While Age of Sigmar has featured ongoing series and dramatic tales, there was no Gotrek and Felix to them, no Chronicles of Malus Darkblade or Vampire Geneviève to give it real distinction. The novels and short stories we had sometimes featured good tales, but they often required either prior engagement in the setting or lacked the diverse characters needed to give a saga a real meaning. Eight Lamentations seems set to fix that, as it serves as both a solid jumping on point for many older fans still unfamiliar with the older lore while also broadening the setting to offer a truly distinct and unique saga among the tales.
Like many elements of the existing tales, the story here links closely to ideas and relics from past ages. In this case it focuses upon a dark power forgotten by many until now. Weapons forged in the name of an ancient war have emerged once more, each worth more to a king than an entire legion of immortal warriors. While thought lost for ages, they have unexpectedly returned, and with them possible damnation for all involved in the ongoing war. Should the Ruinous Powers claim the first of these weapons for themselves, the Spear of Shadows, the lands would flow with an unending tide of blood. To halt this catastrophe, a band of mortal heroes have been assembled to recover the weapon and return it to its true owner: The smith-god Grungni.
Compared to many other works within this setting, it honestly seems as if this is a concerted effort by Age of Sigmar to step back and establish more ground for writers to work on. That is meant in the most literal of senses as, rather than demi-gods, ancient warriors or stormborn crusaders, the heroes we follow are very much mortal. They retain more than a few links back to the Old World in more ways than one, and with such a diverse cast of humans,
dwarves duardin, skaven and even the odd vampire, the book is able to explore a multitude of aspects at once. We see more of how certain cultures have survived and adapted to their new home, how some races have even thrived in this hellish realm while others cling to the tatters of their old lives. It's certainly an interesting choice, as it helps to give more context to the figures on every side without making the book feel overburdened or reliant upon nostalgia for the forgotten world.
Another factor which definitely works in this book's favour is how it manages to still give many characters a unique face despite being used as a representation of their culture. More than a few times on this site reviews have been forced to point out how characters lean more towards being certain archetypes or examples of their faction than individuals. While this is partially true in one or two cases, you never lose sight of how they remain strong individuals. Volker, for example, does fit a few of the more commonly human traits of asking audience questions or serving as the outsider. At the same time, the story does push to set up a few details thanks to his role as a survivor, and his history with a few of the other races. Just because he needs to act as the audience surrogate doesn't stop him from being a solid primary character after all, and the likes of Roggen work well against them due to their contrasting natures. Much of that is down to their origins (one a knight, the other a gunsmith born in Sigmar's realm) but the book utilises them well.
The fact the heroes are mortal also helps significantly in terms of the book's tone. There's a very Conan-esque feel to the events thanks to the individuals, scope and figures involved. Not so much the cheesy if fun Schwarzenegger film but more the original novels, where you had heroes wandering through the towers or sorcerers or stumbling upon eldritch horrors. A place where much of the world was still uncharted, still wild and untamed, but built-up enough to feature a few hubs of civilisation, where people have adapted as best they can to life there. This is established early on with Grungni, standing over a forge made from the hissing molten form of a daemon and using its power to craft new weapons and each others his trade. It's the sort of thing Fantasy could rarely get away with, but the shift in setting and the ability to more actively depict such figures works in its favour when given to the right writer.
The actual world building on display is fantastic here, with some incredibly creative, surreal and generally fantastical details which truly hooks you in very early on. While previous works seemed set to largely leave the Mortal Realms as a craggy corrupted wasteland ruled by Chaos, Reynolds seemed to ask "How has life there changed?" As a result of this, the reader is granted environments such as a forest of spiders which makes Mirkwood seem tame, a duardin city in the sky, a city built upon a leviathan worm and a real population to work with. Scavenging demigryph riders, airship riding prospectors and the evolution of the Slayer cult (sort of) all show up here, and this is the real strength of the work. You're given a real sense of the scale of the conflict. Rather than being just a waste being fought over, the location has settings, people, histories and details to really work with. We know about the factions now, but this book gives us a real look into the actual battlefield itself.
If you don't quite understand how important this is, consider the following: When anyone brings up the Old World, you immediately have several key images come to mind. Cities, cultures, people and even historical events. The Mortal Realms have lacked that, and in trying to flesh out the factions and their homes, it seems that this was often overlooked. As was how it might have adapted over time. After all, the Fallout games were all set in lethal wastelands, but that didn't stop some people recovering and starting to rebuild in some places.
While this could have easily devolved into a sight seeing tour, many of the key events are thankfully mostly handled without it losing sight of the narrative. There's always a clear race against time involved, and even when it takes a moment to shift gears to move onto an Overseer city, it's always towards a clear end goal. It's in much the same way that - to bring up Middle-Earth again - the Fellowship of the Ring might have stopped at Rivendell and Edoras, but it was always to serve a purpose and an important goal. The scenes of the world offered thanks to it were always in service to that greater saga, with the villains never falling out of focus.
This being said, there are definitely a few problems despite these positives.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this book is how mixed the fight scenes really are. For someone as talented and well versed in Warhammer as Josh Reynolds, a few fights distinctly lacked the sort of punch and detail which truly benefits the brutal nature of melee battles. There are some truly great ones to be sure, but more often than not those emerged towards the end of the first act onward and often benefited more from the unique settings. A conflict against sky-sharks or the brawl against the skaven in a forgotten place stand out thanks to use of the setting or their sheer scale. These broader descriptions or more poetic elements tend to work in Reynolds' favour, and it's what helps him to truly give the setting such a distinct feel of uniqueness. Without them however, some conflicts lack the sort of grounding and impact that they truly need. Were this taking place quite late on it would be one thing, but because one such event emerges within the early chapters, it makes it difficult to initially get into.
The introduction to the story also lacks some of the establishment and slower pace which benefited works such as his Fabius Bile novel. While the opening chapter focusing upon Grungni is a fantastic start, the introduction of the villains seems disconnected. It doesn't stick with one place for long enough to truly allow you to get to grips with some of the scenes and elements, and the fact that we jump right from the "big good" of the book standing over a forge to the evildoer doing the same seems oddly repetitive. It could have been used to easily flow from one scene to the next or even to strike up beneficial contrasts, but the presentation and set-up lacks more than a few of the elements which would have helped in this regard. Instead it makes it seem as if the novel is jumping around from one scene to the next at a rapid pace without fully establishing a primary character to follow, and can throw you through a loop to start with.
Another issue which does crop up is how the novel only offers a few key moments for certain characters. Bits to truly slow down and let them shine, or even conversations to better reflect upon their world views. This does benefit the novel's brisk pacing, and what we get is still great, but in regards to some more recent works it's hard not to say that there should have been more. While it might be unfair to directly compare this with the Black Legion, a few slower paced moments or longer conversations to give them a bit more life. The fact that Grungni is granted the most such moments is what helps him to stand out above all others (and yes, this is a rare moment where meeting a god and showing him physically truly worked out for the best) but it can leave you just wishing to see more of him over the others present.
Perhaps the final point above all else is how this book feels a lot like the start of a greater story, rather than an individual chapter of a bigger work. It is very effective in laying down the ground work for future tales and serving as an introduction to a larger event, but it rarely seems to be its own story. While it certainly has a self-contained tale and three distinct acts, a great deal is left to carry over to future works or be ironed out later on. As such, it can leave you feeling as if there should have been more at the end. Even without just cutting the end or closing on blatant sequel bait to lead directly into the next story a-la Lords of Mars, it lacks the sort of pause for closure which can make a read satisfying.
Honestly, most of the problems found here are more general flaws than definite scars that stick out in the narrative. Were it not for the fact that Spear of Shadows front loads several ones at once into its opening chapters, they would largely be unworthy of mentioning. Unfortunately, because it does, it can make the book difficult to really get into, and it can be problematic to absorb so much scattered information and details before it finds its footing. Despite that however, this is a definite success, and it is one of the strongest stories to come out of the Age of Sigmar line to date.
This is the sort of book I would hand to any fan - old or new - to make them want to get involved in the game and learn more about the world. It gives so many wonderful details and new ideas that it's hard to give any solid reason not to recommend unless you are adamantly disinterested in the whole franchise. Seeing how the world has changed, what some people have been forced to do in order to survive, and offering shout outs to Fantasy without remaining completely beholden to the Old World makes this truly entertaining. Top this off with one of the most surprising (and hilarious) mentions of what appears to be Malaki Makaisson's creations, and it's difficult not to enjoy once it gets going. Mark this one down as a worthy purchase, and keep an eye out for future Eight Lamentations works in the months to come.
Verdict: 6.8 out of 10