Top positive review
A strong fantasy outing well worth the read.
on August 4, 2003
Dan Abnett is the author of (at this writing) over a dozen novels and has a list of comic-book credits that stretches from the X-MEN to the LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. In RIDERS OF THE DEAD, Abnett returns once more to the grim fantasy world of Warhammer, a setting inspired by the popular wargames from British company Games Workshop. In the Year That No One Forgets, a huge army of bloodthirsty, demon-worshipping barbarians spills down from the frozen northlands to clash with the civilized nations of the south. Two lancers, raised in the same household, but from vastly different social strata, are caught up in the tide of battle and have their lives changed forever.
Warhammer fantasy is a bit different from the sort of light-touch fantasy common in the American market. The emphasis is on the intricacy of the Warhammer setting, and the endless wars that plague its inhabitants. Games Workshop draws heavily on the history of Europe for its setting's richness, and Abnett does the same with RIDERS OF THE DEAD. The bulk of the novel takes place in Kislev, Warhammer's fantastic analog for medieval Russia, and knowledgeable readers will find many familiar names and concepts buried among the sheer invention.
The Old World is Warhammer's answer to feudal Europe, and the main characters of Karl Vollen and Gerlach Heileman are steeped in that culture. Gerlach is a young man of privilege destined for great things. His boyhood friend, Karl, had the benefit of patronage by Gerlach's household, but his low birth means he'll never amount to much in the scheme of things. They go to war as comrades, but end their battles as mortal enemies.
How they get to that point is the central theme of RIDERS OF THE DEAD. Karl, captured by the barbaric Kurgan, is initiated into dark rites and the religion of bloody slaughter. Meanwhile, the arrogant Gerlach becomes an enlightened warrior in the company of a humble troop of Kislevite lancers. Abnett takes his time progressing these parallel tales, and though the journeys both men undertake are those of internal transformation, there's plenty of gory battle to punctuate the introspection.
Abnett has confidence as an author, and this confidence shows on every page. Though Abnett has a severe addiction to passive voice, his prose is otherwise incredibly rich and textured. The Warhammer world is, as mentioned, highly detailed, and where it leaves off, Abnett borrows from real life. RIDERS OF THE DEAD drips with "you are there" elements that carry the book past the usual media tie-in dreck and lend powerful verisimilitude to the tale. RIDERS OF THE DEAD of the dead progresses so well, in fact, that Abnett's wrap-up doesn't quite satisfy. Abnett tackled a complex dual plotline with the novel, and perhaps this overwhelmed him as the book was written. Whatever the case, the climax (unfortunately) doesn't hold together as well as it ought, considering the skill with which the rest was written.