Friday, August 6, 2010

Nagash the Unbroken by Mike Lee

Nagash the Unbroken by Mike Lee is the second book of the Nagash series, itself part of the Time of Legends series. I was not fond of the first book in the Nagash series, Nagash the Sorceror, due to the cumbersome dual perspective narrative. In the second book in the series, Mike Lee has carried over this narrative style to improved success. Unfortunately, I feel that Nagash the Unbroken suffers from a critical flaw; lack of scale.

The Time of Legends series is aimed at telling the tales of the greatest figures of Warhammer Fantasy antiquity. Figures that are larger than life and shaped much of the current realms structures. Figures that are less a person and personality but rather a demiurge. Nagash is the father of Necromancy. His ancient and titanic battles transformed a major portion of the Warhammer world into a wasteland of the walking dead. A single man overthrew the rule of the Gods and shackled millions of people into eternal undeath. A man who himself had conquered death to gain mastery over death.

This is a rich tableau from which to work from. To tell the tale of a man with nigh limitless powers drawn from a depthless well of evil. Nagash the Sorceror had a suitable if restrained scope. I was after all a story of his gensis. With this in mind, I expected Nagash the Unbroken to really dial things up a notch. I wanted to see Nagash rise to his full and awesome power. I experienced none of this.

Instead, I spent most of the book reading about a broken man scurrying about the desert half mad. When Nagash does stumble onto a new source of power, warpstone, I felt a thrill. Here then, would Nagash would finally turn into the incredible figure of unfathomable power. Denied again. Instead, Nagash spends the remaining portion of the book attempting to conquer and enslave a small group of primitive barbarian swamp people living at the base of what will become Nagashizzar. They are a people tained and twisted by Chaos and lead by priest men who worship the warpstone.

During this time period, Nagash is routinely defeated or harrassed by the primitives and his eventual success in subdueing them is more by pure luck and accident than anything else. This is extremely frustrating to me. I am not reading about a Legendary Figure. I am reading about a half dead old mad man who can barely beat a handful of mystics. Once Nagash has these primitive under his thumb, he then inadvertently starts a war with another group of barbarian peoples. This once again does nothing but highlight the utter lack of world shaking power that Nagash possesses. Why? Because when the war starts, Nagash is dismayed that this will be a war that lasts years and will set back his overall plans. The war doesn’t last years. It lasts over a century. The book ends with Nagash having never really accomplishing much beyond conquering some petty barbarians.

The second intertwining narrative is not much more appealling. It is concerned with the rise of Queen Neferata in the city of Lahmia. It has a very basic setup; Queen Neferata walks a path to damnation paved on a road of good intentions. Convinced her husband and brother, King Lamashizzar, is neglecting his duties in pursuit of Nagash’s secret of immortality, she plots to overthrow him. Mixed into this whole affair is one of my favorite characters from Nagash the Sorcerer, Arkhan the Black. Unfortunately Arkhan is marginalized extensively and has an utterly forgettable end. Honest, he serves more as a prop than anything and probably didn’t even need to appear in the story. In predictable fashion, Queen Neferata becomes suitably damned and slowly enslaved to her evil powers all the while longing for the past. Not very engrossing at all.

Perhaps most puzzling about this book is the absence of the Skaven. The cover shows Nagash battling the skaven and the rear of the book declares that Nagash will enslave them. Being a fan of the Skaven, this was exciting. Alas, I was in for another disappointment. The Skaven really have no substantial appearance in the book, occupying only a handful of pages. Early in the narrative they exist only to introduce Nagash to warpstone and then promptly disappear from the narrative. They only return on the final pages of the book for a few moments with some ill formed plans to conqueror Naggashizzar. However at no time does Nagash actively fight the Skaven or enslave them. This was rather shocking to me and misleading.

This book feels like little more than a setup for the next book. Everything that happens lays the ground work for the cataclysmic battle that creates the Lands of the Dead. And this is why I feel this book lacks grandure. It is focused on the mundane. This book should not have been sold under the Time of Legends heading. I would take less umbrage with it if it had been published as a normal Warhammer Fantasy novel. There is nothing legendary outside of the names invovled. I wanted titanic battles and clashes of will. Hordes of undead erupting from the firmament. I wanted to see Nagash as The Necromancer; peering into the darkness of death and seizing its secrets. No, I get a man who is a a slowly rotting corpse covered in tumors who lives in a dirty mountain as king of the swamp barbarians. Nagash isn’t very great let alone legendary and in a book about an paragon of evil, that was the greatest evil perpetrated...banality.

The Black Library: Nagash the Unbroken by Mike Lee
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-1844167913

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