"A sadly average-at-best anthology that while filled with moments of heroism, daring and courage, falls short on plot development, characterisation and world-building. Not the finest or most promising start to the Realmgate Wars series, or for Age of Sigmar as a basis for novels and the like." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
When Age of Sigmar was released I was one of it's biggest supporters. The Stormcast Eternals were a brilliant addition, and I loved the lore that depicted the Forces of Order finally taking the fight to Chaos rather than simply reacting to what they do, barely surviving apocalyptic invasion after apocalyptic invasion. Though some things, like the name changes and the loss of Slaanesh, did not sit well with me, I accepted them; nothing is perfect after all. However after reading Realmgate Wars and being rather underwhelmed by it, and realizing some unfortunate truths about the lore of Age of Sigmar, I now question whether or not Age of Sigmar can be the franchise that Warhammer Fantasy was and Warhammer 40k is; both AoS's predecessor and 40k are more than just a tabletop game, they are novels, movies, games, toys and more. They can tell stories, not just battle reports rewritten in the form of a novella. I thought that Age of Sigmar would be able to do the same thing, but now I am not so certain.
Borne by the Storm by Nick Kyme
The hammer blow has fallen and the Realmgate Wars begun. With the defeat of the Goretide at the Igneous Delta, Vandus Hammerhand leads the Hammers of Sigmar further into the Realm of Aqshy in search of the Khornate Warlords of the fallen Goretide, Khorgus Kul and Threx Skulltaker, both of whom remain at large. Determined to end Khul's legacy of carnage and avenge his former tribe, Hammerhand is convinced that Khul still has an ace up his sleeve, and if the monster's plan succeeds, all that the Stormcast have gained in the Realm of Fire will be for nought. But destiny swirls heavy around both Hammerhand and Khul, and it may be that the Gods have already decreed who will be the victor in this millennia old conflict between these two mighty champions.
The story in BbtS is the first real flaw; it's barely there. The novella's supposed plot is the Hammers of Sigmar attempting to stop Khorgos Khul from enacting his grand plan and ascending to Daemonhood, while Ionus Cryptborn and his own soldiers deal with Threx Skulltaker. But really that is a plot that only conists of one battle scene after another, making this novella nothing more than Hammer-porn (the Age of Sigmar equivalent to Bolter-porn) unfortunately. There was one small redeeming feature, a brief look into the relationship between the Lord-Relictors and their former master Nagash, and hints at the price their service to Sigmar costs them and what it may still cost them. Unfortunately even this scene, as interesting as it was, was let down by being confusing and not explaining clearly exactly what it was that a certain cameo character did to the soul in question. This novella's plot is emblematic of the problems with Age of Sigmar and it's potential for novels; in a universe of literally nothing but war, there is no potential for stories that can only be told in peaceful times. In this universe I do not see how stories like Sword of Justice/Vengeance, Blighted Empire or The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade can be told.
The characters in BbtS are the second flaw; they have no real personality. Vandus Hammerhand is wooden unlike his portrayal in Gates of Azyr where he came across as a warrior deeply conflicted over his past life and his present circumstances and how to reconcile the two. Here that barely receives a mention, he simply leads the way for the Stormcast and has a few cool fight scenes. Khorgos Khul has some amusing moments with other Chaos followers, but even he doesn't receive much attention and he could have been any Lord of Khorne in the end, the millennia-old relationship between Vandus and himself was not focused on and only received attention in a few lines. Only Ionus Cryptborn had real development as a character as we saw who he was, learned a bit more about who he is, and what becoming a Stormcast has cost him and will one day cost him more, but as I mentioned above this interesting scene was let down by events being unexplained; and even this did not receive much focus. Sadly Kyme focuses on battle scenes in this novella rather than developing the characters further, or even really giving them three-dimensional personalities, and this can't be ascribed to Stormcast being dull or uninspiring, something that means the novella truly suffers as a story and becomes hard to read at a certain point.
The action scenes in BbtS are what Kyme does focus on, and while they are fairly well done, there's far too much of it. Each scene is either a battle, a prelude to a battle, or the aftermath of a battle that is about to become the prelude to the next battle. Because of that the scenes blend together after enough pages have been turned and you have to really pay attention to the narrative to remind yourself which particular Khornate enemy the Stormcast are fighting and for what purpose at this point in the story. Any real enjoyment you can get from the battle scenes is drained by these problems and the fact that there's nothing really new here either; Stormcast fighting Khornate warriors, axes and hammers clashing, blood and death magic. In fact the novella actually makes the Stormcast look rather foolish in several battle scenes, depicting them as basically being regular human warriors in fancy armor with big weapons, with all the failings that mortals have and the Stormcast have supposedly been elevated above such as impetuousness, disobedience, and in some cases; fear. Yes seeing the Stormcast pulverize Khorgoraths by the dozen and Vandus Hammerhand go head to head with Khorgos Khul again was somewhat enjoyable, but there were too many failings here for me to actually get into the battle scenes. Only one fight at the end was really interesting because it revealed a rather interesting bit of information about the immortality of the Stormcast Eternals, something that if used correctly will up the stakes for the Stormcast characters in adventures to come.
The pacing was fairly unimpressive. The novella starts off with battle scenes and doesn't change from that, which makes the novella feel dragging and slow, which is further compounded by the wooden characters and lack of any real story which not only make the novella a difficult read but also drag down the few pros that the story posseses. The world-building is also lacklustre, the novel doesn't contain any scenes beyond the Realm of Aqshy and doesn't expand on anything for the worlds in the Age of Sigmar, something that further cements this story as Hammer-porn. One rather jarring moment was an inconsistency in the novella; multiple times across the story the Stormcasts act as if they do not know what will happen to them when they die, yet at the beginning one character makes reference to a character from an AoS short story who died and states they are waiting for him to "return", suggesting that they do actually know what happens to a Stormcast after they die (something that is confirmed in the other stories).
My favourite quote, really there was only one quote that didn't feel either dull or cheesy;
"A tithe is owed. A tithe shall be given. A soul for a soul."
The ending was sadly predictable and uneventful; the story, such as it was, ends as it was obvious it would from the very beginning, the characters are no different than they were at the start and not to mention that the only interesting thing that happened to one character was not elaborated on any further beyond my favourite quote above being repeated one or twice, and the final battle had no real differences from any other battle sequence beyond the context of the story and the reader's knowledge that it was the final battle of the novella. The novella doesn't even include an epilogue to show what happens to one particular character, instead leaving on a somewhat incomplete note.
For it's lack of a real story, wooden and one-note characters, repetitive action scenes and bland pacing I give Borne by the Storm a score of 3.0/10. This is a Bad novella in my eyes, with only a few scenes of worth that even then are let down by the flaws previously mentioned. Nick Kyme is an author whose writing a lot of people don't like, and after reading this story for the first time I see what they always refer to when they complain about his works; normally I enjoy Kyme so this was a first for me. Really I would suggest only reading this story if you really want to, and if you want to know what the few pieces of interesting information I mentioned were, ask someone (like me) who has read it for spoilers rather than wasting your time. This story is Hammer-porn, and not well-written Hammer-porn, and that is all that can really be said about it.
Storm of Blades by Guy Haley
The Realm of Metal, domain of the lost Duardin race, and now a fiefdom of the Great Conspirator Tzeentch and his ever-changing forces. Seeking to liberate this lost realm and recruit the Duardin as allies in the coming war against the Forces of Chaos, Sigmar dispatches the Celestial Vindicators led by Lord-Celestant Thostos Bladestorm to end the rule of Tzeentch, find the Children of Grungni and prove their worth as one of the Stormhosts of Azyrheim. But the servants of Tzeentch are not the slavering berserkers of Khorne to be led about by taunts and the promise of blood, and as the Vindicators march further and further into the abandoned mines and fortresses of the Realm of Chamon, they find that not only will none of their tasks will be as simple as they sound, but that Chaos has a few secrets of it's own in Chamon, ones that they will die to keep a secret.
The story in SoB is a drastic improvement over the first novella; there is a story here and while it is stil driven by battle and war, there is a goal beyond just that which leads to the first non-combat scenes in the book as the Vindicators search for the Duardin (Dwarves). Haley does a good job of bringing the mystery of the Duardin into the story, namely; Where are they? What has happened to them in the centuries of Chaos rule? Can they be found and brought back to the side of Sigmar? Though this mystery is not answered, I suspect because the focus of the campaign books is more on the Sylvaneth at the moment, Haley makes it an interesting part of the story and uses it to show the stunning vistas and wonders of the Realm of Chamon without making it seem like pointless scenery-showcasing. Though the story is driven by events dictated elsewhere rather than by the characters, their actions and personalities, it does read quite well and is supported by a side-plot featuring the villains and their own plans for the Realm of Metal that really make the events of the story and the Stormcast mission feel important, as if there will be dire consequences for failure beyond simply the stigma of defeat and a lost battle in a long war. One scene I very much enjoyed was the flashback that showed the Mortal Realms, or a small piece of it, during the Age of Chaos; we need to see more of that in these stories so that the current state of them will seem as grimdark as it should be.
The characters were quite well-written, the Stormcast felt both human and transhuman at differing times. Thostos Bladestorm was the best of the Stormcast side, particularly in a rather moving scene that shows how different he is from others of his kind where he wonders at the reasons behind why someone devotes themselves to Chaos and what choice they really have, the develoment he received explaining the downsides to being a Stormcast and showing what their rewards have cost them, and what it could cost them in the future; being a Stormcast Eternal it is not an easy path and I felt that the point behind Thostos's character development in this story was to highlight that. The villains were also well written, especially the Daemon Kairos Fateweaver; this particular monster has appeared before in Black Library but never before has he felt, to me, as he did in the Codex lore; a creature of pure truth and convincing lies, past and future mingling together, and ultimately a creature with two heads with differing personalities. But here he felt like a confusing (in a good way), amusing and interesting character(s?) that had some great back-and-forth with the lead villain Ephryx the Ninth who in turn was also an interesting character that I hope re-appears in the future. One of the most interesting parts of the novella though was the appearance of Sigmar the God-King, we gain a sense of him as he is in Age of Sigmar and it was quite an enjoyable and revealing scene; Sigmar has definitely changed over time, but there remains the humanity and sense of honour that has always been the core of his character from his time as a human to his state now as the God-King.
The action scenes in the book were very well written and powerful. The Stormcast here felt like real powerhouses, mobile tanks on the field that can each match the Champions of Chaos and strike fear into the hearts of the deadliest Chaos warriors. Every kind of Stormcast was also used in the story from Liberators to Prosecutors to the various kinds of Paladin, which gave the action scenes a nice amount of variety; speed, power and versatility on display in each scene. But the best part in my opinion was the depiction of Tzeentchian magic, all kinds of insanity and mutable change featured with balls of cackling fire turning Stormcasts into pools of colourful slidge, crystal statues or some particularly bizzare moments that you'd have to read for yourself. This variety helps to make each action scene feel different, and unlike the previous novella each battle feels distinct not only in what happens but also the context and levels of important, the opening skirmishes matter but it's the final battle that means something and the story reflects that, building up the kinds of enemy that the Stormcast face until some of the mightiest of Tzeentch's creatures are arrayed against them.
The pacing is quite well done, the story starting off slowly by looking at Thostos Bladestorm's past and then the mystery of the Duardin and where they have gone to, building up to when the battles actually begin, and once they do the story picks up quite a bit, getting quicker until it explodes in the final battle. This makes the story easy to read, the beginning giving the reader time to settle in and get a sense of the characters and where they story is going, then the battles getting the reader really drawn in along with the mystery behind the Duardin and the secret hidden by Chaos in the heart of the Ninth Tower. The world-building is quite interesting as well; the Realm of Metal gets described in some very nice detail with a focus on it's wonders, such as the Hanging Valleys of Anvrok, the Voids of Chamon or the Serpentine, the last of which I wish had been a bit more involved as it would have been one hell of a fight scene of it had been.
My favourite quote, I think it is a tie between these two, the first being rather surprising from such a character, and the second just being an awesome battlecry;
"But our anger might be better spared for the masters, and not the slaves."
"Sigmar! Vengeance! Sigmar!"
The ending was great and really absorbed me, showing the greatest consequence of being a Stormcast Eternal and what death really means to these champions of Order. But the best part was that the story laid the groundwork for an even bigger story that will no doubt be continued in the second instalment of the Realmgate Wars series, it's this kind of advancing storyline that had me so excited about Age of Sigmar novels in the first place, the idea of a grand story starting from the very beginning of this new Age and advancing further and further rather than stopping two minutes before the very end and looking more into the past then going into the apocalypse as 40k does and Warhammer Fantasy did prior to the End Times.
For a well written and engaging story, interesting characters that defy the mould, and action scenes that were very vivid and picturesque in addition to feeling powerful, I give Storm of Blades a score of 8.0/10. This is a Very Good novella that I think shows the good parts of Age of Sigmar in story form and also shows how the setting contains a lot of potential for well-written and interesting stories that revolve around more than just the Stormcast Eternals killing Chaos warriors. I would recommend this story to anyone who likes the new setting and wants to learn more about the Stormcast Eternals than just how they kill people.
The Gates of Dawn by Josh Reynolds
The Realmgate Wars continue as the Realm of Life languishes under the pestilent touch of Grandfather Nurgle. Sent to save the forests of life from the Plague God's children, the Hallowed Knights are tasked with purifying the Ghyrtract Fen from the foul corruption that has overtaken it while others of their Stormhost seek out the Goddess Alarielle to enlist the aid of her Sylvaneth armies. But the forces of Nurgle stationed at the Ghyrtract Fen are a lot more powerful than Gardus Steel Soul and his Hallowed Knights believe, and unless aid can reach them in time before Bolathrax and his Rotguard can take the Dawn Gates for themselves, the very first battle of the Hallowed Knights may be their last.
The story in The Gates of Dawn unfortunately falls under the category of Hammer-porn as the first novella in the anthology did, however the difference is that TGoD is well-written Hammer-porn; an important distinction that makes this a readable story, if not a very good or great one. As I read my way through the story I found myself questioning the point of this novella, ultimately it is about the Stormcast trying to hold a gateway from the Forces of Chaos and nothing else. Some potential for a deeper story is seen in the characters, but unfortunately it doesn't really go anywhere in either of the main characters, which was especially disappointing in Gardus Steel Soul as the hints of his past were very interesting, particularlyy a potential connection to Bolathrax and what that could mean for both of these characters in the future. But other then that this story felt more like battle scenes connected by a plot thread, albeit with some substance to them, but still not as much as I would have expected from a story by Josh Reynolds, the author who brought us Gotrek and Felix: Road of Skulls and Neferata.
The characters were written well, however that can only be said of three of them. Lord-Celestant Gardus Steel Soul was the most interesting character of the story, the hints at his past show a character who was perhaps not the type of person you would expect to have become a Stormcast, and the present shows a commander who cares about his troops and will go above and beyond for any one of them. However his past needed more exploration, the most we got were some breaks in the text as Gardus's past and present mix so seamlessly that he doesn't even seem to notice the breaks as he briefly enters a world that is gone even as he fights for his life. Zephacleas of the Astral Templars was another interesting lead character, the boisterous bruiser character type that you see so often in fiction about war, the guy who loves every minute of it but in a good I-like-the-challenge kind of way and whose always ready to lend a hand and pick up his brothers when they fall. Though he didn't get the level of development that Gardus did, he made enough of an impression that I would welcome seeing him again in a future Realmgate Wars story, perhaps featuring the Astral Templars as the lead rather than supporting characters. The only other character of note was Bolathrax, a Daemon of Nurgle and main antagonist who added a touch of joviality and wit to the story, which is something that I always welcome.
The action was well written and enjoyable, which is what makes this story readable despite the fact that it is Hammer-porn. The story is simply one battle scene after another, except for one or two scenes earlier in the story, and while the novella does drag somewhat near the end because of that, the variety in each battle scene continued to hold my interest and kept me from becoming bored. The Stormcast are matched well against the Nurglite Daemons, both are capable of great endurance and it shows as each side gives as good as it gets. There was a particular scene or two in the novella where I felt that a certain kind of Nurglite Daemon was underpowered compared to what I would expect of them, and they came in such numbers that the danger they should have presented was lessened by that fact, the concept of them in those numbers is scary but in execution it felt like too much and needed to be toned down. My favourite part of the battle scenes though had to be what happened near to the end, it would be spoilery to say but it made me very happy to see these particular foes again. However their leader suffered a little from the same problem as mentioned before, I would have expected him to be much more of a challenge to the Stormcast than he actually was.
The pacing of the story was fairly well done, the large number of battle scenes do make it start to drag a bit near to the end but prior to that the novella reads quite well thanks to variety in said battle scenes and the few scenes featuring Zephacleas that were outside battle breaking them up early on. Some world-building does feature, a little bit of Azyrheim is shown and some information is given about what the Stormcast were doing before the Gates of Azyr opened and the Age of Sigmar began, though it isn't very much unfortunately. It's the lack of real detail outside the battle-scenes that truly makes this story Hammer-porn in my opinion.
My favourite quote, I think is this one as it sums up what the Hallowed Knights are all about;
"Only the faithful!"
The ending was interesting to say the least. It also paints a very new picture of the Stormcasts considering the actions of one character at the end, and throws into question exactly how removed from humanity they are. While the story itself wasn't impressive, the potential found in the epilogue is brilliant and I am very interested in seeing if these two characters appear again and what will become of the situation they have found themselves in. As with SoB the ending lays the groundwork for future stories and that to me is a sign that the Age of Sigmar does have potential, though how realized that potential will be is another matter and one I am not so confident in anymore after reading the anthology.
For a story that felt unimportant and while being well-writen is ultimately Hammer-porn, characters that did draw my attention even if they were a bit unexplored and action scenes that were mostly enjoyable I give The Gates of Dawn a score of 6.7/10. This is an Above Average story that falls short of being Good (which would be a 7.-/10) due to it's lack of an interesting plot and limited development of characters. I think that this story is one that has to be read before you can decide whether or not you like it, it occupies that area where I can say that I personally found it alright but others may enjoy it more or less than I did, so really I would suggest that a reader try it and see for themselves.
In conclusion I give The Realmgate Wars: War Storm a grand score of 6.0/10. This is an Above Average anthology, only Storm of Blades and the good parts of The Gates of Dawn putting it above Below Average and Average, that is a good example of the pros and cons of Age of Sigmar. Overall I found the anthology to be a mixed bag. On the one hand there were truly good parts of it that showed the potential for stories that Age of Sigmar could tell, stories that Warhammer Fantasy could not tell, but on the other hand it shows the limitations as well. Warhammer 40k is billed as a future where "there is only war" but in actuality it's Age of Sigmar that actually deserves that description, because there is literally nothing but war. There's no real civilisation anymore, no great empires and none of the things that are a by-product of those things. This is not a world where great Warhammer stories like Swords of the Emperor, Blighted Empire or Neferata could be told because the aspects of their plot that don't revolve around combat don't exist in this new world; i.e politics, scheming, investigation, etc. All the stuff that happens outside the warzones, which doesn't happen in Age of Sigmar because the world is one big warzone. I remain confident that the world of Age of Sigmar is a great concept for a tabletop game, but now I wonder at the kind of novels that this new world is capable of supporting.
Best Story: Storm of Blades
Worst Story: Borne by the Storm
Favourite Story: Storm of Blades
That is it for this review, thank you very much for reading it. Until next time;
AVE DOMINUS NOX!