|A very impressive cover, the only detail missing is Gotrek's tattoos. Other then that, stunning.|
Lord of the Night reviews the action-packed Gotrek and Felix novel, City of the Damned by David Guymer.
"A mostly enjoyable novel with powerful action scenes, well written characters that stay true to the series, but is let down by an overly complex and lagging plot." - Lord of the Night@TalkWargaming
City of the Damned is the latest G&F novel and it's one that I was quite eager to read for the, what should be obvious to most, idea of Gotrek and Felix entering the dark city of Mordheim was awesome. And yes this is Mordheim, anyone whose played the game will figure it out by reading the blurb so I don't consider it a spoiler because if you don't see that it's Mordheim then it's still irrelevant because you won't understand the in-jokes and references, which I did not. I'm sure there were plenty of them but I couldn't see them. This is David Guymer's second novel and I find it to be an ambitious idea that unfortunately doesn't quite hold up under the weight of the plot, but does capture Gotrek and Felix as we know them while adding an author's unique take on them and with plenty of what G&F do best, fighting evil and seeking a mighty doom.
The City of the Damned, a lost place that only the mad or the fanatical would dare brave. While chasing the legendary Beast of the Moors in Ostermark Gotrek and Felix find themselves pressed into helping a band of zealots and mercenaries invade the damned city to hunt down the Beast and stop whatever nefearious scheme it plans. But something much worse than a beast inhabits the city and as time begins to fracture and Gotrek and Felix find themselves facing down an enemy that even Gotrek's legendary axe may not be able to best, it may be that unless Gotrek and Felix can find a way to defeat something that cannot die, they may both become nothing more than forgotten bodies in the doomed city of Mordheim.
Now the idea of the story is a really interesting one; Gotrek and Felix in Mordheim where time is fluid. However in my opinion the story flounders for two reasons. The first is that it takes far too long for the point of the story to make itself clear, for more than half the novel it felt like the book was solely about the duo blundering around Mordheim trying to survive and tracking a strange beast. It wasn't until 2/3rds of the way in that a real goal for the two became apparent and the plot really kicked in. The end result was enjoyable but it took too long for it to reach that point and I think that G&F should have become aware of it earlier. The second reason is the element of fluid time in the story was very confusing, at times I did not understand exactly what was happening and some scenes were visually impressive but I didn't understand what was meant to be happening, what I was meant to understand. Certain characters that tie into the fluid time element were also confusing, two characters in particular I do not understand at all what they were exactly, what became of them and how certain things occurred. Now all this isn't to say that the story was bad, because it wasn't, but because of the lagging feel to it and the confusing nature of parts of the book it can't be called great either. What I did understand I very much liked and the final showdown of the book, and the reason for everything happening, was definitely the best part of the book and featured a foe that is definitely one of the most deadly Gotrek has ever met.
The characters are an area that I had no problems with. Gotrek and Felix were well done and while I noticed a few things in their characterisation that are unique to Guymer, they were still the same classic characters of the main series. Guymer's take on them however did produce some very funny scenes, mainly due to Gotrek being a bit more talkative and relaxed than he is in the main series, which I really enjoyed as Gotrek sometimes does feel a little one-note in the main series whereas here he felt like he had a bit more to him than simply gruff curtness and explosive anger. HIs banter with Felix was genuinely funny many times and even a hint of joviality was present a few times, something that made Gotrek feel like a more well-rounded character. I also enjoyed something that Felix thinks about himself in the book that I feel sums up his character nicely, he isn't a coward like he often thinks. The other characters were interesting and I liked the denizens of Mordheim, but two particular characters did vex me with their plots as they were both tricky to comprehend at times. Nevertheless Guymer did create some very memorable characters for the plot and I particularly liked Caul Schlanger whose conversations with Gotrek were very tense and who was a pretty multi-layered character. One character who I really liked I cannot reveal details on for spoilers, but I think that Guymer really captured the essence of this unique character and how he would view the world around him, how he would interact with others in his unique position and his presence definitely made the final battle a much more tense and gripping series of scenes.
The action in the book was great and exactly what Gotrek and Felix has in every book. Plenty of Gotrek kicking ass and slaying worthy foes, and Felix occasionally helping out. Guymer stays true to that dynamic though he does have Felix get into a few fights that Gotrek would envy but he doesn't turn Felix into a slayer himself, Felix isn't inept but neither is he a champion and it wouldn't be right for him to start slaying the villains too, barring the obvious exception for anyone whose read Dragonslayer. The duo face a wide range of enemies in Mordheim and I think Guymer does use quite a lot of in-jokes and references to the tabletop game Mordheim in the kind of enemies, and what weapons those enemies use, that appear to do battle but I can't see them since I never played Mordheim. Gotrek's numerous foes were an interesting group as well, each one being a very different fight, though I do wish we got to see him fight the Spider-beast, but his battle with Golkhan was brilliant and also had a very good back-and-forth between Gotrek and the Chaos Lord that we don't normally get when Gotrek faces down an enemy champion, i'll chalk it up to Guymer's writing and say that it's a welcome idea. The battle scenes in Mordheim were also well written, the unique situation lending itself to supporting certain types of enemies and hampering our protagonists as they try to fight on slick city roofs, underground tunnels and mist-filled battlefields that prevent them from seeing more than a few feet ahead. On the whole I think Guymer crafted some very impressive fights and used the urban and dessicated nature of Mordheim to add a unique twist to many of his fights, and enemies that I doubt you'd see anywhere else than in the forsaken streets of the City of the Damned; all of which contributes to making the novel a fun and exciting read.
The pacing of the book is an issue at times. The first few chapters set the stage for the rest of the book but once the pair arrive in Sigmarshafen things start to slow down and the book doesn't seem to go anywhere, the pair enter Mordheim with a simple goal that takes far too long to resolve and the real reason they should be there takes too long to become apparent. Because of this the first half of the novel feels slow and it's only when the second half gets a little way in that the pace starts to pick up until it feels like the book is really going somewhere, into the final battle. I think a tighter focus on the plot would have really helped this novel and improved the flow. I did like the ideas behind Mordheim and the Damned, but I think more explanation on exactly what made the Damned damned would have helped make them and their motives more understandable, and some more explanation on why certain things in Mordheim happen and what they mean would have made some scenes much better as I found certain scenes involving the nature of Mordheim and events that take place in it difficult to understand with regard to exactly what was happening and why it was happening.
Now for my favourite quote, definitely this one,
"Gotrek son of Gurni, you would challenge a god. Your audacity amuses."
The ending is somewhat abrupt, and while the ending to the previous G&F novel Road of Skulls by Josh Reynolds also felt abrupt, this one felt more so because of the exact point when it ends, I think that it should have actually showed what was about to happen rather than ending on that note. And for the epilogue.. I didn't see the point of it. If the scene was what I think it was on first-reading, then to me it just seemed pointless and it didn't illuminate that particular character's motives or some such any further, so I don't understand why Guymer chose to have that scene there when it would have been better placed somewhere else in the novel as a flashback. If there is a hidden meaning to it, then I didn't see it. I liked how the story ended for Mordheim and its denizens but the ending suffered from the same thing as the rest of the story, parts of it were confusing and I didn't fully understand what was meant to be happening. It may just be me but until more people read the novel and offer their opinions I can't be sure if it's the prose or if it's just me.
For a story that was flawed but had some great moments, an enjoyable and recognisable cast of characters and some very nicely done action scenes I give Gotrek and Felix: City of the Damned a score of 6.8/10. This is a novel that had some great ideas that ultimately didn't work out as well as you'd think, but is still readable thanks to it's characters and battle scenes and the parts of the plot that were enjoyable and understandable to me. Ultimately I think only real fans of Gotrek and Felix should go out of their way to read this book, but since there is the possibility that it isn't the book is hard to understand rather it's me that is missing things, I would suggest that if you want to try this book, try it and see how it reads for you. Fans of Mordheim will likely love this book and think they'll enjoy it far more than someone, like me, who has never played Mordheim and wouldn't be privy to the references.
That's it for this review. Thanks for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!