer also managed to make the Dwarfs if not likeable for me, than tolerable which is more than anyone else has done so far. He has a good grasp of Warhammer and I think that this first novel proves that he is a worthy addition to the ranks of Black Library, and his next novel Gotrek and Felix: City of the Damned will hopefully prove that beyond a doubt.
My favourite quote, plenty of awesome Skaven chatter but this line from Queek is my favourite though with many close contenders,
“Queek not hear-listen dead-things. Dead-things listen-hear Queek.”
The ending is a good one, though Queek’s own felt a little abrupt and was definitely not what I was expecting, but such is how things are when multiple Tabletop Characters are involved. I admittedly did not predict how the Dwarf ending would turn out, but it wasn’t surprising in the least though I stress that is not due to David Guymer’s writing, it is due to the nature of the Dwarves. Guymer finishes the story on a very interesting note, and answers a question that is probably going through the heads of every reader and every Skaven character in the book bar Queek. Why does Queek’s clan tolerate him? The answer is an interesting one and explains why a mad-thing like Queek has prospered in Skavendom, that and the many other reasons that he shows during the course of the story.
For an enjoyable story, a great cast of characters especially the demented Queek, and plenty of bloody and exciting action scenes I give Headtaker a score of 8.5/10. This is a great debut novel for David Guymer, of course I must say thank you to him for choosing to write about the Skaven and especially about Queek Headtaker, not often one of your favourite characters gets his own novel but when it happens it’s definitely something to be pleased about, and that the novel was a great one as well just makes it even better. I will definitely be keeping an eye on Guymer’s future works although the only one known so far is his coming Gotrek and Felix novel, City of the Damned. I would recommend Headtaker to any Skaven fan and to anyone who likes reading about villains, it’s definitely fun to read a character who is both mad and compelling.
That’s it for this review. Next will be Fist of Demetrius by William King, and I hope it’s as good as his previous entry in the Macharius series Angel of Fire and not a similar experience to my last novel by him, Sword of Caledor. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!