Neferata by Josh Reynolds – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first book in the Blood of Nagash trilogy for the Time of Legends books set in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles setting.
“With Neferata, Josh Reynolds brings the kind of excitement that was lacking in Black Library’s previous premier Vampires trilogy from Mike Lee and tells a focused story about one of my favourite characters from across the Warhammer Fantasy lore.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
That opening quote is not meant to be an indictment of the work that Mike Lee has done on the three Nagash novels for the Time of Legends meta-series. More so since I’ve only read the first book in the series, Nagash the Unbroken. I simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped to. However, I do have to say that after finishing Neferata, which can be seen as a sequel of sorts to Mike’s trilogy, I really do want to go back and read the book, and the two books that follow it. So that’s a point in favour of both Mike and Josh. Vampire fiction in Warhammer Fantasy has a very specific vibe that I enjoy, which should be no surprise given how much I’ve enjoyed Nathan Long’s Ulrika the Vampire trilogy.
Neferata itself is an interesting book. Much like Nathan’s books, this one is told from the perspective of Neferata, one of the most powerful of Vampires in Warhammer Fantasy fiction, and this is how she comes to be known as the Queen of the Silver Pinnacle. This isn’t an origin story per se, since she is already a Vampire and has already survived for centuries. This is more of a “resurgence” story, the building up of the actual legend.
In a welcome similarity to his previous novel for BL, Knight of the Blazing Sun, with this book Josh has hit the dark, gritty tone of the setting spot on, much better in fact. Perhaps that’s also because he is writing about established characters while Knight of the Blazing Sun was, to my knowledge, about characters that he had created himself for his WHF short stories. I definitely prefer Neferata over that book. Reading about established lore characters is always a thrill since its fun to see how the writer brings his or her own understanding to these characters and how they spin them off. Reading about Neferata, Arkhan the Black, Abhorash and the others was a joy and I certainly want to read more of their adventures.
In a second similarity, but magnified to a great extent, Neferata contains much more political intrigue and betrayal than Knight of the Blazing Sun. Which is as it should be since these are all Vampire lords and ladies of great renown and their history is one of contention and infighting, which has always typified the relationships between all the different Vampire orders that we are familiar with in the current Warhammer timeline. Neferata marks the origin of much of this discontent that will no doubt become prevalent later on in the lore, and to see it unfold makes for some really interesting reading.
In terms of the characters, Neferata makes for an unrepentantly awesome one. The novel is about her taking charge of her destiny, and her fate, by reclaiming everything that she has lost due to betrayals and her enemies alike. If there are two words to describe her long term plans, they would be “cold hatred”. She hates the men because she has had nothing but betrayal and deceit of one kind or another from them over her long life, and even before. Josh takes that core element of her character and he runs off with, reinforcing that part of her personality over and over again. And in the midst of all that, he also takes the time to write some really excellent action scenes involving magic and a vampire’s favourite weapon. This adds to her character quite a bit and shows that a Lahmian vampire isn’t just all about deceptions and guile, she is about kicking the “bad guys” all over the place when the situation warrants it.
Another element in favour of the novel is how ever-present Nagash is in the novel despite not showing up at all. It lent the novel a horror vibe of a most different kind. Nagash, the greatest Necromancer in the Warhammer world, and the “true” lord of the undead, has a certain hold on all his creations and Josh uses this concept to create a situation where Nagash is in the novel, and yet he isn’t. The scenes involving his… presence are certainly quite creepy.
And then we have the rest of the cast supporting Neferata. We get to see quite a few of the oldest Vampire lords here, such as Ushoran, Abhorash and Arkhan, to name a few, and we also meet the various Dwarfs of Silver Pinnacle. There are also a few underlings in the novel, such as Neferata’s various handmaidens who add to the character, attitude and personality of their mistress quite well, serving to flesh her out even more. To be honest, there isn’t a character in the novel that I did not like. There were a few I would have liked to see more of, such as Abhorash and W’soran, but I wasn’t disappointed by any of them.
Josh’s skill is in writing some really interesting and engaging characters, and Neferata shows that off to great effect. Each of his characters is driven by certain motivations and beliefs. And he brings them all together into a series of events where these motivations and beliefs pit them all against each other. The game of intrigue that is played throughout the novel is like a game of chess, except there are more than just two players on the board and everyone is at each other’s throats, in private if not in public.
This is the kind of infighting that has always defined the Warhammer Fantasy setting for me. Much as C. L. Werner does in his first Black Plague novel Dead Winter, and Nathan Long does in both his Blackhearts trilogy and his Ulrika trilogy, infighting and intrigue are central to the normal workings of every single faction and dictate how their interfactional relationships play out.
I only really have two criticisms of the novel.
The first is that for most of the novel, each chapter is preceded by a flashback sequence that details various times in Neferata’s long life and they showcase how far she falls from her heights of glory and how she attempts to reclaim what she has lost again and again. I don’t have a problem with the content as much as I have with the non-linearity of these scenes. They are vignettes that serve to showcase the contents of the particular chapter and they are all linked to each thematically, but the constant jumping in time, both in the flashbacks and in the ongoing narrative get a bit confusing. I had to recheck the dates several times to be sure of when the current chapter, in full, was set within Neferata’s history.
Second, there was often a lack of detail on previous events. Josh does a great job of linking back to Mike’s trilogy, but the details were often frustrating. And I wonder if that’s more to me not having read those books or just a case of “not enough information, period”. I’m really not sure about it, but either way, it did hamper my enjoyment of the novel.
In the end though, Neferata is certainly one hell of a book. The final third, with the narrative centered primarily around the Silver Pinnacle is the stand-out section of the novel and the story ends on a fairly satisfying conclusion, all things considered.
Note: This novel is graded according to a new ratings system, the details of which can be found here.