Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Beneath The Black Thumb (The Realmgate Wars: Short Story 1)

The Realmgate Wars: Short Story 1 - Beneath the Black Thumb by David Guymer. A Warhammer: Age of Sigmar short story, originally published by The Black Library, July 2015. Approx. 30 pages.

Needless to say, I've had my fun over the last two reviews roasting some of the inherent silliness of the Age of Sigmar concept. Regardless, whatever I thought of Games Workshop's poor decision making habits, the two stories had their merits, and both had tons of blistering action.

Beneath the Black Thumb, the first short in the new Realmgate Wars series, caught my eye from the get-go. Look at that cover. What a great rendition of a Nurglite warrior. Plus, after nearly 150 pages of Khornate blood-fetishism, I was ready roll around in some of Grandfather Nurgle's foetid landscapes.

Boy, was I happy I did. Third story in. Third time's the charm. This story is excellent.

Except for one thing.

Seraphon.

More on that in a moment, though.

Beneath the Black Thumb opens with an arrangement being ironed out between Lord of Plagues Copsys Bule (a corpulent mass of rot and malice) and Kletch Scabclaw, an envoy from whatever realm the Skaven now scurry around in (I am still working out how this whole Realm system works). This opening scene is painted so well, I quickly fell in love with this short. The way Guymer integrated and wove a garden motif into Bule's rotted lands was masterful. He didn't just insert gross-out scenery; he makes it move, makes it flow in a natural manner despite it's unnatural origin. Outstanding stuff.

Guymer also knocks his portrayal of Skaven out of the park. He really gets into the psychology, the physicality, and the dialect. There is a delicate balancing act in writing for creatures like the Skaven; to not make them too comical, too cowardly, etc. Guymer juggles these factors with aplomb.

This being a short story (albeit one with a nice, fat word count, and nicely separated into 9 small chapters), it is imperative to usher in the big action scene nice and quickly. Up to this point, Black Thumb was already rolling along perfectly (there was even some brief, but excellent action featuring some orks, I mean orruks, and a horde aligned to Tzeentch). However, after an ominous warning, we see a pristine gateway in the middle of all the ruin. 

Oh boy, here come the Sigmarines.

But no, it was worse. Much, much, much worse.

Maybe I should blame myself for this. Maybe, once I saw the first lizard emerge, I should have gone to Google to see just how bad the new lizardman, err, Seraphon, fluff was.

I'm sorry, I have an imagination, and I have a relatively strong threshold within which I can suspend disbelief. But Starlight Lizards is just too damn far. That's right, in case you, dear reader, are like me, and not already read up on this, the Warhammer lizardmen are now space creatures, that come in via stargates, and have hollow bones and star magic inside of them. Star magic. Because we all know how well received sparkly vampires were (I was tempted to insert a picture of Robert Pattinson all sparkly in Twilight here, but I figured that would be too rude to a talented author like Guymer). And Blogger note: I am aware that there is a difference between well-received and lucrative.

What ensues is a vicious (and viscous) battle between the Rotbringers and the lizardmen. And, just approaching this from the mechanics of the fight choreography, it is awesome. When describing Bule in action, Guymer does an excellent job showing his trident in play. It's that weapon-specific kind of detailing that you really appreciate from an author. Even the lizardmen are handled very well. Just don't stop to dwell on the fact that you are reading about interstellar swamp dwellers that on one hand can forge meteoric rock into melee weapons. And on the other hand still use blowguns. Yes, we have traveled the stars to get into a protracted land battle, in which we will employ blowguns. The darts of which can fell Nurglite blightkings, no less. Plus, space pteranodons. Space pteranodons that drop meteor bombs. Make it stop. Please.

Take all that space nonsense away, and you have a beautiful battle between Nurglites and lizardmen. I cannot say enough how well-rounded this short is. But to be honest, and not to insult all the hard work that went into the Big Battle, the ending falls back into the same tone we opened with. And the story works so much better this way. The inter-Chaos politicking. The subtle, menacing power plays. It makes the battle scene, no matter how well-written, seem arbitrary and thrust in to name drop unit types. And that's what it is, because there are models to sell and all.

One thing I'd like to ask the readers to help me with is a spoiler-free, quick explanation of the possible Archaon aspect of this story. I still need to read Sander's duology, and the End Times books. A subtle sentence or two letting the less-informed reader (like myself) know a bit about what the mysterious watcher portends would have been a huge help. But even without knowing, this story is a slam dunk.

Then again, a very good reason why this story is so enjoyable is because it reads like traditional Warhammer Fantasy. 

But as much as I dislike the AoS aspects, I refuse to take any points off for the stardust lizard fluff, even though the concept is atrocious.

Here's what it is:
It is more than telling that the best Age of Sigmar story yet has exactly zero Stormcast Eternals in it. If the rest of the Realmgate arc maintains even a bit of this quality, it will be a great series. Get this short. Great job, David Guymer!

Final Score:

9.5/10

Cover Score:

Look at that bulbous lump of rot. Every aspect of this picture sells the idea of a wicked Nurglite warrior. The stance, the color scheme, the swollen, distended abdomen and protruding innards. Grandfather Nurgle would be proud.

Cover Final Score:

8.5/10


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