Saturday, June 22, 2013

The King of Black Crag

The King of Black Crag by Guy Haley. Published June, 2013. Approx. 25 pages. Warhammer Fantasy

Last month, I reviewed the superb Stormlord, an excellent short story by Guy Haley, a man who is not a new author, but is relatively new to the Black Library stable. Now, Stormlord is a companion to Baneblade, which I desperately want to read but refuse to pay $7.99 for an ebook, or $11 for a paper version, especially given it's horrible cover (seriously, I can tell you right now the cover score will be about 9/100). Now, in his introductory blog, Haley mentioned that he loved writing about goblins, and lo and behold, he has a full length goblin novel coming out, titled Skarsnik (which has an awesome cover, just look at that beauty). And luckily for us, a companion short story was recently released on Digital Monday. How do these two stories stack against each other? Stormlord was a gloomy, somber little slice of trench-war hell. Will Haley apply the same style of prose to a story featuring a bruising ork king and a goblin sycophant? Orks are a fixture of the Warhammer Fantasy and 40K worlds. When they are depicted solely as an adversarial force, it is standard to just focus on the horror of the horde mentality. Some of the Black Library's better authors will give them limited POV from time to time, however, and in those cases they are usually given a slight comedic touch. Sometimes a little humor helps a grimdark atmosphere. The King of Black Crag is the first work that I have read that stays completely in that ork/goblin POV, and I will say that Haley has done a good job with it. This story is a nice little treat; obviously not as harrowing as Stormlord, but solid evidence that he will be able to pen an interesting full-length novel about our favorite greenskins. And let's be honest, the Warhammer Fantasy segment could use a good shot in the arm.

King is about the hulking Gorfang (Troll-Eater) Rotgut, an ork lord who currently holds dominion over Black Crag, a mountain stronghold won from the "stunties" (dwarfs). He loves fighting, and gold (which he acquires from the toll roads his holdings host). What he doesn't like is thinking; and unfortunately thinking is an integral part of being a king. Luckily for Gorfang, he can delegate all that painful junk to his overrunt, Gabble. Gabble is a fat, crafty little goblin, and it is this shrewdness and sneakiness that has helped him hold his position as Gorfang's long-suffering overrunt for as long as he has. Which is either a blessing, a curse, both, or neither.But he's a fun character. He's fun to root for, and he's fun to watch suffer. Which I'm sure was Haley's point all along.

The story behind King is fairly simple, as befitting its length. King Gorfang, edgy and bored, debates whether or not he should kill the upstart goblin warlord over in the neighboring Eight Peaks territory. This little bugger goes by the name Skarsnik, which is pretty offensive, given that that is an ork name. But this Skarsnik is good at holding off skaven and dwarfs as well, which is good for Gorfang, except when it isn't good since he loves killing skaven and dwarfs. Hell, he loves killing goblins too. See how this thinking business can become a painful nuisance?

Gorfang decides to saunter off to meet with a local ork shaman, Zarrgakk, to pick his brain on the matter. He drags poor Gabble along for the trek. They have some encounters along the way (violent ones, of course). And that's it. That's all there needs to be. There is a shady night goblin wizard conducting some sneaky business, and some hilarious interplay with a bunch of taunting goblin guards at a defensive wall. But yes, this story is about the walk from Point A to Point B, and any satisfaction you will get from the story depends on how much you enjoy the interplay between the panicky, complaining Gabble, and Gorfang, with all his brutal joie de vivre

In case you are not familiar with how orks and goblins sound, enjoy this song that incorporates some soundbites from the Dawn of War: Dark Crusade Warhammer 40K game. Actually, you can enjoy this song without tying the voices to the story, simply because it's awesome as heck...

I cannot say there is anything that I do not like about this short story. At the end of the tale, I felt a slight bit worried, because I hope that Gorfang and Gabble will pop up in Skarsnik, even if only as supporting/background characters. Otherwise, it will seem kind of a waste. If this story was their one moment to shine, then it would have been better to assign them a definite fate in the story, and given it a comic, gruesome twist. There's no way to know for sure until I read Skarsnik, so more on that later.

Here's what it is: 
A nice little story, filled with playful prose, that shows that Guy Haley is perfectly capable of writing a full-length novel centered around those lovable little greenskin gobboes. As mentioned in the Stormlord review, it is up to the consumer to decide whether or not $2.99 is a fair price for 25 pages of story. Once again, for me, it was.

Final Score:


Cover Score:
The King of Black Crag is graced with a great cover. I do not know the name of the cover artist, but there is a signature of A.Smith on one of the sharpened stakes. This is the type of artwork that usually graced the Warhammer Fantasy rulebooks, and it features a huge ork (presumably Gorfang), and part of a goblin host. Like the classic Warhammer artwork, the detailing is amazing, but the final product is a creature that it is hard to believe would be able to move with any dexterity. But it serves its purpose of sparking the imagination regarding these fearful monsters. A great piece with nice colorwork, although the green skin seems a tad darker than I would imagine it to be.

Cover Final Score:


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