"Without a doubt, one of the finest fantasy novels this reviewer has ever read. Filled with powerful and insane battles, complex and twisted characters and a story that takes everything we thought we knew about Archaon and turns it on it's head. A must-read for any fan of Warhammer Fantasy!" - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
I was delighted to be able to get a copy of Archaon: Everchosen from Black Library Live, though I did not attend a proxy-bought copy now sits on my shelf, signed by Rob himself no less. Archaon has always been an intriguing and controversial part of Warhammer Fantasy, the Storm of Chaos and his defeat by Grimgor Ironhide and Valten making his supposed status as Lord of the End Times rather amusing. And with the retcons of such things by recent army books and lore entries it appears as if restoring Archaon to being the anti-christ of Warhammer Fantasy is the goal for his character. And after reading this book I am quite sure they are doing a damn good job, this book and whatever follows it will hopefully turn Archaon from the Failbaddon of fantasy into a much more well-rounded and respected character.
Archaon. Lord of the End Times. Ravager of the Empire. Everchosen of Chaos. He is the one who will bring a storm of Chaos upon the realms of man and the legions of darkness shall follow in his wake, and by his blade the world shall end and all will fall to Chaos. But where did the story of the Herald of Armageddon begin? Who was the man who became Archaon the Everchosen of Chaos? What was it that made a young Templar turn his back on the God-King Sigmar and fall into darkness and insanity? From the forests of the Empire to the bizzare vistas of the Northern Wastes to the chill lands of Naggaroth and the blood-stained oceans between, this is the story of Archaon. The story of the man who will be the End.
The story in Everchosen covers the unknown events of Archaon's life prior to becoming a Chaos Warrior and the events that follow his fall, the search for the first of the Treasures of Chaos. However the story is told in a very interesting format that I won't spoil, but I will say this; When you see the Chapter numbers being repeated, remember that it isn't a typo. I very much enjoyed this interesting twist on the story because it made things unpredictable for Archaon, and added a sense of scale to his story, how important he is and the lengths that a certain someone is going to for him. I also like that the story covers years and even decades in the span of pages, chronicling Archaon's journey through the Chaos Wastes and the journey to become a Lord. But the choice to cover his early years, and yes to give him an actual name, was one that makes the majority of the book unknown territory for the reader. You may know where Archaon ends up but believe me, you don't know exactly how he gets there. Quite a few moments from the army book are presented far from what we expected, and as with all the army books somethings are are just outright wrong. (Remembering that the army books/codexes are the historical record and the books are absolute truth, at least I remember reading that once) Sanders does a fantastic job taking Archaon's story and adding much more detail to it both in what Archaon has to do to get to the Treasures and the character story that makes Archaon a far more compelling and deep character than his army book page suggests.
The characters are a vast range of madmen, sadists, abominations, liars and fanatics. One thing that I absolutely loved was the variety of Archaon's followers, some are mentioned once to note their deaths and some are with him for a few chapters, some for longer and some are still with him at the end; I found it fitting that the make-up of Archaon's army changes constantly, some die, some fail, some live and every single one is different from the Maggot-Men of Mother Fecund, Fengshen Ku and the Dreaded Wo, the Swords of Chaos whom I found the most interesting of all, Dravin Vayne and his lover Sularii, and the Great Spleen who gave us some damn good action scenes in the final third of the book; and all the others that I didn't list. The key characters of Father Dagobert and Giselle were also very interesting, both having the same goal though only one retains enough sanity to even try; though Giselle was a character whose motivations I found tricky to understand, her feelings towards Archaon being hard to understand which I think might have been the point. The standout of the book however is of course Archaon, whom we see right from the beginning of his tumultuous birth, his career as a Templar of Sigmar and his fall to Chaos; and for the first time we get to see exactly how he feels about that last part. Short answer; he isn't happy. Archaon is far from the character I expected in both his motivations and his feelings on the events that afflict him. I think the best thing that Sanders has done here is take a character who in his original lore, to me at least, felt one-dimensional and very similar to those who came before; whereas here he feels like a force never before seen in the Warhammer world and a character who I think, is ultimately a true and unequivocal victim.
The action is first-rate right from the start, there is not a single battle scene in this book that felt repetitive, stale or even anything less than epic. Sanders's battle scenes are brutal even when it's just Archaon fighting off Beastmen or Imperial Knights on his own with just the trusty blade Terminus, and when it's entire armies of Chaos monsters clashing with murderous Dark Elves or the horrors of the Northern Wastes tearing at each other for the gaze of the Gods, then it's epic. Sanders adds a lot of variety into the battle as well by giving every single one of Archaon's followers their own unique forces, and by pitting them against a nice variety of enemies that provide different tests and challenges to Archaon's burgeoning army and to the Everchosen himself. Archaon's unholy strength that makes him so unstoppable in the Warhammer game is nicely represented here, but at the same time he is not invincible and several foes in the book come close to ending the Everchosen's reign of terror before it can even begin. Without a doubt the best fight in the entire book though has to be Archaon vs The Yien-La-Long, every moment those two battled against each other or just chased after each other felt epic, it also reminded me of a somewhat similar confrontation in another fantasy, but you'll have to read the book to see for yourself. To sum it up every battle was exciting and in such a battle-filled book, that is an achievement in itself.
The pacing of the book is rather odd right from the start, but if I say why it's a big spoiler so I will just say that this book is paced likely like nothing you've read before, but that is far from a bad thing. Rather it makes many parts of the book very exciting and adds a great sense of scale to the book, it helps the reader appreciate just how much effort is being put into these events and how far someone is willing to go to make sure they happen. And as I said above the book is spread out across many years, some are told in chapters focusing on Archaon's childhood and seeing him grow up, and some of those years pass in the space of a single sentence as the more lengthy parts of Archaon's journey are told almost like a saga rather than an in-depth analysis, Sanders acknowledges these years and gives them some cover but ultimately he knows what he needs to focus on and what he doesn't, and while even just reading about Archaon kicking ass across the Chaos Wastes would have been entertaining, Sanders focuses on the more important and much more entertaining aspects of Archaon's journey. Admittedly the final quarter of the book felt a little squashed together but after thinking about it I think that the rapidity in which these events came is a consequence of what Archaon does in the book and what he fails to do, plus the background lore never actually specified the space of time between some of these events so it works out.
Another thing that I think made the novel great is that Sanders is one of the few authors whom I think truly understands how to write Chaos as an entity. The insanity, changeability and contradictions that Chaos embodies are very well portrayed here. In the treks into the Wastes, the battles that fill those chapters and the horrors that Chaos unleashes; all of them feel distinct and unpredictable, what comes next is anyone's guess and Sanders does well in using his own creations rather than relying on the already established aspects of Chaos like Bloodletters, Daemonettes, etc. It's always good to see an author attempting to make his own contributions to Chaos and when they do it makes the book(s) more exciting because you can never tell what is going to be unleashed against the protagonists, or in this case by them, until its done. Not only does Sanders give Archaon a fantastic portrayal but he also gives Chaos one as well and makes the aspects and personalities of Chaos important to the plot and to Archaon as a character, which to me greatly contributes to the book being so damn good.
Now for my favourite quote, frankly every other page has Archaon or another character saying something badass, so i'll go with this one because it was so poignant and reveals a lot about Archaon as a character (in context),
"He will not. For I am already lost to him."
The ending was great on many levels. Archaon has been put into an interesting place story-wise and the next book will not only see Archaon hunting for the rest of the Treasures but also learning how to really be a leader of monsters and men and character-wise we see that Archaon now has something that one day he must deal with if he is to become the Everchosen, but how he'll do that is a mystery for the next book. Sanders ends the story on an excellent note, Archaon has gained and lost much but he is firmly on the path and where that will take him we have some idea, but for the most part we must guess until the sequel is written and released, a date that I am very greatly anticipating.
For an enjoyable and thrilling story that surprised me at many points, characters that continually surprised me with their true motivations and their actions, battle scenes that felt like an epic movie scene and for finally giving an under-appreciated character the excellent portrayal he deserves I give Archaon: Everchosen a score of 9.2/10. This is a book that every fan of Warhammer Fantasy should try, especially those of you who don't care for Archaon or what happens to him in the Storm of Chaos because I think this book completely redeems him as a character, and it's fun to read the entire way through. I would even suggest this story to newcomers to Warhammer Fantasy, it will have you hooked, although I would not recommend the book to those who aren't familiar with Warhammer as it requires some knowledge about the lore and background of the world.
That's it for this review, thanks very much for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!