Reaper is well-known for their excellent miniatures and miniature wargames Warlord and CAV. Rules books have added bits of flavor to the universe that Warlord takes place in, but you can experience that world on a much deeper level with Warlord Rising, a novel by Michales Joy.
I approached Warlord Rising as a pure fantasy novel, since I have no familiarity with the Warlord game or setting. I spoke to Michales at Gen Con, and when he agreed to let me have a review copy of his novel, he asked that I not do background research into the game first so my perception wouldn’t be colored by that knowledge. I thought it was a good idea, so even as I write this I haven’t looked into Warlord the game at all.
Without that “gaming novel” filter, Rising comes across as a rollicking fantasy adventure with memorable characters and some very exciting fight scenes. I really like Michales’ writing style — the novel is paced well, his descriptions of swordplay are detailed without overdoing it, and dialog between the characters is snappy, with each character having a distinctive voice. My favorite pair was Skein, a former paladin-type who lives as a sort of burnt-out old hippie in the woods at the novel’s start, and Senizal, a humanoid snake creature called a Reptus who becomes Skein’s unlikely ally and friend.
There’s also a band of conflicted dwarves, a nefarious necromancer, and Marisk, a warlord with a dastardly plan. Each plot thread chugs along for more than half of the novel, and while I was enjoying each story, it wasn’t apparent to me how they were connected. Indeed, the characters themselves are pretty clueless most of the time, setting out based on hunches, prophecies and half-baked plans. I began to see how it would all come together around when the characters did, as they realize a long-dormant cult from another land was planning to resurrect their dark god.
What’s interesting is how much grey area there is in this particular revelation. There are clearly evil characters who are trying to exploit the situation, but the protagonists find themselves in reluctant alliances, and even among themselves they’re not always in agreement as to how clearly this god’s resurrection is a bad thing. Of course, once they’re being assaulted by a horde of crazed cultists, things become much more black and white.
Warlord Rising takes some very dark turns at times, with some rather brutal murders, sexual slavery and even the emotional torture of an undead paladin. I heartily approve — if you’re going to have bad guys, they’ve got to be seriously bad.It was rare that gaming elements became overtly noticeable (which is pretty much a kiss of death for any gaming related fiction). I was pretty sure when the Onyx Golem made an appearance that it was based on a unit from the Warlord game, but it wasn’t obtrusive.
I did find the plot to be a little shaky at times. The motivation for the different character groups to advance toward the novel’s end wasn’t always clear, and I was a little fuzzy on what exactly was going on with this cult. That may come down to my lack of familiarity with the source material, however. And even when I didn’t totally understand where the novel was going, I was enjoying the ride.
My one serious pet peeve? The novel uses two spaces at the end of every sentence. I could go on at length about this, because it drives me crazy, but the bottom line is simple: it’s incorrect. Look at any professionally written and edited magazine or book put out in the last 30 years and you will find only one space after a sentence in 99.99999999 percent of them. Only one space after a period, people!
Typography aside, I was impressed by this novel. Michales told me that it’s the first of a trilogy, so keep an eye on Reaper for the next two installments. At the moment, Warlord Rising is only available directly from Reaper.