I finally started reading the Black Library books. I ordered a collection of books relating to the High Elves and Dark Elves, hoping that the books would offer some fluff and understanding of the culture about the Dark Elves. The first book I picked up was “The Sundering” by Gav Thorpe.
The book really is a compendium of three main stories:
– The fall of Malekith, starting with the acquisition of the colonies and the war against the cults on Ulthuan.
– Alith Anar and how he became the Shadow King.
– The war of Phoenix King Caledor / Imrik against Naggarythe with the Sundering as climax.
Along the way, we are treated with a brief chapter dedicated to Hellebron and the cult of Khaine. The book doesn’t use iconic characters of the Elven history sparingly, making sure most regions, important princes and key figures make an appearance in all their splendor.
In spite of being a single compendium, written only by the hand of Gav Thorpe, I feel that the style and depiction of the characters differs quite a lot in each of the three chapters… different enough to discuss each part seperately.
The fall of Malekith
The story begins with Malekith’s first achievements in service of the Phoenix King and follows his slow descent into darkness.
Being used to top ranking fantasy books such as the Farseer trilogy and the Riftwar saga, it took me a moment to settle down for the simple writing style for this pulp-focused book. Gav’s writing style is fluent, and his description of battles never bore but what he offers in fluent battles he lacks in Malekith’s psychological depth.
The writer seems to be in conflict with Malekith’s character at the start, and so Malekith ends up being whimsical, short-tempered and… accidentally diplomatic (if you want to know how that is possible, read the book). Malekith’s friendship with Snorri Whitebeard lacked the depth I hoped to find: they become friends… because the writer said so.
The style improves as the chapter continues… and Malekith’s persona slowly crawls in line with the writer’s intentions. Halfway through the chapter, the book story really picks up in speed and entertainment. I found the unfolding of the “evil minded” plots far from logical and realistic… but such details are forgotten before the page is turned and the story reaches a fun finale!
Not being familiar with Alith Anar, it was a surprising story and a rather surprising outcome. The story sees Alith Anar grow from a young boy to the Shadow King. It’s a dark, grim story and the dark minded character seems to fit the writer well. The story never bores and is IMO the best part of the whole book. The entertainment level is good, the setting is great, the characters adding color to the story play their part well… It almost made me want to buy Shadow Warriors just to feel more connected with the story. And that, I think, marks how well the chapter is written.
My only objection (hey, I’m opinionated) is the lack of emotional depth from the main character. I suppose it’s partly what the writer intended to do, wanting the Shadow King to feel little else but a desire to slay his foes without any ceremony. This lack of depth isn’t a problem for the story though, and the writer stays clear from the pitfall of the “Sword of Truth” series, where Terry Goodkind might as well have replaced a few passages with “his anger level is over 9000!!”.
The final chapter is dedicated to the Sundering as climax of a long war. Unfortunately the story becomes somewhat repetitive as characters travel from one battle to another, over and over again. Gav’s simple, fluent description of battles leave out the details required to add a sense of evolution (and time) through the characters. There’s little else to say about the story itself. The whole chapter is war, war and more war.
I’m not sure if this chapter was designed as such, but the story brings a superb setting for a campaign, a computer wargame or simply as a setting for Warhammer battles. With enough battles, parties, resources and locations described in full, the chapter almost begs the reader to begin a campaign to relive the story and see what would have happened if this one battle hadn’t been won or lost.
Overall it’s a good book. It’s not great, but good. I enjoyed reading each chapter and some passages intrigued me enough to read the book a second time. Gav Thorpe offers detailed descriptions of a few locations and the evolution of Ulthuan’s campaign against the Cults of the Cytherai that may serve as an inspiration to build wargaming terrain pieces, a campaign or skirmish scenarios. It sells the background and the army brilliantly. I guess that makes it a good book for the fans.