The Gates of Azyr (Warhammer: Age of Sigmar)
Publisher: Games Workshop
Page Count: 128
Cost: $7.99 (ebooK)/$15 (hardcover)/$30 (limited edition hardcover)/$23.99 (Audiobook)
Release Date: 7/11/2015
Get it Here: The Black Library
The first Age of Sigmar fiction is here. The Gates of Azyr is a novella that details the canonized version of the battles and fluff you will find in the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar start set. This is not unusual, as Games Workshop has done the same for 40K boxed sets like Dark Vengeance and Assassinorum: Execution Force. It also makes sense to start of the Age of Sigmar line with some sort of fiction for those that like the fiction/fluff side of Warhammer but don’t like playing the game, painting the models and what have you. That said, there are some spoilers in the story regarding characters, motivations and the raison d’etre for the new incarnation of Warhammer Fantasy, so depending on who you are, you might want to peruse the contents of the boxed set first. Either way, you’ll probably want to reads this novella BEFORE the big 256 page Age of Sigmar book hits this Saturday, July 18th, as that’s when the entire canon gets revealed and people will start flooding the internet with spoilers, conjecture, commentary and rage. For now, let’s just say that The Gates of Azyr answers some questions you might have had with the end of Warhammer Fantasy, Eighth Edition and how, while posing several new questions as well. The novella isn’t going to win any awards for incredible fiction writing, but it is a fun read and a great entry point into Age of Sigmar, especially for those totally new to Warhammer. I enjoyed it enough to finish it in a single day (two sittings).
The Gates of Azyr takes place on one of the many Mortal Realms that make up the new fantasy version of Warhammer. Specifically, it takes place on Aqshy, a world of warmth and fire. Longtime Warhammer Fantasy fans will recognize the name as one of the Winds of Magic – that of Fire. Now it is that and much more, for Aqshy makes up an entire reality. Unfortunately, like eight of the nine realms, Aqshy have been overtaken by the forces of the four gods of Chaos. In the case of Aqshy, Khorne, the god of violence and war, has turned Aqshy into a brutal desolate landscape, befitting many post-apocalyptic settings. I kept thinking of Mad Max whenever the world and its inhabitants were described.
Although the book doesn’t describe the post End Times reality, you should probably know that we are not starting at the dawn of that new time period, but actually at the END of it. The new reality is actually in an End Times of its own, with Chaos having conquered nearly everything. Sigmar however sequestered himself from the other realms and in secret began building a super army of Demigods in order to prevent Chaos from destroying everything YET AGAIN. Of course, this building of an army, along with pilfering people from the different worlds and then training them takes time. So by the time Sigmar is ready, centuries, perhaps Eons have past and the worlds are in terrible shape. Still, life remains on each and still tries to fight back (or at least survive) against the gods of Chaos. Is Sigmar too late and this new volley of offense on his part futile or are the forces of Order finally ready to stem the tide of chaos once and for all. Either way, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the Stormcast Eternals. That’s for sure.
The novel takes care to show its story from multiple perspectives. Each chapter will have a different main character. Perhaps it will be one of the Goretide, from a simple bloodreaver like Rakh up to his master emanating pure evil –Korghos Khul. Perhaps it will be one of the Stormcast Eternals like their leader Vandus Hammerhand or the enigmatic necromancer Ionus Cryptborn. Yes, one of the leaders of the Hammerers of Sigmar is a necromancer and from hints within the novel, the Starter set and the upcoming core rule/campaign book, Games Workshop is STRONGLY hitning that Ionus Cryptborn is in fact a reborn Arkhan the Black, now freed from Nagash’s control and trying to redeem himself. You had set up for this in The End Times (especially the last novel) and we know that Arkhan and his gift/curse from the Everchilde is how parts of the previous Warhammer Fantasy universe survived so this is merely a continuation of this. I’m excited to see if the teases GW is giving us are true because not only would that be an awesome revelation…but it shows that the old Warhammer Fantasy fluff is still intact and relevant. Which will shut up a lot of the naysayers who are mostly angry that their favorite characters are gone forever. They aren’t.
The plot of the novel is a fairly simply one considering it’s a novelization of battles from the Starter set. You have the Goretide running rampart on Aqshy, killing what little remains alive on the world. Most humans are either Chaos worshipping cannibals or emaciated shells of what humanity once was – just trying to survive another day in a god forsaken wasteland. However, the Stormcast Eternals use a lot of magic sending a small strikeforce to this world in order to open a magical gate that will lead from Sigmar’s Celestial realm to that of the plane of fire. If the Hammerers of Sigmar are successful, the gate will awaken and allow a full army to travel between the two realms. It will inspire the Stormcast Eternals to make assaults on gates in other realms and hopefully reunite the core eight planes against Chaos before it destroys them all. If they’re not successful? Well…the ending of the End Times occurs once more and Chaos obliterates all. Of course once again, either way even if the Stormcast Eternals are successful in opening the gate, it doesn’t mean their efforts will save reality; it may just simply prolong the inevitable. GRIMDARK GAMING after all…
There are two very interesting things we learn in The Gates of Azyr. The first is that Vandus Hammerhand and Korghos Khul have a long history with each other, even though neither of them realizes it for much of the novel. While this revelation is both obvious and a bit cheesy, it works for the context of the story and also shows how different one’s life (and its span) is when it is in service to a god. The other revelation is that Sigmar is not as Lawful Good as you might think. Like the Chaos Gods, Sigmar is giving his servants extra powers and abilities but at a cost. The Stormcast Eternals are essentially brainwashed (and the book even hints at torture) to become completely devoted to Sigmar. Their previous lives, hoped, dreams, loves and memories are erased and replaced with nothing but loyalty and thoughts of servitude to the god of hammers. This shocked me and makes Sigmar look really bad. It’s interesting to note that of all the Stormcast Eternals, only Ionus Cryptborn remembers exactly who he once was…and what came before this current reality. A decent part of the book is Vandus Hammerhand remembering who and what he was before he became a Lord Celestant and how it affects his leadership, view of the mission and his loyalty to Sigmar. I enjoyed it very much, but it’s a reminder that SIgmar is far from the white hat he espouses to be. Only the Lizardmen can claim to be the true good guys of Warhammer. Oh sorry…Seraphon. That’s what they are called now.
Most of the novella is combat which you have to expect since it’s based of a set of battles from the Starter Set. I’m sure later fiction (like the new serial Assault on the Mandrake Bastion) will be more about the world background and talking heads like a lot of Warhammer novels but here…there is only war. I did enjoy how the book ended in a very non-grimdark way with hope and renewed faith being the feelings of the hour. I just really hope Games Workshop keeps that up because Age of Sigmar needs to be FAR less dark than the previous incarnation of Warhmmer. Early editions were very funny at times and the fantasy side lost a lot of that with each passing editions. The Battlescrolls for Age of Sigmar seem to have recaptured a lot of that lost magic and I’d hate for the same mistakes that caused Fantasy to plunge in popularity and mirth occur again.
All in all, I really enjoyed The Gates of Azyr for what it was. This was a great first look at the world of Age of Sigmar from a fluff point of view. It’s not great literature, nor is it as captivating as The End Times novels, but it also had a fraction of the page count and had to establish an entire new setting on its own – not to mention all-new characters (except Sigmar, Khorne and Ionus the Gold). With the space allotted to it, coupled with the fact the book is based on a series of starter battles, The Gates of Azyr really exceeding my expectations and I’m glad I got this. $7.99 for the digital version is definitely the way to go. It’s a fraction of the cost, you don’t kill any trees and you get an enjoyable read out of it. Give it a try, even if you’re one of those that was sworn never to touch the gaming side of Age of Sigmar for whatever reason. It’s a good book and that’s what matters.