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Gotrek and Felix: The First Omnibus

I have a confession to make. Despite having played and enjoyed Games Workshop's tabletop games Warhammer and Warhammer 40k for years, and finding their respective background fascinating, I don't generally get on well with the novelizations of the settings. Black Library (Games Workshop's in-house publisher) have a preference for a certain style of book - one which favours regular, repetitive action scenes to the exclusion of almost everything else - that I find particularly uninteresting; without quiet, there can be no loud, and there's only so many main characters with superhuman strength, or who know no fear, you can read about before it starts to get a little boring.

Having said that, there are some genuinely good books (in my opinion, at least) set in the Warhammer worlds buried amongst the majority of pulp Sword and Sorcery (or military SF, for 40K), and they might even be more common than those which are so painfully bad I gave up reading them part way through. In light of that, it's a little surprising that I hadn't read any of the Gotrek and Felix books until now. They're some of the earliest written in the setting, and still some of the most popular with fans. As there's so many of them, however, I thought it might be better to review them omnibus by omnibus, rather than individually.

Gotrek & Felix: The First Omnibus is rather much as I was expecting: fairly pulpy Sword and Sorcery that is redeemed a little by having a reluctant hero protagonist and throwing some light on the geography of its setting.

The first book, Trollslayer, is composed entirely of short stories. These are very average Sword and Sorcery, but also some of the most interesting in the book. We get to see a wide variety of places within the setting, and the slight variations in antagonists stop it from getting too repetitive. I say too reparative because there is still a lot of repetition. Each story inevitably has a fairly long exposition explaining why the protagonist has found himself in this particular situation, and it does get a bit dull after a while. Despite these shortcomings, however, I feel some of the stories in the book come closest to evoking the mystery of exploration present in the works of authors like Robert E. Howard.

Skavenslayer, the 2nd book, is closer to a traditional novel and started quite promisingly. The longer-form of the writing means there weren't the constant "Last time on" updates that I found grating from the first book. I found the first chapter quite captivating, and had high hopes for the rest of the book, though they were sadly dashed soon afterwards. The problem with Skavenslayer, you see, is that it is made up of episodes, all of which follow a similar formula. One of the leaders of the Skaven (evil ratmen) besieging the human city of Nuln will come up with a cunning plan to win the battle and cover their own faction in glory. One of their rivals will then discover the plot, and try and counter it by cleverly positioning our heroes to foil their plans. Gotrek and Felix inevitably triumph against insurmountable odds, and the Skaven's plans to take the city are further set back.

Individually, any of the episodes would make a fairly readable short-story, but when following on one straight after another, it gets dull rather quickly and I was frequently left thinking that the book could have been significantly shorter, and not been any the worse for it. Some of Sword and Sorcery's worse stereotypes were also more apparent in this one, as the tavern setting of much of the book lent itself all too well to cliched characters and the odd bit of casual sexism.

Daemonslayer, the last book in the anthology, is in many respects the best. It has much more of an overarching plot than the previous novels, and the chapters in-between fight scenes are rather more fleshed out, and less mere window dressing. It eventually reverts to the familiar pattern of small encounters leading up to a final boss fight, but is a much more enjoyable book than Skavenslayer.

Finally, a mention must be made of the short stories included in the omnibus, which seem to be totally out of place. There are a few by various different authors, as well as one by King himself, but they all seem to either contradict what was written in the novels, or to be set much later and contain spoilers for later books. One or two were an enjoyable read, but I think it would have been much better to have left them out.

In conclusion, then, Gotrek & Felix: The First Omnibus is a fairly middle of the road collection of Pulp Sword and Sorcery stories that has occasional moments of brilliance. It's primarily populated by two dimensional characters, and frequently repetitive, but does provide an interesting glimpse into the geography and cultures of the Warhammer World. King's protagonists of a Dwarf seeking to find a glorious death in battle to atone for a past sin, and the human poet reluctantly following him to record his deeds are also compelling enough to make up for some of the books' other flaws. Fans of the likes of Michael Moorcock and Robert E Howard will probably enjoy these much more than I, though must be prepared that they are not on the same level as those aforementioned authors.