Warhammer Heroes: Van Horstmann by Ben Counter – Review [Lord of the Night]

He's an armoured sorcerer on a two-headed dragon. There's no way that that is not awesome.

Lord of the Night reviews the top-notch Warhammer Heroes novel, Van Horstmann by Ben Counter.

“A thrilling story about a deep, complex and unpredictable character with plenty of epic magic on the side. Counter’s first Warhammer Fantasy novel is a rousing success.” – The Founding Fields

Now my very first thought when I heard about this novel was “Who the hell is Van Horstmann?” And after I read a little of the blurb released shortly afterwards I again wondered who the hell this guy was, i’d never heard of him before then. After some brief research into the character I became very excited for the novel, and surprised that such a cool sounding character would lapse away from WHF. Indeed it has been more than ten years since Egrimm Van Horstmann appeared in the Champions of Chaos 5th Edition supplement to Warhammer Fantasy Battles. But Ben Counter for whatever reasons decided to bring him back and I not only applaud that decision but also hope that this will resurge his popularity and get Van Horstmann into the 9th edition of Warriors of Chaos where he belongs.

There are stories whispered across the Empire of a dark warrior. A warrior who wields sorcery as others would wield a sword, master of a two-headed abomination that breathes the aura of death and can devour entire armies whole, who is sworn to the God of Lies and is his foremost champion among the realms of mortal beings. That warrior’s name is Egrimm van Horstmann, but every story has a beginning and this is that beginning. Of how Egrimm van Horstmann, young student of the Light Order of the Colleges of Magic in Altdorf, the most promising student in an age, would unleash a dark force of ruin and destruction upon the Empire in the name of the Dark Gods, and perhaps in service to something far more dear to him.

The story of Van Horstmann is one of the most welcome kinds when it comes to characters like Van Horstmann, an origin story. Counter chooses to tell the origin of Van Horstmann, of how he became a Champion of Chaos and focus solely on that story rather than tell it through flashbacks mixed with a new story about him. But I think the novel is much stronger for that, as it allows the story to flow much more smoothly and not have to interrupt the story with the telling of another one. Counter does a very good job of creating a story that is primarily character driven, giving it a strong narrative with many moments of beautiful imagery, nearly all of them involving magic, and keeping the story tightly connected despite it’s span of at least three decades.

He's an armoured sorcerer on a two-headed dragon. There's no way that that is not awesome.

He’s an armoured sorcerer on a two-headed dragon. There’s no way that that is not awesome.

The characters are a strong point of the novel. As Van Horstmann is a relatively obscure character and has never appeared before this, to my knowledge, Counter has been able to craft his personality himself and Van Horstmann himself is a very very good character. His mentality stands out amongst most other followers of the Dark Gods, and his mysterious motives make him a very complex character and one who I could not predict what he would do next. I would say a little more but it would be spoilery to discuss some more interesting elements of Van Horstmann’s character so I will leave it at that. But Counter also creates a strong supporting cast, my favourite of which had to be the Daemon Hiskernaath who was evil yet rather crudely funny; characters on both the Chaos and Imperial sides are just as strongly written as each other and the variety Counter shows in the mages of the novel is a great addition.

The action of the novel is the next strong point, not only for the scale of it but also for the descriptions of magic. Counter forgoes subtlety entirely and that makes it so much better, after all what is cooler? A magic that subtly eats you away or a giant hailstorm of purple fire that disintegrates you, or comets falling from the sky into masses of enemy infantry, or daggers of light flying everywhere to pin down enemies and scorch them. Because all of those things, and many more, feature in the novel and are written with beautiful descriptions that make them easy to picture, which is always worth many points when discussing a book’s battle scenes. Counter certainly knows how to write magic battles and duels, which of course is only fitting for a novel that features it so strongly.

The pacing of the book is very well done, especially considering the time-span in the book. I estimate that at least two-point-five to three decades pass during the story, necessary for the plot to advance at a believable pace, and Counter manages to make Van Horstmann’s actions and the ramifications of those actions last through the entire novel. Personally I found the novel to be a very easy read, one that despite dealing with such abstract concepts with as magic and the aethyr managed to make it all understandable and rather easily at that, the idea of a viewpoint into magic really helps in that regard, and of course the story is spread in just the right way that I kept reading because I had to know what would occur as a result of what just happened until I was at the end.

Now for my favourite quote, a few funny ones stand out but i’ll go with what I found to be the most chilling quote in the novel, especially regarding what came after it,

“You made a choice.”

The ending is dark as the characters meet the fates they deserve and or earned for themselves. I personally found the ending to be grimly amusing, at one part quite horrifying for what happened to one character, and a further reinforcement of an aspect of Van Horstmann as a character that I won’t talk about here, but I was damn impressed by it, and by the resolution to the story. I must also say that the final sentence was a very good choice of words to end this story on, if you want to know what they were get the book and read it for yourselves, but I felt that they were fitting and at the same time an interesting statement about the entire novel and about Van Horstmann.

For a great story with a damn fine protagonist that had me guessing and surprised at every turn, and for one of the best depictions of magic that i’ve read in some time (as recently it’s become a trend to have magic be understated and subtle and sometimes you just want to see giant fireballs and beams of light) I give Van Horstmann a score of 8.7/10. This is a novel I would easily recommend to anyone who likes reading about villains, and for any veteran fans of Warhammer Fantasy who want to see a classic character return from the grave. If anything this novel is why Egrimm van Horstmann and Baudros should return to Warhammer Fantasy and hopefully this book and the reception to it will be able to convince somebody to at Games Workshop to make that a reality.

That is it for this review. Next I will be reviewing the always hilarious Ciaphas Cain in his latest adventure, The Greater Good by Sandy Mitchell. Looking foward to it. Until next time,


Lord of the Night

Lord of the Night is one of TFF’s original reviewers. He’s done quite a few for TFF and that number keeps expanding. You’ll enjoy his diverse mix of book reviews. Always a treat.