Reviewed by M P Ericson
This is an omnibus edition of several stories set in Bretonnia: two novels, a short story, and two previously unpublished novellas. And most enjoyable it is, too – at least in part.
Calard, dull and sexually repressed heir to Castle Garamont, is sent off to war along with his younger step-brother Bertelis, who is the family favourite and thoroughly unpleasant. Unusually for Warhammer, there is a stark portrayal of the narcissism and arbitrary brutality of the so-called nobility, set against the poverty and desperation of the peasant population they exploit.
The action bogs down once the war starts. Things pick up when Calard gets back home to find that evil forces have taken over Castle Garamont, and he must fight to save his family and his inheritance. The mystery aspect is a bit weak – two obvious suspects, and it’s the other one – but there’s a pretty satisfying showdown and a nice link to the next book in the series.
KNIGHT OF THE REALM
Calard, now the alcoholic lord of Garamont (and duller than ever), charges off to deal with an incursion of Norscans. There is much pointless squabbling between knights who show all the maturity of toddlers, an Evil Sorceress of Great Evilness, random misogyny and unengaging battles. This reads like filler, right up to the abrupt ending. Meh.
In this neat little short story, Calard takes to the road as a knight errant, and while battling a ferocious wyvern discovers a terrible secret. The tale bounds along merrily, and provides a simple but engaging adventure in the classic fantasy style. Well worth a read.
After years on the road, Calard returns to his ancestral lands and finds them under attack from Duke Merovech of Mousillon (Realm of the Damned, no less). Calard takes the battle to him, but the duke’s powers prove greater than expected, and an army of undead now threatens the whole of Bretonnia.
Called by the Lady, Calard ventures into the forest of Athel Loren, where he finds lethal elves and an ancient power intent on destruction – and perhaps also an ally for the battle to save Bretonnia from the undead army, if Calard survives long enough to escape the forest’s grasp.
There’s plenty to like here, mostly in the shorter works. The fundamental problem is that the main character isn’t very interesting. I’d love to see Reynolds create a strong, vibrant central character and take him on bloody adventures. With this omnibus, you get pretty much the standard Warhammer fare: functional but unengaging characters who wander around in search of monsters to hew. Which is a shame, because there are glimmers of potential for a riveting read.
Overall? Worth the price. Just skip the middle part.