Growing up on the Louisiana/Texas border in the fifties, I use to watch men, women, and children picking cotton. The process involved their snatching the bolls and placing them in long bags that they dragged behind throughout the day. Every since I have imagined certain tasks (pleasant or otherwise)as metaphorical cotton picking. Usually, these thoughts emerge when the task becomes so tiresome, heavy, and unmanageable that its existence hampers my ability to move. When following long fantasy series, I sometimes see the continual accretion of volumes as being like the bag: the author over decades creates so many characters, so many themes, and so many plot threads, that the work becomes turgid and dense. More often than not I cease following the series, never to return. Sometimes, however, a series continues to be fresh year after year. Two series that continue to delight me are Gaunt's Ghosts and Gotrek and Felix. Both are from Black Library. Dan Abnett writes Gaunt's Ghosts and Nathan Long pens Gotrek and Felix.
The Gotrek and Felix series began with Trollslayer (Black Library 1999), a collection of short stories or episodes written by William King in the eighties and early nineties. The stories introduce the two main characters: the dwarf troll-slayer, Gotrek Gurnisson, and his human partner, Felix Jaeger. The novels fall within the genre category--sword and sorcery--and share many similarities with the Gray Mouser stories of Fritz Leiber. If you like the pulp fiction of Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and Fritz Leiber you will enjoy these stories. More to the point, Nathan Long, perhaps, more than any of the other Black Library writers--most of whom seem to embrace the Gothic and horror aspects of the Warhammer universe--seems to channel the sword and sorcery style of the American pulp writers of the fifties and sixties. His prose, as well as his plotting, seem lighter and more pulp-ish than some of the other fine novels from Black Library. This is not to say than Long cannot describe the macabre and the dark, which seems to be de rigueur in the Warhammer universe; he can. He did an especially ghoulish job in his Black Heart series.
Long joined the series with Orcslayer and in Zombieslayer and Shamanslayer, he has hit his stride:the two books, although stand-alones, are seamless in their presentation.
At the end of Shamanslayer,the necromancer Heinrich Kemmler reveals himself and unleashes his zombie army against Gotrek, Felix and soldiers of the Empire. Zombieslayer begins with a retreat from the onslaught of the living dead to the Castle Reikguard, where a disparate band of troops defend the Castle against the invasion of the Kemmler's army.
Although Kemmler and his zombies launch attack after attack against the defenders, the novel's real strength lies in the interplay between the various factions,the leaders that control them, and an underlying mystery that does not involve the zombies. There is also an internal dispute between the dwarfs: Snorri Nosebiter can no longer remember his shame and therefore cannot meet his doom. Consequently, Gotrek has asked Felix to accompany Snorri to Kadrak Kadrin on his pilgrimage to the shrine of Grimnir. It looks like the fellowship might be broken.
Long is particularly good at creating stories within stories, complications upon complications. And in the Warhammer tradition, the novel rests upon the truth that corruption is everywhere. As the problems multiply, Gotrek's plan fails and it appears that he may meet his doom in the castle.
Without giving any more of the plot away, the strength of the novel lies in the conflict between the men and dwarfs. Additionally, on the basis of a siege novel--which almost seems a genre in itself--Long has done his homework. He has obviously studied how to take a castle and those scenes are realistic and vivid. I also like the character Kat. Kat first appeared as a child in Trollslayer, reappearing in Shamanslayer, as a quintessential hunter/warrior.
Finally, it is quite obvious that the novels are working toward a climax of sorts and Long does a good job making each novel independent but also fulfilling the series' mandate to move toward the conclusion, toward Gotrek's doom. All-in-all a good fast read.