The blurb doesn’t lie when talking about the sheer breadth of this collection. You really will be getting a lot of what the Black Library does best, especially with Warhammer; that being battles, blood, betrayal and everything else in between. Taking on a vast time line Gav Thorpe and Nick Kyme have taken the stalwart dwarfs of the Old World and woven a fantastic set of tales that constantly keep you reading, even going as far as to include a sizeable portion of the book given over to the culture and history of dwarf kind. If you collect dwarfs in the table top game, or your favourite character is Gimli from Lord of the Rings this is the book for you. It is an indispensable guide to the trials and tribulations of the dwarf people.
It would be unfair for me to look at this omnibus as a single entity so I will be breaking this down to look at each book in turn. The first of these is of course the novel, Grudge Bearer by Gav Thorpe. The story takes on a snap shot feel as you read it, each of the smaller narratives within it concentrating on a specific grudge of the main characters and it reminded me of the first Gotrek & Felix novel in its style. This is by no means a bad thing and it allows you to concentrate on one main plot at a time, and Thorpe does do a great job in the end of marrying it all together to finish it off.
The novel also has the feel of a ‘Time of Legends’ novel in that is spans a huge amount of time. This can be a little confusing at points, especially for me when I was reading the last chapter of the novel. The First Grudge starts making you think that a civil war of kind is on the cards and I was a little taken aback until Thorpe hurriedly fills in the gaps a few pages later. Overall however the story is quite a good romp into the world of the dwarfs. It delves deep into their culture and lifestyle and you get a very encyclopaedic view of the lives of the normal dwarf, the ceremony of their day to day activity and of course the awesome nature of the grudge. Also, allowing different grudges to take the focus means you get to see them square off against many different enemies which is always welcome in a Warhammer novel.
One part that seemed a little out of place and I thought was going to carry on but didn’t ever materialise was the portion featuring Grombrindal, the White Dwarf. He appears in the first half of the book settling a grudge and saving the dwarf army before promising that he will return to honour the fallen. However, this never really happens and it seems a bit shoe horned in, especially for someone so important. I would have liked to see him return toward the end of the novel when the debt was being settled against the humans of the Empire. On that note, the portion during the siege is incredibly powerful stuff and shows the sheer ferocity of the dwarfs as a race. There is a portion towards the end of the battle where you will be really taken aback by the dwarf’s behaviour.
Ancestral Honour is the second of Thorpe’s stories in this omnibus and it follows the reclaiming of honour, something that runs through many dwarf stories. The character of Grimli is likeable and following him as he traverses ancient holds and forgotten pathways is an enjoyable jaunt. It was all over too quickly though in my opinion and it would have been nice to see it expanded. Again you can really tell with this story that its Thorpe’s mind in ‘lore mode’ as it were. He has a fantastic grip of the background behind the race and you can see his army book writing days flowing through the pages. This can of course mean that portions of a story can feel stilted or out of place but it’s never such a problem that you just can’t read it.
Next on the list is Nick Kyme’s Oathbreaker. This is probably the most forlorn and dark stories in the omnibus and truly takes on the mantle of grim Old World narrative. Kyme is not afraid of killing off heroes I must say, as when I was only around a quarter of the way in the seemingly important main character was bunked off in a serious, what the hell, moment. He then even teases you that the hero might survive before seriously finishing him off for good. I have to say, I loved this story and the way that it weaves a tale of doom and forlorn hope is fantastic. Kyme manages to really tie you to the dwarfs as you read and even when the perspective is shifted towards the end of the novel between groups doing their own mini-quests you never have a favourite.
Again it really is a labour of dwarfen love for these guys. The detail put into the dialect of the dwarfs as they talk, adding in little hints of Khazalid and always building on the surroundings they find themselves in is fantastic. Every room is lovingly crafted as Kyme writes and you really get a sense of the dwarfen lifestyle just like in Thorpe’s descriptions. These guys really know their stunties! Another thing Kyme does well, that very few do is dwarf women. I won’t spoil it for you but the dwarf female character in this book is fantastically written and you really get a good look at the other side of dwarf society. He even manages to weave a dragon into the story just to put the icing on the cake.
Last of the novels, and my favourite of them all is the story Honourkeeper by Nick Kyme. This, much like Grudge Bearer by Thorpe could easily be a Time of Legends novel considering what the subject matter is. The story revolving around King Bagrik and his hold deals with the tense moments between the High Elves of Ulthuan and the mountain dwelling dwarfs. I was reading the Tale of the Sundering trilogy last time I reviewed a book and was starting to love the pointy eared princelings from across the sea, but Kyme’s novel has just turned me right back off them. The elf characters in this book are insidiously well done, hovering on that knife edge between likeable and hated and it’s superb. I did twig the twist in the tale as soon as it happened however but despite that I don’t think it changed my reading experience. I still looked at the elf characters in the same light, but it was interesting to try and guess who was in on the secret, a bit of a whodunit really which was nice.
Again like his previous novel in the omnibus Kyme has a great grasps of perspectives and knows how to tell a multitude of stories all at the same time. Even in the heat of massive battles he doesn’t lose track of what’s going on and successfully guides you through to its conclusions in typical Warhammer fashion. This is also another one of those stories where Kyme does dwarf women well with the queen of the hold Brunvilda a fantastic sideline hero. The sideline tale running through this concerning her ‘other’ son is also well written and really does play on the dwarf culture layering their honour bound and grudge bearing lifestyle alongside the need for family, really humanising them as a race and allowing you as a reader to relate to them more.
I could seriously go on talking about these stories for many, many more pages but I must reign myself in and deal with the last little extra at the end of the book. Grudgelore is a wonderful way to end the collection, allowing a very detailed look into the history and culture of the race and acting as a helpful aid to the stories so you can flick to the odd Khazalid word to see what it means and join in with the jokes of the characters. It even has a fair few short stories within it, that while are not fully formed narratives are still entertaining and worth reading through. I urge you to read this section as well once you have finished the other three books. Along with the art it is a fantastic little end to a great collection and worth every penny.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this review, if you like dwarfs in any form this is the book for you to pick up. It’s a set of fantastic tales woven with enough culture and history to breath life into the fiction allowing for a really interesting reading experience. You will fall in love with most, if not all of the characters and despite a few hiccups here and there in terms of pacing it really will be a fun read for you. Plenty of battles permeate these pages and that’s what every good Warhammer fans want, a real good romp of blood, battle, betrayal and most of all beards. You will also want your very own Dammaz Kron by the end of it…you will have to read to find out what that is!