Monday, August 18, 2014

Sticks And Stones

Sticks and Stones by Jonathan Green. A Warhammer Fantasy short story, originally published by The Black Library, June 2014 (Warhammer Week). Approx. 28 pages.

Even though only four of the seven offerings piqued my interest, I've been waiting to get around to the short stories from the recent Warhammer Week. I tried to start off with Bernheimer's Gun, but, even though it is written well, it is written with too light a touch for what I am in the mood for. Option two was Sticks and Stones, a short story focusing on a group of the Empire's Pistolkorps as they chase down an orc shaman and run afoul of something far worse.

Sticks and Stones kicks off right in the middle of a heated fray between the forces of the Empire and the foul greenskins. As we meet our protagonist, Rutger Erlang, he is polishing off an orc boar rider before being dispatched to kill an orc shaman which has made short work of one of his comrades. Along with his fellow pistoliers (other young nobles led by a lowborn sergeant), they ride off to the orc camp and come face to face with not only the powerful shaman, but also an all-powerful, animated effigy of Gork (or is it Mork?) himself.

Sticks and Stones is a quick, fun read. It is a true procedural, popcorn actioner. There are no boundaries being challenged here. All that is left to the author is making an interesting matchup of combatants, and making the writing palatable. Here's how it fares:

For combatants, we have the Pistolkorps versus the orc shaman and the living Gork statue. This is an interesting match, since it is a play in contrasts of the height of Imperial technology against crude, base greenskin magic. Great concept, and fair execution. I just wish that Green had really gotten into how utterly unnerving the abominable orcish sorcery must have been for even stout-hearted nobles of the Empire.

As for characters, Rutger is a likable enough lead. He is resourceful, skilled, and also lucky. He is not so pure of heart that some highborn snobbery doesn't come through. The secondary characters, however, are simply assigned one trait/characteristic each and written around that. I also would have liked to see a little more focus on the shaman as well.

The writing is strong enough, as Green employs a rich vocabulary. His best work in the story is detailing the landscape; so much so that I felt as if I was riding with the pistoliers. The pacing never slows or stalls, either.

Yet, there are a few things that keep this good story from being great. Since this story focuses on troops using pistols, I would have liked more detail about the stresses and challenges of using and loading flintlock pistols under extreme pressure and against a daunting foe. I know these guys are the best trained in the Empire, just give me something that shows it.

Also, the living statue of Gork should have been a bit more frightening in its description. And finally, there is a moment of treachery followed by some karma-based reprisal. The moment of betrayal should have stabbed a little harder so that the revenge would have tasted a tad sweeter.

All nit-picking aside, at just under 30 pages, this is a good story to sit and read on a (thankfully) cool August afternoon while enjoying your coffee. A nice little action piece, focusing on the rank and file, which is always a plus.

Here's what it is:
The noble pistoliers of the Empire meet their match in the form of an orcish abomination. Will a little strategy and a lot of luck be enough to save the day?

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Another great cover by Alex Boyd. I'm sure that the cover is from a rulebook or supplement, but it is a great choice for this story. It's just that there is something, I don't know, familiar about the pose of the pistolier.

Well, to be fair, it is a pretty standard action pose....

Cover Final Score:



  1. Thanks for reviewing my story. I could have done with you as editor on this one. Some very useful insights.

  2. I really appreciate you saying that. I would have no idea how to edit a story, but I'd love to try it at least once.