Riders of the Dead by Dan Abnett is a book that I read several years ago and remembered enjoying. I was really interested to see how I would feel about this book as I think I have developed as a reader since starting this blog, and wondered if my thoughts had changed at all. Plus, if you guys remember, one of my main goals this year is to go back and do some re-reads of the many books in my shelves, so this counts towards that. Wooooo goals achieved!
Riders of the Dead is a tale of two soldiers and friends, Gerlach Heileman and Karl Voller, their first experiences of war and the paths their experiences set them on. They march north as part of the armies of the Empire of Man to the help fight back the amassing armies of the dark gods of Chaos that are amassing to sweep through the neighbouring kingdom of Kislev and down into their homelands. A simple enough plot and premise, but an effective one.
Despite being soldiers in the same regiment, and close friends, the two couldn’t be more different in many ways. Gerlach is a bit of prick really; he’s rude, overly confident, feels a sense if superiority based simply on his nationality, and while not aristocracy, he is well born enough to have almost every opportunity given to him. Karl, on the other hand, is a kind-hearted soul, patient, well-learned and from lower blood, his friendship with Gerlach the only reason he was given a position in their cavalry regiment. We spend all the book with one of these two, and as such, it is a great thing that they are both so well realised and have such distinct voices – their personalities one of the real strengths of this book.
On the other hand, I would say that, unfortunately, their personal character arcs are reasonably predictable once you are a few chapters in – especially Gerlach’s, though the more you know about the Warhammer world, the more predictable Karl’s is as well. This isn’t to say that they were done poorly, but I think people would be able to guess where they are going if they think about it am little. And yes, I know I have read the book before so have an advantage, but I still think the point stands.
Away from the individual characters and their strengths, this book is incredibly fast-paced. Abnett really chucks the characters and reader in at the deep-end in the first few chapters and the pace never truly lets up. This pace is carried along by the reasonably simple plot and simple(ish) prose. That might sound like a bit of a dig at the author but, you know what, this book is a fun, quick dip into the world of Warhammer Fantasy and it does that well. It is an enjoyable read, and what more can you ask for, really?
One thing I was a big fan of in this book was how it focused on the world building for the kingdom of Kislev, especially the people of it’s far northern steppe, as well as the nomadic warrior tribes of the Kurgan who worship the Chaos gods. The cultures of these peoples aren’t necessarily the mot well-fleshed out and recorded areas of Warhammer Fantasy, with more emphasise usually going of the big players of the Empire, Dwarfs, High Elves, Vampire Counts, etc, so it was great to get a proper look into these cultures. I always enjoy a good bit of world-building!
Overall, I would recommend this book to fans of Warhammer Fantasy books. As I said, it is a fun, fast-paced read. I honestly can’t say it will blow anyone away, but it is a good book.