Wolf of Sigmar Discussion (Spoilers)

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Wolf of Sigmar Discussion (Spoilers)

Postby Lord of the Night » Sat Jan 25, 2014 4:22 pm

Well the Black Plague trilogy has finally ended, and it was quite the ending. Without a doubt this has been my favourite of the Time of Legends series, obviously the Skaven being the antagonists is the main reason for that, but also because my favourite fantasy author C.L Werner penned it. And finishing Wolf of Sigmar I am very pleased with how the final book went, I may have some quibbles with it but i'll explain those below.

The format of the book, leaping back and forth between the final years of the Skaven-Man-Things War continues from Blighted Empire, this time the key focus being on Mandred and his crusade, while other characters like Kreyssig and Vanhal are moved to a supporting role, which makes sense really as Vanhal isn't the focus of this series (Though he could have been with his excellent portrayal in the trilogy) and Kreyssig as the story's antagonist gives way to Warlord Vrrmik and Warpmaster Sythar Doom. The only thing that was awkward about this was the few scenes where the book revealed information in a 1124 or 1123 time period chapter that the chapters set before then hadn't revealed yet. I don't count knowing that Mandred wins the Battle of the Howling Hills because anyone whose read the Skaven army book knows that.

My real quibble with the book is that two things I really expected to see in the book did not happen. Lothar von Diehl's final fate and Mandred's assassination twenty-eight years later. Vanhal and von Diehl's story ends with Vanhal being assassinated, with a very surprising return cameo by the legendary Fellblade, and his spirit latching onto von Diehl, but we don't get to read what happens to the pair next. And Mandred's story ends with his first act as Emperor and finishes the trilogy there. I would have preferred to see multiple epilogues like in ADB's Void Stalker, the first being the actual epilogue the story had, the second dealing with von Diehl and the third and final epilogue showing the confrontation between Mandred and Nartik Blackblade, also perhaps explaining what exactly it was that kept Mandred from fathering an heir, because two possibilities present themselves and i'm unsure which is the correct one.

One thing that I really liked was the parallel that Werner creates between Mandred and Sigmar. Both lose their fathers to monsters, both fall in love and both lose that love to a traitor they thought a friend, though the motivations of Beck and Azazel couldn't be more different, the end result is more than likely the same. Sigmar never loved again and I think Mandred didn't either, losing Lady Mirella may be the reason he either never wed or never fathered an heir, which of course leads to the Age of the Three Emperors. And both of them devoted themselves to the duty of being Emperor, living for the Empire rather than themselves. Interesting comparison that lends credence to the idea that Mandred is the chosen of Sigmar, not only surviving the Sacred Flame but being able to wield Ghal-Maraz like he does, and the parallels between their lives.

The Skaven of course were excellent as usual. The machinations of Queekual finally explain exactly how the Skaven lost the war, the same reason they always lose to the man-things and the Dwarfs. Because they are too busy plotting and destroying each other to finish the real enemies of Skavendom. If Queekual hadn't created the new Skaven strain of the Black Plague the Skaven would have won the war, Pestilens would probably have enslaved all of them but they still would have won. Instead their own penchant for in-fighting is just as big a threat to them as the Man-Dread (As they call him) and his armies and ultimately it is a combination of the two that cost them a Skaven victory. So in a weird way the Skaven lost the war, but the Grey Seers won their own battle since they did ensure that Puskab Foulfur was killed, Vrask Bilebroth likely to follow, and their dominance over Skavendom was restored. The idea that the Skaven are their own worst enemy continues in this book and is the reason that any war they ever fight will always be fought on two fronts, the first being their physical enemy and the second being their own ambition and treacherous natures.

One of the best parts of the book was the Laurelorn, another haunted forest and one that is distinct from Athel Loren and the Drakwald. Where Athel Loren is fey and mysterious and unknowable, and the Drakwald is ugly and sadistic, the Laurelorn was pretty but hateful of all things born of technology and progress; and is as bloodthirsty as the other two. All three are linked by their thirst for blood and sacrifice, but are made different by their appearances and the personalities of the forests. And the colony of Elves living in the Laurelorn felt different from the Wood Elves, almost a middle ground between the fey Wood Elves and the noble High Elves, a bit like High Elves if they forsook civilization and lived like the Wood Elves.

The book also contained a two-sectioned map, the first showing the lands of the Empire and the second with a full-scale map of the Warhammer world, which was a very nice touch.

However the action scenes in WoS cannot compare to the ones in BE and that is simply because the Battle of the Plague Dragons and the Battle under Middenheim could not have been surpassed, especially the former. What Vanhal did there and the fight between Mandred and Vecteek and then Silke could not have been topped by anything short of a full-on apocalypse. They were simply that epic. But WoS was still filled with great battles like Howling Hills, Dieterschafen and Fellwald.


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Re: Wolf of Sigmar Discussion (Spoilers)

Postby Athelassan » Mon Feb 03, 2014 4:35 pm

Lord of the Night wrote:The only thing that was awkward about this was the few scenes where the book revealed information in a 1124 or 1123 time period chapter that the chapters set before then hadn't revealed yet. I don't count knowing that Mandred wins the Battle of the Howling Hills because anyone whose read the Skaven army book knows that.


Actually, this didn't really bother me. It did make a couple of characters who moved between the Mandred and Kreyssig plots difficult to follow on occasion (Erich and Kurgaz, most notably) but other than that I thought it worked quite well. Basically there are going to be two types of people reading the book - those who already know the ending and those who don't, and anyone who knows anything about the period will fall into the former category. So it doesn't really matter if we're told "Mandred won this victory" before we see him actually do it. It's not a spoiler. For those who don't know the ending, well, I don't know. I was never going to be one of those, realistically.

However, it's easy for battle sequences to get bogged down in minutiae and before long you've forgotten the wider picture. By effectively telling us that he's won and then moved on to do something else, it contextualises the battle and allows us to focus on individual character stories when we see the thing properly (at Fellwald, for instance, we got an extensive sequence of Malbork von Drak, which we probably wouldn't have done if we needed to be told what happened in that battle from a present POV). This sort of technique has worked well in other BL books in the past (The First Heretic, for instance) and I thought it worked well here. The one occasion it did feel a bit cheap was at Dietershafen where we cut away on a cliffhanger; that would probably have worked better if dealt with in one go.


Lord of the Night wrote:My real quibble with the book is that two things I really expected to see in the book did not happen... I would have preferred to see multiple epilogues like in ADB's Void Stalker.


Actually I was quite pleased to see that this didn't happen. I had wondered even before picking up Wolf of Sigmar how the book was going to deal with this and as it wore on I became aware we were running out of space to deal with Mandred's eventual assassination. I think the book actually ended on the right note for the trilogy's arc, and a brief epilogue going "oh yeah, twenty years later he gets assassinated" would have spoiled that, especially since we don't see his interceding reign. I'm not sure we actually need to see the killing of Mandred. It's probably not a particularly interesting scene (more on that later) and the things that would be entertaining to read about mostly happen after his death. Not to mention that most of the characters we've been following through these books would be dead anyway.

As for von Diehl, well, Vanhal was increasingly sidelined throughout this book. This was one slight frustration, although the focus here needed to be on Mandred and the Skaven so it makes perfect sense; it's just that Vanhal was done so well and is such a significant character it would have been nice to have got a bit more closure. However, given the space that the story had to occupy, I don't think more on those two could have been justified, and to have cut away from the Mandred/Skaven resolutions to tell us exactly what happened to von Diehl would have been a mistake, I think.

But there's also space for this setting to be picked up again. The story these books have been telling is effectively over (after all, the Black Plague is basically in remission) but there are new stories to tell with these characters and more books detailing Mandred's reign and the civil war under his successors, and what happens to Lothar von Diehl (the latter might already be a planned reveal in a subsequent ToL novel, of course) would be far from unwelcome. If BL are going to revisit one of their Empire-themed ToL trilogies, I would infinitely prefer it to be this one than Sigmar.


Lord of the Night wrote:However the action scenes in WoS cannot compare to the ones in BE and that is simply because the Battle of the Plague Dragons and the Battle under Middenheim could not have been surpassed, especially the former. What Vanhal did there and the fight between Mandred and Vecteek and then Silke could not have been topped by anything short of a full-on apocalypse. They were simply that epic. But WoS was still filled with great battles like Howling Hills, Dieterschafen and Fellwald.


Something I was inordinately pleased about was the way that most of the combat scenes were handled. As I mentioned after Blighted Empire, battle scenes can get a bit dull, especially when they're epic to the max. This story seemed to have got this out of its system in Blighted Empire. We were never going to top the battle between Skrittar and Vanhal and Wolf of Sigmar didn't try. Good. (And the in-world explanation given for why Vanhal's power was reduced made sense, too). Although I have a lot of faith in C.L. Werner as an author, I was still slightly worried that scenes like the forecasted battle between Mandred and Vrrmik would go something like:

Fourteen billion men faced each other on a bloodstained plain 980,000 miles across which was coloured like blood from the blood red sky and the rain fell like blood into an ocean of blood filled with blood. Also, blood. Each general personally slew thousands of men with only his nostrils, then they met in single combat where their duel lasted for 48 years


But no. Those scenes were short, effective, quality. The sort of thing I hope to see more of in both ToL and, yes, the Heresy. It's too easy to assume that a scene/death/fight that's significant needs to be somehow "awesome", whereas in many respects it sometimes makes better reading and is more compelling if characters are just killed out of hand. See Mandred's assassination, for instance. That doesn't need to be a battle between him and the Deathmaster; he might as easily have his throat cut while praying or murdered in his sleep. We had a couple of killings committed off-page in this book; I don't think they'd have made better reading if we'd seen them in detail rather than just an allusion, or a discovery of the body.

Lord of the Night wrote:The Skaven of course were excellent as usual. The machinations of Queekual finally explain exactly how the Skaven lost the war, the same reason they always lose to the man-things and the Dwarfs. Because they are too busy plotting and destroying each other to finish the real enemies of Skavendom. If Queekual hadn't created the new Skaven strain of the Black Plague the Skaven would have won the war, Pestilens would probably have enslaved all of them but they still would have won... The idea that the Skaven are their own worst enemy continues in this book and is the reason that any war they ever fight will always be fought on two fronts, the first being their physical enemy and the second being their own ambition and treacherous natures.

I did (and do) wonder about this. Firstly, it's not entirely fair to blame Queekual for what happened: Moschner double-crossed him and let things get out of paw. But even so, there's something rotten about Pestilens. That three-pimple symbol: certainly the way that Werner portrays them, while fundamentally Skaven in their mannerisms and thinking, they're rats-paws for Nurgle. The Grey Seers, by contrast, represent the True Skaven, and a shadow plot throughout the series is basically a battle of will for the soul of Skavendom; the Skaven are falling just as much under the thrall of Pestilens as the Empire is. Queekual seems to have taken the view that it's better for the species to live free as a rat than enslaved as a... capybara? (sorry, I'm out of rat metaphors). In the end, the Seers win through comprehensively. Were Pestilens to have achieved their final victory over the Empire and Vanhal and so on - would that actually have been a true victory for the Skaven, or just for Nurgle? I mean, if Asavar Kul had conquered the Empire, that wouldn't exactly have been a victory for men.

I did find it hard to shake the idea throughout this book that, despite being in every respect a villain, Queekual was the closest thing to a hero that the Skaven had. It would be interesting to re-read the series and compare and contrast the characters of the leading Skaven and Queekual in particular with Mandred.


Lord of the Night wrote:The book also contained a two-sectioned map, the first showing the lands of the Empire and the second with a full-scale map of the Warhammer world, which was a very nice touch.


I'd rather have a map than not, but the map itself was pretty unremarkable. As with previous maps in this vein, most of the relevant locations weren't marked.

A few other things I did like:

The preface - this was a really nice touch; better than the one in Blighted Empire, not that there was anything wrong with that one.

The book felt throughout like it was in touch with the deeper setting and giving serious consideration to its context both backward- and forward-facing (and to be fair this had been the case since Dead Winter but I noticed it particularly here). It didn't dwell on this too much but there was enough in there to bring it across, in particular from a religious perspective. The relationship between Sigmar and Ulric, the effect on local communities of the Plague, the wider political situation both religious and secular, etc. Really good.

Similarly I was really pleased (after my petty gripe about Blighted Empire) that most of the Electors Mandred encounters were named. It really makes such a difference, and a name plus one or two lines of sketched background suddenly make these characters feel like an integral part of the setting, be it the family background of Baroness Carin or the historic might of the von Orn family. It just gives a sense that there's a whole world, and a whole history, behind these people, that they have their own motivations and issues and problems and that when our protagonists are off-page the world keeps turning. Just the title with no name can give the impression of an empty suit (yes, I'm looking at you, Ancient Blood).

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Re: Wolf of Sigmar Discussion (Spoilers)

Postby Gaius Marius » Thu Feb 06, 2014 5:18 am

Laurelorn made me think of. slenderman. And Gazelgrund, holy craphis giant crazy balls.
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Re: Wolf of Sigmar Discussion (Spoilers)

Postby Xisor » Fri Mar 07, 2014 1:42 am

Athelassan wrote:Actually, this didn't really bother me. <snip> This sort of technique has worked well in other BL books in the past (The First Heretic, for instance) and I thought it worked well here.


I'd rather see the instances where this doesn't work so well than have to suffer huge swathes of a piece just to find anything worthwhile. For all that Vulkan-jumping-out-of-a-Thunderhawk is 'epic', it doesn't really constitute enough material to fill the remaining three-quarters of a £30 novella.

Aaron's managed that well in other places too. Helsreach was astonishing, for want of a better phrase, in the comfort he showed in simply skipping past 'impressive but boring' battles. More (err, less) is needed.

In other news, as a lacklustre scholar when it comes to Warhammer Fantasy (unlike 40k, almost nothing actually sticks in my head about the timeline), it meant that whilst I knew most of the general outcomes of the book (humanity is not forever subjugated to the skaven, the skaven are not exterminated, dwarfs are perfect antiheroes, elves are weirdoes, bees are cool), I was nevertheless under a near-total darkness when it came to the specifics of what would happen.

In my mind, whilst reading, it was entirely feasible (and terrifying) that Kreyssig could've gone on to 'live happily ever after', that Vanhal and von Diehl would've went some other direction, that Nagash himself might've forced his way into the story properly, that the Marienburg side-quest might've become a bizarre centre-stage, that the Temple could've been blown sky-high (and Mandred's reign be horrifically short, his 'notable Emperorly deeds' being all before he was Emperor for an afternoon... or whatever), that Moeschner might've failed and it be Queekual himself that botched the whole thing, all on his own misadventure. Indeed, as with the Skaven being their own worst enemies, the heroes could have all failed miserably and become broken shells (historically), and the Empire still survived without much further incident.

I've been fairly astute in not looking up the background or delving into it too much, in something of an effort to preserve my enjoyment of the novels (and in part to preserve my bank balance - I do like to go to the sources!). So, yeah, thanks guys: Mandred gets assassinated, does he? :evil: ( :roll: :P )

Speaking of 'bees are cool'. There was obvious, complete note of the Baroness' revenge in the epilogue. But could/should it be read another way? Nurgle foiled, the Horned Rat foiled, random Chaos foiled, Ulric and Sigmar triumphant. The utter desolation of Hochland, however. The bees. Was that little touch representative of the small part the other old gods could still play? It's right after Kreyssig makes his 'gods won't help you now' speech. Taal and Rhya did him in via those bees. It'd chime well with the end of Blighted Empire being a 'Deus Ex... Wilderness' brought on by Taal et al.

Well, I'm quite content with that reading.

Athelassan wrote:The book felt throughout like it was in touch with the deeper setting and giving serious consideration to its context both backward- and forward-facing (and to be fair this had been the case since Dead Winter but I noticed it particularly here). It didn't dwell on this too much but there was enough in there to bring it across, in particular from a religious perspective. The relationship between Sigmar and Ulric, the effect on local communities of the Plague, the wider political situation both religious and secular, etc. Really good.


Definitely. It remains one of my much-opined opinions that Warhammer really has one of the strongest settings going. Its richness and detail when distilled into prose makes it massively personal in a way I always struggled with the absence of in other Fantasy works. For example, the introduction of the gold grubbers as an active part of this novel. It's a beautiful moment, yet filled with tension too... because Kressig's dwarfs really might've been swain by gold (and some other fittingly dwarfen technicalities) sufficiently to not get involved at all.

The little notes of, say, Gazulgrund being (appropriately) named after Gazul, the all-too-human horrors the various characters go through in the service of their (fairly legitimate, after a fashion) religions. Even the examination of that paradigm for the skaven works brilliantly. There's a wonderful subtext and social commentary to the skaven that's really pretty brazenly shown in the prose, but which is delicious to have your attention drawn to (like an astonishingly pungent cheese): they're a species of pure individuals. It's not exactly a revelation, but when looking at absolutely everything about them, that's precisely where they are. Of course they're their own worst enemy. As self-serving religions go, I feel a bit cheap/like-a-stoner just pointing to it and going "wow!", but given that it's packaged right across from the other depictions (Ulric's manifest effectiveness; Sigmar's 'build it yourselves'; the Ancestor Gods' 'you've got to work for it' ; the elves' 'hope for the best, you're the protagonist, sortof'; the old gods' 'peasants know the land'), there's something really wonderful underpinning it.

Worthy of dissection (err, vivisection?) I think, but also nice to just marvel at and appreciate without too much closer analysis. I'm a massive fan of my Taal/Rhya reading of it though. Team work!

---

I think that basically covered most of what I wanted to say.

I'd reiterate at how over-the-moons I was with the appearance of Dharin and chums.

Even the sidelining of Vanhal felt appropriate for the novel. Not necessarily for the possible stories that could be told, but for Vanhal's own chracter arc, it felt adequate, it felt... complete. Ever since the end of the first book, he's basically been 'dead' for all intents and purposes, himself becoming the ghost - a tortured spirit left behind to torment the living. But blimey, what a spirit. It echoed the morbid wonder of Josh and Mike's stories too.

Amid the panoply of death there was silence and serenity of the eternal. Pain, suffering, the slow decay of toil, the cruel deceit of hope, the malign mockery of achievement, the ceaseless pursuit of wealth - these were abolished, exterminated to plague man no more. Nothing was left but the peace of oblivion.


I shouldn't judge, but if you aren't at least a little sympathetic, at least a teeny bit tempted by the threads that pulled Nagash, W'soran and Frederick van Hal towards the embrace of necromancy, you're the real inhuman monster.

---

Again, with the dwarfs, they were some properly bright moments in a fairly unrelentingly bleak novel. (Even when Man-dread was winning.)

Why were there dwarfs here? And why were they attacking his workers? And why, above all, were those spineless vermin running away?

---

Unless there were more enemies hiding somewhere, all he could see were seven dwarfs and a lone human. Sparks flew from his metal jaws as he gnashed his fangs in frustration. 'There's only eight of them!' he shrieked, holding up one of his paws with all five fingers displayed. Given the quality of the minions he'd been forced to take, Sythar realised very few of them would notice the numerical discrepancy.
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