Lord of the Night reviews the epic second novel in the phenomenal Warhammer End Times series, The Fall of Altdorf by Chris Wraight.
“The End Times ups the stakes yet again and takes us into the midst of the greatest battle for the Empire yet. Monsters, heroes, tragic deaths, hope in the face of the darkest odds, and game-changing twists that will shake the Warhammer world to its foundation. And it’s only book number two!” – Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
The End Times are here. The Chaos Gods wage war on the world and in these dark times, heroes must rise, empires will fall, and the fate of the world will be decided in blood, fire and tears. The Empire has weathered the storm that was Nagash and his army of the undead, now it must battle it’s oldest and most dangerous enemy, the Ruinous Powers of Chaos. The Glottkin, the triplet champions of Grandfather Nurgle, have invaded the lands of Sigmar at the head of the greatest horde of Chaos warriors that has ever been assembled, and as armies fall before their might, it will fall to the champions of the Empire to survive this final siege and see to it that the Empire has a tomorrow. But with an absent Emperor, Vampires plotting in their midst and Elector Counts unable to give up their rampant politicking, can Kurt Helborg and Gregor Martak keep the Empire together long enough for the forces of order and light to come to their aid. Or will the forces of Chaos finally destroy their age old enemy and usher in a new age of blood and suffering...
The story in TFoA is a streamlined, but more personal and deep, take on the events of Warhammer: Glottkin. Wraight has removed a few plot strands that are the most extraneous to the main subject of the Empire being invaded, which while unfortunately removing a few interesting characters and one plot line that could have been a very interesting look at how the war affects the soul of the Empire and it’s various deities, does have the effect of giving more page-time to the main story. The key stories in this book belong to Karl Franz, Kurt Helborg, Gregor Martak, Vlad von Carstein and the Glottkin; all of whom are POV characters and carry the story forward through both small-scale character actions and large-scale military action. I particularly enjoyed the addition of a POV for the Glottkin as it lets the reader see the exact amount of damage that the Empire suffers in this book, rather than just having another character relate it in a random conversation, and it gives the reader a sense of scale on just how big the Glottkin’s army really is. But for me the best part of the story was not the character stories but the overall plot, the siege of Altdorf and the final battle to determine whether humanity will play a role in the End Times or simply be swept away like debris; Wraight makes the siege truly feel like the end of days has come for mankind, the horrors and wonders that are unleashed in the battle make it stand out amongst all the other times that Chaos has clashed with the Empire, and at no point did the siege feel like a rehash of something old or unimportant. This story felt like the beginning of a great change for the Empire, and those final pages proved that. One part that I also appreciated was Wraight adding in the Empire’s battle against Chaos from Warhammer: Nagash, to show the reader how the events of Glottkin began properly, again rather than just relaying it through narration.
The characters were a good bunch, Wraight has written for the Empire before and it shows as he references previous events and relationships between characters quite nicely, showing how the End Times has changed some people and how some people have remained the same as always, for good and bad. The End Times is like a forge, through it we are seeing just what each and every character is really made of, what they are really capable of, and in one case for me, exactly how much I underestimated one of them. The Empire characters were interesting to read about, relatable as things truly kicked off and we saw the strain they were under, and above all they were likeable, thre wasn’t one Imperial main character that I found distasteful or just plain unlikeable, which for me made the novel all the better as I could equally root for both sides. The Chaos side was a little under-represented though with only the Glottkin acting as POV characters of note, though one other character was included that I think was misnamed. While I did enjoy the Glottkin’s banter with each other and their genuinely funny moments through the book, I felt that the depiction of them in Warhammer: Glottkin had a more unique feeling to it and that feeling did not make it into TFoA. One improvement that could have been made is the addition of further Chaos characters, the Maggoth Lords that were left out of the book would have been a good addition and could have provided a differing opinion to the Glottkin and more details on the ending from an exterior perspective. The other perspective in the book belongs to Vlad von Carstein who offers a third, and more ambitious, take on the invasion. A little coincidently I found the portrayal of Vlad in the novel much superior to the campaign book’s portrayal, which was good as it added more enjoyment to the novel and showed events occurring in the wider Empire. The only other aspect of the characters that could have been improved is that some of the secondary Vampire characters could have been given their own POVs so that we could see what others think of Vlad’s actions.
The pacing of the book is nicely done, the novel is split into parts based around the seasons of a single Imperial year. From one winter to another we see the Glottkin brothers campaign to destroy the Empire in its infancy all the way to the end at the final siege of Altdorf, and the events that take place in the Empire during the lead-up to the last battle on both the heroes side and the villains side. At no point did the book feel slow, thanks to the engaging story, interesting characters and dynamite action scenes, though some elements could have been a little better, the pacing itself was satisfactory. The world was quite nicely done, the atmosphere of the End Times was communicated very well across the pages, as the reader I really did get the sense that this book wasn’t just a run of the mill fantasy novel and that this was not just another Chaos invasion into the Empire, this was The Chaos invasion, the battle that would decide whether or not humanity would be part of the End Times or not. Without that the book would have suffered greatly and fallen far from it’s potential, so it’s a good thing that Wraight got that sense of importance and scale across to the reader, while at the same time not being overdone about it.
Now for my favourite quote, without a doubt it has to be one of the final lines;
“And now, let all things change.”
The ending was, for me, fantastic, but I will admit that it’s a polarizing ending. Either you’ll love it, or you’ll hate it, but none of that is on Chris Wraight as he has followed the narrative of Glottkin to its conclusion and this is the result. If you have no problem with the idea behind the ending then I think that you’ll love it no matter what army you play, because I got the sense that the ending was meant to make you proud of being human, and showing that just because Chaos and all the other evils of the world seem far more powerful than humanity, doesn’t mean that they are. Wraight does however take a few liberties with the ending, one that I felt cheated the reader of quite an epic fight and one that I am sure Wraight could have done really well, and one that I think was the correct choice as it nicely showed exactly what the new character revealed at the end is really capable of; but either way I really did enjoy the ending not only as a great conclusion to the battle in TFoA, but also for the potential that this gives to future End Times works, the world has changed as a result of the siege of Altdorf and nothing will be the same ever again, and Empire players may just rejoice over what this book means for their armies and their lore, or they may hate it... who can say.
For an enjoyable story that took some very awesome twists, likeable characters on both sides that were fun to read, and absolutely epic battle scenes that are definitely worthy to be in the apocalypse, I give The Fall of Altdorf a score of 8.5/10. Anyone who is as excited by the End Times as I am will definitely enjoy the book, whether or not you’ll enjoy the ending is a question you can only answer for yourself by reading the novel, or the campaign guide if you can somehow get a look at a copy, but I think that Empire players will definitely find this book worthy of their time. Chaos players have plenty to enjoy here as well, and I would even suggest that Bretonnian players read this book because there are some very nice scenes with a few Bretons that you’ll really like, but I can’t say more on that for spoilers. If the End Times doesn’t float your boat though, then this isn’t a novel I would suggest you read, but you don’t need to be told that.
And that's it for this review, thanks very much for reading it. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!