Gotrek & Felix: Kinslayer by David Guymer (Book Review)

A few days ago I brought to you a review of City of The Damned by David Guymer. Alongside last year’s Road of Skulls by Josh Reynolds, this novel was kind of a fresh breath of air in that there hadn’t been novel-length tales about one of Warhammer Fantasy’s greatest duos and biggest success in several long years. While, for me, Josh Reynolds’ two novels have done much to capture the feel of the original books by William King and the follow-ups by Nathan Long, City of The Damned didn’t really work for me, although it was a decent enough read I suppose.

About three weeks back Black Library launched Gotrek & Felix: Kinslayer, which is said to be the first book in the Doom of Gotrek Gurnisson Saga, ostensibly marking the beginning of the end for Warhammer’s greatest Dwarf Slayer. The new novel takes some plot-threads from City of The Damned and carries them on, but for the most part Kinslayer is a stand-alone, and is also a part of the greater End Times saga as well that is currently running through Warhammer Fantasy, akin to some of the events that Wizards of the Coast has done with Forgotten Realms previously. Unfortunately, while Kinslayer had lots of great moments and even revealed the shames of Gotrek and his friend Snorri, it also carries over several mistakes and negatives that can be found in City of The Damned.

September has seen the big launch of the End Times event. The status quo in Warhammer Fantasy is changing big time here, with the good guys of all factions under attack from everywhere and Chaos in the ascendance, and things are looking very, very bleak for the setting entire. This is the background for Kinslayer, in which we learn that mighty Kislev has already fallen to the hordes of Chaos, that the Border Princes are struggling desperately to hold on, that dissent and rebellion are beginning to tear the Empire apart but the soldiery stands firm. Going in, I expected great things from the novel given the entire scope of it, but I came away largely disappointed, if truth be told.

For one, like I said, the random jumps in the narrative that were some of my biggest irritations in City of the Damned could be found here as well. Given that this novel has a much bigger cast than the previous one, this was even more irritating. Characters will be thinking one thing at one point and then suddenly their thought processes change, or there is a sudden change in a scene that doesn’t really make sense, and so on. It made for a frustrating read, same as City of the Damned.

And another thing is that certain members of the cast, such as the Kislevite who follows Gotrek around, just felt totally superfluous. They didn’t have anything important to do and just padded out the novel, giving it unnecessary bloat. This too was frustrating to a great degree because I expected much better here, especially given how important a novel this is. Furthermore, the entire mystery surrounding Gotrek in the first third of the book too was superfluous. We already know who it is, who it is meant to be, so the deliberate obfuscation was maddening.

The end too, well, I’m kind of ambivalent about it. The setup was excellent and all, but the payoff didn’t strike me as very… heartening. I felt kind of cheated to be honest. I can see why it happens like it does, because there is one more novel to go, Slayer before the Doom of Gotrek Gurnisson is completed, but it was still a bit maddening.

However, in spite of all those negatives, the novel also had some really good things. The first of these are the boss battles, which were phenomenal. With David’s trademark descriptive narrative style, the battles really come alive and you feel a distinct sense of jeopardy for the characters in them. In each battle you wonder, despite knowing otherwise, that the characters aren’t really going to die, at least not Gotrek or Felix, but the threat is still there at the back of your mind. Both Aekold Helbrass and Throgg the Troll-King were magnificent villains, though I wish that Aekold had had a more significant role in the story. He would have benefited from it, and so would have Throgg as well since the contrast between the two would have been much better.

And then there’s the fact that the novel has all of Max Schrieber, Ulrika and Snorri in it. These three are some of the most important of Gotrek & Felix‘s supporting cast, as developed by William and Nathan, and David does give them all a great run. Some of Ulrika’s scenes proved to be disappointing, as did the end of her arc (which I personally dislike because I’m a huge Ulrika fan), but just to see her in a Gotrek & Felix novel was a great high. And Snorri Nosebiter, well, he was excellent through and through. I think David did a great job with him, really getting into the character’s psychology and giving him a great story arc to star in.

The revelation of the shame that caused Snorri to become a Slayer was the most emotionally poignant moment in the entire novel. And the same for Gotrek’s shame, the revelation of which follows on soon after. Two great friends, both before and after becoming Slayers, and the close of their saga made me really sad. David captured the moments between them beautifully, especially in the climax of the novel. Both characters were at their best in those scenes, no doubt about that.

And then we come to Felix himself. When we meet him at the start of the novel, we learn that he has been living with his brother for a good long while now, alongwith his wife Kat (remember Kat, guys, from that beastman short story some years ago? Yeah, that Kat!), although they survive on Otto’s familial pity and little else. Their marriage is both awkward and trying, but somehow they make it work, for better or for worse. This was a very different side to both the characters, and I kind of liked the subplot of their marriage troubles. It really helped define both of them before David launched into the meat of the novel. And I’m sure that there is a great story just waiting to be told here, which I’d love to read one day.

All in all, David has once again written a fairly decent novel. It has a great scope and thus tries to do a lot of things at the same time, and doesn’t always succeed in them, but it does have its good moments, and those should be recognized and celebrated. But for the promotional status that it has, I didn’t like it as much as I expected to, though I would recommend it to die-hard Gotrek & Felix fans regardless, because of all the lore that can be found here.

Rating: 7/10

More Gotrek & Felix: Road of Skulls, The Serpent Queen, City of the Damned, Gotrek & Felix: The Anthology.

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