Shadow King, a Tale of the Sundering by Gav Thorpe.
Black Library Publishing
522 Pages of visceral, bloody adventure.
When his family is betrayed and slain, Alith Anar, ill-fated prince of the Nagarythe, is forced to walk a dark path. With the island of Ulthuan in the grip of a civil war with their evil counterparts, the druchii, Alith Anar follows his destiny to become the Shadow King. Hunting his enemies from the darkness, he is now on a quest for vengeance that will never end.
A few months back Gav wrote a post in his blog regarding cutting out "faffy" words. A lot of writers use a lot of excess language to get a point across where Gav tends to cut to the meat of the story and carves his way through the pages at a fevered clip.
The Shadow King is another great example of this. To be honest I was hesitant about whether Thorpe could pull that off. I mean...over 500 pages. That seems pretty wordy to me. So I sat down and set about consuming and digesting this thick tome (larger than anything he's written to date I believe page-wise. Don't quote me but I *think* that is accurate.)
As per usual Gav gets right to it. The stage is set and things start going to hell...fast. This is the second book of The Sundering, following Malekith. I haven't read the first book, and I understand that there is some overlap between the books: the first segment covers the events of Malekith from a different angle and the second segment delves in to wholly new territory.
Now having missed out on the previous novel, the intro is breakneck. This isn't a complaint. Hardly so. I want the story...not a wordy intro on the same ol same ol. Some writers, even really good ones meander a bit when starting a novel. Gav tends to bull straight forward.
One of the best parts in reading Gav Thorpe's books is that he's a smart writer. He's a pro when it comes to hooking you right in at the first few pages. He grabs you by the nose and drags you kicking and screaming down a road that you *KNOW* is going to end badly. Especially in writing about events considered "history" in the Warhammer Fantasy or Warhammer 40,000 universe.
A lot of the time we have the broad strokes of what the story is about far in advance of the novel ever being read. The story of Alith Anar is a prime example of that. We all know that Alith Anar is the last of his line, prince of Nagarythe. His family murdered, and his revenge is eternal. Blablabla. Yeah, we know.
The Shadow King delves in to territory we didn't even know existed. He paints Morathi and the Witch King and others in vibrant colors. You get to understand a bit of the "why" of the story. You see just how far the elves had fallen in many cases and as a reader you can grasp the "why" of Alith's plight and to a certain degree understand why he snaps the way he does. It's a deep and treacherous story.
In many ways, the elves of Ulthuan are alien to us. They are elves. We're human. They are different. They see life in a very different way. Almost a manic-depressive way I guess is a good way to describe it. To a certain degree we won't fully understand the characters or their excesses...but where the writer really nails it is in illustrating them in such a manner that allows them to be seen as alien, but close enough that we can largely sympathize with the characters.
As a writer, in order to have a character we care about, we as readers need to be at least a little sympathetic. We have to understand. Thorpe is able to keep the Elves slightly alien while telling a story about a character whose whole world is utterly ruined and his subsequent rampage of death and revenge. In no way does the story leave you flat or uncaring or wanting to simply skip a page. Sometimes when we get bored with a character or what is happening we do that.
I think the main reason for this is because the characters aren't bi-dimensional, 4-color comic book toons. Alith Anar is one messed up dude. Serious. He's got problems. He's not perfect. He's not the shiny perfect High Elf lordling riding a pegasus whose farts sound like angels singing.
It's not black and white. That's really saying something considering how dark the druchii are. Think of Alith Anar as being kind of like an elven Batman. His scars are deep, and revenge...brutal. You almost feel sorry for the druchii...almost.
The battle scenes are epic in scale and seem tactically smart. Some thought on how forces would maneuver definitely went in to it. There is a definite feel of the mythic fairy tale of shimmering hosts, and gleaming spear tips and lances and coats of maille. Banners flying, beats on the ground and in the air. Seriously good battle than seems all mythic and shiny...and dwindles down in to the more brutal reality of the aftermath. Like it starts at sunrise and goes until a bloody sunset and a night of weeping over the dead. Really moving stuff. Then there are the skirmish-level bits: raiding caravans and Special Forces/ unconventional warfare stuff.
Again Gav Thorpe does a masterful job in playing our heart strings. It was a damn good read. 5/5 on this one. Previously I thought 13th Legion was his best, most visceral work. This one really matches it. I have a hard time admitting maybe better...but...maybe it is.
Five Stars out of Five!