Book Review: The Curse of Khaine (Warhammer: The End Times)

The Curse of Khaine (Warhammer: The End Times)
Publisher: Games Workshop
Cost: $15.99
Page Count: 384
Release Date: 11/29/2014
Get it Here: The Black Library

The End Times are upon us! They started back in September with the two book hardcover set Nagash and the novel The Return of Nagash. It’s ironic that something called The End Times has reinvigorated the fantasy side of Warhammer to levels I haven’t seen since around Fifth Edition (we’re at about 8.5). The two set release of Nagash was a massive success, and The Return of Nagash is one of the two best gaming novels I’ve read this year (the other is Tales From Failed Anatomies). This was followed up by Glottkin and its novel, The Fall of Altdorf. These too were successful, although I personally have no interest in Chaos or Nurgle, so they didn’t resonate with me as much as Nagash. As popular The End Times was proving with critics and Warhammer fans alike, no one was prepared for the success of the next book, Khaine. It sold out online in ten-twenty MINUTES, depending on who you asked. Only through the kindness (and my repeated requests for a copy) of my local Games Workshop store was I able to get a copy of Khaine without paying outrageous third party markups. For those that didn’t get a copy of Khaine, you have two options. You can wait for the softcover reprint, which will still run you in the $50 range, or you can purchase this novel in e-book format for only $15.99.

The Curse of Khaine tells the same exact core story as Khaine, the more expensive two book set of wargame books. It’s just missing the art and game mechanics. Now, don’t think you’re getting the same exact fiction you’ll find in Khaine. It is the same core story, but told in a different way. Khaine tells the story from many points of view. The Wood Elves, High Elves, Dark Elves and their respective heroes all get to take center stage in Khaine. In the novel, The Curse of Khaine, the entire focus is on the Witch King, Malekith – lord of the Druchii/Dark Elves. You will see the events of Rhana Dandra from his point of view. He is the protagonist of the book, even though for the past six thousand years of in-game time, he has been a major antagonist. So this should be of major interest to Warhammer Fantasy fans. If the idea of reading these cataclysmic events from Malekith’s perspective interests you (it’s written in third person, not first person) or you don’t want to wait for the reprint of Khaine, this is definitely the way to go. You’ll get a lot of details that aren’t in the wargaming collection, such as flashbacks to Malekith’s past and major moments within the Witch King’s life. At the same time though, there are parts of the story that are in Khaine but not in this novel, such as what happens to Orion. The Wood Elves and Tryion’s side take a back seat to Malekith’s allies, so if you care more about those, you might want to get the reprint of Khaine.

As mentioned previously, the novel The Curse of Khaine follows the same story path as its more expensive sibling. Within these pages you will see the fall of Tyrion and the rise of Malektih as they engage in a double turn ala Austin/Hart from Wrestlemania XIII. The hero falls to darkness and the villain begins a long slow road to redemption, ending up as an anti-hero by the end of the novel. Make no mistake though, Malekith is not going to become some D&D style lawful good character, hugging the trees and skipping with his fellow fae through Athel Loren. No, Malekith is still an arrogant and sadistic being from the first page of the novel until the last, but as you go through the book’s thirty-four chapters, you’ll begin to understand why Malekith is the way he is and that even the longest running villains see themselves as the hero of their own story. There are revelations aplenty in this book, as Malekith re-learns the feeling of righteousness, but also new lessons like putting the Elven race above his own personal desires. I never thought I’d see Malektih doing an act like self-sacrifice or admit to being weak or afraid, but the author (Gav Thorpe) does a great job of showing Malekith evolve in the face of the end of the world and believing that all elves, regardless of faction, must unite as one. By the end of the novel you’re rooting for one of the biggest bad guys in Warhammer history to do the impossible and stave back the end of days itself. It’s telling that two of the biggest “heroes” in The End Times are Nagash, the ultimate Necromancer and now god of death, and Malekith, who is now the true Phoenix/Eternity King. Of course, the difference between the two is that Nagash is still pretty unrepentantly evil and Malekith is now good intentions wrapped in a history of genocide and fascism. At this rate I’m half expecting the Green Knight to pick the Red Duke as his second in command of Bretonnia.

Although you might expect a Warhammer novel to be filled with a lot of combat narratives (it is a novel based on a tabletop wargame after all), the book is actually mostly talking heads. Politics, intrigue, doubledealings, backstabbings, and war of words make up the majority of the book. Sure, there are two huge battles within the book – the fight for the Widowmaker and the climactic final battle that sees one true winner in the war of the elves, but I was far more interested in seeing who joined with Tyrion and who sided with Malekith. There are some pretty big switches, as some of the most evil elves in Warhammer join up with Tyrion and some of the biggest forces of good ally with Malekith. It’s all a bit surreal to be honest, but I was loving every moment of it. I don’t even have an Elven army. I play Lizardmen, Tomb Kings and Bretonnia, but I was absolutely glued to this novel. Hell, I’m not even a big fiction reader (I prefer non-fiction), so that should tell you how great The Curse of Khaine is to read. I’ve always been tempted to do a Dark Elf army, but now I really want to do an Eternity King one. Alas, I have so many figures to glue, paint and base before I can start another one. Trust me though, no matter what army you field, if you’re even the slightest bit interested in the fluff and fiction of Warhammer you’ll want to pick up this novel ASAP.

Perhaps the only flaw in The Curse of Khaine is that the novel is not newcomer friendly. The book assumes you know all the major and even minor characters that appear in this novel – either from Army books or previous pieces of Warhammer fiction. Save for Malekith, whose past and pivotal moments from history are well documented in this book, you don’t really get a good sense of who the other characters in the novel are if you are new to Warhammer. You’ll be able to enjoy the book, but where veterans will notice references and asides to previous events/novels, characters other than Malekith (and perhaps Teclis and Imrik to a lesser degree), people new to Warhammer might find the other characters… thin. Not two dimensional, but lacking in depth and personality. Of course, the focus of the book IS on Malekith, so this isn’t that surprising. Still, I wanted to bring this up in case any of you were thinking of grabbing The Curse of Khaine as your first ever Warhammer novel. The good news is that The Return of Nagash is extremely newcomer friendly, as it gives the history of characters and jumps around to each warband (except for Lizardmen and Tomb Kings… of course) so you get to know a lot of back story. If you read that first, then go into The Curse of Khaine, you’ll learn a lot about the elves in this book, from why Imrik and his countrymen left the High Elven Council to understanding why Tyrion fell. He didn’t wake up one day and decide to wield a cursed sword.

So aside from the issues newcomers or casual Warhammer fans might have getting into the novel, The Curse of Khaine is fantastic. It’s easily one of the five best tabletop gaming novels of 2014 and it’s well worth reading. The story is excellent, Malekith is a fascinating protagonist and it’s made me even more interested in what comes next for The End Times. Again, the novel is a lot cheaper than trying to track down the hardcover version of Khaine and it is essentially the same story. It’s also cheaper than the eventual softcover reprint that will come out in 2015. The Curse of Khaine is just one of the many reasons Warhammer Fantasy is in the midst of a renaissance. Now is definitely the time to try the line, even if you just want to read the books and not sink hundreds of dollars into model assembly and painting.

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