AoS REVIEW: Bladestorm

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In the eight installment in the Realmgate Wars series, the Lord-Celestants have their work cut out for them and face death itself.

In the eight installment in the Realmgate Wars novel series we get to follow Thostos Bladestorm and Mykos Argellon as they lead their Warrior Chambers into Ghur to take and hold the Manticore Gate. Faced with brutal orruks and the savage bloodbound, the Lord-Celestants have their work cut out for them, but will Thostos be able to overcome the difficulties of his own reforging to claim the gate in Sigamr’s name?

 

Bladestorm, just like Call of Archaon and Black Rift before it, started out life as a serialized story, with each chapter released on its own. You can tell this right away since there are only eight chapters, and each one is fairly long. The story is somewhat short from what we have come to expect, but it by no means impacts my enjoyment of the book negatively. The whole thing flowed very well and I never got bored with what was going on. The only indication in the story flow that this was once serialized is the fact that each major battle is self contained to its own chapter. This is also the first novel from new author Matt Westbrook within AoS and he of course bring his own unique writing style to it which I will get to in a bit.

The story opens with Thostos and Argellon dispatched to Ghur to reclaim the Manticore Gate from the forces of the Bloodbound. This is located in the Manticore Dreadhold of infamy, the one that the orruks keep tearing down and chaos keeps rebuilding. Thostos is cold and distant due to his reforging, something we saw already in Ghal Maraz, and it has Argellon worried. He is unsure if he can trust the other Lord-Celestant to make calm and calculated decisions. Right away they encounter a small band of humans fleeing from some pursuing orruks and rush to their defense. After rescuing them Argellon is determined to help them while Thostos sees them only as a liability. This really underpins their entire relationship, with Mykos Argellon still retaining much of his humanity while Thostos has lost most if not all of his.

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The humans we meet are led by Alzheer, an extremely competent tribal leader. She is actually probably my favorite character in the whole story. Her tribe is nearly extinct, having to constantly flee from the orruks. They all still worship Sigmar, in a way, and in fact, their culture is pretty interesting and fairly fleshed out for such a small part in the story. Interestingly they don’t see the bloodbound as much of a threat, and in fact are somewhat happy that they are there since they distract the orruks away from them. Seeing the Stormcast try and interact with the mortals back at their camp is entertaining, with some having more success than others. The bloodbound launch a night attack on the camp looking for slaves to sacrifice in a ritual, but bite off more then they can chew when they run into the Stormcast.

From here the Stormcast and tribal people’s move on the attack to take the Dreadhold from the forces of chaos. What most people think would be the climax of the novel actually takes place about halfway through. I don’t want to talk too much about what happens during this battle, since it will give away some key plot points, but it’s pretty epic and a great read. Later the Stormcast must face off against the Ironjawz hordes outside the fortress, which ends in my favorite battle scene of the whole novel with Mykos Argellon taking on the whole horde 300 style. Again, it’s really hard to talk about these scenes without ruining the book for you. Another favorite of mine, and probably the best part of the book to me, is when Alzheer and three Stormcast must venture into a series of cave networks to find and eliminate some vile Chaos scum who fled a previous battle. When there are only three Stormcast they don’t seem as invincible as they do as a whole force. The fighting becomes much more visceral and brutal and we discover that they are a lot closer to human then we thought. Also, their deaths may not be as swift as we have been led to believe. This is important to me because it adds some gravitas to when they become injured or die, it’s not just a reset button for them.

This novel spends a lot of time dealing with the repercussions of death amongst the Stormcast actually, which is great, because I think it is the most interesting aspect of them. Clearly they don’t die permanently in most cases, but it’s not as clean and repercussion free as a quick glance may make you think. Unlike most novels this book really has about three or four separate climaxes, each as impressive and important as the last. This feels a little more realistic to me since in real life things don’t tie off in a neat bow after one fight. The forces of order keep getting thrown back into the fight, each time more tired and depleted than before. Matt Westbrook has a rather unique writing style when compared to the other Black Library authors. At first it almost seemed choppy to me since he jumps around from perspectives so much within a single chapter, but I soon got used to it and ended up really enjoying it. The “choppiness” gives it a fast paced feeling which keeps the story moving along, but sacrifices none of the depth of character or moment. Alzheer and Argellon are the standout characters in this, both feeling very complete and real. Thostos is great as well, but he is supposed to be somewhat robotic so at times he is not the most interesting to read. This is a great foil to Argellon though and he does have a bit of an arc throughout the story, coming to appreciate the mortals a bit more.

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The fighting is also super brutal and realistic. If some of the other AoS novels have felt grand and sweeping in their battles, like Lord of the Rings are something like that, Bladestorm is more closely related to the Jason Bourne series. Every blow feels real and when a Stormcast gets injured they don’t just act like nothing happened, they are injured and you know it. This doesn’t mean they don’t keep dishing out the pain themselves, it just makes their actions even cooler. It’s not that they don’t feel the pain, the feel it alright, they just fight through it regardless. The fights in the cave tunnels and Argellon’s fight against the orruks near the end particularly have this gritty feeling. I really enjoyed it and would definitely read another story by Matt in a heartbeat. He covered all of the important facets of AoS that make the novels interesting, the cost of death for Stormcast, the regular mortals still fighting for survival within the Realms, and the over the top awesome fight scenes.

I would call this book a definite triumph and a great introduction of Matt Westbrook to the AoS scene, it’s also a quick read. If you want something fast paced, gritty, realistic, and entirely engaging then I highly recommend picking this up. All of the characters’ actions have consequences and all of those consequences have real weight and gravitas to them. It’s tough and brutal, almost like a street fight, with great fantasy moments throughout, because don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of high fantasy moments in this too, they just feel grounded. You don’t really need to have read anything previously to be able to read Bladestorm, although War Storm and Ghal Maraz wouldn’t hurt.

Final Score – 5/5

Until next time,

Tyler M.

Tyler is a life long painter and hobbyist and took home his first Golden Demon award at the 2012 Chicago Games Day with a follow up at the 2013 North American Games Day. More of his work can be found at his blog, Mengel Miniatures.

  • Well, color me surprised about that score!

    • Shawn

      I’m betting sarcasm is laid a bit thick here.

  • euansmith

    I don’t know about the book, but I enjoyed the review.

    • benn grimm

      Have an upvote for being such an incredibly nice guy, the review stinks (as always), but nice one for being so nice about it anyway 😉

      • euansmith

        I’m highly unlike to ever read the book, so it is nice to get a bit of free insight in to whatever is evolving in to the backstory for AoS 😉 Is there a Lexicanum for AoS? A quick search brought up Sigmarlore, but it looks like I need to register to plumb its depths.

        • benn grimm

          D4 chan? That’s where I get my AoS fix from, always nice to get an objective view…;) I guess it’s kinda thin on the ground cause unlike 40k you have to pay guys to read/say nice things about it, rather than just harnessing the good will of invested fans? Just a theory mind.

        • Talos2

          People that play that should be on a register somewhere

          • euansmith

            Cruel… but funny 😀

        • SupPupPup

          The books pretty good schlock, but not worth going out of your way to read.

          The Audiodramas are the best way to engage with the lore.

  • benn grimm

    My favourite line; ‘you don’t have to have read anything previously to be able to read bladestorm’, no, and I’d imagine it actually helps if you’ve never read anything before, because you won’t notice how incredibly awful it is. Five sigmar turds out of five.

    • Shawn

      Have you read it, or any of the others to make an accurate call on that Benn, or are you just mad it’s AoS and not the Old World?

      • benn grimm

        Not mad Shawn; amused. Amused by it all.

  • Grumpy Scot

    These reviews are baffling. 5/5???

    What would you give War and Peace then? 999/5?

    • Xodis

      So because of books like War and Peace, LotR, and other classic and epic novels, no book can ever be measured as a 5/5?

      • Grumpy Scot

        Almost every single AOS book gets 4/5, 4.5/5 or 5/5. I think one, once, got 3.5/5. If you can find me something that got a less than 3.5/5 score I will be amazed. If you can find one that got less than 2.5/5 I will be shell shocked. It comes across as though BOLS just enjoys getting free review copies of these things (speculation, I’ve no idea if they do) and doesn’t want to upset GW by ever being critical of a new release.

        Giving almost every book a perfect rating (or near perfect) when it is far inferior to those sorts of classics, btw, should be a rule. Black Library has released some genuine classics itself over the years. What happens if an Age of Sigmar book one day matches those? Or LOTR, even?

        Does it get marked as just being as good as Bladestorm? Is Bladestorm now the gold standard of fantasy fiction? Come on. They should move to a 10/10 scale and start recognising that 5 or 6 out of 10 is a perfectly respectable number for an average book.

        • Champildhir

          Mengel does not work for BoLS. But yes, he gets free stuff from GW all the same. I really like the game, but not the books. I started reading them and they are just awfully written. The lore I like, so I guess that this first series of books could have been better. And the only reason I can imagine for which it is not so, it’s that probably they wanted to release the whole series within a year period, so the authors were under pressure? Don’t know. In any case, Mengel needs to read real books to get a bigger picture.

        • Dennis Finan Jr

          Ya but what if you read it and agree with guy? The books are cool and the audios are cool to sit back and listen to.

      • Grumpy Scot

        To expand on my previous answer (the post below this one), here are the last few AOS book reviews and their scores:

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/11/review-age-of-sigmar-legends-sylvaneth.html

        ^6 reviews, all above 4. One of them was also a 5/5, another was ‘4.3’. That’s right, on a 1-5 scale we’ve got a 4.3. This is because they’ve forced themselves into a situation where the lowest they’re willing to give is 4, barring I -think- one 3.5.

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/11/aos-review-faithful.html

        A 4.5/5

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/08/aos-review-the-beasts-of-cartha.html

        Another 5/5.

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/08/review-black-rift-by-josh-reynolds.html

        Another 5/5.

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/07/review-warbeast-by-gav-thorpe.html

        4/5.

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/06/aos-review-wardens-of-the-everqueen.html

        The 3.5/5.

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/04/review-call-of-archaon.html

        ^9 reviews. Multiple 5/5s, the rest all 4+, except for one that gets 3.8.

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/03/black-library-review-the-bridge-of-seven-sorrows.html

        Another 5/5.

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2016/02/review-lords-helstone.html

        4/5

        http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2015/12/black-library-review-sands-blood.html

        ANOTHER 5/5

        Do you see what I mean? The scores are pointless.

        • Matthew Pomeroy

          While my opinion is that none of those AoS books were any good at all, wouldnt even compare them favorable to the tweeny books, the rating is the authors take on them, so to him they may be that good. I have a very well educated friend who’s opinions I hold highly who loathes LOTR (which is my all time favorite) so tastes can be different.

          • Grumpy Scot

            You’re right, but because every single one of them gets such a ‘supreme’ rating it makes it difficult to take any of them seriously. They’re not credible to me.

          • ZeeLobby

            This. I mean they should rate other products and give them bad scores if GW’s are just this amazing.

          • Xodis

            Can’t both have similar but great products?
            I mean lets compare Games&Gears, GWs, and Army Painters plastic clippers. As I have all 3 I can assure you they all cut plastic really well…..Should I give G&G and AP a 4/5 because they dont look as cool as GW’s, even though they all perform the job they were purchased for quite well?

        • Xodis

          How about recognizing the legitimacy of the source?
          Seriously if these books were Legendary status, you would hear about it long before these reviews hit, probably from a more reliable source as well. These are clearly a fans opinion of the material, meaning they will always be skewed towards people who enjoy it already, then again maybe BL has incorporated the same type of editing that this reader prefers which is likely to produce the same kind of rating.
          Honestly it seems like you are shopping for caviar and came to Wal-Mart.

          • Grumpy Scot

            But I want to read good AOS stories and it is hard to pick them out when every single review says THE BEST EVER or close to it. The reviewer should vary his ratings up and use a wider scale.

          • Xodis

            The list of AoS stories isnt that long though, so you will most likely be better off dipping your toes in and forming your own opinion. As someone who has read the first few, I can tell you they are very good for game driven novels (which has a very low bar to begin with).
            You want well narrated action? Check.
            You want an over arching story with minor sub stories mixed in? Check.
            You want characters with a lot of depth? Eh not so much.
            They are a fun read but clearly written by fans for the fans, but nothing like Matt Wards “spank fiction” the Grey Knight Codex had.

          • Grumpy Scot

            But we’ve seen that BL can do some incredible stories. Some of the HH stuff, the earliest in particular, is brilliant. The First Heretic? I loved it.

            AOS has that potential, surely, so the reviews should have a scale that has at the top end, at the very least, the best BL have done before. In my view, of course.

          • Xodis

            Sure, but is it BL or is it a couple specific authors that have that type of talent that happen to work for BL (when they are not out writing other non-GW novels)?

          • Grumpy Scot

            But they’re reasonable comparators

          • Xodis

            Sure if the rating is a comparison rating, some ratings are just based of personal expectations, technical proficiency, etc…

            Using your original example, would it be better to compare Pride and Prejudice (which I thoroughly hated btw) to LotR, or to judge them both based off their own style and merits?

          • Grumpy Scot

            If you were on a book review website, it’d be fine to compare those books. On a wargaming blog, which covers historical, warhammer, sci fi, etc, it’s reasonable to compare books on WH to other books on sci fi/fantasy/historical fiction. I.M.O.

            However, even if we just compare AOS books to other AOS books, every single book being 4+ still doesn’t make sense. It means they’re all averagely good for an AOS novel, actually, according to these reviews. Because if I rate 10 books 5/5, then an average AOS book is 5/5… see what I mean? It’s just a poor scale to use for them.

          • Xodis

            Why wouldn’t it make sense comparing AoS to AoS? Do you expect the critic to go back and change is previous 5/5’s because this new book he just read beats those books? It was a 5/5 at the time, maybe he is really intrigued with the story and since each book adds to the story (in a way he approves)he is happy with them. Just a quick glance of all the past reviews shows the critic prioritizes nice combat descriptions (which the books DO excel at IMO), with character depth (the reasoning of the non 4+ rating you posted), and progression of the story. It’s a review plain and simple and even the most prestigious critics like Siskel and Ebert are 2 characters I completely disagreed with more than a few times, and they just gave thumbs up and down. So you could break this scale into a
            5/5 – You need to read this if you want to know about AoS.
            4/5 – This is a good AoS read.
            3/5 – Decent read but lower your expectations.
            2/5 – Does not tell a story well.
            1/5 – Read at your own risk, it fails at basic fan fiction.

          • Grumpy Scot

            But they’re reasonable comparators.

  • ZeeLobby

    No shocker here. I mean if other companies’ products are crap then they should grade them as well. When everything is a 4-5/5 and receives no negatives, whats the point of reviewing anymore?

    • Xodis

      Last time I checked BoLS takes submissions, feel free to provide a counter-opinion.

      • ZeeLobby

        Im just confused as to why they waste their time. I mean I shouldn’t be confused. I’m sure there’s some arrangement here.

  • SupPupPup

    BOLS really is a 5/5 wargaming blog.

  • Beefcake the mighty

    AoS continued existence baffles me. I tried to play it again and I don’t see the appeal. Could some of you please explain it to me? It still feels like a 40k QuickStart rules set.

    • Matthew Pomeroy

      gotta have the generals compendium more or less. Some folks just like fast simple games. though i have not found it any faster, or simple since their answer to having large cumbersome rules is to simply “punt” and just not say.

    • Xodis

      Generals Handbook changes the game completely and, more often than not, in a positive way for 40K players.
      -Points Balance? Check (sure there are some imbalances but if you can handle 40K, AoS is a welcome respite)
      -Path to Glory campaign? Check. Its really fun and consistent wins makes your hero better, without breaking the game.
      Also check out Scenarios in all the books, they add a lot of flavor.