If you have read the End Times: Nagash book already then you pretty much know the basic plot outline of this novel. We follow Mannfred Von Carstein and Arkhan the Black as they collect the few remaining artifacts needed to resurrect the Lord of Undeath and scheme against each other. In my opinion the first few chapters of the book are the weakest part as Josh Reynolds is mostly relegated to setting up everything that will happen near the end. This means touching base with the High Elves, Wood Elves, Men of the Empire, and Dwarves. It seems as though he doesn’t really want to write these parts and would rather be back with the despicable duo, which honestly, so would I. All of these different races are written very similar in my opinion, which takes me out of the world a little bit. I feel like Men and Elves should speak and think differently, and later in the book, once he is given a little more slack with the course of events, they feel much more natural. This is most likely due to the earlier events having to follow a very strict path that has already been written about elsewhere, which can hamper a writer’s creative muscles.
Beyond the cast of well known characters from the Warhammer world, we are also introduced to several brand new vampires. Two of these, Erikan Crowfiend and Elize, started out as my favorite in the book but eventually fell behind Mannfred and Arkhan as they were developed further. Being a close second isn’t bad though, and I really hope there is a follow up to this novel in the works which includes these two twisted lovers. Take note Twilight, this is how you do a Vampire love story – twisted, dark, messed up, manipulative, and violent. Erikan also has a very interesting surrogate father relationship with a necromancer earlier in the book, which provides one of the best bits of dialogue. There are several other vampires which feature as well, all of whom are interesting, but many don’t get much time in the spotlight due to the constraints of the story. Mannfred’s cousin, Markos, gets a good bit of story though. He is just as conniving and untrustworthy as you would expect from a vampire.
All of this is just dressing on the real story, Arkhan and Mannfred. I will admit that I started this book thinking that Mannfred was a bit of a boring character and a pretty cut and dry bad guy. While his goals and ambitions are pretty much what you would expect, he is given a good amount of internal struggle. He clearly has a lot of daddy issues with Vlad Von Carstein, who acts as his internal voice, taunting him at every turn, and it’s fantastic. With the return of Vlad I am excited to see how the two interact in the future. Clearly Mannfred doesn’t want his fore bearer to overshadow him and take back everything he has achieved, but Vlad seems much more capable, and garners a lot more respect from their followers. Exciting times ahead.
Arkhan is, as always, an extremely interesting guy. He is the struggle of destiny versus choice personified. He knows that Nagash is pretty much dictating everything he does, but has conceded that he really has no other choice. He does start to question whether or not the return of his master is really in his best interest, but again, continues on the same path. He has plenty of interesting interactions, ranging from Kemmler, to Mannfred, to my favorite, Morgiana. Morgiana Le Fay has been turned into a vampire but is still a captive of Sylvania. She is given a little more freedom though, since they know she has no where to go now. She assists Arkhan with preparing one of his rituals and enchants him in the process, making him start to long for his life when he was still alive. Although he realizes what is happening and breaks her hold, it seems to have ignited something deep inside him, something that even Nagash can’t smother. He puts this aside for the rest of the story, but it always nags at him, resurfacing here and there. We also have what Aliathra does to him during the ritual, pressing her hands to his chest and performing some sort of magical attack. This doesn’t seem to do anything to him immediately, but it concerns him and when he asks what she did her only reply is, “You will see.” While this could be anything, I think it would be interesting if the combination of Morgiana and Aliathra have re-sparked some humanity and will for freedom within him. How awesome would it be if he is ultimately the downfall of Nagash, realizing that he needs to save the world from his master?
You may have noticed I haven’t talked much about the plot. That’s mostly due to the fact that it really does follow the start of the End Times: Nagash book pretty closely as far as the action goes. Once Arkhan and Mannfred head out to Brettonia and the Border Princes respectively, the action doesn’t really let up very much and keeps you hooked until the end. For me the most interesting part of this novel is how Josh Reynolds gave us a deeper psychological look at the characters, and not so much the course of the book, since I already knew what would happen. That’s not to say the plot is bad, far from it, it’s pretty good. Despite his name being in the title, we don’t actually get to see Nagash until the end, and only for a few pages. With the way this book ends I really hope there is a follow up planned, although I could see them leaving it as is since we have the End Times book that carries on the plot. How great would it be to see Neferata return, Krell be an absolute monster, Luthor Harkon bring the power of the Vampire coast, and Settra fall all from the pen of Josh Reynolds? Nahash may hold the title in the Warhammer world, but Josh Reynolds, to me, is the undisputed master of the Undead when it comes to the Black Library.
Overall Score – 4/5
What other stories from the End Times would you like to see as a novel?