The Black Library Hall of Fame: Chris Wraight chooses….
Today we have another worthy entry to the Black Library Hall of Fame.
The guest selecting the book is Saga-smith of Fenris and Chogoris, and Chronicler of the Mortal Realms – Chris Wraight.
Chris has selected a truly classic novel from over a decade past, and the world that was…
‘Riders of the Dead is a superb piece of military fiction. It’s also a great Warhammer story and a great fantasy epic, but what makes it so truly memorable for me is the immense detail of the martial setting – the close attention paid to every part of a soldier’s life, the smells, the tastes, the hundreds of little cultural notes that make up a real, living, breathing world.
As he did on the other side of the fence with Gaunt’s Ghosts, Dan showed just what was possible working within the Old World – taking the essential spirit of the Warhammer universe and running with it as far as it would go. There are battle scenes here that still linger in my mind – fast-paced and horrific, but never simple, always orchestrated and intelligent. There are factions – northmen, Kislevites, Imperial state troopers – all vivid, differentiated and given a life and a heritage of their own.
After the opening salvos, the story divides, following two main protagonists as they’re drawn into counterpart alien cultures – a Kurgan warband and a Kislevite company of lancers. Both are utterly compelling. In particular, I remember loving the depiction of the oblast – the empty plains of Kislev, right on the margins of the known world, into which the Empire vexillary Heileman is drawn: “The land was a flat, featureless prospect to all compass points, the sky an immeasurable arch beneath which he felt no more significant than a pin stick. There was no direction except forward … As time followed the rhythmic lurch of the horse, hour after hour, he came to a sobering revelation. The oblast had not diminished him; it had simply showed him how he truly was.”
The world of the Kurgan is equally carefully drawn. This is a Chaotic environment, one replete with terror and barbarism, but it works. It’s coherent. As in the very best Black Library fiction, we can see how this universe might function, and how the madness and the daemonic might be underpinned and sustained.
Of course, Riders was written a long time ago. Even before the End Times shook things up, some elements of it had drifted out of canon, so it doesn’t pay to try to shoe-horn it into the wider setting-narrative too hard. But the continuity details are less important, to my mind, than the core rightness of the depiction. This is real Warhammer, as hard-edged and gritty as it ought to be, fleshed out and made full-blooded by a master of military fantasy.’
You can order this novel now as an eBook.
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