Warrior Priest by Darius Hinks (A Review)

 Another review for you all today as Vivia talks about Darius Hinks’s Empire Army novel, Warrior Priest. Just as with our last, this review is an interesting one too and we hope you like this one as well. Enjoy!

My first book by Darius Hinks was Sigvald, a wonderfully mad, dark fantasy novel about a Slaaneshi champion and his adventures in the Chaos Wastes. It was with excitement and great expectations I went on to read his first novel, Warrior Priest.

We are introduced to the main characters as they save a woman from being burned at the stake for witchcraft. She is saved by them, but not in the way we expect. The saviours and heroes of Warhammer are dark and brutal and in Warrior Priest we get a fine example of that sort of hero in the Sigmarite priest Jakob Wolff.

Almost from the start there is tension between Anna, the Shallya priestess, and the warrior priest. Their ideologies are opposites; one is a healer and the other a warrior, and gives an interesting view into the different religions of the Warhammer world that is rarely seen. Not as much as I would have liked to see but glimpses from time to time. They dislike each other and it doesn’t change much as the story goes on.

The atmosphere in the first half of the book is reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic world. War has left Ostland in ruins and people cling to faith in desperation and it’s hard not to feel they’re in a hopeless situation. Hinks conveys this feeling of despair with grey, rainy days, filth, mud and desolation. It’s a very dark world depicted in Warrior Priest and that’s exactly as it should be. The degree of violence is high and horrible in its brutality; I like it as this gives more depth to the battle scenes. There is one very atmospheric fight with man against beast, which gave me the chills.

About two thirds into the story, it changes pace and the reader is forced into the point of view of another character that is suddenly introduced. Important for the story as he is, his inclusion feels disjointed from the rest of the story and comes out of nowhere.  I can’t help think these chapters could have been improved by extensive editing and it makes the story lack structure. It’s puzzling why we get such an in-depth view into this character and yet Jacob, the star of the story, is left mostly undeveloped. The story doesn’t really recover from it and the ending is by the rulebook, a mocking villain with dastardly plans of Evil, though the villain’s master was exciting but it’s nothing remarkable. It was hard to keep on reading until the end as I thought the main plot was turning weaker and weaker.

The last chapters display Hinks’s penchant for gore and revolting details including bodily fluids and entrails all over the place. There is a particularly disgusting and graphic scene that almost made me wretch, concerning corpses and the semi-dead, quite realistic considering the circumstances. This is what the author excels at and what I love to read. His descriptions are very vivid and intense. Be aware of this and also don’t eat while reading. I totally lost my appetite several times throughout the story.

The last fight between good and evil was unconvincing, it was over rather quickly and left me wondering if this was the author’s manner of saying that evil can be small and petty. The problem is that I didn’t think it was handled very well; the plot just fell apart, no matter the efforts of giving us a background story in earlier chapters. The actual ending feels more of an afterthought from the writer and was fascinating but rather unnecessary to the main story. The story and characters deserved a better closure.

The characters aren’t always consistent either: Ratboy, Jacob’s acolyte, has an inexplicable attraction towards Anna, the priestess. Perhaps this is Hinks’s way of pointing out that everyone in this mad world is corrupted and weak, but it isn’t really dwelled upon, interesting as it would have been. Another minor character is left completely out of a big portion of the story despite having a good start in the beginning.

Which leads me to my other complaint: the main female character in the story Anna is used as the ‘romantic’ interest of a few of the male characters throughout the book. I could argue this works with the story and the setting but is leaves me disappointed once again with the female characters (nothing new when I read a Black Library novel). In his defence Hinks writes the women better than most but Sigvald is a better example of this and he isn’t afraid of showing their more disturbing sides.

It doesn’t stop me from sighing every time this happens with the poor underused women characters. It’s also how they’re described; the men tend to be put in better light than the women, in unbridled male-worship. You can’t escape the fact that the Black Library stories favour the men, and considering that the writers are mostly men it puts an interesting angle into this. Think what you want but hey, it’s there. Take a look from all sides.

Despite the books many flaws I’m quite pleased to say that Hinks avoid many of the usual, and annoying, Black Library clichés. His characters are flawed, they come across as real people and we understand them. They suffer, they get hurt and their faith is strong. His dialogue is realistic and he doesn’t fall in to the trap of stilted speech to convey a sense of archaism or an epic feel – something most Black Library stories are guilty of and not in a good way. When this happens, it throws me right out of the story and makes my teeth hurt.

At times it feels as if the world of Warhammer and its many horrors is the main focus of the story, not the characters. I’m not complaining, it’s a place that has a wonderful dark atmosphere, sometimes bordering on horror, with many layers of secrets and that is what we want to read about. It’s as much part of the stories as the characters.

Read and enjoy it but don’t expect the same thrill and brilliance of Sigvald, Hinks second novel.  Most importantly keep reading Darius Hinks because he is an interesting author and I expect many dark and violent tales from him in the future.

Many thanks to my betas, Merci and Liliedhe. Their help was much appreciated.

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