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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.
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on July 14, 2003
The story of two empire demilancers company men, forced by events to abandon their flag and calling. One finds himself amongst the brave Kislevian's, (empire allies), the other is caught by the "northerners", (the evil northern antagonists of the empire, allies to chaos). The plot (as with most Warhammer novels) is predictable and linear. Change the names and remove the fantasy setting and you will find yourself reading a familiar script. But as always with Warhammer books, the writer storytelling is superb and makes all the difference. The pace is excellent, a rush of non-stop action scenes as good guys and bad guys alike get the headsman axe. Character develop is great, both our hero and our antihero go through a drastic change. One from a spoilt noble to a true man of the prairie, the other from an educated person to a wild thing of chaos. Both shed their layers of the "civilized world", racing to an inevitable confrontation. The aspect I liked most with this Warhammer novel is the Dan Abnett's special angle of tackling the Warhammer mystical side. Unlike most Warhammer stories, which are full of chaos made mutated spawns and lumbering monsters, chaos mainly exists here as an aspect of life for the evil northerners and their adversaries. It is an entity without real form, lurking at the corner of the eye. To my opinion it adds a lot to the strength of the story to its realism and suspense. Chaos blends into the society of the northerners like a force of nature, which brings us to another great aspect of riders of the dead, the narrator ability to bring to life an alien human society. Abnnet took the historical earth Mongols and planted them inside the north prairie of the Warhammer world. The story gives us a glimpse into their barbarous and cruel customs, tools, language and life philosophy.
The only point I regard as weak with ROTD is its rushed ending. The last battle is almost anticlimactic which is a disappointment as the whole story builds towards it.
To sum it up: A great book, I would suggest it even to those who are not avid fans of Warhammer.
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on June 14, 2003
I agree with the former reviewer that the ending is a bit rushed. We reach this wonderful conclusion and suddenly it's all over: no reflection on events, no pause to smell the daisies as it were, no time to really think about what has transpired until the last page is reach and the back flap is closed.
This isn't to say that the book is not good. Abnett has really done his homework on Medieval and Renaissance warfare, and his vivid descriptions really give the book a wonderful texture. But I would have preferred a little less description on the machineries of war (for example, he spends a good chuck of page real estate describing how to make a composite bow; good educational information, but not all that necessary) and more time on character development. I would have also liked to see more time spent discussing the nature of "Chaos", which is such a prevailing part of the Warhammer World.
But I do think it's definitely worth picking up for all you Abnett fans out there. The battle scenes are quite enjoyable.
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on May 3, 2003
The early portions of this book are not consumed with the typical fire of Abnett's other books, e.g., the Gaunt's Ghosts Warhammer 40k novels, but there are many good things to recommend this book.
First, for readers who are unfamiliar with the Warhammer Fantasy universe, things might be a bit confusing, but Abnett does a good job of explaining things as they come, focusing more upon the characters and their plights than on the game world.
There are two main characters, who begin the story very different from how they are at the novel's end. One was born into nobility, and is very haughty and overbearing, while the other is of lesser birth and has worked very hard to improve his station. They are fellow horse soldiers in the Empire, sent to help the defense against the northern hordes.
They quickly become separated, and their lives follow very different paths both from each other and from their previous existences. One is captured by the evil northern forces and is slowly corrupted by them, while the other falls in with the barbarians of the steppes, tenuous allies of the Empire. Both experience radical changes of perspective and personality before the climax of the novel.
Besides what I thought was a slow start, it seemed that the end was almost too quick. Perhaps this in itself is a statement of the way of life in the Warhammer world, but for a novel it seemed very hurried and disappointing. Don't get me wrong, now, for the last 75 pages or so I could not put the book down. But for the first hardcover Warhammer book, I would have liked a longer novel with more resolution than was given, though the very end was quite nicely done.
Basically, I really liked the story, but I think most people should wait for the paperback, as this is not quite worth the hardback price. Personally, I hope that the Black Library puts out more hardcover books (again, Gaunt's Ghosts, guys!), but that they make it more worth the price. For [the money], I want a longer read than this one.
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on March 19, 2004
This is a very good read. If you ar into battle scenes, Abnett is your man. No one is better than Abnett at descibing the blurr,blood, and chaos that is medevil combat. But it not just the battles that make this book great, its cultures add a huge amount of flavor and substance to it also. Would be a 5 star classic if not for the sudden ending. Abnett likely had a page count given to him to stay under by the publisher.
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on November 11, 2003
If you are a fan of Warhammer, this is not only Dan Abnett's finest novel so far, but it is one of Games Workshop's finest fantasy novels yet.
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