|Bit of a lazy cover art to be honest (it's the same as the Pestilens battletome).|
On the Amber Steppes of Ghur, the Crawling City is dying. The rabid devotees of the Clans Pestilens have infested this colossal worm and the structures upon its back, bringing poison and corruption with them. They seek to glorify their foul deity by unleashing one of the prophesied Great Plagues, and the Crawling City holds the key. In their way stand Sigmar’s Stormhosts, and stranger enemies still – the skaven must overcome not only these foes but their natural disunity and suspicion, if they are to lay their claws upon the baleful prize at the Crawling City’s heart.
Written by Josh Reynolds
I'll do this one in three parts:
The Skaven Storyline
Skuralanx - The Scurrying Dark, the Cunning Shadow, etcetera. This guy is the main reason that the skaven have come to the Crawling City. Reading internal monologue and dialog from a Verminlord is a first for me. I had no frame of reference on how these things are usually handled and had no set expectations. Especially in the case of these epic daemons and how alien and mysterious their inner workings are supposed to be, I was surprised that this one got as much 'screen time' as he did and we got to see so much of his true plans and intentions. All in all, Skuralanx turned out to be a pretty relatable guy and it was fun to watch him start out the story as the grand manipulator, seeing himself as a puppeteer behind the scenes, yet gradually becoming more and more involved and forced to get physical (literally) as his underlings inevitably screwed up.
***SPOILER***Though I didn't mind having the Verminlord die at the end of the book, the way he did was pretty brutal and humiliating. Smashed by the hammer of the same Sigmar statue he was mocking in the beginning. There was a point even before that in the book where his incompetence was emphasized a little bit too much for my tastes. It also seems a strange move to me to have a book that is obviously intended for a skaven-playing audience where the skaven champion is so thoroughly defeated. With Mantius being the only casualty on the stormcast side to show for. Thank the Horned One we still had Kruk.***SPOILER***
Kruk and Vretch - Kruk is the main plague priest of the Congregation of Fumes and Vretch is a plague priest of the Red Bubo. Kruk is a dumb (but occasionally cunning) brute who has probably taken a few too many whiffs of his own censer, while Vretch is a more traditional Skaven who'd rather scheme his way out of a situation than actually confront a foe. Both of them serve as pawns in Skuralanx's plan to get the Great Plague, but, throughout the book, Vretch seems to be the only one making any actual progress. Kruk, in turn, does almost all of the fighting against the stormcast and the seraphon. I think both characters are well written and Reynolds did a good job making them distinctive from eachother despite the both of them technically being regular skaven plague priests.
***SPOILER***Something I really liked from this book is the great twists of their stories at the end of the book. Despite all his cunning, Vretch only manages to become a victim of the very plague he hoped to find and eventually goes through all this trouble only to end up with the wrong relic. The ending in the epilogue where Kruk survives his fall down the gut of the worm and makes an almost destined landing amid the ancient lab where the Great Plague was created was greatly satisfying as well. Both Vermalanx and Vretch were constantly in it for the personal glory. Perhaps we're meant to conclude that Kruk was the only one acting as a true servant of the Great Corrupter. I don't know if that was the intended message, but after all that failure and catastrophe on the skaven front, it was nice to see Kruk rewarded for all of his unthinking devotion.***SPOILER***
The Stormcast/Seraphon Storyline
Zephacleas, Mantius, Seker, Tethacleas - To be perfectly honest, I didn't pick up this book to read about Stormcast. I get the fact that they're the new thing that needs to be marketed and require somewhat of an open mind to accept that they are not by definition uninteresting, but damn I find it hard to like these guys. It didn't help that the Astral Templars (the name of the warrior chamber) are apparently supposed to be a more 'feral' or 'wild' themed chamber. Especially their Lord Celestant: Zephacleas comes across basically as a sort of barbarian king who enjoys fighting more than thinking and is in a constant state of straight forwardness while bellowing manly things to his fellow warriors, except not in a particularly funny way. It felt a bit simple to watch him develop a brotherly bond with the seraphon sunblood Sutok mainly because they both enjoy bashing in the heads of other things with blunt objects. I don't remember the exact page number, but there might even have been a moment where they actually bro-fisted. Yuck.
The other stormcast characters were a bit more fun to read. Mantius was maybe the only one I really liked. The fact that he had a magical falcon from the realm of azyr was pretty cool, his nickname "Far-killer" is pretty bad ass and his fight against the Skuralanx was also quite good. In the end though I probably would have preferred to read more from the viewpoint of the original inhabitants of the city who were enslaved by the skaven. There has been a general complaint about the background of Age of Sigmar that the regular humans are not featured nearly enough in the story. Perhaps it's because the GA: Order book wasn't out yet, so the details of the human civilizations weren't really known, but the book could've done more with that in my opinion. Having all that focus on the stormcast instead was, I think, a missed opportunity to win back the hearts of some of the old fantasy vets.
Kurkori, Takatakk, Sutok, etc. - The arrival of the seraphon was a nice surprise and a nice shift of focus from all of the stormcast exposition. The whole 'star-dream-magic-heaven-energy' thing the lizardmen have got going on now is still a little strange to me and takes a bit of getting used to (especially considering how incredibly vague the lore on it still is). Nevertheless, I guess it all helps make them seem mysterious and alien again. Their introduction creates an interesting comparison between the stormcast, who are also made from some sort of star-energy and they serve as a great enemy for the skaven as well. While the stormcast are kind of the new kid on the block as far as beings like Skuralanx are concerned, the skaven are positively sh***ing themselves when they find out the 'star-devils' are getting involved.
Honorable Mention: Shu'gohl - She's a pretty big gall and served as a fun and interesting setting for the story. The various locations that were on her back (the Sahg'gohl, the Dorsal Barbicans, the Setaen Palisades, the Libraria Vurmis, etc) got confusing to me pretty quickly. Maybe because english isn't my first language, maybe because I'm not an expert on worm biology, who knows. In any case, the skaven vs stormcast/seraphon and infection vs immune system metaphor was not lost on me and quite a cool analogy to see.
The Verdict (a solid 10 out of 13)
I think the book is great. Yeah, it might have been better if there had been less stormcast and more humans.
***SPOILER***And yeah, it would have been nice if the skaven could have achieved a better victory instead of the highly speculative ending/humiliating defeat that we got.***SPOILER***
But honestly, this book is 183 pages of great action, cool plot twists, fantastic places and interesting characters. Although the book seemed a bit short to me for the price that it's sold at, the 183 pages do keep the book from becoming boring or too demanding on your time. I've never read an age of sigmar novel before, yet I feel like I've had a good idea of what to expect from now on and the potential for great adventures that the new setting has within. If you've got 20 euro's to spare and have an interest in Pestilens, Astral Templars and/or Seraphon, do yourself a favor and add this tome to your collection.
For the glory of the Horned Rat!