book-reviews

Dead Winter

by C.L Werner

Rating: ★★

Two stars is my 'disappointing' rating, and I think that in this case a lot of the disappointment comes from how easily the book could've been better than it is. Certain aspects of the plot were undeniably intriguing, and kept me reading, but the story was consistently let down by weakly-defined characters, disconnected plot strands and simple errors which I would suggest can be blamed on poor proofreading. Perhaps adding to the sense of disappointment is that this is the first Black Library book I've read in over a year.

The book follows the events of the Great Plague of 1111, with a disparate cast of characters ranging from a Morrite priest to a Skavan Plague Monk to a prince of Middenheim. The large cast adds a lot of diversity to what's covered, but seems to stretch Werner rather thin. with some characters seeming to lurch through their arcs without sufficient development. The plots also suffer from disconnection - the Morrite priest has essentially nothing to do with the other characters, there's little which can be drawn together between the events around the Skaven and the events on the surface. Especially in the former case, this makes it hard to care very much about what's going on in those arcs. A pruned cast and more specific remit would've helped here, especially given the author has a series to write the other elements in.

Along a similar strand of complaints, some of the characters are really quite odd. Mandred's blindness to his father's obvious intentions is literally incredible; Boris Goldgather's efforts to gain personal wealth seem calculated to destroy the Empire rather than that being a side-effect and van Hal's progression from unwitting necromancer to 'use evil for good' to wearing the skull of his foe as he marches at the head of an army of the undead is rather, uh, rapid. A little oddity is all in the flavour of Warhammer, but this just smacks of poor writing. On the counterpoint, the rat-catcher seemed to develop quite well, only to be disposed of in rather an anticlimactic demise.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the book was the poor quality of the copy. I was brought up in an early chapter by an 'and' which should be an 'a', noticed a number of points where the tense drifted inexplicably, saw needlessly clumsy dialogue and much more, including errors in climactic scenes which I would've expected to get a lot of attention. Such errors are inevitable in an author's first draft, and as such I don't really blame Werner for them - this to me smacks of poor editorial control and a lack of attention from the proofreader.

The best aspect of the novel is the way it gives some on-the-ground flavour to the known background of the time, though it should be approached with caution even there: My knowledge of this area of WHF isn't the greatest, but the Lexicanum summary of Van Hal's history points to this section of the story being a complete rewrite, rather than meshing with what's been established. Highlights might also include the handling of the plot to depose Goldgather, which has some of the best writing of the novel embedded in its twists and turns, and is mostly what kept me reading, although it still pales in comparison to some of the domestic WHF writing I've seen on this forum.

In summary, I reiterate that this is something of a disappointing book to read. Those interested in this area of WHF should probably still read it, but I advise them to go in with lowered expectations.