Book Review: With Ice and Sword (Warhammer: The End Times)

With Ice and Sword (Warhammer: The End Times)
Publisher: Games Workshop
Cost: $4.99 ($15.49 as part of the Quick Reads Subscription)
Page Count: 50
Release Date: 2/23/2015
Get it Here: The Black Library

Today marks the first of five “Quick Reads” for Warhammer: The End Times. Each day this week there will be a short story of about fifty pages or so for $4.99. You can also save about nine and a half dollars by buying the set of five as a bundle…which is what I did. If you’ve been enjoying the Warhammer: The End Times fiction, this is a pretty good deal. Even though I probably won’t be playing Warhammer Fantasy, Ninth Edition when it comes out due to the loss of ALL THREE OF MY ARMIES (Bretonnia, Tomb Kings and Lizardmen), The End Times has been a fantastic read and a nice way to say good bye to game as I know it.

Speaking of saying good-bye to some old favorite aspects of the game, it’s only fitting that the first story this week revolves around Kislev, or rather what is left of Kislev. Kislev hasn’t really been supported by Games Workshop for at least a decade (much like my Bretonnians), and it was mostly destroyed “off camera” with the books alluding to the destruction of the once great nation. Although Games Workshop hadn’t supported Kislev with miniatures or books for a long time, it still remained a cult favorite amongst long-time fans of the game. Here now, With Ice and Sword lets Kislev fans properly say good-bye to a harsh land and it’s stalwart people.

With Ice and Snow tells the last days of both the land of Kislev and its people. Of course “Land is Kislev and Kislev is land” so it makes sense that both die as one. The story starts with Kislev’s remaining refugees being attacked and nearly wiped out before being saved by a Black Panther knight of the Empire. The survivors are then reunited with the last remaining Kislev army, about only 1,000 soldiers strong. Together these last survivors journey to the major cities of Kislev, hoping to find more survivors…or safe haven amongst the Empire. At the same time, a band of Beastmen, led by a human now known only as The Outcast desperately seeks to find the Ice Queen of Kislev herself, Tzarina Katarin, and wipe her out. As the story goes on you discover who The Outcast is and why he wishes the Queen dead so badly. Can the forces of Chaos find the last army of Kislev before it can escape its homeland? More importantly, will the army actually leave its home. After all, “Land is Kislev and Kislev is land.”

With Ice and Snow is an excellent tale from Warhammer: The End Times and I can recommend it easily. It’s worth noting that there are two aspects of this story that really stand out because they are often missing from Warhammer novels of any kind, be they Fantasy or 40K. The first is that the book featured some incredibly strong female characters. Women don’t get a lot of focus in Warhammer, and when they do it’s usually as an aside or to be fridged for pathos/motivation for a male character. Right now the only real major female characters left in Warhammer are Khalida and Nefertata, both of whom might not make it out of The End Times. So it was great to read a story full of fully developed women who are portrayed as strong, believable characters. You have the healer Sofia Valencik, the young girl Miska and of course the Tzarina herself – the leader of her entire doomed nation, commanding power, love and respect that perhaps no other female does in Warhammer Fantasy. This was such a change of pace from the normal Warhammer stories that it was a welcome change of pace, even if it may be too little, too late.

The second thing With Ice and Snow had that most Warhammer stories lack these days is a sense of hope. When both Warhammer and 40K both started, there was a sense of fun and comedy to the games. I have laughed out loud at some old school miniatures and books for the game. GRIMDARK used to have its tongue planted firmly in its cheek and was often laced with satire. These days the concept takes itself WAY too seriously. Unfortunately, while the writing for Warhammer Fantasy has improved dramatically with The End Times, the sense of comedy and fun is even farther away than ever and it looks like it’s only going to get darker, if that was possible. At least With ice and Snow captured a glimmer of the old golden age of Games Workshop. In one way, the story is very open ended. It ends on a quasi-cliffhanger, allowing you to decide if the last remnants of Kislev and its Ice Queen go out in a blaze of glory, or perform a miracle and survive as Kislev always has. Even if you prefer the darker ending (and shame on you for that), there’s still a very subtle bit of foreshadowing that the power of the land survives on through another… All in all, just a great story.

Even with Warhammer Fantasy winding down some of its best (and classic) armies and preparing to become some radically different with 9e, the actual fiction writing for the product line has never been better. Even if you’re brand new to Warhammer, this is a story that you can enjoy and only feel slightly lost regarding the bigger picture of Games Workshop’s oldest product line. At five bucks, it might be a bit pricey, but purchasing With Ice and Snow as part of the Warhammer: The End Times Quick Reads Subscription nets you this tale for only three bucks, and that’s not a bad deal – especially if the other four stories are of the same level of quality. Warhammer Fantasy fiction fans are in for a terrific week, it seems.

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