Monday, September 23, 2013


Wulfrik by C.L. Werner. A Warhammer Fantasy "Heroes" novel. Originally published by The Black Library, December 2010. Approx. 416 pages.

"A man may forge his own doom."

Perhaps no words in Wulfrik are more appropriate, more accurate, than these. spoken early on by an ancient seer to our titular anti-hero. An ominous proverb indeed, yet one that sums up the protagonist, a Champion of not one, but all four Gods of Chaos, and words that should be well heeded by all those who fall within his dread orbit.

C.L. Werner's brutal entry into the Warhammer Heroes fantasy series showcases a man who found himself privvy to the old Chinese blessing/curse "may you come to the attention of those in authority". Wulfrik the Wanderer is a brutal Norscan (Warhammer take on the Norse raiders) champion, who, after slaying an opposing king in the legendary Battle of a Thousand Skulls, boasts that he could best any warrior, even those chosen by the Gods. The four Gods of Chaos either took umbrage, or great humour, in this boast (I'm betting on both with stress on the latter), and decided to take him up on it. They blessed him with some bodily "gifts" (more on those in a bit), and charged him with tasks: namely, to kill a person or creature of their choosing and make gruesome offerings from the remains. These labours take Wulfrik to all the corners of the world, hence his title, Wulfrik the Wanderer.

To accommodate Wulfrik on these travels, he chooses from a pool of prospective reavers in his homeland of Ormskaro. These men undergo a dangerous selection ritual to obtain the glory of traveling with the legendary hero. Best of all, to expedite the journeys to these distant lands, Wulfrik has obtained a magical ship known as the Seafang; a longship with the ability to travel through the nether-world and come out at the chosen destination. So, essentially, a Warhammer Fantasy character possesses a ship capable of Warp travel. How cool is that?

Going into reading Wulfrik, I did not know many of the particulars of his lore. Knowing that this was the basic gist of his existence, I was a tad worried. Even though I have full confidence in Werner's writing skills, the thought that the book would be naught but a sequence of designated assignments had the potential to become very rote, very fast. Luckily, Werner added a very personal aspect to this tale. 

While Wulfrik is a brutal, heartless marauder/killer, he does have one person that serves as an anchor for his humanity; his beloved Hjordis. Hjordis is the daughter of Viglundir, King of Ormskaro, and overall scheming and duplicitous dirtbag. The hand of Hjordis was due Wulfrik for his part in slaying King Torglund in the previously mentioned Battle of a Thousand Skulls. However, the new destiny that has been dealt Wulfrik ruins his chances at marrying her, raising heirs, etc. This, of course, has not ended their love for one another. It has, however, prompted the King to find alternate suitors for his beautiful daughter, suitors that would solidify his interests for the realm (and mostly himself). Chief amongst these is the Aesling prince Sveinbjorn, a truly odious, gutless lowlife.

Upon returning from a 'task', Wulfrik is approached by Zarnath, a Kurgan sorceror with an offer seemingly too good to be true; a way out of bondage, a way to be human again. The means to attain the tools to accomplish this are almost assuredly fatal, and the asking price for the service is astronomically high. However, for Wulfrik, no price is too high for a chance at normality and the woman he loves.

Without wading into spoiler-rich territory, the rest of the work deals with Wulfrik's gambit, and the eventual fallout from it. What it all adds up to is a greatly enjoyable read.

To start off with, there's Wulfrik. There is no sugar-coating it, Wulfrik is every bit a mean bastard. He was a consummate warrior before gaining the Gods' "favor", and his "gifts" make him all the more nastier. To start with, he was bestowed with some distinctly lupine qualities; heightened senses of sight and hearing, as well as an elongated jaw full of terrible fangs. His second endowment is the "Gift of Tongues", the ability to understand and speak with (and occasionally pick the thoughts of) those he encounters.

In regards to his first gift, Wulfrik uses his enhanced capabilities for obvious battlefield advantages. To be honest, I would have loved to see him use his fangs more in battle. To go from chewing out some creature's innards to giving Hjordis a loving peck would have been a delicious nastiness.

For the Gift of Tongues, you might think this is a wasted one, especially since Wulfrik is a) not reknown for his diplomacy, and b) on a mission to outright kill those he meets, so conversation is not necessary. So how does he use it? Well, in the same way any bruiser whose job it was to travel the world kicking tail would; and that is to call all of his opponents "sniveling whoresons" (and other colorful terms) in their native tongues. It's a lot of fun, trust me. And just admit it, you'd love to do the same in a fantasy world.

Like I've mentioned, some might find Wulfrik irredeemable to the point of being a total lout. There is no soft center under all the crusty exterior. He is not the lovable rogue that will disembowel his foes, but then pick up a stray kitten and bring it on the ship. In all likelihood, he would punt the nine lives out of the cat and call it a "mewling inbred cur" while doing so. It's actually pretty amazing that so many would be so foolish as to try and double-cross someone that looks like the bastard offspring of Yosemite Sam and the female Tasmanian Devil, but lacks the charm or patience of either....

They weren't kidding about the "Looney" part....

Another great thing about this book is the sheer amount of creatures and races featured in it. Some of the various offerings include yetis, hobgoblins, fire dwarves, lammasu, and Chaos forsaken, as well as Imperial army units and elves. And Werner has captured the driving personality traits behind all of them; from the malicious cowardice of the hobgoblins to the calculating cruelty of the Sons of Ulthuan. I couldn't pick a favorite creature, but I enjoyed the fire dwarf arc the most. It's really good to get some more residents of the beastiary out there, not just the usual suspects.

Fans of Werner's narrative style will not be disappointed; his prose is as descriptive as ever. There is fiery dialogue, some wry humour, and fighting scenes that have a boxing-announcer vibe to them. As always, he carefully chooses his descriptive words, so that one never loses track of scale or size. This yields a nice payoff when some spectacular feats of magic are in play. There are fun references and Easter eggs (look out for a CrackerJack toy reference and a part that pays homage to a scene from Hawk the Slayer).

I cannot say that there is any part of Wulfrik that I don't like or find sub-par. The pacing is on point; there are no dull moments, there simply isn't time for them. This book also had one of the better final acts and epilogues that I have read in a while. The characters are fleshed out as much as they need to be for their respective roles. Personally, I'd have liked to see a bit more backstory or point of view from his marauders, at least the ones that had seniority. But, then again, some readers might complain that that would take away too much from Wulfrik himself in a book named for him. Therefore, the book rests upon his shoulders, and, in the hands of a less capable author, the entire work would have been a complete wash.

All in all, Wulfrik comes highly recommended. It is a nice, fun piece of true fantasy; something that sparks the imagination, not something that is trying to be alternative history but with swords and sorcery. Here's hoping for some short stories featuring Wulfrik undertaking more of his "tasks".

Here's what it is:
A bruising tale of a Chaos "hero" who is no hero in the classic sense. A stern warning to neither test the humour of capricious Gods, nor to trifle with those teetering on the precipice of sanity. More solid work by Werner.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

I know, I know, I made the corny jibe about Wulfrik's appearance above, but this is a damn nice cover. Great composition, rendering, excellent detail on the skulls. I had actually imagined more elongation on Wulfrik's jaw, but the snarling expression is great. The color scheme of the background matches the tone of the book marvelously.

Cover Final Score:


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