Book Review: “Headtaker” by David Guymer

Headtaker, by David Guymer

Headtaker, by David Guymer

Today, forum moderator Ath brings us a review of Headtaker, by David Guymer.

The Skaven are well-established in Warhammer fiction, their first appearance dating back to the classic Skavenslayer stories in the early 1990s, and their portrayal has remained relatively consistent since then. They are a darkly comedic bunch, on the one hand horrifying monsters intent on devouring the world of men, but on the other, treacherous, arrogant and incompetent enough that their plans never quite fall into place and dissolve into bickering and finger-pointing. This can make them challenging to read, as the constant plots and backstabbing sometimes seem in danger of becoming predictable and repetitive, but when done well they are thoroughly enjoyable.

“Mr Guymer is not afraid of tackling some of the more common complaints about the Skaven head-on…”

 

Queek Headtaker, by Games Workshop Artist Mark Gibbons.

Queek Headtaker, by Games Workshop Artist Mark Gibbons.

As far as I’m aware, this novel is both David Guymer’s first full-length Warhammer fantasy story, and the first time Black Library have issued a Skaven-centric novel not written by either William King or C.L. Werner. The eponymous Queek Headtaker has been a special character on the Warhammer tabletop for some time, but, other than a brief cameo in a Thanquol novel, hasn’t really appeared in the fiction or background until now. This book therefore represents an opportunity to do something new and different with the Skaven, and largely succeeds in that goal, while remaining faithful and respectful of the precedent set by Messrs. King and Werner.

The plot revolves around an attempt by the Skaven to attack the Dwarf fortress of Karak Azul, a major manufacturing hold, to disrupt the Dwarf infrastructure. Meanwhile the Dwarfs of Karak Azul have plans of their own to punish the local orcs and goblins for a previous humiliation. The real focus of this book, though, as with most of the Warhammer Heroes line, is on the characters, rather than the plot itself.

Queek is an unconventional Skaven character. He has no interest in the usual politics that the Skaven preoccupy themselves with, nor does he display any real sense of self-preservation, enjoying a good scrap and preferring to fight in the front lines. It seems he has maintained his position through the favour of his clanlord, together with his personal ferocity and the loyalty of his lieutenant, who actually organises his army. He is widely believed mad, although it is hinted at various points that this might at least in part be an act designed to disorient political rivals. He makes a refreshing change from the Skaven as traditionally portrayed, while still remaining distinctively one of them.

“Most disappointingly, the Dwarf plot ends without a real resolution, which leaves the reader hanging.”

 

The main character, however, is not really Queek himself, but Sleek Sharpwit, an envoy of the ruling Skaven council sent to supervise Queek’s mission. Sharpwit is even more unconventional than Queek, an almost entirely original Skaven character. Mr Guymer is not afraid of tackling some of the more common complaints about the Skaven head-on; one memorable scene has Sharpwit lamenting Skaven short-sightedness where, following a collapsed tunnel, they would rather dig through it and trust to luck rather than take the time to clear it properly. Sharpwit is accompanied – and constantly hindered by – the more conventional Skaven Grey Seer Razzel, who resents his position of authority. I found Sharpwit’s efforts to manage Queek and Razzel and play one off against the other while retaining his own position to be some of the highlights of the novel.

We also see something of the Dwarf characters who stand in the way of the Skaven: Thordun, a young Dwarf from the human Empire who is seeking to make his fortune in the Dwarf lands, and Handrik, a Dwarf elder and friend to the king who is trying to make right a recent embarrassment.

“…the book does a great job of continuing the strong Warhammer Heroes novel line and is probably the best entry in that series for some time. It should appeal to existing Skaven fans as well as those who have struggled with previous portrayals…”

 

While the Dwarfs are generally realised well, Thordun’s story is one of the weaker plot threads, as the character and his human sidekicks seem to be used largely as a means of creating conflict among other characters and driving more interesting plot developments. Handrik is a strong and memorable character, though, displaying generosity of spirit combined with a badly injured pride and a stubborn melancholy.

If the book has a real weakness it is in its final act, where I found that the number of concurrent subplots and characters, and the cutting between them, made the story rather difficult to follow. Most disappointingly, the Dwarf plot ends without a real resolution, which leaves the reader hanging.

Queek Headtaker, model available at Games Workshop.

Queek Headtaker, model available at Games Workshop.

As always, I found it a little frustrating to have the possibility of real world development dangled during the course of the book; while the book doesn’t exactly return things to the status quo as is common with such Black Library novels, it still falls short of giving us anything in the way of progress. The Skaven characters have a more satisfactory conclusion.

Overall, the book does a great job of continuing the strong Warhammer Heroes novel line and is probably the best entry in that series for some time. It should appeal to existing Skaven fans as well as those who have struggled with previous portrayals, and should also be accessible as a standalone novel (although the absence of a map is not helpful in this regard). Throughout, Headtaker manages to remain faithful to the setting and background while at the same time is unafraid to attempt something more original, an effort which I thought was on the whole very successful.

Follow the Bolthole at @BLBolthole. David Guymer can be followed @WarlordGuymer.

Author Interview – Gav Thorpe

Monday is here and that means we have another interview! The guest of honour on the blog today is Gav Thorpe, game designer and author extraordinaire. As he himself says in this in-depth interview, he has been with Games Workshop’s two settings for a long, long time and he has racked up a credits list like few others in that time.

He is most famous for his Last Chancers novels which star a remarkable Penal Legion regiment of the Imperial Guard, his Path of the Eldar novels which give some of the most in-depth look into this ancient elder race of the galaxy, his Slaves to Darkness trilogy which was written in the early days of the Old World and many, many others. He has also written rulesets and lore for a variety of factions in both settings, particularly the mid-generation rules.

He has enjoyed great success with his work over the years and the future looks bright for him. Let’s see what the man himself has to say.

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Author Interview – Anthony Reynolds

Hello folks, and welcome to what will be the last author interview for February. Today, we have Anthony Reynolds himself in the spotlight as he talks about the Word Bearers, Bretonnians, Villains and his future works.

Anthony Reynolds brought the Word Bearers Chaos Legion to the forefront with his excellent novels featuring the Dark Apostle Marduk and his battle-brothers of the 34th Host. He has also written about the Knights of Bretonnia, telling the tale of one in particular, Calard, and Chlod. And of course, he has also worked extensively with the Games Workshop Design Studio in the past so he has seen both sides of the lore and has helped shape it.

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Author Interview – Andy Hoare

Its a Monday today and that means that we have a brand-new interview for your reading pleasure. This week it is Andy Hoare taking a stroll through these parts and talking about his old and new work alike.

Andy has worked on several codexes and armybooks for the Games Workshop Design Studio, particularly Witchhunters, Tau, Imperial Guard, Dark Angels, Orcs and Goblins, Lustria, Lizardmen and also the latest main rulebook editions of both Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 as well. Andy’s credit also includes work on several expansion liness with Apocalypse, Storm of Chaos, Eye of Terror and the Thirteenth Black Crusade among others.

With Black Library, his credits include the three Rogue Trader novels and The Hunt for Voldorius as well as a few short stories. He has also worked extensively with Fantasy Flight Games, working for their various role-playing game franchises licensed through Games Workshop, Rogue Trader, Dark Heresy, Deathwatch and more. One of his latest books is Deathwatch: First Founding which details the direct successors of the loyalist legions at the end of the Horus Heresy.

So let’s see what revelations Andy has for us about his career.

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Author Interview – Clint Lee Werner

Apologies for the late posting but things have been quite hectic in Shadowhawk-land. Suffice to say that I redeem myself by bringing a long-time fan-favourite author to the blog. If you all thought that all the previous interviews have been amazing then you are about to get a one-up on them. C L Werner, or rather Carandini as he is known on the Bolthole, has provided some rather meaty answers and his enthusiasm definitely shows through.

His name is synonymous with that of Grey Seer Thanquol, one of the most treacherous and fun-to-read skaven character ever, as well as his early Chaos Wastes novels which helped to define this realm in even more detail than before. Other may remember the Brunner and the Matthias Thulmann novels as well. He is also a regular in the Warhammer Heroes brand for Warhammer Fantasy and has also appeared a few times in the monthly Black Library e-zine, Hammer & Bolter.

With several short stories and novels under his belt, many of them part of series and trilogies, we are going to see just what makes him tick and where he gets his inspiration from.

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Author Interview – Graham McNeill

Happy New Year folks! Hope you have all had a great ending to 2011 and an equally great beginning for 2012. We took a break during the closing week of December but now we are back and with our biggest author interview yet. Today, we are going to be meeting with Graham McNeill, who has been a part of both Games Workshop and Black Library for a long, long time. He has worked on several codexes and armybooks over the year and was a White Dwarf writer as well.

He is the author of the long-running Ultramarines novels featuring the Fourth Company under the atypical Captain Uriel Ventris. He has written various trilogies and duologies for Warhammer Fantasy, particularly the Sigmar novels for Age of Legend. He brought the Iron Warriors to life with his early novel Storm of Iron and later with the Iron Warrior novella. Over time, he has moved on to the Horus Heresy series where he is the most prolific writer yet and all his HH novels have been fantastic.

One of his previous Horus Heresy novels, A Thousand Sons, that focuses on the mysteries and motivations of the Thousands Sons legion and their enigmatic psyker-Primarch, Magnus, was the first Black Library novel to make it to the New York Times Bestsellers List on its release. It debuted at number 22. This was also a first for Graham McNeill, and given that the Horus Heresy series is already a top-selling brand from Black Library, the popularity of everyone involved just soared in its wake.

In short, he is one of the most well-known, respected, prolific and fun writer for Black Library.

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Author Interview – Nick Kyme

Happy Monday morning folks!

Today we have our third author interview, this time with Nick Kyme, author of various Black Library publications such as The Tome of Fire series, the Dwarf novels Oathbreaker and Honourkeeper for Warhammer Fantasy, Fall of Damnos, Horus Heresy: Promethean Sun, the audio drama Thunder from Fenris and many others.

His latest includes the third Salamanders novel, Tome of Fire: Nocturne which is currently available in both print and digital form, the short story Blueblood in the Sabbat Worlds Anthology and also a Salamanders short story, The Burning, in Hammer & Bolter 14.

Nick is also an editor with Black Library, and has worked particularly on the Heroes of the Space Marines anthology.

Shall we dive in to the interview then?

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