Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review of Skavenslayer by William King

The swords & sorcery fantasy novel Skavenslayer by William King was published in 1999 by Black Library.  I had the pleasure of reading it from the first omnibus edition published in 2006 which includes two other adventures of Gotrek the dwarf berserker and Felix the poet warrior:  the prequel Trollslayer (reviewed on April 17, 2013 in Songs of Eretz), and the sequel Daemonslayer.

Not much more is revealed about the iconic figure Gotrek Gurnisson, but Mr. King does give the reader a bit more of a backstory to the berserker's chronicler and friend Felix Jaeger.  Felix's brother Otto is introduced, and in him we see who Felix might have been had he not fallen in with Gotrek.  Like his brother, Otto his well-educated, kind, and generous, but, unlike his brother, Otto is a quintessential, mainstream, no nonsense, well-to-do member of the merchant class.  Otto does attempt to woo his wayward brother back into the family fold, but Mr. King never allows the reader to believe that Felix is seriously tempted.

The most interesting aspect of the novel is the skaven.  Mr. King portrays the skaven as a subterranean  race of scheming rat-men--which is to say hyper-intelligent, bipedal rats the size of men.  The technology of the skaven is superior to that of their human counterparts, and the power of the skaven magicians is at least as great as that of human wizards.  I found the structure of skaven society, which is divided into various competing clans, to be fascinating.  About half of the novel is told from the POV of the skaven--with such deftness that I found myself almost rooting for them as they plotted to take over the surface world.  Their manner of speech and preconceived notions about humanity add an element of humor too--most welcome in an otherwise serious if not sombre tale.

Skavenslayer will hardly rank among the great high fantasy epics, but it is nevertheless paced well, entertaining, and interesting to read.  As with Trollslayer, each chapter is structured as a stand-alone short story, but there is more of a novel-like flow between the stories in Skavenslayer.  I am looking forward to eventually reading the sequel.

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