The Rise of the Horned Rat (Warhammer: The End Times)
Page Count: 389
Release Date: 1/17/2015
Get it Here: The Black Library
The Rise of the Horned Rat is a companion novel to the latest two book set for Warhammer: The End Times – Thanquol. Similar to The Return of Nagash and The Curse of Kaine, this is not a pure novelization of the larger, more expensive sourcebooks, but it instead takes a slice of the many stories going on in that book and expands them greatly, so you get a really in-depth look at two pivotal moments from Thanquol. This is different from The Return of Nagash, which was a prequel to Nagash, and The Curse of Kaine, which actually was a full novelization of Khaine, but only from the point of view of Malekith. So if you care about the Lizardmen or Empire aspects of Thanquol, you’ll have to shell out for the $75 sourcebook set (or just read my review coming later this week).
Much like the title suggests, The Rise of the Horned Rat showcases the Skaven (evil ratpeople) entering the full fray of The End Times. More importantly, The Rise of the Horned Rat, like Thanquol, shows the Skaven as pretty dominate, decimating everything in their path… which is a bit of a change from the usual (deadly) comic relief they tend to take in fiction form. Anyone who has ever faced a Skaven in the tabletop game knows to take them seriously (it’d be nice if they and Bretonnia got new army books though). At the same time, the book also highlights the last days of the Dwarven empire in Warhammer Fantasy. No, that’s not a spoiler. Anyone who is a fan of the game knew this was coming, but much like the Lizardman Genocide (my first and favorite army!) in Thanquol, it’s more about how the end comes and how they meet it, which is why you are reading this novel. Yes it’s sad to see almost every major name dwarf like Belegar and Thorgrim die, but it’s the End Times. In the previous three novels and sourcebooks, we saw major name characters get massacred, so in The Rise of the Horned Rat, you should have been expecting the same thing. Because the Dwarves of Warhammer were already a sad but proud dying out race, it was only a matter of time before this happened. Belegar’s death is a sad one, but something any fan of Warhammer has seen coming for years. It’s extremely well written though, and he dies in a manner showcasing why the Dwarves were doomed from the get go, but also why they are so awesome. Thorgrim’s death is a bit out of nowhere and unexpected, especially as he kicks so much ass in his short appearance in the book. However, the death is perfectly fitting for the king of the Dwarves, and also for who killed him (not to mention the theme of the book). If you are a fan of Warhammer‘s Dwarves, you’re going to want to read this novel, as it’s brilliant. Don’t worry though – some dwarves survive, include one who is now imbued with the Wind of Fire Magic, which is an awesome visual… and also makes me wish they’d make a new Ungrim model to showcase it. The old one doesn’t do the concept justice.
The odd thing about The Rise of the Horned Rat is that it is actually two stories in one. The first seventy-five percent of the book is about the fall of Karak Eight Peaks and the end of the three way dance between the Dwarves, Skaven and Greenskins (orcs and goblins) that have been fighting for the undermountain for decades (in-game time). The other twenty-five percent is the last stand of Karaz-a-Karak, the capital of the Dwarven Empire. Because of this, especially with the novel focusing primarily on Karak Eight Peaks, the novel does feel very disjointed, as if the two pieces were meant to be sold separately with one as the novel and the other as a novella similar to the things The Black Library puts out every week. Of course, the book is disjointed in several other ways. Occasionally a major event will show up and then never be referenced again, or a Skaven will show up and then appear two hundred or so pages later with a mass of backstory that has occurred but is vaguely referenced in an attempt to get you to purchase Thanquol. This was not something that happened with any of the previous three novels. They were fully stand-alone from the sourcebooks and as such, and issues like this make The Rise of the Horned Rat the weakest of The End Times novels so far. It’s still a good read, but when Deathmaster Skitch shows up for two or three pages towards the end to act as a Deus ex Machina for the Skaven, you’re left a bit disappointed/let down that a character just shows up, does the biggest act in the book and leaves. It’s especially bad for newcomers, as they won’t know who this character is or why they get to be Brock Lesnar to another character’s Undertaker. The novel was especially newcomer friendly up to this point too. In the end, The Rise of the Horned Rat is a well written piece of fiction, and I found myself really caring about certain characters, even minor ones, hoping they’d make it through the book alive and found myself actually saying, “&$%& No! At least let CHARACTER X live!” That’s the hallmark of a good writer. I think in the case of The Rise of the Horned Rat, the big problem was with the editors of the piece who left things in that made sense to them because they were too close to the product and had read Thanquol, rather than looking at the book as a piece that needed to be able to stand on its own rather like the previous tie-in novels for The End Times.
Although The Rise of the Horned Rat focuses on Belegar for the first three-fourths of the book and Thorgrim for the last fourth, the main character in the novel is Queek Headtaker, the greatest warrior (and my favorite Skaven sculpt) in all of the ratfolk’s legions. It is Queek that leads the assaults on both Dwarven cities. It is Queek who seeks glory and fame for his clan. It is Queek who needs to kill dwarf after dwarf simply for the sake of doing so. However, as two-dimensional a character as Queek is (purposely. He’s a single-minded brute.), he actually does have a motivation other than slaughter for once. You see, in The End Times, Queek has gotten old. At the start of the book he is ten, no small feat for a Skaven. These rats breed enormously and have extremely short life-spans, most of which are cut short through war or some other sort of violent end. For Queek to make it to ten years old and still be a mighty warrior showcases how powerful a being he is. However, with age does not come wisdom for Queek. Instead it gives him a fear of mortality. He can feel aches in his joints, his reflexes slowing and his eyes worsening. Some day he will be too weak to fend off attacks by some younger, luckier Skaven who tries to make a name for himself by besting the Headtaker. As such, Queek wants to extend his life via an elixir promised to him by his clan leader. If Queek is successful at defeating the dwarves once and for all, he too will be able to fend off the ravages of old age. This alone is enough to make Queek attempt what was previously considered an impossibility. Although Queek has little personality or motivation, the author does a good job of making him an interesting protagonist. Of course, it’s also why he is balanced out with the dwarves. Not only does this bouncing back and forth give a more balanced story, but it helps to hide the problems that come when your main character is little more than a killing machine. You can’t help caring for Queek, even though he’s a pretty vile and evil creature in all ways possible, which again shows you that the author did a great job with what he had to work with.
I’m very happy with The Rise of the Horned Rat, and I do feel it’s another great novel in the End Times collection. It wasn’t as good as The Curse of Khaine or The Return of Nagash, but it was better than The Fall of Altdorf. I enjoyed the characters and the core storylines were riveting. Again, my only real problems were with how disjointed the piece felt throughout and the fact the book isn’t as standalone from The End Times sourcebooks as the other novels in the series. You really do have to be a fan of Warhammer Fantasy, and especially both the Skaven and Dwarves, in order to get the most out of this novel. It’s not as newcomer friendly, but someone who is indeed new to Warhammer Fantasy can still read through this and enjoy it on some level. If you don’t have the money or inclination to pick up Thanquol, you can get The Rise of the Horned Rat for a fifth of that collection and still walk away knowing all the details of the Dwarf vs Skaven aspect of that book.
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