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Anyone else read this yet so? Finished it this morning and feel I can comfortably call this the best AoS novel about. Well worth getting if you’ve not already. Some (lengthy!) scattered thoughts below with spoilers tagged:

 

Structure of book

This was interesting! It’s not just a straight novelisation of the events of the Soul Wars box and the battle of Glymmsforge. It stretches back to the necroquake but moreover it largely doesn’t focus on the main players of the box. The Hammers of Sgmar and Malendrek are there but they and their battle are not the central focus.

Instead we follow the battle for the Ten Thousand Tombs, a sealed and guarded necropolis in the city, between the Anvils of the Heldenhammer - both the existing Warrior Chamber garrison and the new Sacrosanct Chamber arrivals - and the nighthaunt/zombie forces of the Knight of Shrouds

Spoiler

Pharus Thaum, former lord-castellant of the Anvils of the Heldenhammer.

This is a good choice, lets Reynolds dig into his own characters and write the story he wanted without, I suppose, bumping up too much against the ‘main’ plot.

 

Nagash and the nighthaunt

Both come off well and are extensively fleshed out (yeah yeah, easiest joke). There’s a lot on Nagash’s philosophy, for want of a better word. ‘Nagash is all and all are one in Nagash’. Everything must be ordered and hierarchical and completely subservient to Nagash’s will for the universe to be sane and correct. No lies, no illusions, just bleak clarity and justice. We hear this from Nagash himself but also from various deathlords and spirits. In their despair and pain they latch onto what he offers. It’s particularly well done in an extended vision-scene between Nagash and

Spoiler

Pharus, and then between Arkhan and Pharus, who he is treating as a sort of protege.

In this (self-serving) interpretation, Sigmar is the bringer of false hope, who uses people and tells them it’s for the greater good. It’s compelling, the same stuff we’ve seen in Reynolds’ other work on Nagash. Nagash himself is as good as ever. He can look the chaos gods in the eye and call them horrors or jackals of the waste to their face. He considers himself above them as he is aiming to literally become death the universal force. Not 'a' god of death, not a master of all the underworlds, but something as inherent to the universe as gravity.

Arkhan, it has to be said, does have a subtly different take, where Shyish and Azry balance each other out and so Sigmar and Nagash also must do so. A black sun and a bright sun. Less absolutist and with some strong implications for the wider plot.

We also get a good look at the sheer variety of the court of the dead. Wights, ancient necromancers, spirits, vampires… both in Nagashizzar and in the army of Glymmsforge, some linked to other AoS books: spot

Spoiler

Tarsus Bullheart’s betrothed working as an embittered lord executioner.

Lots of briefly appearing colourful characters, including Nagash’s personal jester, made to dance and spin so fast before his king on a building-sized throne that bits of him start flying off into the crowd…

 

The Stormcast

Interesting developments. We get a good look at Azyrheim, including the most detailed examination of the reforging process and how can go wrong so far. There was a Malign Portents story on this but there’s a lot more of it here.

When Sigmar himself shows up, he’s appropriately divine, not just a  big magic dude. Slightly alien and unnerving, mind working on a different plain, but still showing a glimmer of the man he once was. Perhaps surprisingly different from your 40k primarchs and emperors.

There’s some interesting thoughts on how time and duty are different for folks who die and come back: there’s a bit about a lord-celestant seeing a boy grow up to be a freeguild captain and then grow old, knowing he’ll die soon. There’s a scene where a knight-invocator watches pilgrims ignore her to flock to a statue of her from her pre-reforging life.

It’s low on some of the explicit darkness and grittiness that folks seem to be picking up on from the new battletome release but it’s all done well, including the suspicion between the warrior chambers and the sacrosanct chambers; not just ‘why didn’t Sigmar tell us about this?’ but also nervousness about asking members of the Sacrosanct chamber about the reforging process. It’s something mysterious and private and makes them justifiably uncomfortable.

 

Characters

Soul Wars seems to have wider range of distinct stormcast characters than most other SC-centric books. They’re three dimensional rather than, say, this guy being the gruff one, this guy being the bloodthirsty one, etc.

Balthas, the central lord-arcanum is cold, distant, irritable, scholarly, fairly uncaring of what his men think of him, and easily ticked off when things don’t go according to plan. Balthas isn’t particularly likeable and doesn’t come off as a natural warrior and in that he’s pretty far from other SC protagonists I’ve seen.

Calys is tough, professional, forthright and willing to hold a grudge. She’s not a rookie but she’s come to a new duty and seeing her wrestling with that was good. Fun to see her bounce off Balthas too.

The same applies to other characters. Ely is the standout, even if she doesn’t quite fulfil the potential she seems to have had in the early chapters. She winds up being a sort of cipher, a representation of what the soul wars are being fought over while still being personally tied to the fighting characters with more screen-time. Her relationship with Calys is pretty telegraphed from the get-go but has resonance despite that. Fosko and the other freeguild characters are fun. They feel like Pratchett’s watchmen. Not actively bad, just supplementing their income through less than legal means.

Pharus Thaum is great. Clever, patient, engaged with mortals, tolerant of small children running around his labyrinth, a good teacher and senior officer without being an unnecessary hardass. He's quietly proud of the labyrinth he built, full of traps and architectural techniques to cage unruly spirits; he's much more than a warrior (there's a nice bit where the dwarf engineers scoff at his prowess and note that while he might have planned and designed this impossible maze, they physically built it, manling, so there.?) He knows that eating apples is essentially a small vice, connecting him to his mortal life, but has enough wisdom to know it’s not a big deal as these things go.

Spoiler

And then… his fall to Nagash. His psychological breakdown was convincing. His feeling about Sigmar were pretty reasonable. Pharus wasn’t a token weak or selfish character earmarked for betrayal (a Theon Greyjoy or an Anakin Skywalker), he was likeable and strong, making his descent that bit more convincing. It’s the best ‘fall to the dark side’ I’ve seen in BL work since Eisenhorn (it’s very different but still impressive) or the brilliant old WHFB novel Riders of the Dead. He’s not offered power or seduced by strength as with chaos-turns, he’s psychologically ground down and presented with reasonable-sounding arguments about Nagash being the only logical and justifiable choice. Choice is probably the wrong word, Arkhan basically says ‘this is how it is, get used to it’ and it’s hard to see that he had a clear way out. 

Pharus is hollowed out, almost. From his conversations with the other spirits, particularly the philosophical and sycophantic Guardian of Souls, it's clear that all servants of Nagash are, in some war, part of Nagash. ‘Nagash is all and all are one in Nagash’. They all hear his voice in their head and can't quite distinguish between their own will and his will. This is distinct from his cold mind-obliterating command, this is individuals not being able to pinpoint their own identity because it has been subsumed into the grander will of Nagash. Pharus doesn't seem to truly have had a say in the matter in the same way he would with the chaos gods. There's some more on this in the old Nagash the Undying King thread from about a year ago: http://www.tga.community/forums/topic/9601-nagash-the-undying-king-discussion-spoilers-of-course/?tab=comments#comment-100893

 

 

Unit names

An odd thing I noticed was a quirk of ‘unit names’. These don’t match up with what we now know certain stormcast units are called, e.g. Mage-Sacristan instead of Knight-Invocator, Celestors instead of Evocators. I guess you could say these are Anvils of the Heldenhammer-specific terms but I’d say it’s much more like a product of writing a novel while other GW stuff is in development, as with the End Times.

 

Glymmsforge

Glymmsforge as a place feels lived in. It comes off as realistic and full of different classes of variously grumbling, scared, just-trying-to-get-by normal humans with their own hopes and dreams, etc. It’s vaguely colonial, as Sigmar’s foothold in Shyish: there’s the Azyrite-Shyisian tension we’ve seen in other books (more subtly here, really) but there’s also hints of deeper, more RL stuff. Relations to the native desert nomads, the use of wandering bands of pretty rough mercenaries as enforcers, Azyrite merchants exploiting the natural resources of the different realms for Azyr’s benefit. The differences between the stormcast garrisons who know the city (and helped found it) and the stormcast crusaders who pass through. It’s cool.

Belief is touched on too. There are temples to Alarielle and Malerion and even Nagash-Morr (the friendlier Shyishian aspect of Nagash who ushers the deserving to their peaceful rest) as well as Sigmar. There are occasional purges (zombies, vampires, necromantic cults) and the Lord-Veritant is looked on with a lot more fear than the other SC. There’s a nice scene where he notes that he’s burned down the temple of Nagash-Morr for its subversive potential eight times in a century and every time the priests accept it stoically as another ending then invite him to the first service when they rebuild. Shades of… I dunno, fit your own extremely polite religious minority in an unfriendly state to this.?

 

A certain character’s identity

Spoiler

So I felt pretty frickin’ dumb only realising who he was at the end of the book. An irritable golden-masked wizard on a mount named Quicksilver and with an affinity for Chamonite magic. Named Balthas. Duh. I think he’s probably the most high profile import from the World That Was who isn’t identical to his WHFB incarnation, am I right? Maybe Drycha...

 

Grand plot implications

Spoiler

 

Nagash is actively looking for new mortarchs for his war and there are a lot of high-up lords of undeath viciously competing for the positions. Lady Olynder isn’t going to be the last, I think.

Arkhan is not as utterly subservient to Nagash as we thought. He seems to have manipulated events following the necroquake to make Sigmar and Nagash turn against each other, to lance the boil and end their cold war. The idea is that this war will burn briefly and they will reconcile, as they did in the age of myth (Sigmar considered Nagash his closest and most important ally, the dark to his light, the yin to his yang. By contrast Nagash gets a brief memory of Sigmar smashing in his skull in the world that was), ready to fight the chaos gods when they inevitably regroup. Mannfred and Neferata seem to have picked up on Arkhan’s scheming but Nagash rather lacks the imagination to realise that he’s being subtly guided in this by his most loyal servant.

This book has the first stormcast we’ve seen actually be subverted and turned into (basically) a knight of shrouds by Nagash. It’s made clear that all Stormcast basically have a small bit of god-stuff in them, a portion of Sigmar’s power. In this, Nagash realises that they are much like his own Mortarchs. He can’t eliminate it entirely but does successfully turn Pharus, if not 100%. The other SC take this as an omen but not sure if we’ll see it more in the future.

 

 

Thoughts?

Edited by sandlemad
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Pertaining to the certain character:

Spoiler

There's also the fact that Nagash said that Balthus served him in the past (see End Times), and the fact that his full name is Balthus Arum.

 

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4 minutes ago, Morovir said:

Pertaining to the certain character:

  Hide contents

There's also the fact that Nagash said that Balthus served him in the past (see End Times), and the fact that his full name is Balthus Arum.

 

Yep!

Spoiler

Nagash saying that near the book's end

was what tipped me off, but

Spoiler

the name

should've been a giveaway looong before then.? I doubt it'll be quite the surprise to most readers as it was to me.

Edited by sandlemad
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I really can't wait to read this but for some reason I can't get my ebook from the BL website. Is anyone else having this problem? All I can get is a 404 from the download link.

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50 minutes ago, Urauloth said:

I really can't wait to read this but for some reason I can't get my ebook from the BL website. Is anyone else having this problem? All I can get is a 404 from the download link.

It happened for me too. I’m sure they’ll have it available when they get back to work tomorrow. The likeliest explanation is they put the file in the wrong place so it can’t find the right one to send us. 

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As sure as death. As certain as the stars. ?

Loved the book. 

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2 hours ago, hellalugosi said:

any more on tarsus? great write up!

Well....

edit:To add the ending just sorts of brings it all together in such a nice way. I stopped writing my undead fan-fiction because I felt I did not get the sense of how Nagash truly interacted with his followers. Now with this novel? I understand, I am ready to start it again. 

 

We see his wife/fiancee.

Edited by shinros
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3 hours ago, hellalugosi said:

any more on tarsus? great write up!

 

Apart from what shinros notes, we only get a veiled reference to Nagash managing to capture the souls of several stormcast since the end of the age of chaos and not being able to do anything with them.

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 When are we getting a Deadwalker army? We clearly have a Mortarch in the making with them. 

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I finished it this afternoon.  I couldn't put it down!

Its a book of many levels and lots of interesting metaphysical almost gaiman-esque discussions, which I loved.

The epilogue was particularly interesting and I'm now ready to open my core rulebook, as I promised myself that the novel would be first.

I actually get stormcast a lot more now after reading this, and I like how it teases us with their humanity always in the back of their minds whispering to them.  Whereas in the original box I got rid of all the stormcast, I'm definitely keeping these guys.

and the way it portrays Nagash and his view of his minions has an understated but powerful resonance about it.  I think he's succeeded in interweaving the contradiction but the necessity of each god to the other very well, and the use of Arkhan as narrator and clarifier is very good as well, as we see it all through his eyes but we can instantly draw the parallels to the realm of heaven.

 

 

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while I think of it, with Nagash's announcement to Balthus, did you get the very subtle similarity in the attitudes between him and the minions of Nagash?

When Balthus talks of not understanding (when referring to the mortals) why anyone would want to be anywhere other than in Azyr and why they behave and allow themselves to act the way they do throughout the book.  The same speech in essence that arkhan gives Pharus regarding the truth that is Nagash and to want anything different is convincing ones self otherwise.

So a the end game, when balthus see's the shard of silver and tries to reach for it, it leaves me wondering if the reforging for stormcast who were once given to another pantheon such as the chaos gods is all that much more difficult with the smiths needing to hammer the final mote out of the soul before sending it upwards?

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19 hours ago, Kaleb Daark said:

while I think of it, with Nagash's announcement to Balthus, did you get the very subtle similarity in the attitudes between him and the minions of Nagash?

When Balthus talks of not understanding (when referring to the mortals) why anyone would want to be anywhere other than in Azyr and why they behave and allow themselves to act the way they do throughout the book.  The same speech in essence that arkhan gives Pharus regarding the truth that is Nagash and to want anything different is convincing ones self otherwise.

Yeah, it was quite distinct. Part of that is Balthas simply not being a 'people person', so to speak, but the whole playing with the dualism between Sigmar and Nagash and the similarity of their approaches was interesting. There was that nice line though about Sigmar wanting people to aspire to the heavens whereas Nagash would blot them out that people might realise the finality of all things. One's idealism and the belief in the potential of things to get change, the other's pragmatic fatalism, to be reductive. Both are fixtures, both do use people.

And it's never exactly resolved in an obvious way, which is another thing I liked. Nowhere is there a heroic speech to say 'Sigmar is clearly right and flawless and here's why'.

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A potato is a potato whatever the weather.

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On 7/2/2018 at 10:23 AM, sandlemad said:

Yeah, it was quite distinct. Part of that is Balthas simply not being a 'people person', so to speak, but the whole playing with the dualism between Sigmar and Nagash and the similarity of their approaches was interesting. There was that nice line though about Sigmar wanting people to aspire to the heavens whereas Nagash would blot them out that people might realise the finality of all things. One's idealism and the belief in the potential of things to get change, the other's pragmatic fatalism, to be reductive. Both are fixtures, both do use people.

And it's never exactly resolved in an obvious way, which is another thing I liked. Nowhere is there a heroic speech to say 'Sigmar is clearly right and flawless and here's why'.

Knowing what I know of the lore, I would still side with Sigmar. Both do use people technically, But one is a egomaniac who seeks to annihilate all life and other personas/wills. So that there is only Nagash!  But Sigmar seeks to inspire and uplift the living. He still accept those who deviate from the ideal and still views them as his people(within limitations and boundaries).  Nagash Wants a cosmos  that is only Nagash!  where he is the only will, Sigmar wants a world where every soul has it's own will and chooses to be more.

At least that's how I see things anyway.

 

Edited by xking
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I don't see how there's any argument on the matter tbh. Sigmar might do some dodgy stuff, but Nagash is a giant skeleton who wants everyone to die forever. I mean... come on man.

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This is one discussion I think has been so well done in AoS.  You've a plausible reason for each side to claim why they're right and the other side is the true enemy.

Nagash ultimately knows that in the natural course of events, every soul in the mortal realms should come to him - he was happy to play the long game and let everybody die of natural causes (including the other Gods).  But then other gods spotted the potential of using souls to further their own means, the Chaos Gods had been doing it for ages but then you had the Aelven gods starting to do it and then Sigmar did as well.  All of a sudden Nagash's long game would ultimately mean that every soul would end up being used by somebody else and Shyish would be barren.

Of course you could equally argue that Nagash messed around with the natural balance to begin with by absorbing the various underworld gods - but at least he was up front with it ;)

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No one dies forever in AoS, though. Your spirit lives another life. This doesn't change how people act or live, after all, humanity has believed in afterlives since we built the first dolmens and buried the first corpses instead of eating them, probably even before.

But in a universe where death is not the end (for real), embracing the finality of death and getting something out of it (more than eternal wandering through Hell) sounds like a nice option. Doesn't it? I mean, Sigmar's Valhalla is only for the brave and the courageous. Sigmar has no "regular heaven" for everyone, most people will live out their lives, die and go to Shyish, where they'll linger eternally.

It would be cool to see Tyrion and Teclis trying to create a circle of rebirth and reincarnation (natural, instead of artifical like the Deepkin do) tied to the magic of Hyish and Ghyran. Of course, this sounds very much like Eldar territory, but why let a good concept escape. The Eldar were a very well established and conceptually solid faction. Nagash, of course, would hate the twins for that. Eternally robbing him of HIS souls.

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What do people get out of it though? Nagash is a giant boney dude with a big hat who offers you the chance to serve him eternally by being a skeleton, or maybe, if you're lucky, a dooting skeleton.  

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17 hours ago, Kirjava13 said:

What do people get out of it though? Nagash is a giant boney dude with a big hat who offers you the chance to serve him eternally by being a skeleton, or maybe, if you're lucky, a dooting skeleton.  

Not everyone worships the big boney hat dude, some worship him in the form of a solemn robed man who brings release to those on the brink of death, some worship a calm figure with a scythe who defends Shyish against invaders. But for Nagash the Undying King, the giant skeleton wizard...

On one level, everything that subjection to a totalitarian regime offers. You don't have to worry, you don't have to think for yourself, it's all taken care of, all you have to to is serve. 'A place for every man' can be tempting when it's a guaranteed place, as Cèsar de Quart said above. Death in some form is inevitable and that means he's always there for you, at the end. All you need to do is accept it.  On the flipside, Nagash is as harsh a judge of the dead as any RL deity (Hades,  the Yama kings... Osiris and Anubis were pretty chill actually) and stories of the torments that await those who act poorly in life or turn their backs on him are a pretty convincing argument.

Also... people don't always choose their religion or their divine allegiance in a perfectly rational fashion. Where someone grew up, what their ancestors (who might still be walking amongst them, honoured but fleshless) or whole culture believe in, who defended their lands from chaos, what they've lived and breathed (hahaha) all their lives doesn't necessarily preclude realising 'waitaminute, this skeleton king sucks!' but it's a big deal.

The idea that your god should be likeable or kind or justified in their actions to mortals is not a universal one; the capricious, fickle gods of Olympus were treated as such by the Greeks and the Aztec deity Tezcatlipoca was actively considered chaotic, terrifying and straight up violent by his own worshipers. But he was a god and this was just an inevitable, unchangeable part of the world to them.

It would be worth reading Nagash: The Undying King, if you haven't already. A large part of the book is from the POV of a tribal necromancer, a human who worships Nagash and whose people have worshiped Nagash for untold generations.

Quote

How had it come to this? Was Nagash dead, as the southerners claimed? Had the Undying King truly fallen in battle? How could one who was as death itself die? Her mind shied away from the thought, unable to accept such a thing. Nagash simply... was. As inescapable as the snows in winter, as ever present as the cold, he had always been and always would be. To consider anything else was the height of folly.

 

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I'm only about two thirds of the way through Soul Wars, but my favorite thing about Nagash is his sense of justice.  It's obviously unfair, but when people treat others horribly in life, there is a part of us that likes the idea that someone unfair will be done to them.

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Loved it as well, I like the nods to the old world. Although in case of Balthas it was so heavy that if you missed end times you know you are missing something but not what. 

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32 minutes ago, AaronWIlson said:

Can I grab soulwars as a hardcopy, if so where? 

Yup, lots of places - GW stores and website have it and most likely Amazon too :)

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